Katie, a Natural Sciences graduate from the University of Cambridge, spent four weeks in summer 2017 volunteering as an English teacher at summer camps in Shijiazhuang and Beijing.
How was your experience on the program?
This summer, I volunteered at summer camps in Shijiazhuang and Beijing – teaching English to Chinese students from local state schools, many of whom had never spoken to a foreigner before.
For them, this was a unique opportunity to attend affordable English language classes with native English speakers (the summer camp being part of the private school’s outreach efforts to support local and rural children).
For me, it was a fantastic chance to try out teaching as a profession – gaining experience in everything from lesson planning to assessments, as well as hands-on teaching experience and being able to run fun activity sessions.
How was your time at the Shijiazhuang camp?
I spent the first two eight-day camps in Shijiazhuang, and (while it sounds so stereotypically gap-yah to say it) it really was amazing to feel like we were making a difference to the education of kids from a poorer, rural province.
In such a short period of time, I had students who had been unable to even introduce themselves or count to ten designing and describing their own magical creatures, and kids too shy to say their own name singing and dressing up as Harry Potter characters! They really were a fantastic group of students who were a joy to teach.
Outside of lessons, I loved joining in with the fun activities at the camp – including a crazy water fight and messy art sessions.
How did the Beijing camp differ?
For the third camp we moved to Beijing, where I taught an older, more advanced group of students coming from the south of China with their school.
The set-up here was quite different, giving me the opportunity to really get to know my one assigned class of students (rather than rotating between classes as we had in Shijiazhuang). We taught classes on English language and culture in the mornings, ran activities all afternoon (everything from debating to art), and attended some evening events such as speaking and singing contests.
The school also arranged trips to see historical sites in and around Beijing, including the Great Wall and Forbidden City. While the Beijing camp was more intense, it was an amazing “full summer camp experience” in which we were immersed in the running of the camp, with opportunities to experience all aspects of teaching.
What was the biggest challenge on the program?
It was quite a challenge to keep twenty 15 year old boys engaged in “boring” English lessons, when all they wanted was to get outside and explore!
This admittedly required some creative interpretation of the school’s more academic curriculum, but we had a lot of fun in the end and hopefully it has encouraged them to view language learning as more than just passing exams.
Where did you travel after the program?
After a busy four weeks volunteering at the summer camps, I set off on an adventure around China – hoping to find out more about Chinese history and culture while practicing my spoken Chinese skills.
I started by visiting cities and villages in the provinces near Beijing, then flew to Yunnan province to travel with a Chinese family I had got to know during my year abroad, ending my trip with a brief visit to Hong Kong.
Would you recommend the program to a friend and why?
Overall, my time volunteering as an English teacher was both an incredibly challenging and rewarding experience, while having an additional month to travel enabled me to visit more of China and further develop my Chinese language skills.
I am incredibly grateful for this opportunity and encourage anyone looking for a rewarding adventure to apply!