Pearl Shi - General Teaching Projects in China
This is a story directed at anyone interested in volunteering with a twist - especially teenagers like me, or students looking to further their experience. Being seventeen at the time of my project I was one of the youngest at my placement!
Volunteering with Projects Abroad is not your average beach or park cleaning, and there are few other local volunteering organisations that can top opportunities like this. These projects are for those with a true passion to assist for the pure joy of helping others, and who want to explore a fresh, novel environment.
So, what are the benefits of taking this chance? A stunning cultural experience that will last eternally, long-term friends from your host country and the other volunteers from all around the world, fun explorations through travel and local leisure events, and a great way to gain experience and impress in whatever field you seek to advance in.
I must admit, being a Chinese-born American girl I had a bit of a head start. I still have relatives who live in China; however my speaking skills were a bit rusty before my trip. My parents suggested I travel to Shanghai as a way to get me back into speaking the language, which I have not done so fluently since I was a child.
Arriving in China
Projects Abroad booked my flight for me, and as they promised, had someone meet me at the airport to bring me to my accommodation. The person who greeted me was Danny, the volunteer coordinator of the Projects Abroad team based in China, and he was a very talkative, amiable guy. We got along great as we talked about ourselves in the cab, and he gave me my emergency card, an essential card with the address of your residence and workplace written in Chinese (very convenient for one to show a taxi driver when alone) and contact information of the Projects Abroad staff.
When I finally arrived at the volunteer flat, I was surprised at how clean and nice it was. It had 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a kitchen, a huge living room area, with two balconies and AC’s in each room (which is necessary; China gets burning hot in the summer!). The living room had two beige leather sofas, a flat screen TV, a telephone, a rug, and a desk with a lamp decorated in dangling crystals.
There were clear instructions in paper on the walls, about throwing out trash, operating the washing machine, and more. Danny informed me that we could get free jugs of water, that I would receive a free international phone card, that there was a convenient nearby supermarket called Lotus, as well as other helpful information. He then told me if there were any problems with any electronics or plumbing, we could give him, the County Director, or the Assistant Manager a call. I had everything handed to me and many staff members supporting me, so I felt safe and guided.
Meeting my flatmates
I met my roommate that same night, Giulia, a charismatic Italian college student with a spicy personality. Giulia was a vocalist in her band, and majored in law. Each bedroom had 2 roommates of the same gender. I was roommates with Giulia, and Jean and Lee were roommates in the room next door. Sophia, the only person who had a room to herself, was an intelligent and pleasantly conversational Swiss girl who wore adorable dresses.
As my month in China progressed, I spent most of my time with these people, and we all grew quite attached through our experiences travelling throughout China, sightseeing, eating out, going to karaoke, or sometimes just shopping or chatting at cafes. We were close with our neighbour flatmates as well, and I acted as the translator.
I taught my friends how to bargain, explained cultural differences, ordered food from restaurants, gave taxi drivers directions, and so much more. It was a wonderful feeling to know that I could not only help the students that I taught, but my fellow volunteers as well.
My Teaching Project
Speaking of my students, I bet you’re wondering what it’s like to teach in China! I was placed in a Zhi Luo Lan Summer School in the outskirts of China to teach English. It sounds intimidating, but Projects Abroad pairs up teaching volunteers to reduce the workload and stress. That was how I met my Irish friend and teaching partner, Tony, who was one of the many volunteers wanting to advance his career.
In our class we taught the 7 to 9 year olds; a vibrant and noisy bunch, at first too playful to listen. However, as time wore on, the kids grew to love us, and I felt I had a special connection to them because I could understand them. Tony and I played games such as hangman, crosswords, Pictionary, draw the word, and others with the students. Add in some prizes such as stickers, coloured pencils, markers, sweets, or colouring books, and now you have classroom full of motivated, competitive and bright students.
The greatest part about teaching at this school is that you can come and go with the teachers every day. Tony and I weren’t the only teachers; there was Jana, Justina, Penda, Katherine, and Christina, and each day we all took the bus and ate lunch in each other's company. There was never a moment I was alone, never for a second did I fear I would be lost on the bus or not able to find my way back to school from lunch at a restaurant. Also, there is English speaking staff in the school, so they could assist in translating, especially for classes lacking a Chinese teacher.
Personally, my favourite part of the school day was break time. I was able to play basketball and other games with the children, and some of them followed me around like ducklings would to a mother duck! They loved showing off their skills, but also loved to please by praising you if you showed them how well you could dribble, or how far you could throw the basketball.
The kids asked many curious questions: why is your hair blonde? Were there Chinese kids where I came from? How far away did I live? Would I come back to visit? Could I go to their houses to play with them? Another thing I found fascinating was that the countries that my teaching colleagues had come from were sometimes a mystery to the children. They knew the USA, England, France, Italy, Germany, and other big countries, but they’d never heard of Ireland or Switzerland, and the pleasure I extracted from trying to explain these new countries was indescribable. To see the looks of amazement on the children’s faces at learning something new made me feel pure bliss.
Now that I’m back home, I sometimes look at my phone contacts and see the phone numbers of other friends I made in China. I think back to Shanghai: a convenient, urban, fun, relaxing, rewarding city. Shanghai is the city for all kinds of people; cafes with a special menu for those who like to sip coffee while chatting or reading; a vibrant nightlife with clubs and bars, tantalizing varieties of foods in ranges of restaurants and familiar food chains for food connoisseurs, huge shopping malls with super cheap deals for shoppers, huge grassy parks for nature-lovers and joggers, and a French quarter in case you get homesick and want to interact with some Western people and culture.
My friends and I still keep in touch on Facebook, and I have a feeling that this summer I will be going back for more! This trip is, by far, one of the best choices I have ever made in my life. I can say that confidently.