Since writing a
detailed post on my volunteering experience in China, I’ve had a few questions from friends about what day-to-day life was actually like. Life as a volunteer was the complete opposite to life as a backpacker and this was something Alice and I both had to adjust to quickly. Furthermore, life in China in general is completely opposite from life back in the UK. Throw these two together and here’s what you get…
As mentioned previously, the Chinese school system is insane. School, Monday-Friday, starts at 7:40am each day and if you live at school breakfast is served up at 6:30am. As a volunteer, I was entitled to the hot breakfast each morning but I only went and got this once – sleep is more important to me folks!
the puffy white thing top right was sweet and actually so good
Every Monday I had to be up for 8:30am for the flag ceremony. This took half an hour and the whole school would assemble outside on the running track. Classes would take it in turns to march and put the flag up on the stage.
The rest of the week, this time was spent doing stretches and exercise as a whole school. It was so strange but I actually quite liked the idea!
If I didn’t have immediate morning classes, or it wasn’t a Monday, I would generally wake up between 9:00am-9:30am and go straight to my class. Lessons were only forty minutes with a ten-minute break in between.
In my free periods, I would either go back to my room to nap (yes, I was that tired all the time), to relax or to plan more lessons. Monday’s and Thursday’s were my most free days and these were spent catching up on TV shows, blogging, lesson planning and sleeping!
Come lunchtime, Alice, Giada and I would meet in the canteen to get our very large plateful of rice…just kidding. We’d get a very generous portion of rice with 2-3 other dishes (I really got into this beef/pork and pepper one). Being classified as staff, we could skip past the long queues and choose our food before the other students which is always a bonus 😉
Lunch was two-hours long because the students had an hour dedicated for sleeping(!) Given their incredibly long hours of school though I’m not surprised – it is definitely needed. Monday-Thursday, all of the volunteers had English Corner and Italian Corner where we each had a group of pupils who wanted to improve their spoken English for an hour. Two days this was Senior students and the other two days were for Junior students.
I had about 20 Junior students (aged 12-13) and around 11 Senior students. Essentially, apart from teaching and playing games in English with them, I was also expected to prepare new lessons for them. This didn’t happen as it was completely unrealistic, but I did have topics that I could discuss with them and things to bring up which would get them talking in English.
After lunch, the morning routine pretty much resumed until 5pm. Dinner was served Monday-Thursday at 5:30pm and went the same way lunch did (except there were far, far less queues). Not many students ate dinner on-site since they were given time to go out and buy food from nearby street stalls or small shops. Plus food bought outside was much better than what was served in the canteen. We volunteers couldn’t afford to do this daily as, although Chinese food prices only come up to £1-£1.50 per meal, we were on a budget and the school was providing us with free meals anyway! On days the canteen food was awful, we did make exceptions and go out for food though. Another reason why we didn’t eat in the canteen was because our students would invite us out to eat lunch or dinner with them. I really enjoyed this because I not only got to practice my Mandarin and get to know my students better, but I also got shown good places to eat out in for the weekends (as pictured below):
only £1.50 and insanely good
The school we were placed at had a little tuck shop on site, stocked with drinks, yoghurt, ice-cream, biscuits and other various snacks. As volunteers, the school had kindly said that we could use the shop to get anything we needed without paying. This meant that we went every single day but also meant that I ate far too much chocolate & ice-cream whilst at the school! Our daily trip was usually after dinner and we stocked up on bread, yoghurt and ice-cream (we had a fridge/freezer in our rooms which was really handy).
The rest of the evenings were spent chatting about our days and spending time with each other along with relaxing in our own rooms. The senior students (years 11-13 in British terms) had evening classes from 6:40pm-9pm so students were still around the school buildings. Sometimes, due to school events or activities, we would have to help prepare the students for something English-related (for example the Speaking competition they had) and therefore we would go around to the students’ classes during the evening to speak to any relevant pupils we needed to. I also helped out when one of my classes was studying English in the evening. For some reason (and I don’t really get this) but the three evening classes were the same subject.
Once the evening classes were over, a bunch of my students who lived in the school dormitory would come to the music rooms and we would all chat and play cards together. The main students were three boys in my senior class: Alex, Forster & Whale (English names). I became very fond of these boys and would say that we’re all friends – if they ever come to England, I’ll definitely go and see them and I even stay in touch with them now!
top to bottom: Whale, Forster, me & Alex
All of the students who lived at school had to be in their dorms by 10:30pm. Generally, if we were all having a laugh and good fun, the boys we were playing cards with would go up at 11pm with us and we would explain to the staff members there that we were with them and that’s why they were late.
All in all that’s what my day looked like whilst volunteering. There would be the occasional staff meeting for all of the volunteers or an event we had to help organise and run, or even just us having extra days off and going on exciting trips, but most of the time it was fairly relaxed and chilled. I honestly loved my life back at the school (as much as I complained at the time) and I really wish I could go back 🙁
P.S. I’m on my 3rd temp phone in two weeks so my instagram/snapchat game hasn’t been that strong at all – please bear with me!
P.P.S. I’ve been crazy busy at work (it’s residential so pretty much 24/h) so there’s been a delay in posting and YouTube videos 😬😞
If you’re not joining the adventures already, here are the links:
Instagram & Twitter – @violahelen_
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Peace and love,