I told my friends and parents, “It was an experience of a lifetime.” I now have become a better version of myself, who can give a full classroom of audience a class with confidence and ease.
Chinaway is a volunteer program founded in 2008. Each year, a group of high-school students come from the U.S. to teach Chinese students English and improve their cultural knowledge. At first I thought it would be a fun and different experience but by result I get so much more than I expect.
The volunteer job is teaching the same group of students all day long for two weeks. We group in three to teach one class, the students are sixth to eighth graders. When I got out of my first class, I was overwhelmed by the worry that my students would not be able to understand me, frustration when no one wanted to answer the questions, and a self-examination of how I would have done differently to make the class more fun. Afterwards, my group reached an agreement that we could make our classes work, so we discussed over that evening about what and how we should teach our students, and most importantly, to get to know them. On the following day, we decided to give our best smiles and energy by the time we stepped in the classroom, like a teacher. It was at that moment I considered myself a model for the kids even though I was actually just one or two years older than them. When we found out that our students were as excited as us about getting to know each other, I was gratified that we had broken the ice and thus opened up their minds.
During the teaching I really learnt how important for a team work. The rule of thumb was that communication was crucial in order for a group to cooperate better. To give an example, Samantha, Daniel and I had an discussion and played different roles in the teaching process. I was the lecturer for half of the time and assisted my group mates to explain main contents and difficult concepts because I am fluent in Chinese while Samantha was excellent at teaching, she would teach for another class period; Daniel was relatively shy, he was good at communicating with our students and could host in-class activities and games. Every volunteer had different problems with his own group, but through communication, we all managed to solve the problems within group or with the help of others.
The second I learn that being a friend of students sometimes could teach them a more valuable lesson. Scott is my class student, he was grouped with four girls, he was too shy to join the group to practice conversations. While being the only guy partially explained why he was left out, I knew by instinct that he could do this, so I walked to Scott and asked him if he wanted to practice with me. The first time when we had a group activity his eyes, all of a sudden, glittered with some relief and resolutions. Scott never hesitated to talk to the girls in his group ever since and fit in well, and he had answered more and more questions in class. It was amazing to see him grow, glow even, as he became one of the lead vocalists in our final performance. I was glad that we were able to cross the boundary of teachers and students and tosee each other as peers, and we can bring out the best of our students from there.
Besides learning to be teacher, a better leader and cooperating with different people, I also realized something more profound through this program that this should not be the end of the journey. Visiting Scott home, we learnt that his family could not even afford internet for him to search unfamiliar knowledge and concepts, despite his great desire for intellectual. In his house that huddled deep in the village, I noticed that his room was hallway-wide and too small for anything besides a bed and a window in the wall. Considering this, it was not our place to interfere, to ask his parents if they could buy him some assistance books. I felt powerless because the most I could do for Scott at the time was to tell him to find us if he had any question. I was so sad that these kids’ only window to the outside world would be taken away after these two weeks, and this reminded me of the privileges I had always had in my life. Only if we better ourselves could we resolve the inequality in social status, not only in Pingjiang but throughout the world.
We, as volunteers, have all grown as a person and a teacher through these two weeks, and we joked about how our students had taught us more valuable lessons than we did for them. I made some life-long friends and had this inspiring experience that taught me an empathetic and active mindset. I hope Chinaway program will get even better and influence more underprivileged kids in China and teenage volunteers!