Re-adapting in my hometown

Rows of desks line a classroom in the best primary school in the county where Min conducted interviews.
Rows of desks line a classroom in the best primary school in the county where
Min conducted interviews. 

Today is the seventh day of conducting interviews in central China. My research project is to explore factors associated with the low job satisfaction among rural teachers. It’s been interesting returning to my own hometown as a researcher. My familiarity with the area has given me the great advantage of understanding the local context, and most importantly, making the research possible since I am able to use my connections and contacts to locate the teacher interviewees. On the other hand, returning home and working in the local area after being away for almost 10 years has been somewhat unfamiliar. I am experiencing cultural shock re-adapting to my home culture quite frequently. For example, when I call some of the teachers to schedule the interviews, they almost always assume that I wanted to meet right at that second when I was calling. I had forgotten that people here are not used to the idea of making appointments. It’s nice that people are flexible and not offended if I wanted to meet as soon as possible, but it can be frustrating when I try to line up the interviews for the day. And when people don’t like to make appointments, they tend to forget about the appointment I made with them.

A school calendar hangs in a teacher's office

A school calendar hangs in a teacher's office. 

Being polite and respectful is highly valued in our local culture here. When you go visit people in their homes, it is often seen as rude if you show up “empty-handed”, meaning that you should always bring a gift, even though the host will always tell you not to bring anything before you come. Since school is off in the summer, we’ve had to visit teachers at their homes for interviews. One of my teacher contacts who referred me to several other teacher interviewees explicitly told me not to go to their homes “empty-handed.” In some cases when we forgot to bring gifts, it apparently felt very awkward when we arrived at the interviewees’ homes.

It is always interesting how distance from a culture can shape and change a person’s way of thinking. During the interviews, phrases like “seven or eight teachers” or “let’s meet at 3 or 4 p.m.” came up a lot. When I try to clarify if they meant seven or eight, I was never able to get the exact answer. My research assistant finally told me that normally when people say things like “seven or eight,” they almost always mean “eight.” I am thinking: why can’t they just say eight?!

It’s been a very hectic week filled with tremendous amount of stress, frustration as well as excitement. We’ve been doing six interviews each day, with each interview lasting 1-1.5 hours. Having to find and contact each individual teacher and schedule the meetings is the most challenging thing, on top of having to stay fully focused as an interviewer for an intensive length of time during the day. But I’ve really enjoyed talking to the teachers, hearing their stories and experiences, and understanding their career paths and the challenges they face. It’s particularly special when I come across some of the teachers who taught me in primary school. We’ve interviewed 34 teachers so far and have six interviews scheduled tomorrow, then we will move on to transcribe and analyze the data. I am very much looking forward to the data analysis stage and finding out the themes and patterns related to the low job satisfaction among rural teachers.


—Min Wang
Shangqiu, Henan, China