Sierra Janik, Yale University
Sierra joined our programme in Guizhou province in the summer of 2015 with Guizhou Forerunner College (GFC). GFC are the largest provider of vocational training and degrees to students with disabilities and from disadvantaged backgrounds. Each year they also run a ‘teach the teachers’ summer camp, in which school teachers from all over Southwest China learn English from Gotoco’ers. You may view her feedback below.
Can you tell us about some of your most enjoyable moments of the trip?
After only a couple days of rehearsal, I watched a group of students put on a performance of the fairy tale “Cinderella” that we had written together. It was so rewarding to see the pride and excitement on their faces and to watch them perform with their newfound confidence.
One of the majors at Guizhou Forerunner College is tea arts, and almost every night the students from the tea school would open up their main ceremony room to visitors. Many of us made a habit of going to the tea room to taste different teas, learn about the serving process, and chat with the students who served there for practice. It was a place where teachers, students, and volunteers alike could all sit together at one table and talk.
One day after lunch a teacher’s 7-year-old daughter, who spoke no English, invited me to her room to play. She took out a Chinese board game similar to monopoly and proceeded without hesitation to set up all the pieces and begin. My broken Chinese was barely enough to keep up with her explanations, and half the time I was just making educated guesses about what to do. But she was not at all bothered by this, and seemed to take joy in finding out how much I could understand. We played for over an hour, stopping only when I had to return to class.
Which were the highlights of the lessons, cultural excursions and outdoor activities?
One thing we tried to do in our lessons was make the material fun for the kids. They were used to lecture style classes and repetitive memorization, so they were surprised and often excited when we made up games and activities to present the material a different way.
Most weekday nights we held English Corner, where the students could come and practice speaking in a casual environment. Memory games (‘I went to the store and I bought…’) and Telephone were particular favourites.
One day all of the volunteers were invited to play a game of pickup basketball with the faculty from the Accounting department. It was a fun way to interact with people from our host school, and everyone had a great time.
One excursion that I found particularly interesting was a trip to a local tea plantation. All the volunteers got a tour of the processing building where the tea served in the school was made, and even went out in the fields to experience picking the tea for ourselves.
How would you say the overall experience has benefited you?
This experience has benefited me in many ways. Firstly, I gained valuable classroom teaching experience that I hope to carry forward and use in the future. I learned from observing fellow teachers, from piloting classes myself and with my peers, and from the TEFL course that we completed alongside our work.
Secondly, by serving as a general intern for the school, I learned about the responsibilities of both teachers and administrators outside of the classroom. This gave me an appreciation of the extensive work that goes on behind the scenes of our everyday classroom experiences.
Thirdly, I had a chance to learn about a new region of China, and a subculture that I had never been exposed to before. Rural Guizhou is a very different place from the big cities I have visited in the past, and this means that the people who live there see life from a different perspective.
Finally, I consider myself very lucky to have met so many welcoming, caring, motivated, dedicated, and inspiring people during my time in Guizhou. I have made friendships that I expect to maintain into the future, and crossed paths with many other amazing individuals who made my experience what it was.
Would you recommend participating to a friend and if so why?
I would definitely recommend participating to a friend. Simply put, Gotoco uses their knowledge to find a place where volunteers can be of good use, provides the volunteers with the means to get there, and ensures that the trip will be one of both service and personal improvement. Placing us in schools that Gotoco knows means that volunteers will be doing work where it is needed, and allows college students who don’t have Chinese contacts or inside information to still get where they need to be. Covering the housing and food costs of the volunteers makes the experience accessible to more people by removing a significant financial burden. Finally, by providing TEFL training during our time abroad, Gotoco gives volunteers both teaching and learning roles at once and access to a helpful certification.
There is so much to be learned from the experience of teaching in China – understanding the country and its culture, learning how to teach, and discovering how to learn from people around you. It’s definitely worth it.
What was the best thing about your experience in China?
This experience was unique because it provided me with the opportunity both to teach and be taught. The other volunteers and I came to share our language, culture, and skills with the people of Guizhou Forerunner College, and everyone we met, taught, worked and played with shared theirs in return.