The Long Road to Education

In the early 1950s, as a result of learning the Soviet model of education, universities were divided into colleges set up by profession. There are 8 colleges in one street of College Road in Haidian District of Beijing, Medical College, Iron and Steel College, Aviation College, Geology College, Petroleum College, Agricultural and Mechanical College …… I grew up living in a college and was very envious of college students, plus my parents were working on the campus, and it became my ambition to hear and hear about college life. Plus I grew up loving to read, I always did well in my studies, and was a good student from elementary school to high school, never letting my family worry. It became my goal to go to university.

What I didn’t expect was that I only went to junior high school when the Cultural Revolution began. School was suspended and the “revolution” was started. The slogan “Rebellion is justified” was posted in all corners of the school, study ended and the movement began. I didn’t go to school anymore, I was 16 years old. Many factions were established in the school, including the Red Guards, the Red Flag, and many combat teams. We learned to open a criticism meeting, shouting slogans, brush slogans, open struggle meeting, junior high school culture instead of growing, but forgot a lot.

After two years of trouble, the graduation distribution began. Our class of junior high school students are all oriented to the factories and mines and rural areas, the termination of further education. The so-called factories and mines, that is only a very small percentage, only a few lucky children from good origins into the factories, most of the other is to the mountains to the countryside. Especially for intellectuals like me, the stinking old nine-year-old, children, only one way to the countryside.

In the summer of 1968, I went to the Northern Wilderness, the Heilongjiang Production and Construction Corps, and my schooling ended in junior high school. I became a farm worker, an intellectual youth (in fact, only junior high school education). At that time, I was so young that I thought I would go and come back, as if I was studying agriculture to help the rural production team, and would come back some time to continue my studies. What I didn’t expect was that there was a 10-year gap between when I left school and when I returned to school. It was a long, long, long way to go to school.

University entrance examination

In 1977, when the reform and opening up began, the university entrance examination, which had been interrupted for 10 years, was resumed. The enthusiasm of going to university, which had been buried in my heart for a long time, began to inspire me again, and I could not calm down for a long time. According to the enrollment regulations, students under the age of 25, or former high school students before the Cultural Revolution, were eligible to apply for the national examination. That year I was 27 years old, overage, and unfortunately, I was not yet a high school student, so I couldn’t reach both sides. I thought my dream of going to college had been blown, and I was really upset.

That year I was working as a worker in a county factory. I went to the master’s house on the weekend, and it just so happened that his daughter, who works in the county, was also home. We talked for a while, she said that the county formed an admissions office, she was transferred to the admissions office, because too many people enrolled in college.

She asked me if I had enrolled yet. I said I was overage, not yet a high school student, and did not qualify. She told me I could apply for teacher training and that my age could be relaxed. I was blessed and asked about the application. I went to her office the next day to fill out the application form. She encouraged me and said, “You can do it. Although you graduated from junior high school, you went to school in Beijing and graduated before the Cultural Revolution, so you will not be worse than those who graduated later in the Cultural Revolution. You Peking duck (Ya) to try the water ah!

That’s how I prepared for the exam. Since there is no university entrance examination for so many years, there are too many applicants this year. Heilongjiang Province to hold a preliminary examination, the preliminary examination passed before being allowed to participate in the national examination. The preliminary examination is basically the content of junior high school, and only test math and language, I did well in the examination, and qualified to take the entrance examination. So many years without touching the books, although I had taught elementary school in the Corps, but the middle school curriculum are almost forgotten. Because I hadn’t studied much physics and chemistry, I could only apply for the arts. It was not easy to review math, language, geography, history, and English in this short month (I had learned English in junior high school, so I took an extra foreign language test).

The worst part is math, I only have a junior high school level, I have not learned high school geometry, math. During this month, I had to study high school courses and prepare for the national exam. I rushed to borrow textbooks from my sisters who were workers in the factory, most of whom had graduated from local high schools and joined the workforce. With their help, I borrowed middle school and high school textbooks and studied every minute after work. The good thing is that I have a strong memory, can memorize the basic can remember, can not memorize or simply do not understand, can only find someone to ask.

I found the masters of the technical section of the factory, two of them were college students before the Cultural Revolution, one of them only went to school for one year to catch up with the Cultural Revolution, and graduated after a few years of movement, although it is considered a college student, but learned too little. He told me openly and honestly that he could not, could not be a teacher, let me find Master Cui, he is a graduate of the Technical University, love to learn, teach me high school math, no problem at all. But his family has a lot of things to take care of, he was transferred from the provincial capital to the county is to take care of the family. I found Master Cui, said a lot of good things and asked him to help me for a month. Master Cui promised to help me answer questions, and I studied mainly on my own, and I happily agreed. In any case, I had a math teacher who could teach me for a month.

In this month, I reviewed geography, history, followed the review outline given to me by my little sisters, memorized political topics, studied high school cubic geometry, analytic geometry, linear algebra, did the exercises at the end of each chapter, and asked Master Cui if I didn’t know anything. Time is so not enough, to learn to remember too much. As if I want to use this month to make up for all the lost years in the past.

The month went by so fast that I hurriedly took the national exam. The oral examination was held in the county, a few train stops away from our factory, in the morning. In order not to miss the exam, I had to arrive in the county a day early and wait for the exam the next day.

In December, it was already freezing in Heilongjiang, so after work, I put on my backpack, which contained a borrowed English textbook and leftover steamed buns for lunch, and hurriedly took the train to the county town to look for accommodation in a hotel. At that time, I only had 35 yuan a month’s salary, my standard is as long as I can spend the night on the line, dinner is the leftover steamed buns in the bag.

I found a hotel on the street in the county, but instead of a hotel, it was actually a big car store, a room with kang on both sides, facing each other, and the kang was open, if you want to separate it, you can use a board to separate it, but you have to pay more. To save money, I asked for a bunk, thinking it was just for one night, I could make do.

When I went in, it was already dusk and many people had already moved in, but the good thing was that the women were on one side and the men were on the opposite side of the bed, separated by a wooden board. Anyway, it was dark in the house and it was winter, so we all wore cotton clothes, blue, black and yellow, so we didn’t take off our clothes to sleep and lay on the kang, so no one could see who was there.

At night, the bed was full of people. The house was filled with all kinds of strange smells, making the air muddy. A light bulb hung on the roof all night long, and people were constantly coming and going, talking, coughing, snoring, and humming. Next to me lay a woman who had come to the county hospital to see a doctor. She told me that most of the people who live here come from the village to the county to see a doctor. Some stay one night, like me, some may have to stay a few days, because it is not easy to come once, always to get well, at least to confirm the diagnosis. I nodded my head, it is not easy to go out ah.

I found boiling water and ate the frozen steamed buns in my school bag, not daring to take off my clothes or cover the quilt, and bent like a shrimp in my cotton clothes on a bed that was only a foot wide, waiting for the dawn. I stared at the light bulb on the roof, counted the number and fell asleep in a daze.

I dreamed that I entered the exam room and suddenly found myself alone. The teacher sitting at the front desk grunted and asked me questions, and I couldn’t say anything. I got so anxious that I had to shout up and ended up waking myself up all at once. It turned out to be my neighbor who was grunting and looked like she was in some pain. I asked her if she wanted some water, but she shook her head, rolled over and went back to sleep. But I couldn’t sleep anymore and read a book in the dim light. It was a long night. It was a long night. ……

I got up from the bed at dawn, went to the hose, washed my face, drank some hot water and went on my way. I don’t know if I want to thank the fire bed that night for giving me a dream of the exam and another night of practicing my spoken English lying on the same fire bed with my peasant sisters.

What followed was a physical examination at the county hospital. I took the train to the county again, luckily it was in the afternoon and I could make it back that day without having to stay in a hostel overnight. I knew my blood pressure was low, and with the month of hard reading, attacking lesson by lesson, not getting a good night’s sleep, and lack of nutrition, I was occasionally anemic. What if my blood pressure was low and I couldn’t pass the medical exam?

I went to the factory masters for advice, they came up with the idea of drinking, they smiled and said to me, “Girl, that is absolutely working!” But I had never had a drink before, and I didn’t know how much to drink. I thought to myself that I would rather drink more than drink less than it does not work. In order to pass the medical examination, I gave up everything, got off the train and asked for a bowl of beer in a small restaurant near the station, (Northeasterners drink on the bowl) and no matter what the taste is, swallowed in large gulps, wiped his mouth, and went straight to the county hospital.

I didn’t expect that the alcohol came up, my face was red, sweating, and my head was dizzy. I stood in front of the hospital gasping for breath, fixed my mind before I dared to go in. The doctor asked me if I was too nervous, my face was so red, I nodded my head. He told me to relax and said it was passed. I thought to myself that it was good that I hadn’t drunk too much, or else I would have become hypertensive and that would have been more troublesome.

During the auscultation, he said I had a murmur in my heart collection, over level 2, and told me to sit quietly in the room for a while. I hurriedly explained that I had come to the hospital on the run and that it might have affected my heart. After 10 minutes, he listened again, said it still wasn’t working, and told me to lie down on a bed in the house and rest. I started to get nervous, thinking something must not go wrong, or my month of hard work would be wasted. I remembered that my mother had said I was born prematurely, so I asked the doctor if premature babies’ hearts are prone to murmurs. He said there were various reasons, so don’t think about it, rest well, and he would listen again later.

Finally, on the third hearing, he wrote down the word “normal” and signed it, and I passed. My heart was beating so fast that it finally calmed down, and I passed the checkpoint one by one.

In January 1978, I received a letter of acceptance to the university, and I was accepted into the Department of Foreign Languages at Qiqihar Teachers’ College to study English. Although I was still in Heilongjiang, my dream of going to university had come true. I was so happy that I sent a telegram to my parents in Beijing.

My father was very happy, knowing how disappointed he had been that his children could not continue their studies. My father encouraged me to study hard and not to let down this rare opportunity to learn, and to learn so that I would be able to develop anywhere in the future. I listened to my father’s teaching and never wavered in my will and desire to study, even when some of my classmates dropped out of school to go back to Beijing. I thought I would never give up this hard-won opportunity to study.

After 4 years of study until I graduated in 1982, I was 32 years old, exactly 10 years late, and I got my hard-earned university diploma and bachelor’s degree.

As a foreign student

When I graduated, I was assigned to return to Beijing and became a middle school English teacher according to the policy of returning to the city as a youth.

With the promotion of reform and opening up, there were opportunities for recruitment and job hunting in the society, and I got into a central ministry as a translator. I was mainly responsible for external relations in the area of children’s welfare, which involved rehabilitation and sports activities for children with disabilities. At that time, the Cultural Revolution was over and all sectors were looking for foreign experience to exchange and learn from each other. China participated in the International Olympic Games for the first time and won its first gold medal, which was a great success for the whole country. In accordance with international practice, the Paralympic Games followed immediately.

It was then that I learned that there was another Olympic Games for people with intellectual disabilities called the Special Olympics, or the Special Olympics for short. I was involved in the organizing committee of the Special Olympics, which was formed by the Sports Commission and the Education Commission. In order to better understand the rules of the Special Olympics, the organizing committee invited a Canadian professor and an American coach to Beijing to conduct a training course, and I served as an interpreter.

During the short week of training, the phrase I remember most clearly was to encourage children with intellectual disabilities: You can do it!

This phrase has inspired me all my life and made me steadfast, believing that my efforts would make it, even though I am not mentally handicapped.

During the preparation for the first Special Olympics China, I trained with sports coaches and children with intellectual disabilities. The children’s happiness and sorrow touched my heart. Although they are not as smart as normal children, they are slow to learn and a bit “dumb”, but they are honest, honest and cute. I would like to be their teacher and return to teaching.

When I talked to the Canadian professor, he told me that the special education program is to train teachers to teach children with intellectual disabilities. It was the first time I heard about this major and I was determined to study and become a special educator to serve these special children.

I decided to study abroad because there was no such major in China at that time. At that time, there was no Internet and nowhere to find information. I heard about a book called “Peterson”, which was like a dictionary to find schools and majors in different countries. I borrowed this book, which was as thick as a brick, and started looking up all the colleges of education, page by page. Among them, I was attracted by Peabody College for Teachers in Tennessee, USA.

First of all, it was the same as the English translation of Qiqihar Teachers’ College where I graduated, which is Teachers’ College, rather than equating education with “teacher training,” as if there was a consensus a million miles away. In addition, the school offers a wide range of subjects and the opportunity to study different courses. The only thing I didn’t consider is that it’s a private school and tuition is high. Being ignorant, I guess, because I didn’t know I had to pay tuition, I had the audacity to think I could apply for a scholarship as if I could go to school for free. I sent my application materials to the address provided in the book and didn’t think about the next step. I thought, “I’m just trying, can I get accepted?

A few months later, I received a letter of acceptance to graduate school, but no financial aid. Looking at the large numbers listed on the letter, my heart chilled. I didn’t even have any RMB, not to mention the dollars I had to pay. I had just started a family, my kids were just a few years old, and my husband and I were making a monthly salary, so how could I afford to pay for school? And it was so much! It seemed that this wonderful opportunity could only be a dream in my heart, so I didn’t hesitate to put the letter away along with the acceptance letter and didn’t think about it anymore.

A year later, the Special Olympics was held in Shenzhen, and the Canadian professor was invited to watch our first games. During a casual conversation, I talked about the acceptance letter and my helplessness. To my surprise, he told me that he had worked at that school’s Center for Disability Studies. He encouraged me not to give up because it was a very good school, especially in special education.

When we parted, he joked, “You can do it! You can do it,” a phrase that is often used to encourage mentally handicapped children, but which was now applied to me in a real way.

I didn’t realize that he had called my supervisor after he returned home and recommended me for graduate study (which my supervisor later told me).

With the help of my advisor, I was able to get half of my tuition waived and had to borrow the other half of the cost. This was only for one semester, and I had to look at one step at a time for future expenses. If it doesn’t work out, then I’ll come back. I had a home, there was nothing in the world more important than my home, I had my husband’s support, I had my kids, and I thought I had to try.

And so, with $30 (which was our entire family savings), two bags full of laundry detergent, shampoo, toothpaste, soap, blankets and clothes that I would use throughout the year, I flew to New York. My parents and my in-laws put together the money for my plane ticket, because our small family could no longer afford it. I was 37 years old that year, so I could be considered the oldest sister among international students.

In January 1988, I flew from Beijing to New York, only to learn that it was snowing heavily. When I was pulling my luggage at the airport, my new down jacket was taken away by someone else, so I had to pull out a cotton undershirt from my bag and put it on to keep out the cold. The snowy weather affected the plane flight, and I didn’t know when the plane to the south would take off. I dragged my luggage to another domestic airport and waited for a plane to Tennessee.

After a day of transatlantic travel and jet lag, I sat in a chair in the waiting room and fell asleep. I dreamed of my children, my family, and couldn’t stop the tears from flowing down my face. At this point I was sitting alone in the airport, tired and hungry, and not daring to spend the money in my hand to buy food because the price would be too expensive once I converted it to RMB. And this money is our family savings for several years, how can we spend it freely.

Wait until midnight, the snow stopped the plane took off. When I got off the plane, no one dared to drive to pick me up on the snowy road. I had to ask around how to leave the airport, an American man asked me where to go. I said I was going to Peabody, I was here for graduate school. He was kind enough to help me find a cab and told me that he owned a clothing store near the school and that I could stop by his car so that I would only pay for the back of the car. I met a valuable person who helped me in a difficult time. Just like that, I paid $5 for the cab fare to reach a house rented by a foreign student and spent the night on the floor bunk there.

I was so sleepy and tired that it was already dawn when I opened my eyes. I heard that there was a newly arrived student who needed a room to share, so I rushed there with my luggage. The room was small, with a monthly rent of 250 RMB, which we shared, and no furniture. I was glad to have a place to stay. The first thing was to get a bed, not to bunk forever. I heard that a bed costs several hundred dollars, so I’m sure I can’t buy one, so I’ll have to think of something else. The only way to get one for free is to find one that has been thrown away or to go hunting in the dumpster.

I walked around in the snow and suddenly saw a mattress like a treasure, half buried in the snow. I exerted all my strength to dig the cushion out of the snow and pulled it to the roadside. Was worried about how to move, saw a truck driving, I beckoned the car to stop and asked the driver to help pull to the residence. Without saying a word, the young man loaded the mats onto his truck and let me sit on the front seat to give him directions. He said no thanks, he was just passing by. I met another nice person I had never met before.

The mattress was buried in the snow for many days, damp and cold, I used the old newspaper I found to pad a layer, this is my bed. I never thought that the winter in Tennessee, which is located in the south, is so cold, and I only brought a blanket, no blanket. I took all my clothes out of my bag and put them on the only blanket to get through the night. I could have turned on the electric heat to keep warm, but I had to freeze to save money on electricity.

To be honest, I didn’t feel like I was in the United States, the richest country in the world, but rather I felt like I was back in the Great Northern Wilderness, back when the north wind blew and the snow drifted. Sleeping was settled, but the rent was not yet. I pulled out all the money I had and it wasn’t enough to cover my fair share. My visa only allowed me to work on-campus, and I asked various teachers if I could be a student assistant, but I couldn’t drive or have a car, and I couldn’t afford many of the jobs. I couldn’t find an on-campus job, so I had to look for one off-campus.

In order to survive, I had to secretly find a restaurant job. Fortunately, there was a Korean restaurant just across the road from the school, so I didn’t have to drive, I just walked over to it. I was hired with no problem, and they were in need of people. I could only work the noon shift, from 10 to 2. The graduate classes were scheduled in the evening, from 5 to 8, so I wouldn’t miss class. Every day I had to come to school, change into my part-time clothes, cross the street and work in the restaurant, because I was a newbie, I only had a very small salary, and the rest depended on the tips of the customers, but I couldn’t get all of it, only 20%, and the other two who worked at the front desk shared 80%. The good thing is that I can eat breakfast and lunch, which is considered to save my meal money. Anyway, this little salary can at least pay for the monthly room and the most basic living expenses.

On the first day of school, I was informed that I had to take an entrance exam, and if I failed, I had to take a language course first and pay for it myself. Luckily, I passed the written and oral exams and was able to take the graduate course directly.

I am a full-time student, and I had to take 9 credits and 3 classes. I had to pay tuition for one class to register for one class, and although my tuition was cut in half, that half was quite a lot, over $2,000. This was astronomical for me. With shaking hands, I wrote out large numbers on the check that I had never written before in my life, thinking to myself that it was in U.S. dollars, and at an exchange rate of 1 to 8, it was tens of thousands of yuan! This is a loan that needs to be paid back within a year. At once, I felt a lot more pressure. In addition to the tuition fee, there were also health insurance and student activity fees, which I had to ask for a deferment and pay back slowly after a few months of working at the restaurant.

My mentor instructed me to register for 3 classes, including child testing, education law and classroom practicum. Having been an elementary school teacher in the Corps and having taught middle school from a teacher’s college, the practicum class was not too difficult for me, even though the countries and cultures were different. The other two classes were really hard for me. The test class required a foundation in statistics, and I had never studied statistics, so at best I knew averages and percentages. Although I had read the textbook in advance, I was confused and confused, and since it was in English, I was not sure which word equaled which term. I had to ask the foreign students who were studying science, and I carried a small notebook with me and asked one question when I saw one. Besides, I couldn’t afford to buy a book, so I had to buy one, make a copy of a chapter, and then return the book or borrow a copy of a classmate’s book. It became my task every weekend to find the chapter I wanted to study in advance, make copies, and pre-reading. (Now that I think about it, this is a violation of copyright law, but at the time I really had no choice.)

I didn’t know how to use a computer, but I had learned to type in college, but where could I find a typewriter? The kind teacher told me I could use his secretary’s typewriter, but only after she got off work at 5pm. I was so blessed that I wrote all my assignments together on paper to minimize interruptions, went in one at a time and typed them out on the typewriter, taking a few hours to finish.

Because I had to work at a restaurant during the day, I had to spend my evenings battling to read and do my homework. At the same time, I went to the computer room to learn how to operate the computer, and when I had the chance, I went to the computer room and sat in front of the computer to think carefully and practice. I was always the last one to leave the computer room, and I was often the one who had to volunteer to watch the computer room and had to leave at the closing time.

Anyway, I finished all the assignments, passed the exam, and got my first A. This A was not easy to come by! The second class was law, which I had never studied or heard of before. The hardest part was going to the law school library to find information. It often took me several hours to find the law case assigned by the teacher. I pondered over and over the unfamiliar legal vocabulary and difficult language, reading it over and over again, preparing for class presentations, analyzing the case, arguing, presenting, and demonstrating. I spent so much time, physical and mental energy, and devoted myself to studying. It was not easy to get an A in the end. What I didn’t expect was that my first job after graduation was doing statistical analysis. From knowing nothing about statistics, it became my full-time job.

It was the end of the semester and summer break, the best opportunity to earn money. I found a job washing bottles in a medical school lab, because I didn’t need to do it on a regular basis, as long as it was done and I didn’t miss my 10 o’clock restaurant job. I also found a Korean cleaning company with a Korean classmate, and the hours were from 10pm to 6am.

I started washing bottles and taking out the trash at 8:00 am, and when it was almost 10:00 am, I rushed to the restaurant and worked until 2:00 pm, then went back to the lab and continued washing bottles until 5:00 pm, went back to the rented room for dinner, went to bed immediately, and arrived at the cleaning company at 10:00 pm, went to the big hotel in the center of the city, and started my night shift.

My job was to clean the men’s and women’s toilets from the first floor to the 12th floor, scrubbing the urinals one by one, taking out the trash, mopping the floors, and cleaning the sinks. All of this had to be done by 6 o’clock to leave the hotel.

I cleaned the toilets one by one and took the elevator floor by floor, not thinking about the smell of the toilets, the stink and the lack of stink, thinking not to finish the job, if not, I would be dismissed.

As a result, when I got to the last toilet, I learned that I could have a 30-minute break, but I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to finish, so I didn’t dare to stop and rest. I had to earn and pay back the money as soon as possible, and I only had time for summer vacation.

After a summer of work, I was able to pay back the money I had borrowed from my brother, which he had saved to lend to me. Since I received A’s in all three of my first semester classes, my advisor gave me 10 hours of school work a week to help his secretary organize materials, which was used to offset the other half of my tuition. I was deeply relieved that I wouldn’t have to work so hard in the new semester and could focus more on my studies.

Since then I have worked as an assistant to several professors, collecting data, analyzing cases, and working with fellow students in different research projects. Although it was very busy and tiring, I learned a lot of knowledge that I couldn’t learn in the classroom and honed my skills.

I completed my master’s degree in one and a half years and pursued my PhD in 3.5 years, for a total of 5 years to obtain my master’s and PhD degrees. My doctoral dissertation project won a research grant award from the Ministry of Education. I think this is inseparable from my experience of having done various jobs in school. I feel that I have exerted all my strength and potential that I could not believe, and I have worked hard, persevered, and never given up on this path of study, which finally proved the saying.

I can do it!