In June 2019 I flew out to China to embark on what was a difficult, testing but overall extremely worthwhile experience of working at a summer camp in the rural area of Qiandaohu in central China.
After leaving high school I won a scholarship to study in Tianjin, China, for a year and ever since, learning Chinese has been a massive extracurricular interest for me. I knew for certain I wanted to return to China to continue to improve my language skills and upon hearing of the opportunity to volunteer as a sports coach in Qiandaohu, I jumped at the chance.
Before arriving, I was extremely anxious; I had barely practiced speaking Chinese over the past year and I feared I was going to struggle communicating with both the children and coworkers.
My fears soon waned once the children arrived at the camp. At first it all seemed very daunting but by my second week I was into the swing of it. Every day was different, and each new camper presented a new challenge. In the beginning I found I had forgotten more Chinese than expected and initially found myself frustrated with my lack of ability to communicate. As the weeks progressed, I learned more and remembered more every day. Now I feel like my Chinese has improved to a standard higher than it was before, mainly due to the confidence gained from speaking it constantly.
I led sessions of water polo, swimming as well as lifeguarding our inflatables course and taking care of a group of children each week. Each day would be split into 5 periods, two block periods of set sports/art activities in the morning, an elective period (where the children chose 1 activity to work on for the week, eg dance, water polo, woodwork), a flexible period (where the children could personally choose a new activity each day) in the afternoon, and then a special event in the evening which could range from ice cream socials to lip sync battles.
Some of the most meaningful moments were not the activities but the time spent with the children. Some weeks the children would fight over who got to sit with me at lunch, they would bring presents they made in art class for me and they would be beaming with pride whenever I won something.
Overall the experience was unforgettable and despite not directly relating to my degree, I feel the skills I learnt in both Chinese and teaching is more than worthwhile, it not only improved who I am as a potential employee but also who I am as a person.