China will stay with me forever
When I told people I was heading to China for six months their responses were invariably “but why?”. I gave them the standard answers of wanting an adventure, to help out, to teach English, to learn Mandarin, to meet new people and experience new things. Whilst these are all very true, I wasn’t expecting to be thrown into such an amazing experience where every day brings new adventures and reasons to laugh, question and learn.
China is everything and nothing like you would expect it to be. It’s a place of crazy contradictions where the lines between rich and poor, modern and traditional, rural and urban are extremely blurred. Brand new cars drive on roads being swept clean of leaves, passing squalid markets selling every variety of foods, goods and clothes you can imagine. Women in high heels and fancy dresses choose their live birds or fish and watch while the seller, wearing a traditional hat, squats and kills it before their eyes. Farm lands lie in the shadow of huge apartment blocks and busy streets, cows casually eat grass next to a highway full of cars, buses and motorbikes.
‘Villages’ seem to be merely extensions of the cities yet in some cases there is a huge difference in their quality of life, especially their knowledge of English, their customs and even their language. Women serve traditional tea in front of a backdrop of traditional red bows while their flat screen TV’s play softly in the background. At night the city is ablaze with colourful flashing lights, yet it’s almost impossible to find a decently chilled drink because they don’t want to waste energy on fridges. It’s these contradictions and constantly surprising circumstances that make every day in China exciting.
Teaching takes up most of our time since we are at school from around 8am to 5pm Monday to Friday. Preparing lessons, teaching lessons, chatting with the students, watching other teachers lessons and ‘giving them hints’, playing sports with the kids, going to assembly or morning exercise, organising culture presentations and English corners – keeping so busy makes time fly and makes me feel like I’m making the most of everything.
Even on the extremely hectic days the thrill of teaching a really good lesson, where the kids are studious and attentive yet excited and energetic when they need to be, is worth it. Having fifty 11 year olds stare up at you expectantly can be extremely scary, but when you realize that they are all so excited to be in your lesson you get over the nerves.
I teach at two schools – an experimental primary and junior middle school, and a village primary school – but no matter where I go every kid I pass still gives me the biggest smile, wave and says “hello teacher”! Barely a day goes by when we don’t go home without a gift of some sort from the students or our fellow teachers – food, drawings, key rings, even a box full of handmade stars once. They are so grateful to have us there that one of the teachers told me her Grade 4 class, who I don’t teach, had said “Miss, if we are very good will the foreign teacher teach us one day?”. This was from the lady who said we were the first foreigners she herself had ever spoken to.
So yes, while you are there to teach English to the students, you will be doing just as much good sharing your experiences and English knowledge with the other teachers who can then pass it on to more and more students, even after you’ve left. I’m sure the teachers will be telling stories of how the ‘crazy’ foreigners played hockey with a broomstick and a basketball in the classroom to teach sports, had egg and spoon races to teach about Easter, and stood on the tables to show what the Sydney Harbour Bridge looks like for many years to come. I think our different teaching techniques, accents and ideas will inspire teachers and students alike to enjoy studying English more.
If you are considering a gap year in China I totally advise it. You’ll make lifelong friends and have experiences that will both change and improve you. Six months in China will stay with you forever.
Submitted by: Jessica Wright