A Travellerspoint blog

Zai jian, Zhong Guo

Goodbye, Middle Kingdom

overcast 13 °C

As I'm waiting in the departure lounge at Hong Kong airport, I've only just realised that the next time I step off a plane, I will no longer be in China. For those of you who don't know, I've had to cut my trip a few weeks short. This was a really hard decision to make, but also one that was in some ways made for me. China has been my home for just over three months and as in any home, there are 'highs and lows' and those lows are those things that happen when the novelty wares off, when it's no longer just a holiday and when every day stops being fun and easy. For me, being ill away from home was at times a real struggle and at times I felt that China and the life here wasn't helping me (yes, I managed to have days being annoyed at the whole country). But I also know that setbacks and illness are a part of life when you settle in and live somewhere strange and new, so I suppose this could have happened to me anywhere.

Despite all this, the 'highs' of my trip and what China has shown me make up for nearly all of those challenging days. Firstly, my students made this experience what it was. Spending so much time at the school, it was comforting to know they were always around and knowing I was on my way to teach my favourite classes brightened everything. I'll never forget their (sometimes questionable) facial expressions while I was teaching and I don't think I will ever again meet a group of people so happy to see me on such a regular basis. The way they run across the school just to say hello if you are walking past and the way they ask in unison "how are you today teacher" are things I can't imagine experiencing in the same way anywhere else. Even the biggest classes of seventy students make it so easy to teach when you you know they will do almost any work you set as long as you tell them something new about England. Before I came here, I was ready to spend time with students and talk with them but I never expected to make friends with them in the way I have. Their English is good enough to talk to them about most things and on many occasions they have made me laugh so much and on the good days, teaching is a real joy. I I had to use a lot of patience and encouragement with them to get to the level they are at now, but as I look back I see now have encouraging and patient they have also been towards me. My hope for them is that they realise speaking English so well at their age is an achievement and something that will get them a very good job one day. I know a lot of my students think because they learn English from a young age it's not impressive but since my first week, I've aimed to make sure they know how good they are. In China, it's only English reading and writing that is encouraged. When they are discouraged from practising their speaking, I can't help but smile because I know how it's this practise that will help them later on. (To put their English into perspective, I can think of at least four students who I would feel comfortable sending to London without a guide and they wouldn't get lost reading directions or asking for help). I, on the other hand, called said students nearly every time I left the school!

Alice, my volunteer partner and now one of my closest friends also made things easy when they could have been really hard. We would spend nights talking about everything in China, England, Australia and everything in between and if we weren't doing that then we were singing along to the Lion King or Pacahontas. Living with her made the apartment a home and for her support I will always be grateful.

The other volunteers have also been a highlight of this trip. Again, I didn't expect to make such close friends and being able to share this experience with a group of people who all get along is really special. I'll always be grateful that I was a Lattitude volunteer with this cohort of people our first week together teacher training was more about making friends and exploring China together for the first time.

These highs are the memories that I can't wait to tell people about and photos of these times will trigger the best memories. I'll admit, I won't miss the cockroaches, mosquito bites or the excessive dust and I probably could have done without the hospital trips. But I don't at all regret this trip because it all comes together as an experience. I've learnt more than I ever could from a textbook and the questions I had about life in China have been answered. As it is such a vast country, I feel I've only scratched the surface and it's what I've already seen that will draw me back here in the future.

I came to China with a slight fear of crowds, I get claustrophobic on the tube and I didn't like rice. So how can you go to China, a lot of people would ask me. I came here because I wanted to see if I could put my anxieties aside to see a new culture, I had so many curiosities about how people live here and I wanted to experience being a teacher oversees. I know that I'm more comfortable than I've ever been, my question have been answered and I am now planning on doing a TEFL course after university. So now if doesn't matter if I have to go home early, because I've achieved what I wanted and as cliched as it sounds, I've grown as a person. At times it's been frustrating and maybe I could never live here permanently but I know China will always be important to me.

Thank you to anyone who has read my blog; if anyone is reading this that's isn't my friends or family I've tried to be as honest as possible but don't let it put you off. If anyone has read this because they aren't sure if China is for them, as I say to my students every week "just have a try." There is something here for everyone.

Posted by emilyferris 06:51 Archived in Hong Kong Comments (0)

Teaching (Part 2)

Only five lesson plans to go!

sunny 28 °C

I wrote my first blog about teaching after I had taught four lessons and I can't believe I'm now planning my last four lessons for the remaining month here. I've noticed such a change in my classes and in myself and I feel that together we have found what works and what doesn't. As my students grow in confidence in their English speaking I become more confident in planning my lessons and more ambitious with the activities I set them; I often can't remember what it was like when they were too shy to say a word.

The biggest change I have made is that I now approach planning lessons completely differently to when I started. Before, I knew the classes well enough to adapt while I was teaching or I would sometimes have to make a quick change halfway through the lesson, depending on how the class was responding. However I was still trying to teach each class using the same methods and vocabulary. Now, I know my classes well enough to consider in advance how I can teach each class class and often end up with 'mini' lesson plans scribbled on the back of my overall guide. I know the classes who will really need to be encouraged to speak, but write fantastically and I know the classes who love to be active in group work but need to practise their listening. Because of this, my Monday classes are no longer my 'chance to find what's wrong with my lesson plan' class because I can usually include something I know they will enjoy. I've also learnt to respect that the eight science classes are taught differently to a way I am used to, so I have to be patient when they just want to write or work individually.

Recently, I've also been able to find the right teacher/friend balance and the students all know the rules of the classroom and when it's the right time to chat or make jokes. I no longer need to tell them to settle or be quiet; they know they can chat when I'm writing on the board or when they are working but as soon as I face them to talk I hear a chorus of SSSSHHH! and then a few laughs. Although I still have a closer relationship to certain classes, I know in nearly all of them there will be a relaxed environment and they feel more comfortable asking me for help, or just about my life in England. I've found the more open and honest about my life at home I am, the more they enjoy listening or the more they want to know.

Of course, there are still those who are falling asleep at the back of the room, head against the window and no idea another lesson has begun since the previous lesson that must have sent them to sleep. You can't help but laugh when they wake up to see their English teacher standing in front of them, as they realise they slept through the break in between class and the immediate, 'why is Emily here already' look on their face. Usually, all I have to do is knock on their desk with a water bottle and it's always nice when they just laugh along with the rest of the class. Similarly, some students will use every writing activity as an opportunity to do their Chinese homework. However, they know when I walk past and close their textbook that it's time to do English and I have to say it is never the same student twice.

After the first few 'getting to know you weeks' I felt a lull in the classes and lesson plans which made it easy to feel discouraged, but I knew I couldn't give up on them. I'd say some time in April, within the space of a week something just clicked into place and they all became students I am very fond of, rather than a big class of strangers I was asked to teach. Luckily, this happened to my volunteer partner (Alice) around the same time so we decided together not to alternate the grades we teach as originally planned. I'm happy to know I'll be teaching my grade until I leave MinZhong (pronounced Minjong, an abbreviation of the schools name) and I'm going to put every effort into the last four lesson plans I have to teach.

Last night, I was invited to Class 2 to watch Good Will Hunting; their English teachers lets them watch a film in English twice a month instead of evening classes. It was lovely to sit with them just as their friend and their English is so good that I could chat with them freely. Some people may disagree, but one of the things I love most about them is that they know I'm only their teacher for forty minutes and then I'm just like them. I know how much I'll miss them and if they were students at home, they would be some of my best friends.

Posted by emilyferris 02:51 Archived in China Comments (0)

The Best Students in the World

Always the silver lining

sunny 25 °C

As I made my way back from Kunming, Yunnan' s provincial capital, I felt tired and dejected. I had travelled three hours to see an English speaking doctor and the traffic was delaying the journey home to five hours.

I had stayed in the city overnight with the most helpful lady, Kelly, who works for the volunteer organisation I have come with, we watched a film on an actual sofa and I got a really good night's sleep. After my Chinese phone ran out of money I was essentially a bit stuck so I walked around in search of students (who would speak English) and borrowed someone's phone. I called Kelly and as ever she stopped what she was doing to help and told me where to meet her so she could pick me up. While I was in the taxi on the way to meet her, I really felt for the first time how far away from home I am and how in China I really am a foreigner.

Sitting on the hot and crowded bus the next day, I knew I had to make a decision about if I can stay here for as long as I planned. Sadly, at that very moment, home was beating China by miles.

I arrived back to school and trudged through the door and as I dumped my rucksack on my bed, I noticed a small collection of letters and cookies. Once again, my students had reminded me how much I love teaching them, why I am in here and gave me a brighter view of China. I opened one later, from a girl who has been writing to me for a while (she comes over once a week to pick up my reply) and smiled as she concluded with "I'm sorry to hear that you are unwell, take care of yourself and we hope you come back to teach us soon." Another, from the girl who gave me the Easter chocolate, read: "Are you ok? I'm very worried about you, so I will see you tomorrow. But I won't trouble you for a long time." I almost cried when I then received a text saying "we all miss you in class today, we like you." It's these things that make planning the lessons and going to class worth it even when I feel horrible.

When I get home, weather or not if that is now sooner rather than later, I know I will miss the students the most and they make my experience here what it is.

Posted by emilyferris 04:30 Archived in China Comments (0)

A Chinese Wedding

Eat and go!

rain 12 °C

This evening we were invited to our second Chinese wedding. I'll admit, the first time I attended a wedding here I found it a bit of an anti-climax and was surprised to see how casual and quick it all was (today we arrived at 5.30 and we leaving by 6.30). However, as I am now getting used to the culture and the people, I can these weddings are another display of the typical Chinese way of doing things; and as with most things here, once you know what to expect it's easier to enjoy.

You are greeted in a hotel lobby by the bride, bridegroom and the (sort of) maid of honour and best man. The bride is dressed in a Western inspired white wedding dress and on both occasions, the girls have looked absolutely beautiful and so tiny in their dresses. The made of honour and best man stand next to them holding a tray of cigarettes for the men as they arrive, and a tray of sunflower seeds and Chinese candy for everyone else. If a man chooses to take a cigarette, the bride will then light it for him. The hotel lobby is full of round tables and trolleys of food ready for hundreds of guests and children. Everyone sits around tables of eight or ten and pretty much when the food gets to your table you start eating, weather or not anyone else is. This also means by the time one table has started eating, another is getting ready to leave. At first, it was odd to see so many people at a wedding reception in casual clothes. People go straight from work to the wedding in whatever they happened to be wearing that day. My first reaction was that this seemed a little rude and impersonal, but as I get to know the Chinese, I know their way is just to get things done in the quickest and most convenient way possible. Although I still find it a surprise how short the weddings are, with much less attention on the bride and groom, I'm grateful for the experience as these are the things I will remember and tell people about when I'm home.

Just before most people are getting ready to go, the bride will change into a traditional Chinese dress, a qi pao (pronounced chee pow) and walks round to toast every table. Once we had done this, we were literally lifted out of our seats by our arms (another Chinese thing) and ushered to the car, my link teachers hands never leaving my shoulders.

Posted by emilyferris 04:10 Archived in China Comments (0)

Shanghai

Marking the halfway point

sunny 19 °C

In the hostel, sitting on a bit comfy sofa with my first cup of tea in two months, I realised the time I am spending in Yunnan only shows me a fraction of China and it's vast culture. In Shanghai, I could have easily been in a different (almost Western) country compared to where I am now...

Having been slightly nervous about the hostel and the words "shared dormitory" I was pleasantly surprised as soon as I got to Le Tour Traveller' s Rest. When I saw the other volunteers (my friends) playing pool, sitting on the baggy sofas and watching TV in the sitting area, I knew I would be comfortable there despite still not feeling all that well. We had come to Shanghai as a group of twenty three to 'reunite' at the half way point in our teaching placements. Seeing everyone was just like being back in Kunming and it was great to hear stories from everyone else's schools.

The first night was slightly disruptive... as there was an odd number of volunteers we couldn't all have a dorm sharing with each other. As my and my room mate here arrived last we decided we would just dump our bags in the last room and sleep. I don't know why I thought we would have the luxury of a room with three bunk beds in all to ourselves. I was first woken by an abrupt American moving my things in order to get to a locker; she was closely followed by an Israeli man trying to climb into a top bunk in the dark. The last to arrive was a Canadian man trying to unpack while, leaving, and then returning from the shower at 2am. Around this time I decided to move my things, duvet and pillow included, into my friend Emily's room. I squeezed myself onto half a bed on the top bunk to the sound of two other volunteers who I think had just about had enough of each other. This will seem funny in the morning, I thought.

And luckily it was, I started the day feeling refreshed and ready to explore Shanghai. I even recruited my friend Dale to move my things back into the shared dorm, and upon seeing how it was considerably cleaner and there was no essence of that "people squashed into a room" smell he moved in with me for moral support. (For those of you who know me, choosing a room shared with strangers but having my own space and bed had to beat sharing with my friends who had literally thrown their clothes every where.) This time, we were greeted by two friendly French men who had also just arrived in Shanghai to work at a French company in the city. They were very chatty and even knocked on the door before letting themselves in.

That day, we went to the Shanghai Expo Centre to look at lots of cars. I must say, when China does something it does it very well and even if you aren't interested in cars it was really something to see. Every 20 minutes music starts to play and models and reps start the cheesiest performance I have ever seen, but there was something great about it.
The next I went in search of something other than Chinese medicine, but instead I ended up in the most expensive shopping district in Shanghai with my friend Billy. Only in China would two foreign travellers be able to walk into Gucci and try on as many sunglasses as we liked, without a shop assistant losing patience. We then went to the French Concession; streets full of coffee shops, boutiques and restaurants and here I really felt I could be anywhere in Europe. This is what surprised me the most about Shanghai; the streets are very pretty and clean and not as built up or industrial as I expected.

The next morning I started the day with toast and jam and a cup of tea, I could even watch the BBC news and thought it probably wouldn't be too much of a culture shock for a Westener to live in Shanghai. As it was the last day, it was time for shopping! We found the four floor wholesale market (fake products) and managed to barter in Chinese. That night we all said goodbye and it was odd to think think that this would be the last time we were together as a group, after starting the whole journey together.

My overall view of Shanghai is that it is a city everyone should see. It was amazing and exciting to see how far China is moving forward and it makes me wonder if or when this will begin to spread to the type of town and city I live in. The people in Shanghai were so different to what I am used to, but I loved the buzz of the city mixed with the quiet side streets. I wonder if I lived there, how long the novelty of seeing cheese, pasta sauces, salad and fajitas would last!

I'm now back at school with a few days off while students have mid term exams. It's been two months already and I now have seven weeks to go!

Posted by emilyferris 01:52 Archived in China Comments (0)

You are my Sunshine, My only Sunshine

When times are grey...

sunny 25 °C

I would say the past two weeks have been the most challenging part of my trip so far, and so although it's very easy to write about the good times, it's also realistic to talk about the harder times too.

As to be expected, I've suffered with "travellers sickness" over the past few weeks and with this has come a lot of homesickness. I've found myself longing for a bath, for my own bed, to watch TV on the sofa and for a cup of tea...whereas before these things I was easily doing without. My pink room on the school campus felt homely enough and I was beginning to enjoy my free time sitting around in the apartment. However being unwell so far from home suddenly made everything seem less comfortable, and the culture even less familiar. By the end of last week, my mind began to drift off to thoughts of going home and would I ever feel better for the rest if my time here. I had to dig deep, but I had to force myself out of thinking like that because I can't go home an deep down I am not ready to leave. I realised as I was sobbing (don't worry Mum) on the sofa that there is still so much here that I want to do and there is so much more I know my students can do; and so I was encouraged and accepted this is all a part of travelling.

There are a few things which have really kept me going, such as my flat mate. She hasn't been bothered by my sickness and is good enough to give me her laptop to watch comedies when I'm moping alone. As well as this, thinking of what I can look forward to doing when I do get home, a map if England from 'Country Living' magazine, my sister's 'funny' insults via Skype and the Les Miserables soundtrack keep me sane and make me feel closer to home in small ways.

However, it's my students that make this all worth while and make me smile every time I see them. Despite teaching them sitting down, trying not to fall asleep and clearly unwell, they appreciated the poor lesson I had for them. I was amazed how fascinated they were as I sat and chatted about my life in England and as they became more confident asking questions, I felt I was teaching them something they really want to learn about. Having a class if 70 applaud you when you say a few European countries and the word pancake in Chinese is quite emotional.

A couple of nights ago, the grade I teach (around 600 students divided into 12 classes) had a dance competition and I'm so grateful as I was reminded why I am in China. As I watched them performing traditional Chinese dance in their colourful traditional dress, I felt like a proud parent in the front row watching. Each class performed a dance from different aspects of Chinese culture and realised I was watching something I can see no where else in the world. They looked so beautiful and I learnt so much, I couldn't believe it was my shy students up on stage displaying their hidden talents!

It was around this point I was told "the foreign teachers must sing a song on stage next." Right, what do I know that will only be a few painful seconds and what can this room of about one thousand people sing along to. I remembered a girl from one class said they love 'My Little Sunshine' and so about five minutes later I was on stage, microphone in hand, with no music singing to my students (who for the first time in two months decided to be silent while I'm talking to them). But there is something about Chinese students that put you at ease and looking out to their faces made me love every second. Last week was a challenge and slightly grey, but my students made me feel at happy and at home again. Things are not perfect but I will appreciate and enjoy what is now the last half.

Of course I am now concerned my contribution to the talent show has caused me to lose all authority as a teacher, yet I hope they will now see me as a girl they can talk to and be comfortable with in class. I hope by joining in with them they won't be so painfully shy when speaking English and won't fear me telling them off if they "get it all mixed up." I do wonder f they would feel like this if they knew I have gone to bed every night clutching my teddy.

Posted by emilyferris 09:03 Archived in China Comments (0)

A Mountain and a Milk Tea

A typical day spent with my students...

semi-overcast 14 °C

Despite the students here being so busy and having weekend classes,there have only been two weekends so far that I havn't been invited somewhere with them. This is one of the reasons why the time seems to be going so quickly; a little while ago I had plans for the next four weekends and so quite often I am already thinking about the next month and so on. It also gives us a chance to see how good our students are at English and it has also helped me to become closer with my classes. I have a small group of students that I socialise with, and it's always nice to see those friendly faces while teaching and they pass on the message to the rest of their class that the teacher is a normal person!

Usually if we are spending time with our students they take us to their home town; those who live in the town or the nearest city like to take us on a Sunday afternoon. Yunnan is the poorest province in China, so they are always eager to show us places that display traditional Chinese culture, or the areas that are being developed. Due to the poverty there is barely anything Western so when people see us they are curious, fascinated and sometimes unsure. Two students have taken me to their home to meet their families and on both occasions I was the first foreigner they had ever seen. They tell me their are still excited I went to their house but what I noticed most was that they made such an effort to make sure I was happy there.

Yunnan is famous for its mountains; the school is built into the hills and the town and city are surrounded so wherever you go there is one to climb! Our first experience was in Yuxi (the closest city) which seemed easy enough from the bottom. However climbing hundreds of steps only to be told you are on the "top,but there is the very top to climb to next" is tiring in the heat! However we were then treated to a refreshing milk tea. Milk tea shops here are more frequent than coffee shops in England. They are exactly what they say they are; a fragrant tea or syrup mixed with milk and ice cubes. However they have caught onto the milkshake and smoothie trend so you can always grab one of those too. The next weekend we were invited to Eshan (our local town) and when I asked what was planned she said "we will climb the mountain and then drink the milk tea." Since then I have climbed five mountains and consume a milk tea almost daily. At first it surprised us that that was a typical thing to do but as I think about it, I suppose it's the equivalent of us in the West going to a park or gardens and then having coffee.

One day that sticks out to me is Easter Sunday, and I think if I write about this it will give you a pretty good idea of what life is like here and how lovely our students can be. I woke up feeling slightly homesick as Easter is one of my favourite days of the year and always spent with my family. Eve took us the flat she shares with her mum for breakfast and we ate almond cake/bread with jam and milk. She had bought us a knife and fork and it was so clear she was trying to make everything as familiar as possible for us. She then presented me with a bar of galaxy chocolate and apologised that is wasn't a real Easter egg. Few students here know anything about Western religion and so to be considered by her family was very touching. We then of course climbed a mountain and had a milk tea but it's worth it when you know how much effort the student has made to make sure you enjoy the day.
We were later invited to her Grandmother's house in the Muslim community just outside the town. It had a very peaceful atmosphere and felt very different to the rest of the town. There we met Eve' s mother, her two aunties, her uncle and young cousin and we were taught how to make traditional Chinese dumplings. Eve is the only person in her family who can speak English but we still felt so welcome and we all attempted to speak to each other!

It's always interesting when you are able to see Chinese families on a typical day and we feel lucky to be able experience 'real life' in China. However it's when I'm chatting after class with my favourite students about Leonardo DiCaprio or the Katy Perry Movie that I feel like I'm making real friends, and I know singing along to Taylor Swift and cheering on the teams at the basketball games will be my fondest memories. It's a nice surprise when a student lets you borrow Chinese OK! magazine or asks if you like Victoria Beckham and while I miss lots of things sometimes this is exactly what I need to feel at home.

Posted by emilyferris 04:15 Archived in China Comments (0)

Teaching

The good, the bad and the interesting.

sunny 21 °C

As I'm working through a Ladybird Children's Classic edition of 'The Railway Children' in order to find inspiration for a lesson on adjectives and story telling, I thought I should start to write about teaching in China; as this is the main purpose of my stay.

I've taught four lessons so far, as we plan one a week and teach that lesson twelve times over to the same age group. However towards the end of the week the lesson is usually quite different to how I began to teach it; sometimes because I find each class respond to my lessons differently so I adapt them to who I am teaching, or because I am bored and after 8 lessons I need a little change! Initially, I assumed all classes would be similar in terms of their ability and interest in English, although I should have known that when there are over 600 students in a year group this would not be the case...

My first lesson was daunting as I had no idea where they were in terms of English, all I knew was that they would be very shy when asked to speak. The prospect of engaging 60 students and then asking them to stand in front of their classmates to practise English speaking (which is not something they concentrate on here as listening and writing are the only aspects of an English exam) only became apparent as a real challenge to me on that first day. I had hoped that by starting of with an 'Introduction to English' lesson they would feel confident in telling me facts about London, England and would perhaps want to ask me some questions. Instead, I was literally faced with 60 vacant stares looking up at me, unsure as to why they were suddenly being asked to stand up to speak by a teacher only two or three years their senior.

I soon realised they were not ready to speak freely in English but I could already see some of the students had massive potential; as I walked around the classroom and heard them speaking in English and writing with perfect spelling I couldn't understand why they wouldn't want to show what they could do. At first I found this incredibly frustrating and so by my third lesson my lesson plan has already been adapted and began to take a different shape. Once I accepted it was me that would have to change and adapt rather than them, I began to enjoy teaching. As I become more confident, so did they and by the end of the week my classes were telling me about The Beatles, Chelsea FC, Adele, Kate Middleton, David Beckham and fish and chips which was a massive improvement from my first lessons where I was told "London is in England" and not much else. Since then, I have taught famous London landmarks, directions and food - which is when I think I really grabbed their attention! It was nice to see the students who are usually asleep at the back of the class asking to see pictures of pasta and sandwiches.

I am happy that now into my fifth week of teaching I have got to know my classes well. I follow the same lesson plan with all of them, but I now know what to expect from each class and so I can change the lesson to make it easier or more challenging, more studious or fun depending on how they like to work. Although there are still some classes I feel I have to work extra hard with, I never go through a lesson without someone making me smile or laugh. I also think now I am comfortable to teach them they are confident when speaking and now they really take me by surprise with how much English they know.

It is the students that are really making the experience here as good as it is because they cannot do enough for you and whenever they can spend time with you or invite you somewhere, they will. This also gives them a good chance to show us how good their English really is, and at times I feel like I'm just spending time with my younger sister and her friends as I would at home. They have a long school day; 6.30am to 11pm Monday to Saturday, and classes until midday on a Sunday so we really appreciate any time we can spend with them.

Posted by emilyferris 03:47 Archived in China Comments (1)

One month later...

My first blog in China

sunny 18 °C

Having been in China for just over a month now, for those of you who are interested, I have finally started blog! It feels as though I have been here for much longer, and saying goodbye to my friends and family seems like a lifetime ago. However I hope this blog can keep everyone up to date and connected and maybe interest any one else who happens to stumble across it.

I suppose I didn't admit to myself I was moving away for five months until a week before, when I started to see friends and family for the last time and we were saying see you in the summer. In the few days before my flight from Heathrow, there was a combination of excitement, doubt and anticipation in my mind. What could I expect? Will it be how I have imagined? And ultimately am I really up to the challenge?

Saying goodbye to my family at the airport was very surreal; it was something I couldn't prepare for and hugging my sister goodbye at Security was challenge. I didn't turn around until they were fully out of sight and it took me a few seconds to realise they weren't coming with me. However, as soon as I turned around and walked through the gate with my good friend Francis, I knew I was ready to go. All my questions and worries disappeared as they suddenly seemed irrelevant and I learnt all the other volunteers shared the same anxieties as I did. I think this is something that made us close from the start; from then on we only really had each other and this was a new and alien experience for everyone.

After travelling and waiting in airports for hours, by the time we arrived in Kunming I felt as if I had known these new people for months. It is safe to say, you can make very close friends after an 11 hour flight and having seemingly endless time to kill. In some way I am grateful for the long journey as it gave us time to get to know each other and find enough things in common to talk about. It was then time to meet the other volunteers from Australia, New Zealand, Canada and South Africa. The bus journey to the hotel was filled with excited questions and funny stories of our hometown stereotypes (maybe some more than others!) It may sound cliched, but I would say even in those first two days we became a family.

Our nine days in Kunming revolved mainly around our teacher training at Robert's school, where we learnt how to plan a lesson and what to include in order to engage a class of 60 students! However it also gave us time to form closer friendships, explore the city (day and night) try some interesting food and even after a few days it felt like home. Sometimes it surprises me how quickly we were able to become such close friends, but I also think we were very lucky in that everyone genuinely liked one another. As the week drew to a close, I had similar feels as to those when I said bye to my family in England. I would be sad to leave Kunming, but excited to get to my school an hour away... The Nationality Minorities School of Yuxi City.
As the car drove into the rural town of Eshan, it was a real "we're not in Kansas any more" moment. Although only an hour away from the big city, the environment had drastically changed and as we drove up a somewhat bumpy drive, I saw the school tucked into the mountain. Initially, my thoughts were get be back to Kunming; it seemed so quiet and this was probably the first time I stopped to think: I live here now and this is my home.

That was four weeks ago, but it could have easily been four months. The friends we have made here already have made us feel so welcome and now we are familiar with our surroundings and the nearest city, it does feel like home. I enjoy spending time with the students and they make so much effort to spend time with us. Even our small pink apartment now feels like where I live, rather than a room that isn't mine.

Even though there are challenges and I now understand the phrase 'culture shock' I have found you can be very happy anywhere in the world.

Posted by emilyferris 05:09 Archived in China Comments (0)

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