I had an amazing once in a lifetime experience here in China. My placement at the Yangtze high school on Chongming Island was perfect. I was kind of a superstar, the only ‘longnose’ here and everybody was greeting and waving when they saw me. I could really open minds and hearts. During the weekends I went back to Shanghai and shared unforgettable adventures with other volunteers around Shanghai, a perfect mixture between urban and rural experiences. The Xu Bo staff and teachers supported me. Furthermore Xu Bo arranged a cultural day and a karaoke-event for all volunteers: it was fun.

Accommodation: Chongming Island is a fast-developing island. Everywhere one can see building sites and all the locals have jobs, every day from 5am to 11pm. To that effect it is quite loud outside, but this is normal here in China. I was living in a house with a beautiful garden. The school gave me a laptop with internet access. I has a big bed, a kitchen, a bathroom with hot shower, a laundry machine and a key for the office of English teacher. Breakfast, lunch and dinner were delicious, the choice of meals great and I was never sitting alone for dinner. But during the evenings alone in a large house I was feeling sometimes a little bit lonely.

School and Students: During two days I was attending a few classes to get an idea about my future job as a teacher. It was a new experience: first becoming a teacher, second, managing to control 48 students, third, developing content of lessons. Every week I taught 13 classes in grades Senior I and Senior II and additionally every lunch time I taught an English Corner. Thursday afternoon and Friday I didn’t have to give lessons, so I could go back to Shanghai. At the beginning and in the end of every class students clapped their hands and were very excited to see me.

The students put extremely high effort into their studies. And they are so thankful to get the opportunity to learn. Teachers as well as parents force the students to do always their utmost. Ten lessons a day, four hours studying at home and studying during the weekends. For Western standards unbelievable, but the students know what they are working for, they have a strong will. And they are happy.

Locals: Two teachers looked after me. They used the chance for themselves to practice their oral English skills. I was introduced to a very nice woman who is living in town. Together we spent several evenings - we were cooking and shopping. Furthermore I was invited so often for dinner, I can’t count it anymore: delicious, fascinating, cordially! Locals were friendly and greeted always back. They were quite confused when they saw me jogging in town.

Highlights: Visiting EXPO (Worlds' Fair in Shanghai) was one of the highlights. We traveled also to Hangzhou. Getting train-tickets was challenging, but compared to getting a hotel in Hangzhou during the golden week it was easy… We got help and managed everything. We were one of the attractions in Hangzhou. So they took photos from us as we were monkeys in a zoo. Definitely my best experience in China was a dragon boat-trip with an international crew at Halloween (see photo in my gallery below.)

Take-Away: Wild dogs are running around in rural areas and nobody is scared or disturbed by them, because they are peaceful – like Chinese people are. They don’t trouble over the circumstances so easily – motto: ‘live and let die’. There is not much space for each individual here in China. But Chinese people are used to this. I can understand their fight for a free seat or when they push you in the queue or their behavior in the traffic. They understand ‘first come, first serve’ verbally. Social pressure is enormous high and personal freedom is still limited. But people accept their limits and live within their communities happily. They dream of a better life and are thankful for everything they have.

Tips: Play with the students, go deeper into their lives and let them talk about themselves. You can’t change a system within a few weeks. And it doesn’t help to feel sorry for the students. Accept it and support the students to go along with their workload and show them new goals. I was very successful by speaking about dreams, traveling, future or talents.

This is definitely the best way to learn more about a country - by getting in touch with people. I have many unforgettable stories here I share with other volunteers, students or teachers. For some students I became a very important person in their lives. I hope they could profit from me as much as I could learn from them.