In 1993, I was a young graduate pianist from the Conservatory of Athens, the most prestigious music school in Greece. I was seeing my future in my homeland, performing and teaching music. I had great dreams about bringing the beauty of my art to the people, sharing in my admiration for the great masters of the past, and passing down my knowledge to the younger generation. I was looking forward to many years of being a musician, learning deeper and developing wider.
25 years have passed. Life has taken its own twists and turns, and in 2017 I am honored with a teaching position at the Huamei School. Many thousands of miles away from home, I will be joining my husband, also an educator, together with our son, to continue our career and our life in the city of Guangzhou. I have no idea what to expect, but I accept the challenge and pack my bags.
My first impression of the school: the amazing amount of music that is present everywhere. The students wake up with music. Clock bells have a musical tune to them. Start and end of class bells feature Mozart excerpts. Morning exercise is conducted with brisk tunes; eye exercise is run with sweet, soothing melodies. Kung fu practice at first break follows the traditional music pieces and songs. Walking through the school grounds on my way to class, I hear the enthusiastic dance music of the kindergarten. My first thoughts: I am in the right place for a musician. Even the truck that washes the streets runs along sending waves of music together with the water.
The musical parallels continue. The Chinese language is a musical one: four tones, innumerable combinations. The result is a fluctuating, never ending wave of sound. I am intrigued by the difficulty and the charm of it. I know one Chinese folk song, “Two tigers”, and I am thrilled when my grade 1 students recognize my attempts at pronunciation, and sweetly praise me for my efforts. This song, in a way, symbolizes what I came here to do: be an ambassador of Music, the universal language. And I discover, with joy, that this is exactly what this school is about. “Bridging East and West” is its mission statement. Well, “Liang zhi lao hu” is “Frere Jacques” in French, “Bruder Jakob” in German, and “Fengaraki” in Greek. When I later teach it, in Chinese and German, to a group of exchange students together with their local peers, and ask them to teach each other and sing the “other”, my happiness is complete. This is what is meant by bridging East and West, working towards mutual understanding and progress. Understanding what humanity has in common, what unites us rather than divides us.
My relationship with my students is another highlight of my life, here in Huamei. The warm, eager, friendly “Miss Eleni!!!!!” cries, that echo through the courtyards and follow me all the way up to my fifth floor classroom, make my day in the morning. Spontaneous hugs, gifts of candy, flowers, stickers, a slice of mandarin, toothless grins and smiling faces. Children that were faced with a foreign teacher, sometimes with very little knowledge of English, were generous enough to give me their attention and listen to what I have to say. They file into the classroom, curious to see what I have in store for them today. They know I expect them to “listen to me with their eyes and their brains, not just their ears”. We understand each other, and I try my best to reward their trust and to keep their interest up. And I am honored to discover their amazing talent, again and again. Kids at Huamei are incredibly talented. Their school song is quite difficult, their National anthem also. Yet they bravely sing along. Their teachers talk about goals, excellence, about their great future. They participate in competitions, scholarships and exams. They are constantly challenged to be the best they can be.
I am happy to be a part of this thriving, growing community of people. Children and teachers, be it homeroom teachers, life teachers, English teachers, music, PE, science, non-teaching staff, administrators and advisors, parents and grandparents, I feel they all form a large family that puts the children’s best interest at the center. They are distinguished by the Huamei colors, and every morning, as I walk under the trees to get to my first class of the day, the exchanging of greetings and smiles from everywhere signals the most important attribute, in my opinion, of a successful school: the sense of a community that shares a common dream and works to achieve it.
Happy 25th anniversary, Huamei! Thank you for warmly and gracefully including me in your family.