“After having completed the first of two weeks as a volunteer teacher in the Guangxi province in China, I am left with a range of different experiences and impressions. Upon arrival at Guilin international airport, I was picked up by a Greenway China coordinator along with along with another volunteer. As we were driving from the airport to the train station, we made a stop at a small restaurant. As my fellow volunteer and I followed our Chinese coordinator into the restaurant, each and every face turned to look at us. It has become clear that this would in no way stand alone as a unique incident. It would rather account to the first of many situations in which I would simply have to accept careful examination by locals, as if I was some being completely unfamiliar to them. I think this is something every traveller of non-Asian origin will come to experience if they visit China, and especially if they visit the less tourist-heavy areas.
The day after I arrived in China, I was sent straight into the kindergarten with the 12 other volunteers. I had been wondering how to solve the language barrier which resulted from me being unable to speak any Mandarin. This was actually one of the most significant challenges I encountered during my first week, but was made easier to overcome as every foreign volunteer was paired up with a Chinese volunteer. Dealing with young kids proved to not always just be easy. One of the keys to success was realising that many issues related to the kids’ occasionally short concentration span could effectively be countered using fun, interactive and physically engaging teaching methods.
Another helpful part was understanding the value of playing games just for the sake of playing games. Of course, as a teacher one always wish to teach the kids as much as possible, but with kids being as young as they were (4 or 5 years old) trying to continuously push across huge bulks of theoretical content may become so boring and mentally exhausting for the children that it may in fact be counterproductive. Sacrificing, say, 15 minutes of time to let the kids disconnect through playing games may actually improve the overall efficiency of the class. Building on this philosophy, we were able to create a programme which the kids engaged so actively and eagerly in that they, with absolute commitment, continued participating in class activities throughout their breaks. Viewed from a teaching standpoint, the first week was a definite success.
Chinese culture offers many differences to the Western culture I am used to. First of all, your position in society is a very different one. The expectations you are faced with are different for every relationship you make, be it as a peer, friend, teacher, mentor or mentee. Being open-minded and leaving behind perceptions and earlier experiences creates a fundament where receptivity to what natives tell and ask of you, can be used to adapt to, understand and experience the culture, and all which follows, in an authentic environment.
The kindergarten has now finished for the summer, and next week we will be sent to a summer school for primary school students. My group is responsible for grades 1 through 3, but we are free to combine classes and cooperate with the group whom are responsible for grades 4 through 6. Right now I am sitting here, the day before classes commence, and preparing content and activities for the first classes, hoping that my experiences from kindergarten can be transferred to primary school. More generally I can say that I hope that I have learned something from the experiences I have had this first week, and that I will be able to build on these to tackle situations in a better, more appropriate and more rewarding way than I would have earlier. I can probably even extend on that idea to word what I believe to be the very essence of this volunteer internship; these type of experiences gives students of some nationality the possibility to experience a very different type of culture, and to use their experiences to deal with situations which they will encounter later in life, in a more tolerant and respectful way. And in all fairness, I believe this is something this very programme is well on its way to achieve.
PS. Kindergarten kids love stickers.”