I recently returned from teaching English as part of a two-week American Experience Winter Camp through Impact Exchanges that was held at the Newshape International Education training center in Taiyuan, China, during their winter break. We taught about 35 Chinese students aged 8-15 as part of a five-teacher team. The other four teachers were also LDS and were from Utah.
The trip was an eye-opener for me. I thought I was going there to teach them and that the Chinese people might be cold or guarded. I doubted we could make an impact in two weeks. I was wrong on all counts. They taught me—the people were friendly and gracious and the influence was profound for both students and teachers.
My first surprise was the temperature. The northern Chinese winter is freezing cold. One morning, we actually said, “Oh, it’s 27°F. It’s warming up.”
Another epiphany: as I ate the local cuisine, I soon noticed that most Chinese people never eat junk food. Everything is prepared fresh, at home and in restaurants. They don’t use processed food or eat many sweets. They also regularly walk great distances. I did far more walking there than I ever do at home, ate their healthy and delicious meals, and came home 15 pounds lighter.
I quickly fell in love with the students, their families and the Chinese staff. Each teacher prepared lessons on two subjects with follow up activities for later that day when we divided into classes. I taught poetry and leadership skills based on The Seven Habits of Happy Kids to the kids who were the most proficient in English. I had several 14- to 15-year-olds and a couple of very bright 10-year-olds, all delightful and eager to learn.
The day I taught poetry, one of my students wrote:
Can you feel it?
The feeling of being at home
Welcome to China
We were blessed to be invited into the some of their homes to share a meal and make Chinese dumplings. Making dumplings together is an important tradition, especially during the Chinese New Year. On our last night there we went to the home of the school principal where we celebrated New Year’s Eve in style, right down to receiving a red envelope with money in it. It was hard to say good-bye.
Although lives and hearts were touched, this was not a missionary experience. It was illegal for us to even talk about religion in China. Facebook, Twitter and Google are also illegal there. They use a social media called WeChat, which we all signed up for so we could be in touch with our students and their parents. Even now, weeks later, I still hear from students and some of the Chinese teachers via WeChat or email.
I hope to return to China. As volunteers, we paid to go, but the cost is reasonable in exchange for airfare, hotel, meals, transportation, and admission to sightseeing venues. Impact Exchanges is looking for college-grad volunteers this summer. Check their website for details: http://www.impactexchanges.com/