Lewis - English Tutor in China
China is one of the most mysterious and magical countries on the planet, full of culture and endless adventures. Shrouded in History and full of vibrant life, it was for these reasons that I chose to volunteer there. I spent 5 months with Lattitude Global Volunteering in the south of China in a town called Yuxi, in the province on Yunnan and it was the most incredible experience of my life. The time I spent there was so humbling and educational; it was everything I had hoped it would be and more.
My main role in China was to be an English teacher to students of all ages. The kids were amazing, they were all so willing to learn and work hard that it made every day enjoyable. The daunting task of teaching lessons to over 60 children slowly begins to, with time, become the highlight of your day. There is no greater feeling than knowing that a group of people are learning and improving by your teaching, the English Language plays a key role in the world and the people of China know that. The kind of kids I taught had the ambition of people who saw no end to what they can achieve and where they could take their lives. Before long I began to realise that, although I was the teacher, I was learning so much from the people I was meeting.
I had no end of invitations to visit the homes of the students and be involved within their families’ routine. Learning about culture and traditions here in the U.K. normally involves reading a book or watching a DVD in school, but being out in China, in the heart of the country, educates you in a way that you can’t forget. My eyes were opened to all kind of foods, traditions, scenery and history that made every day an adventure.
Although I was placed on my own in China, this was possibly the best thing that could have happened to me. It enabled me to have the determination and courage to completely drop my guard and fully immerse myself within the culture. I worked really hard on learning the language and tried to get the most I could out of the country. I got to experience things and explore places that I would never have dreamt of before I visited the country.
A word of warning, volunteering in a country, especially China, gets under your skin. It moulds you into a person that you could have never imagined you would become. The country will never leave your memory and you will always remember your time there as the best of your life. No matter how hard you try, you can never articulate to someone how amazing China and the time you spent volunteering there was.
I cannot thank Lattitude Global Volunteering enough for enabling me to travel to this most incredible place. I made lifelong friends, had experiences I will never forget and began to really understand what life is about and what exactly I want to do with mine.
I enjoyed it so much, I’m planning on going back again this year to visit my friends, the school I worked in and learn so much more about the most magical place I have ever been. Good luck to anyone planning on going there, you’re in for an adventure!
Ali - English Tutor in China
When I was 17 and just finishing high school, I knew that I didn’t want to go straight to university. I knew that I needed to go out and see the world and contribute to it before I committed to three further years of study. But I knew that I didn’t want to do the same gap year that everyone else was doing – it just didn’t seem like a big enough of a challenge to me.
Between classes I would regularly walk past the gap year supervisor’s office and he has a poster in his window for Gap Activity Projects, now Lattitude Global Volunteering. I had walked past that poster hundreds of times without actually asking what it was all about, but one day I went in and asked for a brochure. Little did I know how much that one action would impact upon my life.
I ended up volunteering in China as an English teacher for a year, completing two placements at a couple of different schools. My experiences from that time cannot be put into words very well. The excitement and joy of teaching 60 teenagers English tongue twisters, participating in preparing students for the annual English play competition and walking to class in the freezing early morning and having “Hallo Teacher!” screamed at you excitedly from every direction was amazing.
I learnt so much about myself from my year away. For instance, I am a lot braver than I thought I was. Since, and even during, my gap year, I gazed upon the Pyramids of Giza, walked Tiger Leaping Gorge and stood on the edge of the world at the top of Scotland. I then completed a Bachelor of International Studies both here at home and in France, and my gap year gave me a unique insight into the world and our place in it.
After being a Tour Guide in Paris for a season and then tackling the wilds of retail travel sales, I am back at university now pursuing my true passion.
I’m now studying to be an audio engineer with the hope of recording orchestral soundtracks internationally. Taking that time overseas really opened my mind – the world is much bigger than we think and is just filled with so many amazing opportunities.
Challenging myself by heading to China opened my mind to ask “what do you really want to do?” and then taking that chance to say, “that is what I want to do”. Because I know that I can teach a class of 60 students English and get myself out of tight situations when I don’t speak the language, I know that I can achieve my goals.
I now have no qualms in saying, I’m going to complete my degree and then move to London or L.A. to pursue my passion. It’ll be a snap compared to being 18 and living somewhere so foreign and not knowing the first thing about myself in those conditions. I would never be where I am now if I hadn’t taken that step into that office.
My time in China will always have a special place in my heart. I did things I never would have imagined and I’ve made friends for life. Nothing can compare and I am so grateful for my experiences.
Alison - English Tutor in China
Hi, my name is Alison and I am volunteering here in China as an English Teacher. I teach basic English to students between the ages of 15 and 19. I teach topics such as Australian culture and geography, animals, clothing and foods to increase their vocabulary and confidence with English.
China is such a fascinating place. I love the culture, the buildings the mountains and the general way of life. It’s really beneficial to know about China in the 21st century as it is the new emerging superpower.
Doing a Lattitude placement is a really wonderful and powerful way to learn about China because you’re making a difference here in a school, and you’re making student life that little bit more fun. Whilst you teach them they are also teaching you so much about yourself. I’ve become so much more confident over here and I can stand in front of a class and teach 60 kids… 60 kids! I stand up there and talk about things and I’m not nervous because they are my friends. It has given me a lot more confidence – China really is a wonderful place!
Lattitude is such a fantastic organisation, the preparation before coming to China was amazing. They really helped me so much with their pre departure camps and all the information and support they give. There are so many people there just to look after you and make sure you’re having a good time and that you’re safe. If you’re thinking about volunteering in China, I would definitely say do it! I’m really glad I came!
My placement has really taught me about being more confident, and that there are people looking out for you and caring for you. You can be in the most remote corner of China and people are still kind and they still look out for you. It’s given me a lot more positivity and open-mindedness about the world, and a tolerance for things that I wasn’t too tolerant about before. When I go home I will miss the children, the school and the fact that everything in China is an adventure.
Catherine - English Tutor in China
Catherine volunteered with Lattitude in 1999. Unsure about her initial decision, Catherine has returned many times since, having grown to love the country during her time there. Catherine reflects on the long-term benefits of her Lattitude placement.
At the age of 18 I was lacking in confidence and wanted to do something that was completely different from my friends. Having studied Chinese history as part of my GCSE, and feeling enthused by what I learnt I applied to Lattitude to go on a five month placement to China.
In 1999 there were few foreigners living in China so we attracted a lot of attention. I remember whole buses going by with the passengers staring in fascination at me and my partner.
Few people spoke English or indeed had had any exposure to anyone from outside of China. For example, we found that many people had a conception of the UK being a foggy place with men wearing bowler hats. As part of our work there we set up an ‘English Corner’ which focused on sharing our culture with the pupils. I remember there was a massive obsession with David Beckham and Titanic with lots of questions about popular culture.
“It was the people who really made my placement”
It was the people who really made my placement. A teacher at the placement took us under her wing, and in fact we are still in contact. I used to eat at her house and we took it in turns to visit. I also remained in touch with my fellow volunteers. There are six of us who meet up a few times a year. One of the volunteers from the previous cycle extended his placement and we ended up starting in the same year at university. I am now godmother to his son.
After returning from my placement I decided to change courses to study Chinese. Whilst I didn’t end up completing the course (that’s another story!), I am glad I did the year. I graduated in natural sciences and finished with a particular interest in development geography.
I decided to go into emergency relief work so joined the army and went to the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. However, due to an injury I was medically discharged and took a job in programme management for the UK programme of an international NGO. I returned to China in 2011 to take up a job with the British Embassy Beijing.
My experience with Lattitude changed me as a person. I grew in confidence and became more comfortable in myself. I enjoyed the fact that I was one of the first people to spend time in this unknown country.
I valued the cross cultural exchange. I developed skills in communication, negotiation and project management – all of which have benefited me throughout my career.
Since my placement I have been fortunate to return to China many times and have met other people connected to the programme. My advice for anyone going to China is to go with an open mind. Whilst it is not an easy country to live in, I would encourage anyone who wants to experience a different culture to spend time in China. It is a fast changing environment with lots to offer. Now’s the time to go!
“It’s a fast changing environment with lots to offer.
Now’s the time to go!”
Maddy - English Tutor in China
My name is Maddy and I’m a volunteer teacher here at National Minorities High School of Yuxi. The school is in Eshan, Yunnan Province, China and I teach classes 7-12. General classes go for 40 minutes and I teach the students a range of topics to increase their interest in the English language and have fun whilst learning.
I’m partnered with another volunteer named Alison and our link teacher’s name is Lucy. Lucy is amazing! She’s very helpful, her English is very good and she does whatever she can to get us involved and to answer every need we have. The support here is amazing, we have confidence in the kids and the kids have confidence in us. All the teachers here are so friendly; everyone just welcomes you into the big family here – its lovely!
As well as having great support, we are also in a beautiful area. The environment is stunning and there are so many trees and temples. Alison and I have spent quite a bit of time exploring new places and climbing various mountains. We have also visited the hometowns of some of the students which has been great.
After school we have an English corner with the students from 6.40pm to 7.20pm. Usually we run around an hour overtime though because the students say it is too early to finish…they are so enthusiastic! During this time we sing songs with them, dance and teach them a lot of Western games. We sing the Hokey Pokey and play games such as Marco Polo. We teach them the instructions in English and when they want to teach us games, they also have to teach us the rules in English too. We have a lot of fun spending time with the students and getting to know them.
I’ve become much more confident since being here. I’m still a chatterbox as usual but I’m much more confident teaching the kids and I’m a lot less nervous. They have become more comfortable with us and we are becoming more comfortable with them. At times we are total goofballs and they love it! I’m not as shy as I used to be; I’m dancing and singing more in front of people which I never used to do. I’m definitely a more confident person and I’m a lot better at organising things now. I’ve only ever been late once and that’s because I couldn’t find the classroom! I’m enjoying it here, it’s really fun and I’m becoming a stronger person. I’ve got more strength in myself and I’m not as shy anymore which is very good. I’m happy about that and really don’t want to leave!
Submitted by: Maddy Wood
Jessica - English Tutor in China
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
Laura - English Tutor in China
Caroline- English Tutor in China
Mia - English Tutor in China
Harry - English Tutor in China
Becca - English Tutor in China
Becca volunteered as an English teacher in China
I volunteered in China for five months, and I can honestly say it was THE BEST five months of my life! I learnt so much, both about myself and the culture of China, that I would go back in a second if I could! My classes were amazing (I taught eighteen a week!), and I had so much fun! There was such a mix of students that there was NEVER a dull moment either in the classroom, or when I was not teaching, and just talking to them outside the classroom.
My partner Odette is like my sister now, and I can’t imagine her not being in my life! We experienced so much whilst we were in China, from going to traditional Chinese weddings, to climbing waterfalls, and socialising with all of the local people. Lattitude were amazing in pairing us together! On arrival in China, all of us had an orientation week, getting us used to China, and training for when we were sent to our placements. That first week was incredible, meeting everyone and becoming really good friends!
I was so sad to leave my placement at the end. The friends I have made and the things I have experienced will ALWAYS stay in my memory!
I loved China so much!
Thank you so much Lattitude for giving me the opportunity to go to China and enjoy every second of it!
Anna's parents re: her time in China
Our daughter, Anna Gordon, is having a fantastic time in Eshan in China. Her eyes are being opened every day and she is loving her experience there.
So far there doesn’t appear to be any homesickness and her English Teacher “mentors” seem to be taking great care to make sure the girls are looked after. She and her volunteering partner, Shannon, appear to be a good match for each other and are very supportive of each other which is also good.
Anna has started a blog while she is away for us to keep up to date with her. In my day we did postcards and aerogrammes if our parents were lucky… now we have blogs, photos and Skype to keep in touch… it’s wonderful!
It’s interesting how many friends and family have read Anna’s blog and skyped with her; it has meant that her experiences and observations are broadened many times over. It means so many more people have access to a part of China they would not normally get to hear about.
I guess what I’m saying is that while Anna’s experience is educating her, it is also educating us as well as her extended family in the USA and Germany…so it has a ripple effect!
As a parent, I am thrilled that Anna has this opportunity which is obviously in an environment that is hospitable and friendly. Thank you to everyone at Lattitude for overseeing the program. From what I heard the pre-departure camp was a great springboard for the participants in terms of reflection and bonding,and as parents, we are grateful for the continued oversight.
Paul, the in-country representative who trained them in Kunming, was fantastic at responding to our emails and any concerns we had; he also sounded like a great trainer and a caring human-being. Anna’s blog has already been forwarded on to a number of potential volunteers. I have to say her experience is a great advertisement for your program.
Submitted by: Karen Schmidt and Bruce Gordon
Kane - English Tutor in China
Campus Life is Never Dull
The highlights of volunteering usually come from the teaching and school in which you teach. Depending on the campus or type of school you are placed in, the atmosphere changes dramatically. However, atmosphere or not, there will be activities, invitations to events and students to talk to all the time, this is a certainty.
You are never relaxing for too long before you have something else to do! Now many people would think, “What? That is terrible!” but I assure you, this is a good busy. You want to be at these events watching your students do the things they love, and succeed at them; students can amaze you, if you let them.
One of the best events I was privileged to be present at was the cultural performances, displaying unique traditions of the ethnic minorities that call China home. There was one dance in particular I was very fond of, maybe because of my bias to the students that I had helped teach the previous semester. Either way the performance was stunning. They had what looked like a giant sombrero that one girl would spin around on and climb over whilst the other performers would suspend it above their own heads. The whole dance always seemed to remind me of the movie Ice Age 3. Peculiar? Yes, a little bit.
This is just one of dozens of performances, basketball games, public speaking events, speech contests, and outings I have been to whilst in China. The campus life provides ridiculous amounts of work and excitement if you permit it the opportunity. Sometimes I tend to forget that Neijiang is actually a city the size of Melbourne or larger because the campus and university life is so enthralling that at times you just don’t leave the grounds for weeks, and when you eventually leave it is most likely to go to another city for travel.
Campus life is never dull.
Chinese Mum & Dad
The two loveliest bosses I have had the opportunity to be acquainted with in China own separate and entirely different restaurants. One spends their time on the school’s business street, whilst the other is near the school’s west gate.
The lady by the west gate owns the restaurant called ‘The Big Dish’, and we have persisted in calling her her ‘Chinese Mum’, even telling her once. She was quite happy and she couldn’t be friendlier towards all the foreign teachers; it is the restaurant of choice.
The other restaurant owner, ‘Chinese Dad’, has a quaint joint called the ‘Rice King’ and rightfully so as his family knows how to make the best fried rice and noodles ever. We have never told this man we see him as our Chinese Dad. He has the stance of warrior with the smile of a gentle giant, but by no means is he a giant! Once he invited my volunteer partner and I to have lunch with his family, treating us to his best dishes and his own homemade Baijie (Chinese white wine), and on that day we truly felt like we were a part of his family.
We regularly visit both these establishments. They are definitely hidden gems of China.
Submitted by: Kane Winchester