Women’s Transcendence

I fear in China women don’t have the self-agency to pursue their own dreams. It’s not uncommon for a Chinese woman to jeopardize her career to find a suitable husband. Afraid to be labeled as, “sheng nu” or “leftover woman,” women are pressured into getting married before the age of twenty-five. This means putting off milestone achievements, such as higher education. This pressure can lead to unwanted marriages and domestic abuse.

In addition to this time crunch to get married, many Chinese women face low-income disadvantages. For example, because students who scored low on their college entrance exam only qualify for a handful of schools, their career prospects are very narrow. While this is true for both genders, women are more likely to underperform due to China’s family culture. For instance, the immense favorable treatment towards men and Chinese society’s inclination for traditional gender roles, these factors can have an impact on women’s test performance.

This is what my students are up against. My students face enormous obstacles, but I believe as Peace Corps Volunteers and teachers alike we can empower our students by providing support.

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My students and I discussing body image issues.

My Peace Corps site, Qianjiang, is located in a small suburb four hours away from Chongqing city. My university is Chongqing Vocational Institute of Tourism. Given that my school is a vocational school, my students will eventually work in the tourism industry. Many of them will work in hotels, become bilingual tour guides, or work on a cruise ship. The problem with this is that vocational training prevents a chance for professional growth and consequently their income is fixed on the tourism industry. Furthermore, this reinforces traditional gender roles in Chinese society.

My students come from many different provinces in China, but they all come from low-income households. Roughly ninety-nine percent of them are young women who have never left their province. As a result, they are innocent and naïve about the prevalent discrimination against women. When my department required my students to purchase makeup I was shocked. The department wanted to help the students look mature for their job interviews. I realized they needed more than makeup tutorials. They needed a positive body image, tools to deal with stress, and career planning skills.  Three fundamental things to anyone’s level of confidence and self-esteem.

Therefore, I proposed A Girl’s Guide to Success, a  project which aims to empower my female students through awareness, body image, stress management, career planning, and mastering the use of beauty products for professional use.

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Perhaps the most important workshop I taught was on body image. I taught about the negative impact social media has on their idea of beauty. For example, recently there was an A4 waist challenge trending online. In this trend, women compare the size of their waist to the width of an A4 sheet of paper, which is 8.3 inches. Although such a challenge was deemed to be extremely unhealthy and dangerous, many Chinese women participated. It is easy for women to fall into the trap of using online trends to measure their beauty. However, in our workshop, we defied social media beauty standards by exposing the dangers, such as extreme weight loss. Furthermore, many of my students expressed the pressure of bleaching their skin. They claimed that many of their family members preferred fair skin because it’s viewed as more beautiful than darker toned skin. Nonetheless, I emphasized that a positive body image is crucial to avoid depression and weight difficulties. I asked my students to practice self-acceptance and to treat themselves as the loving, beautiful, and talented women they are. To demonstrate this acceptance, we had a wonderful activity where the students drew themselves on a piece of a paper. Next, to their drawing, they wrote a long list of what they love about their bodies but had the freedom to write one body feature they dislike. This created an opportunity for my students to appreciate and value their bodies.  A positive body image is essential because it correlates with high self-esteem and confidence.

The second most important workshop was on cosmetics. My students learned basic, but important, techniques to do their makeup for interviews. I was quite intrigued how curious they were trying on the products. Two other teachers and I demonstrated proper techniques and then students practiced with each other. They noticed that even a small application of makeup, such as eyeliner or even shaping their eyebrows could change their attitude about their appearance. However, this confidence was genuine because it came from their core where they had taken their positive body imagine into account. Cosmetics, like a professional wardrobe, are unique in a sense that can improve your confidence during an interview.

This is just one way Peace Corps Volunteers can support their students. There are multiple other ways you can support your students, such as increasing awareness about these issues. For my students, it was clear that my project was an eye-opener. This was the first time they strengthened their mind, gained new career tools, and learned about cosmetics. I’m certain that they will use this information for the rest of their life. Nevertheless, my students may face several obstacles in the development of their future careers, but I believe that they are now capable of transcending through them.

Maria Moreno is a  Peace Corps volunteer living in China. Non- of the opinions here are representative of the Peace Corps or of the US government or of Americans or of Westerners living in China or of China. These are just my own opinions told from my perspective and only mine.

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Kyoto: The Zen City.

There is no place like it, Kyoto is a place of ancient wisdom.  The energy here is calm and peaceful. On the first day, I headed to a couple of temples with my friend Yuka, a Kyoto native. She knows the ins and outs of the city and avoids touristy places. Yuka took me a sushi place for my first dinner. She taught to eat my sushi with my hands rather than with my chopsticks.

On the second day, Yuka and I visited the Imperial Palaces. This was Yuka’s first time too, so we were both in for a surprise. They were so magical and beautiful. It was raining on that day, but it did not bother us. I think the rain made our experience more romantic and aesthetically pleasing.

In Kyoto, I noticed the unique individuality that the people possess. It is nice to see people expressing themselves to the fullest, and Kyotians are not afraid of it. Furthermore, I noticed Japan’s working culture. Around 5 pm, I saw everyone in their beautiful work clothes walking to the subway. It’s quite cool.

I visited the Manga Museum on Thursday. I liked all of the anime art on display. I made me appreciate anime as an art style.

I particularly enjoyed watching the Japanese kids going crazy over the comic books. I thought it was cute. I also saw a couple of elderly men reading Manga books. I thought this was cute too, and I wanted to take their photo, but I did not want to be rude. I needed to ask in Japanese. Pokemon and Hayao’s Spirited Away were the only comics that I could read because they were in English.

 

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My friend Yuka

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Furishimi Inari

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Update.

 

Well peeps, its almost a year since I came to China. Pffft! Crazy how time flies! I thought I would update you on my life here in this little corner of China. Lets begin with telling you more about my hometown. Qianjiang is a small suburb (in Chinese terms) just four hours east of Chongqing city proper. It is nestled in between the greenest and rockiest mountains I have ever seen. There are tunnels through the mountains that connect the city parts together. To get to the main center I have to take bus from school and cross the tunnel. I usually go once a week to stock up on essentials. Qiangjang is more of a ma’ and pop’ kind of town, so there aren’t many main stream stores. Oh well… I save my money that way.

Since I have been here for quite a while now, I have been making adjustments to my diet. My honeymoon phase is definitely over, so I have been cutting down on the meat to the point I just eat veggies at the cafeteria. Also I have been trying to cook more at home, making my own salad dressing, pancake mix, and flour tortillas. Besides, I find that cooking is quite therapeutic. I also plan to buy a small oven soon!

During my free time, I find myself obsessing over YouTube’s bloggers on makeup tutorials and reviews. I think it has become my hobby. I don’t think its all that bad, besides one of my favorite blogger Viviannadoesmakeup motivated me to update my blog. She writes an entry almost everyday! She also inspires me to move to England :p. I have also read a couple of books, I read the God Father, (hands down the best mobster book ever written!) The Alchemist, The Pilgrimage, and now currently reading The Hobbit on my iPad. My sister and my cousin Kelly are also reading The Hobbit, and we yet to have a discussion on it. I like to watch something at the end of my day. Kelly got me watching Orphan Black again. However my biggest vice is cartoons, I love American Dad and I have watched seasons 1-9 back to back! I’m catching up with seasons 10, 11, and 12. Gosh, I love that show, and I think I will get into Futurama (I know, its weird, but its true, I love cartoons). As for music, I have been playing The Lumineers, The Paper Kites, Kaleo, Vance Joy and some Drake. Yup, I think my Eminem days are over, but I still like his music. Sometimes, I wish I could make the most of my free time here, like practicing Reiki at a hospital, but I think that is impossible. Instead, I have been planning more activities with my students, which actually is the best human interaction I could have nowadays. They are so funny.

In a deeper level, I have been thinking about how pervious life experiences can shape you up for other things down the road. For example, my experiences with programs like Girls Inc., Girls Scouts, and SOY all geared me up to better understand my students. More specifically, on how to approach certain situations. The same goes for negative experiences too, like the one I had in Barcelona. I feel like that experience helps me to get through difficult days. Which, I feel very grateful for. So if you are experiencing something negative right now, don’t worry, the universe is preparing you something great! Animo! And I am 100 percent sure that my joys and struggles that I am experiencing right now are for something worth wild.

Sorry for no pictures, I’m working on it!

-Maria

Maria Moreno is a  Peace Corps volunteer living in China. Non- of the opinions here are representative of the Peace Corps or of the US government or of Americans or of Westerners living in China or of China. These are just my own opinions told from my perspective and only mine.