Each summer, CEEDS organises volunteer teaching programme to send Cambridge students to schools in post-earthquake regions of Western China to interact with the local students and teach English language and other subjects. This is a unique opportunity for Cambridge students to meet students of a foreign culture, and to gain different perspectives of life. Teaching itself is rewarding, giving volunteers the chance to make a difference to their students’ future life. Following are the diaries sharing experiences by the volunteers who joined the 2014 CEEDS Post-earthquake Region Volunteer Teaching Programme at Wenchuan No. 1 Middle School, Sichuan Province.
Liu Dandan, MPhil in pharmacology
During this teaching programme I chose to deliver an elective course “History of Western Art” in addition to the compulsory courses of English language and culture. I got my inspiration from an article which reported that in a cinema in China almost half of the audience who watched the film The Monuments Men left early as they found it so tedious. While this film, telling a story of rescuing art treasures in World War II, may appear somehow a lackluster compared to other Hollywood commercial blockbusters, when I watched it in a cinema in Cambridge, no one quitted early. Besides, by comparing western galleries and those in China, we can see that China still lags behind in people’s capability for appreciating art. I hope that my generation can do better in art appreciation, and even help others do better through our efforts. In the future these students will probably go all over the world and into all walks of life. I hope they will not treat beauty of art simply as luxury. What I tried to convey to the students was the idea that beauty is life. I chose “How to Understand History of Western Art” by critic Zhao Zilong as my textbook since it explains western art history and the reasons for changes during different eras in an easy-to-understand and humorous approach. Another teaching material is “Art as Therapy” by English writer Alain de Botton, who interprets paintings in a unique fashion that can help relieve anxiety over life.
After giving the first class entirely in English, I found that students felt hard to follow. Therefore from the second session onwards, I translated some difficult but important parts and delivered to them in Chinese. I could see that students understood me much better. And I was so happy when my course was well-received among all the students.
Harry，Undergraduate in Mathematical Sciences
The most interesting but changeling task was to design my own lessons. Since it was my very first time to teach a class of 15 high school students, it can be hard to make sure the lesson is in the suitable level and all students will be engaged in the lessons. After hours of meeting, researching, and putting all the ideas together, I was still making changes constantly during the camp. After I knew the students better, I found out that science and mathematics were more welcomed in the lessons. So along with the English lessons, I also taught some interesting mathematics beyond high school level, which were quite well received. Outside classroom, we always tried to communicate and interact with the students whenever we could. Table tennis, badminton and basketball were popular in the afternoon. In the evening, we played games and watched movies. Every night was full of joy and laughter. Overall, teaching in Wenchuan was demanding and tiring for me. But every time I saw these students, there was nothing but enthusiasm in me. Every time, I read the letters they wrote to me, I felt so lucky to be part of this volunteer teaching.
Kevin Burri，Undergraduate in Mathematical Sciences
I was very excited to meet new people with a different culture, and apparently so were the students we met during this program! Teaching and communicating in English was certainly quite challenging, since it is neither theirs nor my mother tongue, but they had a good enough level that we could understand each other if we spoke slowly enough. Preparing and giving interesting lectures with appropriate difficulty was not easy, but I feel like I learned a lot about planning and teaching.
The region is very beautiful and the people were generally quite friendly. Despite having never been to Asia previously, I never felt out-of-place or homesick, the program is just so intense!
I enjoyed most the between- and after-classes. The students were as curious about my culture as I was about theirs, and we spent countless hours doing sport, playing games or talking together. They were all very sociable, and we shared as much time together as we could.
Overall, we spent an amazing time in China; this is certainly not an experience I will forget!
Leo，Undergraduate in Mathematical Sciences
We arrived in Wenchuan, the post-earthquake area in South West China on 1st of July. Finding ourselves surrounded by mountains around the school, we got quite amazed by the stunning scenery and hospitality of local people.
The program started by introducing ourselves and getting to know the students’ names on the first evening. Students tended to be quite shy on that day.
Next five days saw us teaching the curriculum we had developed for the students including Mathematics, Physics, Astronomy, History of Art and European Culture. During the evenings we played games and watched films. After the second day, the students became friends with us and treated us like their own members.
Days passed quickly. Upon leaving, the students gave us farewell letters and gifts. We took plenty photos with them.
This summer camp is really rewarding. We brought them some interesting facts and knowledge and in return they showed us how positive and warm-hearted they were towards us. I am grateful to have such an opportunity.
Here are some pictures from the volunteer teaching programme: