I've participated in China Summer twice, in 2013 and 2014. I can honestly say that those were the best summers of my life.
This program is such a great way to spend the summer, especially if you're in high school. I've learned so much from China Summer, along with forming some of the greatest relationships I've ever formed with the other volunteers, the students, and the local residents. Not only is it an eye-opening experience in a global, economic, and social perspective, but I've also come to embrace my own character with more confidence.
There are three sets of volunteers that participate in this program. The first set would be the American volunteers, who participate through United Planet. Most of us, the American volunteers, were high-schoolers. The second set of volunteers are Chinese college students who apply through the FeiFeng agency, which organizes the program on the Chinese side. The last set of volunteers are a little less visible, in the sense that you wouldn't really recognize their efforts right away. This last set includes the staff from the school where we mostly reside in for the duration of the trip, the parents of the local students who send their children to the program, and any other local residents that support the program. I am so grateful for this last group of volunteers who cooked every meal for us, cleaned and set up the dorms for us, created makeshift toilets for our comfort, and for supporting China Summer!
The United Planet volunteers (who are usually American...my first year, there were two people from the UK) meet in Beijing. We spend a day or two there, and then ride a train to the closest city to the location of the school. It's a small city called Huaihua where we spend the night and meet the Chinese volunteers. The train ride and the days in Beijing are great for bonding between the UP volunteers (: Then, all the volunteers ride a bus up the mountains to finally arrive at the school.
The school is in a rural setting, and the area is less economically fortunate than most of us are used to. The Chinese volunteers are usually from cities as well, and one way my global perspective was changed was realizing how economically diverse China really was. I'd say most of the challenges at first are getting accustomed to the school setting where the bathrooms are in a separate building and are trenches, where there are a wide selection of flying bugs that I've never seen before coming to China Summer, where food selection is also extremely limited and is eaten with chopsticks, where there aren't really showers, and where local residents can only afford to eat twice a day. It sounds bad, but it's really not! Seriously, the close bond between the volunteers made everyone feel at home and helped us get through these challenges with smiles and laughter.
At the school, we accomplish the primary goal of the trip: broadening horizons through interaction and teaching. The students are divided up by grades, and each grade gets a teaching group that consists of both UP and Chinese volunteers. Teaching days require lesson planning, which I would consider personally my biggest challenge. I'm just in high school, and I don't even know proper English myself! Coming up with interesting lessons is hard, but it's fun and I loved my kids (: Although we want the local students to expand their English knowledge, we also want to let them learn about life and the culture outside of their village in the mountains. Most of the people probably will never leave, but hopefully we've opened their eyes to more opportunities and to the lifestyle of different people in America (and sometimes UK or other places where UP volunteers are from) and in other parts of China (from the Chinese volunteers) as well. Additionally, our eyes are opened as well. Sometimes at night, we would go stargazing because the stars in that area were amazingly. I felt extremely small lying in the middle of the basketball court in that school in the mountains in southern, rural China amongst all the stars that were invisible where I lived 7,000 miles away. It makes you think bigger, I suppose.
And about my personal perspective, I've become more confident as myself. I am a very self-conscious person (ask anyone who participated in China Summer 2013 or 2014), but when I'm on the trip, it makes me forget about my insecurities. I was so comfortable with the other volunteers despite being in a foreign setting and in a economic situation that I've never experienced before. Being on this trip made me forget all my concerns at home. I loved forgetting about everything! All I cared about on the trip was anything to do with China Summer. And now, it's all I can think about still.
Kudos to you if you've read up to this point! I could go on and on about this trip, and I'm sorry if this post was lengthy a bit dull. What's important to get out of this is how badly I want to do China Summer again. I love this program to death and it is undeniably the most amazing experience ever! I wasn't expecting anything too mind-blowing my first year because I am Chinese and I've been to Beijing almost every year since second grade. I was completely wrong. I would recommend this to anyone anywhere at anytime, because I have been the happiest I have ever been on this trip. I've made some of the greatest friends, and we share very special memories that can't be truly empathized by anyone else. I love my China Summer family, and I'm so grateful for United Planet for having this program! :)