Read Abigails's story of teaching in China
Prior to starting my internship I was extremely apprehensive but nonetheless very excited. I was emailed a few months before flying out to China and was told that I was being placed in Chongqing. I was showed a variety of different pictures of an illuminous city surrounded by the Yangtze and the Wu River. These pictures were incredible, but did not change the fact that I had never heard of this ‘municipality’ before. I knew that the programme was mainly based in areas around Chengdu, so learning of my placement simply increased my nerves.
I landed in Chengdu on the 16th of February 2016. I was met promptly in the arrivals lounge by the volunteer Bill holding a huge sign with my name on. He immediately put me at ease, asking me lots of questions and filling me in on his life. My first thoughts of China was how crazy it was! The taxi journey was an eventful one, with cars beeping and overtaking each other at every opportunity. As we neared the University campus which would be my new home for the following week I was excited as to who I was going to meet.
Upon arrival there was a bunch of friendly interns sat outside the reception who all gave me a smile and a wave as I walked past them. At reception I met the other volunteers who were extremely helpful and accommodating, making sure that I had all the correct documents that were needed. They informed me that the Wifi was not working which at first disheartened me, as I wanted to get in touch with everyone back home, but after getting friendly with the other interns it became the last of my worries. The week to follow was an amazing fun week, where I learnt so much. Teach and Learn had organised a week of activities which did not disappoint. Mandarin lessons, Tai Ji and paper cutting activities were amongst the more mundane activities of re- learning what most of us knew from our TEFL, or what we would call common sense; but the day trip to see the pandas, the Sichuan opera and the traditional Chinese meal made up for this, and was a great way to end the week.
One by one we were collected by our schools to be taken to our schools. Myself and eight others were the last to go. We were the furthest away from Chengdu, so had to take the fast train which took just under 3 hours. Emma, Freddie and I were placed in Fuling (a district within Chongqing). The other six were in Chongqing city centre, and so were a 1 ½ hour bus ride from us.
As we approached the train terminal in Fuling we could see a large group of excitable Chinese men and women awaiting our arrival. As soon as we passed the barriers we were frantically separated and put into three different cars. After becoming extremely good friends with both Emma and Freddie this was unsettling. However, these feelings quickly disappeared.
I met my waiban for the two different schools that I would be teaching in. Mr Peng, a middle aged man with an infectious laugh, and two younger women, Lyne (Miss Xui) and Linda. Little did I know at this point, that these teachers would become great great friends to me.
On that day I was took to the bank, to get a Chinese phone and to try my very first Chongqing Hot Pot that I had heard so much about. All three of my teachers were extremely kind and helpful. Their English was OK (it has improved so much since!) and they made sure I had all the essentials for my flat in no time.
The next few months have been incredible. Fuling is a charming city, and every single person I have met has been incredibly hospitable. All three of us (Emma, Freddie and I) have been on numerous day trips, expensive dinners and wild KTV nights with my teachers. I cannot praise them enough, and I will truly miss them when I leave. If you are placed at my schools number 15 & 16, then you are extremely fortunate! Not only will you have a comfortable flat with a Tv (with a lot of great films!), and two great schools with enthusiastic, bright and lovely students, but you will have a great location (read River Town by Peter Hessler!) There is a great bus service in Fuling that takes you to Chongqing and many other places, and Taxis are extremely cheap. So if I ever visited Freddie (who lived over the Bridge) then it was extremely easy.
In terms of my experience teaching wise, it has been a giant learning curve! I was asked to deliver a speech on my first day to the whole of School 15 (about 3000 students and teachers) which was extremely nerve wracking, but as soon as I stepped on stage the nerves disappeared. None of the students had had a foreign teacher before so they listened intently to every word I said (despite them understanding less than 10% of what I was saying). After I delivered my speech I began my first lesson of many.
Each lesson has had its difficulties and as frustrating as it can get sometimes (when they don’t understand something as simple as stand up) the rewards you get when you see that they do understand you and that they are genuinely having fun in your class outweighs those difficulties. The classrooms are extremely crowded and in summer they can get very hot. With lack of air con and a lot of bodies it is almost impossible to escape the heat.
I have made a lot of mistakes whilst learning, the main one is not to assume that just by talking slowly the children will understand what you are asking of them. If they don’t know the vocabulary that you are using, then no matter how slowly you talk, they will still not understand. So try to be dramatic with your lessons, use props, use your body, just make it more fun! Another main lesson that I have learnt, is that you should never think that a lesson where they don’t understand is a failed lesson. The Chinese education system is extremely intense and very monotonous. They have around 9 lessons a day, they are in school from 7am until 10pm, so your lesson gives them a chance to be a kid, to have fun, play games and learn at the same time!
I have tried my very best to describe parts of my experience to you, but the truth is yours will be very different. Say yes to every opportunity you get and enjoy it! It has been an amazing experience for me and one that I will never forget!
To apply for Teach & Learn China, go here
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