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Miss Paiva Goes to China

May 29, 2018

As part of Saint Raphael Academy’s new partnership with the Qingdao International School in China, teacher and alum Erika Paiva ’00 is traveling to China for six weeks as an international liaison to the school. She shares her experiences in a weekly blog …

The city of Qingdao, China.

April 14-20, 2018
I have never really been a great writer or even liked to write. I believe myself to be an extrovert and someone who communicates better verbally, so I am looking forward to seeing how I do with the idea of blogging my thoughts. Perhaps someone will read this and find it funny or humorous, interesting and helpful, or perhaps just plain old boring. We shall see…

Saturday, April 14, started off like any other Saturday, besides the fact that I had to unpack and re-pack for my adventure leaving for China for 6½ weeks. No biggie. I thought it was a good idea to eat a little Burger King before leaving for Logan, which was probably a very good decision due to the stress and length of my adventure to the Far East.

The whole process of checking your bags “internationally” can be very stressful, especially when you are not familiar with the weight limit you are allowed. I will admit, I over-packed … big time! When checking into Hainan Airlines, the nice lady behind the counter told me that if I checked my two suitcases, it would cost close to $200 a bag. I almost choked on my passport, but she explained to me that if I bought a bag at the “bag store” it would save me a lot of money, and I would only have to pay for the one additional bag and be charged $200. Bingo! Thank you, sweet lady at the Hainan Airlines ticket counter for saving me a lot of money.

Everything went smoothly while boarding the plane. I found my seat quickly and “set up shop” for the next 14½ hours … or so I thought. We took off without incident. (Side note: this was the biggest plane I had ever seen in my entire life. I kept questioning whether this plane would actually lift off the ground due the massive amounts of luggage--namely from myself--and the amount of people that were on that “sturdy bird!”) Roughly 90 minutes into the flight, the pilot came on the overhead speaker informing us that we were turning back to Logan due to an “issue with the engine.” We landed without incident and then remained on the side of the terminal (not at a gate) for close to 5 hours. I was impressed because not one person got up and asked what was going on. Everyone just sat quietly in their seats and waited … and waited … and waited some more.

Throughout all this waiting, I felt an obligation to reach out to my family and friends, including Mr. Richard, as well as the very nice people of ThreeW. Unfortunately for Simon, who is the Chinese representative of ThreeW and was assigned to pick me up from the Shanghai Airport, no one told him that we had returned to Boston. When he called Hainan Airlines, they only said that we were delayed due to mechanical troubles. The poor man waited at the airport for 15 hours for me! Simon is amazing and he soon became my best friend; he brought me around the first four days of my stay in Qingdao and made them amazing and extremely comforting. Simon has been so great in helping me organize, figure out bussing, set up my payment card for lunch and introduce me to many different foods. So far, I am not a fan of cow tongue or jellyfish! I am forcing myself to try a lot of different foods and flavors.  

Aside from the horrendous jet lag, my first week here has been pretty awesome. I absolutely love China—the food, the people, the hustle and bustle, the culture, the smells—they are all intense. I feel an immediate connection and respect for not only the people, but for their culture. They are a very hard-working group of people, and I cannot believe that most work 15-hour days, 7 days a week to provide for their families, especially their children, who they dream and hope will have a better life then they did.

Hopefully, I am going to start taking Chinese lessons from a woman that some of my colleagues at school go to. I am hoping to come back with not only a little Chinese under my belt, but also to eventually take classes at CCRI to continue my fluency with the language. 

That was my first week in China. I loved every second I am here and am looking forward to starting another week in Qingdao!

April 23-30, 2018
I made myself try three different restaurants for dinner this week, while ordering something from the menu that I had never tried before. What’s amazing about living in China is how inexpensive everything is. I had lunch the other day at a “Hot Pot” spot in the mall down the street from work for under $3.00 (American).

If you who are not familiar with what “Hot Pot” is, you sit down at a little electric stove placemat in front of a conveyor belt. You are given a bowl of broth, and various dishes pass in front of you where you take whatever you want to put into your soup (noodles, veggies, meat, eel, shellfish, tofu, spices, etc.)

Every morning, I have breakfast at The Grand School. It is a simple breakfast, but absolutely delicious. Every meal is served with soup as well as a Chinese boazi, which is a steamed bun with meat and vegetables in the middle. I know that I will need to find a place in the States that makes these because I am absolutely addicted. Each breakfast consists of a boiled egg, but the trick I learned this morning was that they need to be boiled in tea. Awesome cooking trick, thank you!

I had my first Chinese lessons this week with Echo, who is wonderful and has the patience of Job. I will just say this: Chinese is very, very, very difficult! After my second lesson, I decided Echo is an angel sent from heaven! The fact that she can sit across from me for two hours and not scream at the top of her lungs at my terrible Chinese is a miracle. All she does is smile and nod and correct me, and correct me again, and correct me some more. And after the 15th try at a word and I “nail it,” she smiles, claps and says “xie xie,” which is “thank you.” I am already looking for classes at CCRI to continue my studies with Chinese.

On Saturday, we worked at the school’s “sports day,” which was when the entire school got together and participated in a dance competition, jumping rope, track and field and “drilling.”

On Sunday, I decided to put my own athletic endurance to the test and climb Mt. Laoshan with a coworker. It was unbelievably beautiful, peaceful and serene. I give a lot of credit to the men who worked to create such a fantastic trail to climb up the mountain. I had the opportunity to visit many temples and praying spots—I prayed for everyone back on Walcott Street, especially our seniors who are heading off into the world in just a few short weeks.

On Monday, I went to an outdoor farmers market where I walked around smelling all the wonderful and not-so-wonderful things it had to offer. Whenever I saw a chicken about to get its head chopped off, I took that as my cue to move on and find some sort of Pizza Hut or Mickey D’s.

I am running off to class right now… ’till next week!






May 1-May 6, 2018

My coworkers thought it would be a great idea for everyone in the International Studies Office to go out to a Hot Pot restaurant for broth and veggies! We had a great time, bonding and swapping “war stories” in our respective classrooms. It was a great way to start off a 4-day break! 

I am working on a project with my senior classes on studying abroad next year, which is something they are both looking forward to and something they are nervous about. Tomorrow we will add another layer to their Powerpoint presentation, where they have to find a social issue in the country they will be studying in and how it may or may not be a challenge to them.

I started off the class by explaining my life in America and at Saints, and that I was nervous and excited to go abroad like they might be feeling now. They were excited to see the picture of our students and their everyday life at Saints. They loved when I talked about our sports program, and how the majority of SRA students participate in some type of extra-curricular after school. Unfortunately for the Chinese students, there are no activities for them to do after school besides study in addition to their 10-hour school day. Eye-opening, to say the least!

I had the pleasure of having lunch with Principal Ni. His office looks like a mix between the Oval Office and an emperor’s palace. I had never seen anything like it before: the art, the detail in all of the carvings on his walls, and the perfect placement of everything was just breathtaking! I am going to try to set up my office in the basement of Alumni Hall like his.

I found out Thursday that I will be doing another recruitment session this Saturday at a school in Qingdao for students looking to go into high school. I am very excited for this opportunity to meet some potential Saints! I must make sure I put my best foot forward.

Friday was a great day at work! It started with me being “observed” by Maggie, the director of International Studies. She sat through my class taking meticulous notes, which, of course, I assumed was her criticizing my Western way of teaching. However, as soon as I sat down at my desk, thinking that I was too animated and charismatic and struggled with finding a balance between the two cultures, I was surprised to receive a text from her (which was sent to five other “higher-ups” at the school) that complimented my teaching and praised the SRA-Grand School partnership. So, I guess it was not such a bad lesson after all.

I had a little Hot Pot for lunch with the fellas (USA teachers Rob, Manny and Gareth and Sam, who is from the UK). After lunch, which is a two-hour block, we sat on the patio of Starbucks and talked about going for tacos tomorrow evening for Cinco de Mayo. Rob knows the owner, who went to university in So Cal and he has the ingredients imported from Mexico!

On Saturday, we went to a local public high school for the recruitment fair, and there were over 100 schools throughout Qingdao and China there. It reminded me of “speed dating,” where you had about 30-60 seconds with each parent and child, and you had to determine if this student would be a good fit for your school. Although it was a rainy and dreary day, I made a new friend. I interviewed her granddaughter during the day. She said that she gives her granddaughter permission to come to my school so I can be her teacher. She said I was beautiful, and my smile “radiated the world.” Needless to say, we are new friends! 

I am looking forward to another week in Qingdao and am thankful for all the amazing and generous people I have met throughout my adventure.


May 14-19, 2018
This week had a lot of “firsts” for me! I was given Monday off because I went away for the weekend to Jinan and helped in a recruiting event. I took advantage of the gorgeous day and decided to climb Mt. Fushan, which is in the same city. I walked to the mountain and then took the 2-hour hike up to the top. Words cannot describe the beauty and serenity that I experienced during my journey to the top.

I enjoyed the rest of my afternoon with reading, doing some Chinese studying and then going to dinner with two friends I made while in Qingdao—Sam and Charlotte. They are both from the U.K. and have been teaching abroad for more than eight years. Sam is a very interesting young man, who has written memoir about his journey around the world riding his bike. They have been such a huge part of my time in China and have truly become good friends. I am already looking forward to visiting them in Spain next year where they plan to go back to the schools they taught at before moving to Asia.

My day at school on Tuesday was great! I saw some of the presentations that students did in grades 10.2, 10.3 and 11.1 on how they would prepare a Saints student for study abroad in China. I also had the opportunity to teach two 12th grade history classes, which was very interesting. I am intrigued at how Chinese students view American politics and the way they interpret various policies and reform.

Dinner on Tuesday night was very interesting. I can now testify that I have eaten … frog! They were very delicious, but extremely boney! We ate it in a “hot pot”-style dish that sat in broth, vegetables and tofu. Yummy! The owners of the restaurant were extremely friendly and hospitable.

My time in China is going by way too quickly. I know I still have two weeks left, but I feel this nagging sensation to continue to take advantage of all that is around me. So much to do and see, but so little time!

Later in the week, I had the pleasure to co-teach a 3rd grade class, which was wonderful and refreshing. I forget how much energy and enthusiasm the younger students have, especially when they see a foreigner.

Friday was a breeze! I worked till 1pm, and then headed off to another fun overnight in Jinan. I went with the International and Marketing departments to help them conduct interviews with students who will be attending Grand next year for the start of 7th grade. They needed someone to help with interviewing the candidates and assess their English-speaking abilities. What a great time that was! I loved learning about these young Chinese minds as well as helping the Grand School with their admissions while being hopeful that some of these awesome students will study at Saints.

Per usual, our trip to Jinan went by very quickly, and I was appreciative of my time there but wished I had more of a chance to explore the city. The outside BBQ place that “my crew” took me for dinner was absolutely fantastic! Any time people run around with sizzling sticks of meat, fish and vegetables, while spitting the bones on the floor is a good time! I wish America embraced this cultural difference and enforced spitting prawn shells onto the floor of establishments!

Over the weekend, I spoke to Principal Richard in the morning and then took the rest of the day for myself to explore Qingdao with a woman I became friends with in the marketing department. We decided to take the bus to the beach and walk through the outside art gallery. It was phenomenal! I love being friends with local Qingdao folks because I am welcomed into a whole different world and have access to opportunities that visitors to the city do not get to see.

Overall, my week was amazing! I cannot begin to express the gratitude and appreciation I have for these few weeks in China. I have totally immersed myself into the culture, language and beautiful tradition of China and cannot be more thankful for the relationships I have built and the friendships I hold very dear.

May 21-27, 2018
I must admit, I was a little slow to start on Monday, due to my 13-mile walk around Qingdao and the beach on Sunday. But, like most of my days, I popped out of bed with the gusto and excitement that I have had every morning since arriving in this amazing country.

I had class today with the 10th grade, and we began talking about what social issues are and what they believed were some in China. Some of the issues we brought up were immigration, broken families/immigration, women’s rights and equality, drug abuse and addiction, racism, suicide, terrorism and global warming. Once we introduced each issue, we organized them into groups and had them rank each from most to least important. It was extremely interesting to hear their opinions and views on each topic with regard to their culture.

The dinner I had tonight was amazing! My friends Sam and Charlotte (my friends from the U.K.) took me to their favorite Turkish restaurant, which was delicious. I have never had Turkish food before and am so glad that they introduced me to it. The owners have all the ingredients shipped to Qingdao from Turkey, so everything they make is authentic and fresh. I had a shredded chicken dish with rice and peppers and baked in cheese, and the hummus and tabbouleh were fantastic!
Another school day on Wednesday. The kids were wonderful and are such a breath of fresh air. It is refreshing how there are no issues with social media and cyberbullying. The only social media app that students use is WeChat, but they have to physically hand their phones to their homeroom teacher before they start classes at 7 am.

After work I went out for dinner with Rob, my co-worker from California, to have “Beijing duck.” I was anxious to try duck, and it was awesome! I wish we had a restaurant near home that serves a Chinese-style duck and all the sides to go along with it.

This is a picture of me before dinner in the May 4th Square. I tried to not look very “American” when I smiled, but clearly failed at that miserably! At least I was “repping” my Saints gear! I am standing in front of the harbor where the sailing portion of the summer Olympics was held in 2009. After dinner we decided to do a little wandering around the square. I am so thankful for befriending so many cool people who are enthusiastic about China and more than willing to show me as much as possible. 

One thing I have learned very quickly in China is that things look a lot smaller on the menu. I thought my bowl of soup would be a perfect size for a “party of one,” but I was WRONG! I should have invited at least two more people to help me put a dent into this very large bowl of very delicious spicy and sour soup! I also ordered a whole fish to myself. Again, I did not think it would be so big, but besides choking on a few bones, it, too, was delicious!

This week was my last Friday at Grand … so sad! I was greeted with a bouquet of gorgeous flowers from my friends in the Admissions Office. We have really developed a keen friendship over these past few weeks. I loved every second I got to spend with them from Qingdao to Jinan; every moment with them has been an adventure. I think my favorite was when we went to BBQ together in Jinan and we were encouraged to spit the bones onto the ground. I sure hope people don’t get upset with me when I try that at Buffalo Wild Wings.

The weekend was jam-packed, to say the least! I went to work around 9 am to help interview incoming students. I love being able to interview students and learn more about what separates them from the other students who will be attending Chinese traditional high schools. These are the students who will hopefully want to study at Saints in the future. I even saw a few students who I interviewed last weekend in Jinan.

Simon from ThreeW had come to Grand that day so he could relay some information to the parents about our 1-plus-2 program. It was very nice to see him and have lunch with him. I enjoyed being able to take him to my favorite restaurant by work—it definitely gave me the feel of being sorta “local.”

Later, I went out to dinner with one of the women in the Admissions Department. Abaeco and I have become very friendly over the past few weeks through our trips to Jinan. She has been such a great person to have while I have been in Qingdao, and I am very sad to have to say goodbye. It is my hope that I can return to Grand and continue a wonderful friendship. We walked around and talked for hours and then had a lovely dinner at my new favorite Turkish restaurant, Istanbul. She absolutely loved it and was so happy I brought her somewhere new. She took me down to the Olympic waterfront, but unfortunately, we were not able to see much of it due to the area being blocked off for the “Summit.”

After dinner, Abaeco and I grabbed some Chinese pastries, which were interesting but yummy, to put it lightly. She had to get home to her son, so we shared a taxi and called it a night.

As I was returning home, I received a message from the guys from work asking me to meet them at Superbowl Pizza. (It is probably the closest thing to “pizza” that I have had since being in China. The owner went to school in the U.S. and loved the pizza, so he has all the ingredients imported to replicate his pies as close to the American taste as possible.) The guys wanted to watch the Champions League futbol (soccer) that began at 2:30 am. We had a blast, but I have never left an establishment at 5 o’clock in the morning.

By Sunday, I was exhausted from the busy Saturday. I used the rest of my day to do laundry and pack before leaving for Beijing on Wednesday morning. Once I half-finished packing, I decided it was time to relax, make a cup of tea, and read until I fell asleep. The last time I remember seeing were the numbers 7:49 pm …