When I found out I was going to write a column, I wanted to write something that would introduce myself as a person and a columnist, but I had no idea what to say.
Not wanting to paint myself as the girl obsessed with that one year she spent in China, I knew that was a topic I wanted to steer clear of.
But the truth is, every time I sat down to write, I kept coming back to the day I interviewed for a teaching position at a kindergarten in Beijing, a time in my life that helped put me where I am today.
There I was, in February, 2010, sitting in front of a group of 5-year-olds, singing "Heads, Shoulders, Knees and Toes," terrified that the approval of these six kids is what would have me hired or sent packing.
I'd already been turned down at three different schools.
I was quickly learning how easy it was to feel the sting of embarrassment brought on by dancing around in front of a bunch of toddlers, just to have them stare silently at you with that look of judgment only a 5-year old can muster.
So on this fourth trip, I pulled out all the stops. I sang. I danced. I played games. I high-fived and thumbs-upped my way through a 20 minute demo lesson that left me feeling less like a 23-year-old and more like the age group of the tiny people who held my fate in their hands.
When it was over, I gathered my flash cards and the little dignity I had left and stood out in the hall as my company representative pled my case with the principal.
At that moment, I had never felt more helpless in my life. My Mandarin was less than stellar. I'd been in the country for three weeks and was almost out of money. My fianc had already been hired at a school more than one week before that lesson and it was becoming difficult for me to keep hearing "no" at interview after interview.
So when Emerson, my company rep, came out of the classroom with a smile on his face, I felt like dancing some more, though I resisted the urge.
Later, Emerson told me I almost didn't get the job because my name was a man's name, and one of the male students at the school was named "Jackie" as well. They didn't want him getting any ideas. I told him they could call me "Nancy" if they wanted.
I needed that job.
I spent a year of my life at that school, teaching 75 kids and spending time with the other Chinese teachers. We ate meals together, went sight-seeing together. Some of them invited me to their homes to celebrate holidays. They showed me pictures of their families and asked me all sorts of questions about life in America. I grew to love those kids and my co-workers.
It was at once the best thing and the hardest thing I've ever done.
But that was all more than a year ago now. My fianc and I came back to Marquette in February of 2011.
Since then, we found an apartment, got married, bought some furniture and a car, and have settled back in to life in Marquette. Looking back, I don't think I'll ever have another year like last year.
Deb Pascoe, former editorial assistant here at the Journal, told me I should use this first column to "peel back a layer and share a part of yourself with them."
Not one to turn away good advice, especially from such a good writer, that's what I set out to do. Right now it feels a bit like dancing in front of those kids.
The difference is, I'm a better dancer than I was back then.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Jackie Stark is a Marquette resident and a staff reporter at The Mining Journal. Her column appears bi-weekly. She can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.