Amy Birch - Teaching, Teaching English and Other Subjects in China
China – a country I knew little about but which has left a huge impression. I had never considered it as a possibility for my volunteer experience until an open day last year, which convinced me this was the place I needed to go to - and it was! I now cannot wait to go back.
First impressions in China
I spent just over two months teaching English and art in an elementary school on the outskirts of the amazing city of Shanghai. I lived with other volunteers in an apartment close to the center of the city. That first view from the apartment window was a real ‘wow’ moment. Life stood still as I took in the incredible diversity of the skyline of the city that was awaiting me.
My Teaching placement
The school was a couple of bus rides away and this journey gave me the opportunity to experience a little of the daily routine of the Chinese people. The staff were very welcoming and I became really good friends with many of them. One in particular looked out for me and “adopted” me for the duration of my time there, and others invited me to visit them in their homes.
They also provided me with the opportunity to visit and observe English lessons in other types of schools in the area to compare the educational experiences of children from different backgrounds. Food is very important to the Chinese people and they encouraged me to try a wide variety of local dishes which I might not have otherwise had the courage to do.
While I thoroughly enjoyed teaching English and the children were always excited to see me, the art lessons provided an exciting and valuable experience as I had the freedom to choose what I wanted to teach.
One of the highlights of my time here was helping to plan and organize the redecorating of the art room. Lisa, another volunteer at the school, and I decided that it would benefit from being brightened up and made into a more visually stimulating place to learn. Having completed the planning and organization of the project, a group of other willing volunteers and students came and give us a hand whilst getting messy in the process.
Free time in Shanghai
Although I was working at the school between nine and four o’clock most weekdays, after dropping my bag off at the apartment I was straight out again enjoying an exciting social life and exploring just some of the myriad of new experiences Shanghai offered. These ranged from markets and small traditional eating places to the more westernized shops and restaurants of the French Concession area.
There is no better way of starting an evening than sitting on a roof terrace overlooking the illuminated evening city. Some of the highlights I experienced ranged from karaoke nights with staff from the school (yes the Chinese do take this seriously!) to fine dining high up in the Jin Mao Tower and drinking tea overlooking the city from the top of the Shanghai’s World Financial Center- the tallest building in China.
I have a passion for contemporary art, for which China is a very exciting place at the moment. I was keen to explore some of Shanghai’s many galleries and visited a number of exhibitions ranging from artists, such as Picasso, to those of as yet unknown Chinese artists working in small back street studios. The metro and cheap taxis made it very quick easy to leap from one adventure to another.
While Shanghai is relatively westernized I also made trips to other parts of China, such as the much more traditional capital of Beijing. With the aid of a few friendly locals I also managed to walk, and in places scramble, along a stretch of the Great Wall.
I shared all these memorable experiences with some of the amazing friends I made with other volunteers and staff at the school, a number of whom I will continue to remain in touch with.
Shanghai is such a huge city and life there is so different from here, yet I immediately felt so at home there. It is a developing city with an infectious air of optimism. I had an all-round amazing experience. I am already planning my return visit and looking forward to being able to once again say "Ni Hao Shanghai!"