Working as a volunteer teacher at Bibo Experimental Primary School in SuZhou was a fabulous experience. It was rewarding in many different ways. In 2009 I travelled with my husband through China. That was an amazing trip. China is a very interesting and beautiful country with such kind people. Everywhere we met young people who wanted to practice English. I decided to return to China to work as a volunteer teacher of English.

In Holland I prepared well for this job. I obtained the Cambridge Advanced Certificate and the "Teach English as a Foreign Language" (TEFL) Certificate. I work in Teylers Museum a museum of Art and Science and the oldest museum of Holland . I also work in Het Dolhuys National Museum of Psychiatry in Haarlem. Working as a guide and educational assistant I am used to working with groups of all ages and different backgrounds.

I have chosen Bibo Experimental Primary School in SuZhou. I was interested to see how its scientific research facilities work in school. The school has an exceptional Science Educational Museum.

The introduction week in Shanghai presented by the XuBo organisation was marvelous. I am nearly 60 years old and most volunteers are far younger but I had the great pleasure to meet wonderful people and to get the chance to join them.

Jessie Duanmu , manager of the Xu Bo organisation, accompanied me to SuZhou. I liked staying in SuZhou very much, a nice town only 40 minutes from Shanghai. There is a comfortable volunteer flat on a guarded compound opposite the school. The quarters are great: everything you need is nearby, supermarket, restaurants, buses. You only need to find where the buses drive to! You’ll be sure you are about the only foreigner and hardly anybody speaks English. But everyone is so kind and will try to help you !

On my first day at school I expected to attend the lessons of the English teachers. I got a timetable with 15 lessons and my first lesson was due to start in 10 minutes! When I found myself in front of 44 children I realised I lacked knowledge of how to handle such a large group! I needed a Chinese teacher present to keep the children focused and help to explain . The supervisor for volunteers, Dylon, was a very kind man who helped in many ways.

It took time to discover the children’s interest and level of English and to find ways to get 44 children involved and to carry out my orders to play games. I made Powerpoint presentations for grade 4, 5 and 6 and a similar program in case the computer wasn’t working. I started my lessons with songs, preferably with a lot of movement. Of course I used the “Wheels on the Bus “ video, perfected by John the Xu Bo webmaster. This is a guarantee for great fun and holding the students' attention.

With help of Jessie and English professional teachers Liz and Kelsey, I learned more about how to handle a large class. It was vital to be able to address the children. Dividing the class into 4 groups was a solution, naming each group after an animal, sport’s hero or television character. Chinese children look after each other very well , they make sure all the lions are involved ! Now it was easy to ask lions and monkeys to move up and down or to get a lion and a monkey in front of the class and to play games.

The game with the hat on their head was a big hit. I brought a funny hat from Holland. The child with the hat came in front to say “I Like….” Then he had to pass the hat on . To throw a ball or hand doll around the class asking them a question was fun . You have to keep control by taking the ball back if they started to get too excited ! My lovely English teachers were there to help me!

To make your Powerpoint presentations fun, you should bring your USB stick filled with suitable pictures from your country, home, family, hobby and other interesting, funny pictures. On a day out to the zoo I took lots of pictures of the children, teachers and animals. The classes loved that Powerpoint about the zoo where they recognised each other and the teachers .

I have been fascinated to experience how a huge Chinese primary school functions. The children behave very well in the presence of their Chinese teachers. I am still puzzled what they say in a soft voice to make 44 children instantly silent! It was amazing to see the relaxation exercises in class, physical education with about 1200 children and lunchtime at 11:15 with a healthy and nice variety of food, with chop sticks ! The days out to a Safari park, waterworks, a beautiful old SuZhou Garden were very interesting and great fun.

If you want to work as a volunteer in China, it is absolutely necessary to have a competent organisation like Xu Bo, who support and organise what you need. You are in a country where only a few people speak English. You come from a different background, that is part of the attraction of working in China. But it is vital you can turn to an organisation that helps to improve situations if necessary. In case of an emergency you’ll realise how happy you are there is someone to turn to.

I wanted to do this before my 60th birthday and I am so happy I did. Probably the children didn’t learn much English, but they learned that a small woman with silver hair, called Anna from Holland came from far away by plane and that she was fun. The children and teachers of Bibo school were so nice. I’ll miss them a lot.

If there is another opportunity I ‘d like to do this work with a friend. It will be easier to prepare lessons, having dinners and explore the surroundings together. But I was completely safe on my own and Chinese people were so kind in every way. Besides I had a great time on the week-ends with Tim, Alexandra, Kim and other volunteers! I wish all future volunteers an exciting and interesting time.