The class that I teach here in China is a speaking English class. I often have my students interact to practice dialogues with each other, or come up with role plays. I think in large part for cultural reasons quite a few of my students will sit and read out loud to themselves. In one of my first classes where I did this type of exercise there were only a few students who were reading to themselves. I can recall thinking that I should tell them that they are not an island, and needed to interact with other students. Then I though... I should give myself this same advice.
I think being brought up in America makes a person very independent. I think that in part the fact that we as a culture also value self reliance makes many people unlikely to ask for help. By this I don't mean asking questions or for directions. What I mean really is, when you can do something yourself as an American usually you will do it, you don't want someone else to help you, and take it on as being your responsibility. So getting to my school there were a lot of things I am use to being able to do myself that I was having some difficulty with just because I didn't know where anything was. Even when I was in Shanghai I was completely capable of doing these types of things on my own, for example going to the store to buy supplies, going to the post office, printing something off my computer. Well I was very reluctant to ask for help, and thought for around a day perhaps this concept that I am not an island would make me more likely to actually seek help from others.
Around a day later thinking more about the concept and I realized that I was wrong. I am an island, just in a sea of a million people. I stand out here. Every time I go walking in the town people stare, or smile or just generally act differently toward me. Many people here have not seen many if any foreigners, and very few have ever talked with one. And pretty much no one thinks I can actually understand them. I get people who come up to me just because they want to try talking to the foreigner, and some who follow me just because they are interested. I just had a trip to Shanghai and Hong Kong, so let me say that not all of China is like this. Many of the larger cities have many foreigners living there. I think I stared at the foreigners more than the Chinese people did, because I was so accustomed to Ezhou, and only seeing Chinese faces. There were far more foreign faces in Shanghai this trip than in 2004 also. In 2004 you would see some tourists in the center of town, but this trip the center and south end of Shanghai had lots of foregingers that all lived in the city.
I really don't mind catching all this extra intrested (except when I have to sing songs at every party, or KTV Kareoke event) and completely understand it. I mean, not only am I a foreigner I have bright blonde hair and blue eyes and look very different from anyone else. Sometimes in America (especially after spending a lot of time in a city like Columbia with little diversity) I am very tempted to walk up to anyone I hear speaking Chinese and introduce myself, so I can understand where they are coming from.
Being an island has its benifits too. I get lots of free food, free cooking lessons, lots of help when I decide to ask for it, and this evening I am going to go to a wedding for one of the English teachers. I can't help but take advange of it, because I know that for many of them it is also fun to get to spend more time getting to know this crazy foreigner who can speak Chinese.