My name is Stephanie, I’m 19 and I come from Switzerland. I chose to stay 13 weeks in Shanghai in the ZhaBei Central Primary School. I wanted to go abroad to have another point of view and learn about a completely different culture.

I began my project end of August. When I arrived with the plane I could see the million of houses and buildings almost hidden in the smoggy atmosphere, that was my first impression of Shanghai; a huge city where you cannot see the end of it (the population of Switzerland is about 7.8 million, Shanghai is about 23 million). I needed almost two days to realize where I was and that I was not in a dream.

The volunteers whom I met at the flat were very nice and showed me everything, the first day I went out for dinner with them. I didn’t spoke much in the beginning, because I couldn’t find properly my words in English and I had to get used to the different accents of my new friends. I could not speak one word of Chinese but the other volunteers helped a lot and showed me how to bargain or how to order in a restaurant. I will never forget that: point at the picture and say yi ge or liang ge.

In Shanghai you can deal with your life if you know a few words Chinese and if you have a good body language. Now, while I am almost at the end of the project it is very easy to deal with it.

After one week of introduction course I went to my school with Dora, she and my supervisor Adele showed me the school and my accommodation. I have a room with a big bed, a computer and a separated bathroom.

The streets around the school are not touristy at all, although People Square is only 5 minutes away by bus. On these streets people are washing their hair, drying their cloths, playing Chinese chess, eating and walking in pajamas in the evening. The people have their dorms and rooms, but it is so small that they are half living on the street, it is just their way of life, I mean, the whole street is sharing one or two bathrooms. To see how normal people live in China was one of the most impressive things I saw.

Adele gave me my week schedule, Monday is flag rising and the other days I have English corner straight after breakfast, I can do what I want in this lesson so I play English games so that the pupils keep on trying to speak English. Then I have two third grade classes and five second grade classes. The children are lovely even though they are very noisy and sometimes not listening, in that case the teacher helps me.

The second grade kids do not understand a lot, but it is enough to teach them easy stories. Sometimes I say to one of them “Can you repeat the word please?” and he says, with big conviction “Can you repeat the word please?”, I need my hands and feet to explain them what they should do. The teacher can help me, but most of the time they let me try to explain by myself. During the breaks some children speak to me in Chinese, I say wo bu dong and they look at me giggling, they are so sweet. The third grade is a lot easier to teach, they understand my questions and can answer to me, this is why it is more interesting to teach the third grade.

In the first weeks of teaching I was alone; I realized that living without knowing someone who is around is not funny, so every day I met the other volunteers for sightseeing or dinner. Then Sabine came to my school for volunteering. She’s very nice.

Food, that is a big topic, but I will keep it short. The first days I discovered dumpling, baozi, Shanghai noodles and soup. In the beginning it was ok, but after two weeks my stomach protested, a week later it was okay again. Many volunteers had that, your body must adapt itself to the different kinds of food. The food at school is pretty good, normally I eat there three times a day.

During the national holidays we traveled, we took the 22 hour train ride to Guilin; obviously we got standing tickets and not sitting tickets as we believed. I’m not kidding, by mistake; we paid only for space in a train. The first five hours were ok, but then it began really to be a challenge. The Chinese people have all a week of holidays at the same time, the whole population of china is traveling, all public transports, entries, hostels and restaurants are overcrowded, they try to organize it as good as they can but they are too many people.

It was raining in Guilin when we arrived, we planned our trip to Yangshuo, we took plastic and bamboo boats and discovered the typical Chinese round green mountains, which is a landscape you should have seen once in your life.

In November, I went to Beijing with three other volunteers, this time we were lucky with the weather. We visited the Forbidden City, which makes you feel that you are so small and so unimportant, you can get lost in there. In the park, just behind the Forbidden City, we found people singing in a choir, musicians and dancers. It was a gift to see how people use their leisure time and how they organize social activities. We went to the Great Wall and took amazing pictures, I felt like it is the most impressive thing you can see in the world. It is amazing!

Now, at the end of my stay, I feel sad. I will miss so many people from all over the world, my children, street noodles, the fake markets where you must bargain, the multicultural atmosphere etc. etc. I think I developed in this three months like I never would be able to at home. I hope that when I come home I will not have a culture shock and will not find my daily life too boring. This project was exactly the experience I needed and I will surely come back whenever it will be.