“China? - No! Why??” - ...just the typical reaction, when I told somebody in Germany that I would move to Suzhou for a while. I decided this about one year ago, knowing little more about China than the common cliches. At the end of my program, after two months of living here, I can say, that it was one of the best decisions I ever made.

Looking back, I realize that I had more marvelous, funny and also thought-provoking moments in eight weeks in China as I would ever have in half a year at home. It is impossible to do all of these things justice in just a few lines. Nevertheless I’ll try, starting right at the beginning:

Landing in China was like jumping in at the deep end. Since I arrived at Pudong Airport on a national holiday, nobody could pick me up. I felt like I was the only Westerner at all. Everything was crowded. Nobody seemed able to speak English... The first hours of my “jump in” were challenging. But after a super long metro ride in total confusion and jet-lagged indifference the “deep end” turned out to be awesome!

I spent the first weekend in a hostel, which was a wonderful opportunity to experience China just on my own. The overwhelming feeling of being at the Bund in a clear night for the first time is beyond description. “London, Berlin or Paris - it’s nothing compared to this!” That’s what I thought for a moment. (Just my spontaneous, personal reaction - don’t want to offend anybody)

Then I met the XuBo coordinator and I was warmly welcomed by the other volunteers. I got a little introduction course to China and a few teaching advices, before I finally went to Suzhou. I started to teach grade one and two right away. Thinking back to these first lessons now, I have to admit, that I was a terrible teacher. The kids didn’t understand, what I wanted to tell them. They just stared at me innocently or made dubious music by smashing ruler and pencil. But the assistant English teachers (in most of the cases there was a Chinese teacher sitting in the classroom who helped me to tell the first graders to be quiet) were very friendly and patient. After maybe one or two weeks, I suddenly realized how the kids were following my lessons attentively. They started to understand me and to answer my questions. I am sure they did not only enjoy the relaxed lessons, but also learned quite a couple of things. At times the children even came to me before the lessons, telling me the stuff I taught them the previous week, like: “Hello, Anna! I can sing and dance. What can you do?” - that’s an amazing feeling! After a while I was confident enough to translate the difficult, new vocabularies into Chinese for them. I loved their reactions: Fifty seven-year-olds looking at me with open mouths, being absolutely surprised. Then a loud whispering: “Tā shuō Zhōngwén!” In fact, my Chinese is still very poor. But the few phrases that I know helped me a lot to do simple conversations - in the office with the other teachers, at night with curious taxi drivers and with the nice street seller I usually bought my breakfast from. Apart from the regular lessons, I also had a so-called “English Corner” twice a day. I met with a couple of elder kids to practice spoken English. It was always the same small group, which made the whole thing very familiar. I will totally miss these kids. We had so much fun by talking about super-heroes and the Chinese culture or playing hangman and dices. And we played UNO - for hours! Making up more and more special rules and action cards.

I could fill pages with my China adventures and stories of all the lovely kids, but the point is: You have to experience this by yourself. Don’t be deterred by the cliches! China is a lot more than just dirty and crowded. Take the risk, kick off, try something new! It will be worth it. And you will learn more than ever before in such a short time.

Thanks a lot to Xubo, especially to Lili, the wonderful local coordinator -for everything.