At the beginning of the semester, I was still in Canada, doing the paperwork hurdles, so I hit the ground running with the students; classes had already started. I had about 80 students spread over three classes, unlike some university teachers who have far more. In my case, it was possible to learn all their names (I only partially succeeded there) and certainly I knew all their faces and whether they liked to sit at the front, or sit at the back, looking at TV shows on their cell phones, or hide behind their long hair when it looked like I might call on them.
For the final exam, I handed out a list of 21 questions in advance. The questions were based on the topics of the textbook we'd been using. The students could choose two questions and I would choose another one or two. I allotted ten minutes for each exam and another few minutes for talking with each student informally about their progress.
One of the questions, and as it turned out, the question most frequently chosen by the students was, "Who is the most important person in your life and why?" Invariably, the most important person for my students was their mother, or father, or grandparent. The people who gave them life, who raised them, who sacrificed for them, who gave them good advice. Even though many of them said virtually the same thing, I didn't think I was listening to Confucian clichés. Some told little anecdotes, such as how their grandfather made breakfast for them every morning and walked them to school. Others talked about how hard their parents worked. Some were separated from their parents because the parents went to the big city to work, and they stayed with the grandparents. They often concluded by saying they wished to take good care of their parents and give them an easier life in their old age. Some talked about how much their missed their grandmothers and parents while they were away at school and they were looking forward to going home. Some spoke of the special dishes they knew their mother or grandmother would prepare for their homecoming -- the dumplings or noodles that meant home and love.
A North American looks at this chart and sees a disturbing trend -- boomerang kids, failure to launch, a disintegrating economy with fewer opportunities for young people. They see a trend to be worried about. My students said things like: "Maybe they have finished school and want to move back to be with their parents to take care of them and help give them a good life." "They missed their parents so they have moved back with their parents."
I've never taught on a modern North American campus and maybe the young adults there are just as sweet and respectful when talking about their parents as my students are. But I doubt it. During the chapter on health and medicine, I talked to all the students, particularly the Business English students, about demographics and the implications of an aging population. But there is no way that I understood what it means to have four grandparents, two parents and one child in the same way that they have lived it. It seems that most of them will lovingly undertake the responsibility of caring for their elders.