Volunteer Review: Harriet M., Teach English and Other Subjects in China
Before jetting off to embark on my one-month adventure to teach in Shanghai, the most incredible city that I’ve ever been to, I must admit I had one or two worries like every other volunteer before departing. You need to believe me when I say every single one of your worries and doubts are gone within the first 12 hours of landing, trust me, everyone is in the same boat! From day one I knew I would have the most incredible time, experiences and memories that I will never forget.
After a 12-hour flight from London to Shanghai, I was met at the airport, as promised, by a Projects Abroad staff member along with another volunteer who arrived just before me. We all took a taxi and were shown around the flat that we’d being living in. It was really nice and the view of some of the Shanghai skyline was in the distance got me excited to get out there!
The day after I arrived was my first day at my placement, Zi luo Lan summer school located in the outskirts of Shanghai. I volunteered in China in the months of July and August, which were the summer holidays for the children too and also the very humid and hot ones. The school is open for summer camp, which enables parents to work so they can send their children to school. Zi Luo Lan School is a migrant school for the Chinese. Families have moved from all across China to be close to the city so parents can find work and enable their children a chance of an education, something that previously was only available to wealthy families.
In order to get to and from my placement every day, I took the metro for about half an hour then it was a short walk to the school from there. The school was located in an area where standards are living are poor. You have to walk through a small shantytown in order to get to the school.
As soon as I arrived, I was greeted by the head master Mr Chen. He didn’t speak much English and I only speak basic Chinese so communicating was hard. He immediately showed me to the class that I was in charge of then he left… Talk about being thrown into the deep end! It turned out there is no curriculum to follow during summer camp so I had to plan my own lessons.
The children I taught were mixed ages; from 5- 10 years old and they were adorable! Teaching soon proved to be difficult too, with the older ones speaking very basic, broken English to the younger ones speaking none what so ever! A challenge it was but we got by and we all learnt so much, yes even me! The children spoke to me in Chinese, like I was fluent so I had to make out what they were saying, soon picking it up.
We started off learning the real basics, from greetings to adjectives and numbers. I covered everything that was teachable that they could understand in English/ basic Chinese. Drawings helped us learn too! They picked up English quick which I was amazed at. As the children grew more confident we learnt how to tell the time in both languages, sentences, describing things and even instructions. I was so proud of what they had achieved in the short time I was there, I’m glad my time in china actually meant something!
Teaching in China
The children were adorable and made me feel welcome. They were cheeky at times and always wanted to play as children do! When it was lunchtime, you sit with the children to eat the delicious school lunches they provided. Fights could have broken out with them arguing who sits next to Teacher Hattie every day, it was cute but with 30 children calling out your name to sit next to you, it was hard as well! The children included me in all their games they played at break times, made me friendship bracelets and even origami! I was so sad to leave on my last day, I could have cried! I thoroughly enjoyed my time teaching at the school, it was such a fab opportunity, something I could of never have been given in England at 18 years old!
Free time abroad
Working Monday to Friday, 9am- 4pm, it meant I had free time to explore Shanghai in the evenings and travel during weekends. With my flat mates and other volunteers, we would go out for dinner every night, as it was so cheap and also meet up a lot for socials. Chinese food is so delicious, nothing what you have ever experienced in Chinese restaurants back home! Dumplings are a must!
Projects Abroad staff arranges socials for the volunteers once a week. We met up and did activities such as Tai Chi, Chinese calligraphy, going out to eat hotpot and pub quizzes! Every volunteer is eager to see as much of China as possible. One weekend about 8 of us took a 30 mins high speed train to Hangzhou. Hangzhou is home to a beautiful and massive lake with traditional Chinese temples dotted around the perimeter. We all hired bikes and cycled around the lake, stopping every 10 minutes to take pictures of the beautiful views.
Another weekend, two of us took a 10-hour overnight sleeper train to the yellow mountains. We arrived at 7am and were climbing the mountain by 10am! The amount of steps it took to get to the top was insane! So much rain as well but it was worth it when we saw the views at the top, it was incredible! They say the yellow mountains are the “Grand Canyon of the East”. We had been climbing (stopping and starting a lot because it was very tiring) for 7 hours when we reached the top and realized the time… it was 6pm and the last bus home at the bottom was 7pm otherwise we would be stuck overnight! We pelted it down the mountain; I couldn’t believe how many steps we had climbed! It was nearing 7pm and we were still running down the steps. The adrenaline and fear that were racing through our bodies… however we made it with seconds to spare, luck was definitely on our side that day!
My last weekend in China, I traveled up to Beijing by high-speed train. It seemed wrong to come all this way to China and not climb The Great Wall and what an incredible experience that was! I was also fortunate to see the Temple of Heaven, Tiedemann Square and The Forbidden City.
I shared these amazing experiences with some fab new friends from across the world, with the most incredible and hilarious memories that will stay with me for a lifetime. By participating in this unforgettable experience, I have come home as a new person for all of the right reasons, more culturally aware and fascinated about the world around and eager to see the rest of it. This was my first time in China and Asia itself and I can promise you now, it won’t be my last.
This is a personal account of one volunteer’s experience on the project and is a snapshot in time. Your experience may be different, as our projects are constantly adapting to local needs and building on accomplishments. Seasonal weather changes can also have a big impact. Find out more about what you can expect from this project, or speak to one of our friendly Program Advisors.