I was on a plane flying back to the US. As I floated in and out of napping, daydreaming, and glancing at the movie, I was aware that in six days I was scheduled to give an update on my year in Asia. I’d been given one hour. Oh my, one hour. Such face-to-face moments are precious. I wanted my audience to meet my friends and neighbors, to come into my classroom, to eat a dinner my students prepared, to see hope shared in another culture—basically to join me! I wanted them to see and hear my life. How could that happen?
Then I thought of how I had used written questions in my letters and the responses I had received. Over the years I had sent a list of questions that I was often asked—ranging from grammar questions to personal pleas for help. I would include no answers—just the questions. I asked my readers to imagine sitting in my office with me and ponder the questions, the inquirer, and me. I asked for prayer that I might have the ability to be salt and light in my responses. Many readers wrote back saying how insightful this had been for them. They saw my job and my life in a much different light.
So there over the Pacific in Seat 58C I decided I would try it live. That next week everyone at the update would get a question to ponder.
I would soon see my people reaching for their strip of paper and reading aloud.
- Do you like our China?
- Why did you come here?
- Should women be soldiers?
- What’s your favorite Chinese food?
- What’s the difference between the future and future perfect tense?
- Why do you put ice in your drinks?
- How can I improve my spoken English?
- What’s the best university in your country?
- Who will you vote for?
- Would you ever marry a Chinese?
- Why does your country argue over abortion?
- Do you celebrate Christmas like they do on Friends?
- Do you believe in the God?
- Do your parents believe in God, too? Your friends? Your boss?
- How can I increase my vocabulary?
- How do you teach children right from wrong?
- Why do Americans want to leave home when they are 18?
- Do you believe in ghosts?
- Does everyone have a car?
- What do you do when you’re lonely?
- Do you eat pork?
I told the listeners that these were not all asked in one day or even in one week. But my teammates and I had heard them all at one time or another.
Our time together was not about giving my answers or responses but rather to give them an idea of my life. As they each read their question out loud there were smiles, surprise, and comments:
That would be hard—how much time do you have?
My kids haven’t heard about moving out at 18.
A co-worker asked me that once.
I’ve never been asked a spiritual question at work.
Where do you start!?
Naturally there arose a desire to know how I responded. Later meetings in smaller groups gave ample opportunity to share my responses. But at this large gathering I only had time to point out that different situations and different questioners lead to a variety of responses. Large classrooms or restaurants versus a cup of tea with two students are just a few examples.
The response from the audience was much like what my readers wrote.
Some were amazed at the challenges that the questions brought to their friend, the simple ESL teacher. Yes!
Others wondered about the impact on the quiet student. Oh yes! Even when I had no idea they were listening.
Some worried about my responses. Of course! I need wisdom to answer or just to listen.
One person didn’t know how they would handle these questions in their own country. See? Our lives are not completely different!
For one hour my two homes came together. And I heard about it for days to come.
How do you bring your life abroad back to your passport country? What questions would be on your list?
Barbara Kindschi has had the privilege and challenge of teaching English in six cities in China and now Myanmar and Laos. Undergrads, professors, hotel employees, monks, and beauty pageant contestants have sat in her classroom. All have been both her students and teachers. View Full Bio