Nelson Mandela once said, “ Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”. After my Chinaway experience, I agree wholeheartedly.
I spend two weeks in 2018 summer to teach Chinese students English in PingJiang, Hunan province. This teaching program call Chinaway Volunteer Program.
I had never known that education was so important to Chinese local kids. During the first days of teaching, they bombarded me with pleas, asking for more homework. I was experiencing a culture shock. In the United States, a snow day was praised and no homework was a blessing, but in China, homework was the opposite. Homework was celebrated. It meant that they were one step closer from escaping the poverty they were placed in.
During one lesson, occupations were the topic of discussion. Oblivious to the consequences, I asked the class what their parents did for a living. No one uttered a word. The excitement from students just 10 minutes before the question was spoken, was gone. No one was smiling.
I spoke in English that my father was an engineer. Translating in Chinese, I let them write the words I had just spoken, into their thin notebooks. The prolonged silence continued. You could hear the faster incline of breath as one student finally spoke in perfect English that their father was a farmer. That was when I knew something was wrong. He was ashamed. He was ashamed that his father was working on a farm. This was a job that was seemingly common in town and the children hated it. They associated farming with stupidity. Their parents didn’t have access to the right education and they were ashamed.
It had all made sense. Why would they want homework during the summer? Why would they sacrifice spending time in an unairconditioned school? It was because they were scared that they would be farmers too. There was nothing wrong with being a farmer in my eyes, but to them, that was the last thing they wanted to be. The value of education to Chinese students was as if their entire life depended on it. Meeting the children, hearing their stories, visiting their homes, and speaking to their grandparents was something I will never forget.
I had taken everything for granted was a realization that I had learned over the summer. I wasn’t paying attention to anything that was important. Having fun was a luxury that most people in the world didn’t have. I was taking advantage of my life in all the wrong areas. While I relaxed at home with my MacBook, children across the ocean were studying English that I had grown up learning.
When I got back to the United States after two weeks of volunteering in PingJiang, Hunan, I could feel my work ethic increase. I was no longer slacking off and I wasn’t spending my time on useless things. I was studying. I was improving. I owed all the people I met over the past weeks to succeed. To take their advice and follow my dreams and passions.
Throughout my experience at Chinaway, I have learned so much about Chinese Culture. I have learned so much from the people I met and the stories that they held onto. And although they cannot share those stories, I can. I want to share the stories so that every girl or boy will know how lucky they have it. How amazing their lives are that they have access to education that many students in other countries would love to have.
Before this trip, I can admit tingly say I was a little ignorant. I hated homework and the sleepless nights of studying. But now, I couldn’t appreciate it more. Chinaway has allowed me to view China through the eyes of someone who didn’t have all the opportunities I had and it showed me the value of education and the importance of giving back. It has also made me more confident in my own abilities. Teaching is something that I always found hard to do even though I wanted to pursue it and having the experience in classroom setting really helped me evolve from who I was to who I am now.
Chinaway was a great way to develop social and application skills. Chinaway isn’t just a program that helps others, but it is one that helps you too.