Over the course of my first few months in Changzhou I often had class with Kiera
and her friend Winnie. Kiera and Winnie were normal 22-year-old, moneyed ladies. They were
interested in fashion, liked to go shopping and out to eat on the weekends, and they both had dyed
and permed hair. They had met each other at the school, and became fast friends who always attended
classes together. Often their time at the school was spent in as much a social manner as a studious
Winnie and Kiera were similar young women in similar situations, though they did differ in a few key aspects. Winnie, and many of the other young female students, regularly enjoyed speaking about men and dating, while Kiera was consistently averse to such talk. In fact, when one of her classmates would question her about her own love life she would often reply in disgust that she had absolutely no interest in men. It wasn't lack of interest on the part of the opposite sex that had embittered her, she was a lovely young woman, but rather the relationships among her contemporaries that she had been privy too.
Witnessing friend after friend fall in love, Kiera had become jaded. What she saw in their relationships was neither the thrill of first love, nor the enticements of romance, but rather the cold, hard nature of control. Kiera explained to me that she had no desire for either a boyfriend or a husband, because they would be merely a replacement for her own father.
Kiera's parents, like Winnie's, owned and operated their own successful company. In the future, they desired Kiera to take over the business, and were sending her to an English training school because they believed her fluency in the language could help improve and expand their business. Kiera professed a complete lack of interest in their metal parts company. She found it entirely uninteresting and dreaded a future wedded to such a boring profession.
As many of our classes were focused on business and career, we often discussed future plans. Doing so Kiera would always complain about her parents' strict rules about her future. She was one of the first young women I met who complained so openly. She would often ask personal questions of me, about why I was in China teaching, why I had decided to be a teacher, and what my family thought of me living on the other side of the world. She was curious about the western familial relationships that she had heard were so different from her own. She craved independence, but didn't quite know how to go about obtaining it, or whether or not she should try.
While she frequently disagreed with her father, if she did so directly her parents would be angered and she would feel guilt for disobeying their wishes. She was conflicted; she wanted to get along with her father and mother, wanted to be a "good" daughter, but, young and curious, she desired some control over her own future. She reminded me of many friends, other young women whose parents had very specific goals and desires in mind for them; desires and goals which these young women didn't not entirely share.
Many of these young women also shared with Kiera an unwillingness to disobey their parents' wishes. For two reasons: they wanted to remain on good terms with their parents, and because they had enjoyed their parents emotional and financial support for so many years, that they experienced an intense feeling of vertigo at the thought of the disappearance of such support.
After listening to Kiera's continuous complaints for a couple of months, I became as frustrated as she and I suggested what I had suggested to many of my friends before her: get a job. I didn't wish to interfere, and was nervous about the effect this step towards independence would have on the already strained relations between father and daughter. I worried that giving such personal advice, especially advice which went against the wishes of her parents, was beyond the scope of our relationship, but neither could I remain silent. I reasoned with her that she could always point out how getting a job was a step in the right direction: getting a job would improve her sense of responsibility, help her gain useful experience and could even improve her English language skills.
Funnily enough, Kiera ultimately decided that getting a part-time job was a good idea, and after leaning a bit on her mother she obtained her permission to apply for the job of receptionist at our own training center. Though her father considerably displeased to hear of her employment aspirations, he too came around when he learned that she would be working at her school, with people whom she already knew, she would have the opportunity to practice English while working, and, best of all, she could take her English courses for free.
Though Kiera was now working part-time she continued to live at home with her parents, and they still maintained the same plans for her future. However, having the job and the responsibility of showing up at work on time and completing her receptionist duties (which she always did with the utmost care and attention) Kiera became a more satisfied and relaxed young woman. Though the job was a simple one, and a first one, it was also a job that she had received through her own merit, without help from her family or friends.
Sadly, while the job in the training center improved Kiera's self-confidence and her outlook on her future, it didn't work wonders for her English. Though she could now have taken classes for free she did so only occasionally, perhaps because working and studying at the training center would have meant that she spent most of her waking time there.
Over the year that I knew her, Kiera changed greatly. Her permed and dyed hair was replaced with her own silky straight natural locks, her dissatisfaction replaced with confidence and enjoyment, and even her relationship with her father became less and less an embattled and, therefore, much less bitter. While her father was initially angered by her move towards independence, he eventually came around. Recognizing his daughter as a responsible young woman he was proud of her, and even more hopeful for her future success. And while Kiera may not have been any more excited about her prospects in her family business, she was doing something independently in the moment. Just by applying for and getting a job Kiera's felt as though she had gained control over her present life. The majority of her anger and dissatisfaction evaporated, leaving a beautiful, confident woman.