Greetings from Shanghai: Dru Floyd Breaks out of the American Bubble and Into the Global Language Barrier
By Julie Perine on June 24, 2012
“It was one of those, ‘You plan and God laughs’ moments,” said Floyd, a 2006 graduate of BHS. “After two semesters, I was completely lost in the grammar and decided that it wasn't what I was supposed to be doing.”
He wound up discovering a new foreign language passion, thereafter morphing his major into International Studies with a focus on East Asia and a minor in Chinese studies. It was a challenge, for sure, but he got it.
“Speaking and writing are the most difficult things. Although the Chinese characters are actually kind of fun,” he said. “They are like a puzzle. Within each character are different symbols for something. When they are combined into one character, they make a whole new word. As confusing as it looks, it's actually a very logical system.”
And here he is today – teaching at Jincai High School in the densely populated city of Shanghai.
“I teach at a local school, but it is an international division. So my students are from Japan, Korea, Thailand, etc.,” Floyd said. “I teach the lower English-level students in geography, politics and some ESL (English as a Second Language) classes.”
He has found the students meticulous and creative, but requiring detailed instruction.
“You have to tell them specifics about what you want from them. You need to say how big the poster needs to be, how many words on the poster, what the poster has to be about (say, tea or something specific like that),” Floyd said. “Once you do that, you get amazing results. But if you give them the opportunity to just go with it, they end up lost.”
Floyd has been submerged in the geography, history and culture of the region.
“I've learned that China isn't something to fear. Rather, we should embrace them,” he said. “This is a society that has such a rich history that I feel like we can learn a lot from them. And while learning from them, they are eager to learn from us.”
Population 22 million and climbing, Shanghai is unbelievable, Floyd said.
“The size of it is overwhelming. I've seen such a small percentage of the city. It has pretty much risen overnight and it is still growing at breakneck speed,” he said. “It's China's most western city. Here, I’ve met all kinds of people from all over the world.”
Floyd is especially amazed with Lujiazui – Shanghai’s main financial district.
“It's in the Pudong area of Shanghai which, 20 years ago, didn't even exist. “Now, the international airport and many, many office towers are here. They are even building a Disney World.”
Floyd has visited lHangzhou, Nanjing, and Xiamenn. His next destination? Beijing.
“I couldn't come all the way over here and not see the great wall,” he said.
Life in Shanghai has been exciting and quite educational, but at the same time, it’s been strange for Floyd to find himself an outsider in a foreign land.
“Even though I've had some very frustrating moments, I've also had wonderful times. In the end, it was worth it,” he said. “It has really opened my eyes to what kind of world we live in. And it has also made me appreciate Bridgeport and West Virginia so much more.”
What he misses most are the clean air, kind people, slower lifestyle – and, of course, mountains.
But his time in Asia is well spent, Floyd said.
“I'm thankful for my experience because it has given me so much insight into a culture that has been in existence for 5,000 years,” he said. “Not only have I been working to change the image of Americans to Chinese, but I've also dispelled the West Virginia image to a lot of Americans here, so I’m killing two birds with one stone.”
At first, learning foreign languages was a hobby - mastering sounds, figuring out sentence structure and discovering character meaning.
The spoken language does, indeed, assist in unlocking doors of cultures around the globe. But the common thread of each is the heart of humanity, Floyd believes.
“I know that it can be so daunting to go out into public when no one speaks your language, but I've met some people that have been very kind to me and helped me and no words were spoken,” he said. “I think that those kinds of experiences cross all kinds of political and cultural barriers. It does more to promote peace than anything the government can do.”
Over the fourth of July holiday, Floyd will be returning to Bridgeport to spend the rest of the summer with his family and friends. He’s missed a lot while living abroad, he said, and looks forward to making up for lost time.
But he won’t be staying too long. In the fall, he’s relocating to Taiwan to dig even deeper into the Chinese language.
“Taiwan offers scholarships to people who want to come and study Chinese,” he said. “They are trying to get more people to go to Taiwan and learn the traditional characters because about 90 percent of people who study Chinese go to China to learn simplified.”
Scholarship or not, Floyd will attempt to learn more about Chinese. And although he has made some lifelong friends in Shanghai, it will be nice to adopt a slower pace of life, he said.
It may be an extended stay. Or he may move on – or even come home. Although he doesn’t know how close it is within his reach, Floyd does have some long-term goals – both a Plan A and Plan B – mind.
“Will I ever be fluent? I don't know. I feel like it will be a life-long journey,” he said. “When I get back to the US, depending how good I am, I would love to teach Chinese in a high school. If that doesn't work out, I'm thinking of something in the travel industry since so many Chinese are now going abroad.”
Choosing an undeveloped destination has really put things into perspective for Floyd.
“I think every American needs to go abroad. And I'm not talking about to the UK or Canada, though they are great places to go,” Floyd said. “In a developing country, you get to see just how good we have it and that all the things we whine about, when put into perspective, aren't that bad."