I taught for a month at no. 5 middle School in Mianyang, Sichuan province. It was an amazing month! I first of all had so much fun together with the students! Next the people from the school were so incredibly hospitable, friendly and grateful. Further I learned so much about China from living and working here. If you are in for really experiencing China, I can definitely recommend a placement in Mianyang!

The first of March I arrived in Mianyang by plane together with Caroline from the US, who was going to volunteer in the primary school next to my middle school. We were warmly welcomed by Jesse of XuBo (great support whole month!) and the English head teachers of both the primary and middle school. Next we experienced Sichuan hospitality meeting the school’s teachers and staff in a great lunch. The first three days were filled with meeting people, getting installed in my apartment, observing classes and being shown around in school and city. In these days the English teachers and I as well talked about the content of my classes and my schedule. I first started teaching on Thursday. As I was the first-ever volunteer in this school, the students were very excited and happy to see me. I truly felt like a movie-star, an incredible experience!

I mainly taught to grade 7 and grade 8 students (13-15 years old) with classes of around sixty students. I gave 16 lessons a week, 40 minutes each. The facilities in my school were basic. Computers or projectors were not available in the classrooms. I mainly used the blackboard and sometimes printed/copied self-made teaching materials. The English teachers had prepared a teaching plan for my month with a rough description of what topics/structures to teach. Their idea was to have me review the topics taught in the preceding period. This worked out well, as they gave me total freedom to teach this content in the way I wanted to. In my classes I mainly concentrated on stimulating the children to have conversations. I had a lot of fun working with these young and energetic kids and I think they as well enjoyed. The level differences between the students in classes were often big. It was an interesting challenge to keep the kids that hardly spoke any English involved.

Apart from teaching the students of no. 5 Middle school I was involved in two other activities. Wednesday morning I trained the English teachers, mainly in pronunciation. For the teachers it is not easy to maintain a good level of English. The surrounding does not offer a lot of possibilities to practice English (English television, newspapers etc.). Some teachers were eager to practice their English with me, others hesitant because of they were either shy or uncomfortable with the level of their own English. Every Friday I taught at a Middle school in Wujia, a village half an hour from Mianyang. I enjoyed being out of the city in a more rural area. It was refreshing to see a village school and meet other teachers and students. The last Friday I taught in Wujia the school had a surprise for me. They had made a huge poster about my visits to the school ! I really did not know what to say… The poster included a short description of my volunteering project, pictures of me in the classroom and touching letters of students thanking me for teaching them. The slogan of XuBo is so true. Cultural exchange programs like this really do “Open minds and touch hearts”.

During this month I stayed in an apartment in the school, like some other teachers and staff members. It was a comfortable place close to shops and a bakery. The teachers and students respected my privacy. Like most places in south China the apartment was not heated so it was sometimes chilly at night. Having a computer with internet in my room was very useful for preparing lessons. As I am Dutch the head teacher of the primary school even arranged a bike for me.

One of the main activities in my free time was eating out with Caroline, the teachers and the school staff. The food in Sichuan is simply amazing! The variety in the often spicy dishes is enormous. It is an excellent place to bravely try out things you have never eaten before. You will discover that Chinese people eat every single part of the animal. Sometimes other activities were organized by the teachers like cooking dumplings, going to the countryside or just relaxing (by playing Mahjong or cards) in a teahouse. One of the weekends I went to Chengdu with Caroline to see the famous Panda. There I found out that the Panda is not only cute and shy (as the Chinese say) but also just lazy. Sometimes I in the evening went to Tai Chi Chuan classes on the banks of the river. Although I did not get any of the Chinese instructions, I enjoyed. In the weekend I a couple of times went to an English pub called Flags. This might be the only place in town were you have a chance of meeting another foreigner. Next weekend I will visit the Huanglong and Jiuzhaigou Nature Reserves in the North of Sichuan. The pictures on the internet look very promising!