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Joyce Chou - Teaching English & Other Subjects in China

Teaching placement

I think about my time in Shanghai with the greatest nostalgia, it was one of the highlights of my university career. A university placement had enabled this wonderful opportunity to spend over two months teaching in China in the summer of 2013, a time that I have no regrets about whatsoever. Having grown up in small town in America, Shanghai seemed like a great contrast – a completely different environment. Especially as a sociology and human development student, I was enthralled to live in Shanghai, what seemed to me the perfect site for studying and witnessing the urban world.

Living in China

As China’s financial center, Shanghai is a high-paced city of business, shopping and fashion-forward people. Compared to other parts of the country, it stands at China’s forefront in terms of globalization, a flavorful melding of the east and west. While some people criticize it for lacking the kind of history and culture other areas like Beijing has, I personally loved it.

Prior to visiting, I had heard of Shanghai being likened to New York City. My two months spent living there affirmed that analogy, though the city is remarkable in its own right. I loved walking on the Bund along the Huangpu River and enjoying Shanghai’s cityscape, especially in the late afternoon and evening.

I scheduled my placement for the end of May through July – a time when the climate happens to be unforgivingly hot. Thankfully, this seemed to be the height of my problems. As far as cuisine goes, I relished every chance to eat authentic Shanghainese food, whether in a restaurant or on the street. The cheapness of local food made eating out easy, especially for inexperienced chefs like me.

Traveling around Shanghai

My teaching placement

Public transportation in Shanghai is clean and efficient, the kind that I envy as a child of the American suburbs. Although my commute to my placement was long – generally an hour in each direction - I honestly did not mind. The time spent on the bus and subway made for great people-watching and reflecting on my experiences in China. Moreover, undertaking this kind of regular commute showcased a different side of Shanghai, a kind of local charm often masked by the city’s glamor and allure.

As much as I loved the downtown scene, I also appreciated seeing the city’s fringes. From a sociological perspective, Shanghai presents a fascinating case study of urbanization – moving out of its center, the creeping reaches of the city sprawl into a slightly more agrarian landscape, with colorful shops and local vendors. I encourage volunteers to wander over here for a change in scenery; you’d be surprised at the differences contained within one city.

My Teaching placement

Cultural exchange through the Projects Abroad program was not limited to interacting with the local Chinese at one’s placement and in everyday life. As one of few American volunteers, I lived with and got to know Projects Abroad interns and volunteers from a variety of origins: the United Kingdom, Malaysia, Germany, Netherlands, Japan, France and so on.

In this sense, my experience cultivated a broader cultural perspective beyond my expectations. Fellow volunteers became close through socials that were regularly organized by the Projects Abroad staff and these events definitely contributed to the warm and friendly volunteer culture. Thanks to social media, I’m still in touch with them!

As for my placement, I worked at Zi Luo Lan Primary School a school for the children of rural-urban migrants. In my time there, I caught the tail end of the academic year and then worked in a summer program at the same school. The kids I worked with were full of gusto and enthusiasm – a commonality across all children worldwide, it seems from my experiences.

Of course some were more boisterous and harder to handle than others, but what is teaching without the challenge? I loved the eagerness to learn expressed by some children, kids who were excited to show off what knowledge they had of English.

Other projects

Murel for the school

Outside of teaching, I also had the flexibility to engage in other pursuits, something I really appreciated about my placement. Headmaster Chen of Zi Luo Lan decided to utilize my background in sociology as a research opportunity, a task I did not at all mind as I investigated the student body’s demographics.

Towards the end of my time in Shanghai, I compiled my findings with the help of the Projects Abroad resourceful staff into a final report. Academic research was not the only miscellaneous activity I took on, however. Delving into a more creative side, I also designed a mural for the school’s kindergarten wall and painted it with the help of my placement’s fellow volunteers.

Leaving that more tangible piece gave me a sort of personal reward. The school’s staff and students had undoubtedly left a big imprint on me; I’d like to think that mural was the least I could do in return.

If you’re considering volunteering through Projects Abroad I more than encourage an experience in Shanghai. When I think back to my summer there, I’m left reminiscing about both funny and poignant moments and observations. My stories from Shanghai are endless – and they’ll certainly be continued when I return there for another adventure in the future.

Read more about Teaching in China

Joyce Chou

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