My time volunteering
My role was based in what is now Yuncheng University in Yuncheng city, in the North of China. In 1995, I had recently qualified as a language teacher and had already worked in Germany as part of my degree. My work at the University involved working with trainee language teachers who were developing their language skills in English and learning how to plan lessons in preparation to teach in schools across Shanxi Province.
I learnt a great deal from the students and colleagues who I was working with in the University and also gained a close understanding of the contexts in which my students would be working in their future schools. In my role, I was able to use the skills that I had acquired in Europe and to add to them through listening to the needs of my students, who were experiencing quite different challenges in China. Next steps involved seeking solutions which took into account the teaching resources which my students had available and different wworking environments that they would be teaching in.
The impact of my placement
For many of the students who I taught in Yuncheng University, my colleague and I were the only two foreigners that they had access to and in many cases, the only native speakers they had met. This was a great responsibility and a privilege. The experience allowed me to help broaden my students’ intercultural awareness and to share my skills for the benefit of my students future teaching practice. This contributed to the enhancement of the quality of teaching in the region. After graduating, my students went out to teach in schools across the province and taught English to a large number of their own students. I am sure that this has helped them to develop employability skills relevant to international trade and communications.
My unforgettable moments
I have amazing memories from my time in China ,which I genuinely feel have made me a much more resilient and open-minded person. Being one of only three 'so- called' foreign experts in the city, at that time, allowed my other British colleague and our Japanese friend to meet and network with many people in China. I would not have had the chance to encounter these colleagues at that stage of my career in the UK.
So many hilarious situations spring to mind, where different cultural norms led to unexpected outcomes.
I remember feeling lucky to have such a rich cultural experience, as well as periods of feeling isolated and missing home. One of my most vivid memories involves the complexities of travel in China, at the time. there was such excitement in finally reaching a destination, given the vast distances to cover in China and the many amazing cities to explore.
But most of all, I remember the great friendships which I formed with Chinese colleagues and students and the other volunteers through VSO, many of whom I still think very fondly of today.
The impact my placement has had on me
Teaching English, while immersing myself in Chinese culture and language, convinced me to continue to pursue a career in international education. After returning from China, I went on to teach in universities and schools in Japan and France. Later, I went on to study Education and Applied Linguistics to Doctoral level. Since returning to the UK, I have continued to work in Higher Education in language teaching and learning. Until recently, I was Director of a university language centre. My current role is as Dean for Internationalisation at the University of Kent. I still think about my time in China on a nearly daily basis. The time I spent in China focusing on supporting the language learning needs of my students needs, is still a powerful driving principle which carries through into my work with international students and academics, to this day.