A Whole New World In Shanghai

When I came to China for a holiday in 2007 with five Chinese friends, I fell in love with the place and vowed to return someday. During the following years, my learning of Mandarin was thwarted by my laziness and the seemingly insurmountable complexities of the language. Finally, I found the opportunity to return to China in 2012 when I came across Xu Bo’s short term volunteering teaching programs, which offered a safe and supportive environment for foreigners who wanted to be part of the cultural milieu as more than just a tourist. With my background in teaching, it was also a nice way to use my skills in a unique setting.

One of the most unexpectedly wonderful parts of my experience has been meeting fellow volunteers and interns who are also working here through Xu Bo’s programs. They are all of a variety of ages, at different levels of knowledge and understanding of Chinese culture and Mandarin. Those who have been here longer are able to point us newbies in the direction of good restaurants, cheap wares and interesting tourist spots. Those who are able to speak even a little Mandarin are put to great use when we go out! Having a little community of fellow expats is comforting and banished any form of loneliness that might have arisen. I have befriended people who have learned Mandarin for six years in high school, and people who are self-taught over two years. Their confidence and brazen determination to utilize their skills, even if limited, has inspired me to not be shy about trying to learn Mandarin and not give up!

I have had the pleasure of being placed at Happy Kindergarten in the Minhang district, Shanghai. I cheerfully greet the kids and parents in the morning at the front of the school with ‘Good Morning!’ and frequently the kids will wave back and reply in kind. Their cuteness knows no bounds! In the classroom, they are taught English in thirty minute blocks through songs and actions – a particular favourite of mine is the ‘How Are You?’ song:

        Hi, how are you?
        I’m fine, I’m fine!
        I have a cat, this is my cat
        How are you? How are you!

It’s beneficial to observe other volunteers in action (those who have been teaching for a while) to get a better understanding of what is expected of you in the classroom, as well as learn activities and techniques you yourself can use. For instance, I was fortunate to be able to watch Claire teach the kids the numbers from 1 to 10, using the Chinese number gestures on her hands. This showed me that incorporating both Chinese and English methodology in your teaching is much more effective in promoting learning.

The best part of school though would have to be the delicious lunches they serve for the staff. Soup, rice, chicken, vegetables – amazing flavours with that home cooked sensibility! Yum! This convention of Chinese schools is something I wish I could take back to Australian schools!

I am very happy that I was able to take part in this program, and my only regret is that I could not do it for longer due to personal time constraints. I recommend it for people who want to not just see China, but experience the lifestyle. You will never truly be a ‘local’, but this is as close as you can get!