“I have now left China, and arrived at my final destination. It has been two very interesting weeks, with numerous new and diverse impressions and experiences. While I have encountered some challenges, I would definitely say I am left mostly with positive memories. Further, I can safely say that this project is one I am very happy I participated in, and also that I am very sad to already leave China. If I could, I would definitely have stayed for longer.
The last week, I was very busy with doing actual volunteering work. First of all, I had to be at the summer camp six hours a day (even though I did not actually teach for six hours). Teaching and interacting with the children continuously for such a long time turned out to consume a lot of energy, much more than I had expected. In addition to this, a certain amount of preparation had to be done in advance of each day. I would have to, in collaboration with another volunteer, make lesson plans for each and every English class. Our entire group would also meet in the evenings to discuss how the day had fared, what was done well, what could be improved and to discuss tomorrow’s lesson plans. While this doubtlessly was beneficial, it was nonetheless time-consuming and tiring, especially when all members of the 8-person group had differing views. The effect was amplified as a result of communication difficulties in the group. While intentions by all means were good, we struggled a bit as some of the volunteers had slightly lacking English skills, so this was something we, as a group, had to work around.
Despite these challenges, I think the project turned out rewarding. Working in such diverse groups is always difficult, but it teaches you a lot about compromise, respect and communication, as well as the importance of it. For me, this, the development of inter-personal skills, was a really important aspect, and I think it will benefit me in the remaining two years of my studies and also in my future jobs. Working with people from all over the world is getting more and more important in this ever-increasingly globalized world, and being able to practice team-work with people of different cultures and nationalities in the supporting environment provided at a volunteering project induces growth in an professional, but not overwhelming, situation.
Not only do I think the project was rewarding for the other volunteers and me, but I think it was also very beneficial to the children. First of all, they had something to do. This was a summer camp, so while the children had free from school, the parents were still working hard in the village. This means that the children were largely left to themselves during the day and the summer camp was a place for them to do something meaningful and also interact with the other children from the village. Secondly, and of course very importantly, was the pure learning outcome. While some children are always difficult to teach, due to lacking interest in the subject, in general, the children learnt a lot. Also as the classes were, in their entirety, designed by volunteers, the curriculum was a highly diverse one, offering a lot of interesting content from a range of subjects. Lastly, the children were exposed to different cultures through us foreign volunteers. It is important to remember that these children live in poor villages in mainland China, and their exposure to new cultures is very limited. This is an aspect that was emphasized at the volunteering camp as well, and I agree that it is an important one. In the end, the growth, both academic and social, of the children is the aim of the summer camp, and it felt truly amazing to be able to provide them with possibility to do just that.
In my opinion this project was a huge success. Both for myself; I believe I have learnt and experienced a lot and massively broadened my horizons, especially from a cultural perspective, and for the children. I am overjoyed to be able to say that I believe the summer camp, and also the time I spent in the kindergarten during my first week, was a success from an “academic” standpoint. While I heard some volunteers say they were a bit disappointed with the amount of knowledge the children had actually absorbed, I have to disagree. I can kind of see where they are coming from, but at the same time, i think it is important to realise that we were just there for one week, and that was during a summer camp. In my experience they did actually even learn quite a bit, but we were obviously in no position to teach them complex mathematical concepts or to read and understand long and challenging books in English. However, we did expose them to topics which they will encounter at school in the upcoming years, and just as importantly, to out-of-school situations in which they might find themselves in the future. I hope, and think, that this exposure can turn out to be very valuable, and might have provided them with a foundation from which they easier will learn the more complex parts later.
Finally, I would like to emphasize how valuable these two weeks have been to me. While I hesitate to say that it was the best and most rewarding two weeks of my life so far, I genuinely do not think it is far from being the truth. My time at the volunteer camp entailed intriguing cultural experiences, eye-opening discoveries of everyday-life in China, personal growth in several areas and the formation of new friendships. All of these aspects have made sure that this have been an experience, which now that I have completed it, I would definitely not be without. Who knows, I might even head back again next summer.”
by Thomas Espaas