Gaby, who recently graduated with a degree in English from the University of Cambridge, spent three weeks in summer 2019 volunteering as an English teacher at a small language camp in Yingtan.
How was your experience on the program?
The camp I was on was much smaller than the others you may have heard about, but that’s exactly what I wanted. I never taught more than eight kids in class at a time, and sometimes it was only two!
I loved it because:
- I got my TEFL qualification so now I can teach English all over the world!
- I formed really strong bonds with my students – I’m still in touch with some of them on WeChat
- I learnt so much about Chinese culture – tbh I’d never really considered going to China before this trip
- I made some lifelong friends
- Pretty much everything was paid for – flights and accommodation were free, and the stipend we were given covered my visa costsBut best of all was the pride I felt at seeing my students succeed and gain confidence!
Would you recommend the program to a friend and why?
It was a lovely experience and I would really recommend it to people. I had been emailed by my university with quite a lot of organisations that send teachers to China and other countries to teach English. All of them involved paying flights costs etc. but Abridge Academy offered to fund the flights over and the accommodation, which for me was a big factor as to why I chose this over another camp.
The woman who founded Abridge Academy, Katie, is really lovely and was always great at responding to any questions that I had really quickly. She still responds now to emails promptly now if I need anything from her or want to check in. I think that’s really nice that it’s got a really personal touch because it’s still a small program.
Take the plunge, have a go – why not?
How was being in a smaller town?
Where we were in Yingtan, it was clear that a lot of people maybe hadn’t seen foreigners before – or at least not in a long time!
Everybody treated us like royalty almost – we got to go out for lovely lunches with government officials, everyone was really excited we had come to teach their students, we often had other parents or other local people standing outside the school wanting to say hello to us. It was really nice, I didn’t really get what all the fuss was about but everyone there was so excited to see us!
How were the people you met on the program?
I made the most incredible friendship on this trip with Louis, who was one of my fellow teachers.
We also had lovely teaching assistants who spoke Mandarin and English to help us in class. I don’t speak Mandarin at all so I was grateful for teachers like Anna! The volunteer teaching assistants went above and beyond the whole time and both Louis and I still talk to Anna.
We actually ended up having our flight home cancelled by a sandstorm! But we then got an extra 24 hours to explore Anna’s home city Nanchang. She was the most amazing tour guide and this unexpected portion of the trip was one of my favourite bits!
How was the teaching experience?
I loved how much freedom we were given at the school to shape the lessons how we wanted. This allowed me to really focus on the skills my students needed to develop in ways that would be fun for them!
My girls loved drawing, so I tested their vocabulary by saying a word and having them draw it – they didn’t realise it was a test!
We played a lot of games with them as well, we had an indoor space we could use for games like stuck in the mud or tag. We loved doing games that involved a bit of language learning, like “What’s the time Mr Wolf?” or Simon Says. That was a great way to get them to learn stuff without them realising!
We had a presentation for students at the end of the week, our students had to read out postcards about their experiences imagining a trip to England. It was really sweet to see them really gain in confidence and be really excited to read out what they had written.
What were the students like on your camp?
We definitely had at my camp some kids in the class who were quite confident in speaking and could introduce themselves and talk a little bit about their hobbies and their families. Then there were other students who might have been able to say that but the confidence wasn’t really there, so it was unclear whether or not they had the ability to speak at the same level.
In China, students have a lot of admiration for their teachers and they are really encouraged to pay a lot of attention in school. A lot of the students are really eager to learn and improve, they just struggle with confidence mainly. We were there to improve their conversational English, getting them to actually get involved in talking in the target language.
What cultural experiences did you enjoy?
Everybody there really wants you to have a good time, they consider it a proper cultural exchange. I love spicy food, so the chefs would bring me specially food that was covered in chillies – that was great! We got to make our own dumplings, they taught us calligraphy. We learnt a few words of Mandarin, our students were really excited to try to teach us how to write our names!
As we didn’t stay on site (we were put up in a hotel), we had a bit more freedom in the evenings. Sometimes we would go out with our teaching assistants and go and get a drink or go and do karaoke which was really good fun – karaoke is really big in China!
On our days off, we had school trips with the kids. The school trips were really fun, for example we went to a farm which was really cool – it was massive and apparently one of the students’ family farm.
How did the program help with your future career?
This trip was really useful for me because I managed to get a job straight after at Education First. I actually had a friend who was working there and he heard that a part of the company who was working on an app needed an intern to help them, but they hadn’t opened applications yet. They were making an app for Chinese and Taiwanese students to learn English.
I sent the leader of the project an email with my CV and told them that I had just spent some time in China teaching English and I had done some app development before – and I got the job! My boss said that it was great I had been to mainland China, because most of the people on the team hadn’t, whereas I would know a lot of the things about cultural differences which could be included in the app. It was really lucky that I had just been teaching in China because it gave me a great edge over other candidates.
I am interested in education, but I am actually starting law school in January. It’s still been a really valuable experience both having gone to Yingtan to teach last year and working for Education First, because of that confidence you gain in your own abilities, to stick with a decision, to lead a class, to be involved in teamwork planning with other teachers. You also gain a lot of listening skills, you know how to approach loads of different people, you are showing employers that you can go out of your comfort zone – there are loads of transferable skills, which I think for any job would be valuable.