By Tony Mangia
I spent two weeks teaching English at the Aurore Kindergarten school for the International Volunteer HQ program in an outer part of Xian, China and can tell you it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
It wasn’t the first time I had gone overseas to volunteer, so I did know that it’s a great way to get acclimated with a new country and its culture before, as I did, traveling around some more on my own.
The IVHQ project leader in China is named David Zou. He was always available to answer questions of mine before the trip and, when I arrived in Xi’an, was a gracious host and guide. He immediately gave all of the new volunteers a rundown of the city, the program, and our teaching assignments before taking us to a restaurant to get acquainted. Later during my stay, David even helped me with my personal travel plans and hotel accommodations.
And David’s mom is a great cook. Dumpling night was not to be missed.
On teaching days, once you get used to the commuting (mine was a 45-minute ride on a crowded bus and a 20 minute walk to the school) I’d look forward to each and every day. I worked with Cindy, my Chinese teaching host, and usually taught English to three or four different classes (usually 20 children each) a day. Cindy and all of the other teachers were friendly and made the experience a fun experience.
The children (ages ranged from 4-6 years old) are a delight and the 4-year-olds aren’t shy about poking, hugging and, in my case as a man, plucking the hairs off my arms and legs. It’s usually about curiosity but sometimes they just want to be noticed.
The 4-year-olds’ attention span is really short so word games and a little song-and-dance (you don’t have to be good. I’m not) will keep them watching you. The children love to sing and it helps them remember words and phrases. And, if you voice is as bad as mine, it will get a good laugh from the class.
The 5 and 6 year-olds are not as messy and will pay attention more— although playful punches and making faces will be directed at you. The high-five as a reward always worked and I introduced the ‘fist-bump’ which caught on quickly and became a big hit.
The teaching staff is great and really want you to succeed. They care about the kids. They won’t ask you to do much so volunteer to help out with moving things, cleaning or whatever you feel comfortable assisting them with. The staff will appreciate it and it will help fill up your time during the day.
The lunches are standard Chinese fare, but are very good. Bring extra water. The two-hour nap time for the kids gives you an opportunity to explore the surrounding area so bring a camera. Most of the locals don’t mind have their photo taken and I found an rustic old temple about a mile away.
I filled my weekends with a bike ride on the City Wall in Xi’an, a trip to see the Terracotta Warriors (a 2-hour bus ride) and saw a wonderful Chinese opera with some of the other volunteers. The city is filled with cool areas to just wander and taste and I wish I had more time to explore.
By the time my two weeks ended, I felt as if I lived in Xian and gotten to know the children. Later, back at home, I still look back at the experience with a smile and glad I took photos.
I can’t recommend the IVHQ volunteer program enough.