This will be my sixth year as a college teacher in China, and I've certainly noticed a change in the students since I first started. The class of 2010 is certainly a lot more worldly-wise, confident, and keen than the class of 2005. But I'm also noticing a slight downturn in students' optimism about the future. I'm surprised how often I get asked about my belief in the validity of 2012 doomsday predictions, and a lot of Chinese people have confessed to me that they think our way of life is going to end soon. But perhaps even more surprising is that they don't seem to bummed out when they talk about it. It's almost like talking about the demise of summer and the approaching winter- everyone knows it's coming and there's no reason to fret about it. Of course this isn't to say that Chinese people see the future through a bleak lens- quite the opposite actually. But the "go-get-'em" attitude that I'd seen before has become somewhat tempered now. I get a similar vibe when I discuss climate change or world war. I imagine that it's the same for American students after the latest economic tempest.
One reason why I love my job as a college teacher is that I can communicate with students who are mature enough to have deep thoughts and opinions but also retain the energy and excitement of childhood. Now it looks like the kids are growing up a lot faster these days.