YTB Harriet goes to Shanghai

In July 2015 I flew out to Shanghai, China to volunteer as an English teacher in a primary school in the outskirts of Shanghai. The school I taught at was located in an area where hygiene and standards of living are very poor. The school was located in a shantytown-like community, which I later found out some of the students I taught were in residence there. Others have moved from all areas across China to be close to the city so parents could find work and enable their children to have a chance of an education, something that previously was only available to wealthy families.

The school relies heavily on sponsors and volunteers, without this help the school would have been shut down years ago. As it was the summer holidays for the children, not everyone was in. The school was open for summer camp so the parents could work. Upon arriving I found out I was the only teacher in the school, responsible for all students in the summer camp of different ages, from 5 to 10 years old with not a single one of the students speaking a word of English. I could immediately tell the school struggles with help, I was glad to give a hand. Fortunately I speak some basic Chinese, but teaching, communicating and giving simple instructions proved extremely difficult.

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With the students never having been taught English before, I started teaching them the very basics such as greetings, verbs and adjectives by saying it together & writing it in Chinese first then English after. As lessons went by, the students became more and more confident, and picked up words fast which I was very pleased and proud about. I taught them everything from numbers to colours, transport and countries too. It soon got to the point where I had run out of words to teach them so I later taught them sentences such as asking for instructions to describing their family, favourite animals and even what the weather is like! I was so proud knowing that in the short time I was there the students learnt so much from my stay.


Not only did the students’ English improve, my knowledge of the Chinese language improved too with all the students speaking to me in Chinese as if I was fluent, I soon started to pick it up! Not only was I their teacher but also I soon became their friend for the times I played with them at break, to their nurse for the times they grazed their knees falling over as children do. I was a full time teacher at the school for one month, teaching Monday to Friday 9am-4pm. I had evenings and weekends to plan my lessons and also explore the beautiful country that is China. On my days off, I travelled to Beijing and walked The Great Wall, also visiting traditional Chinese water towns and exploring Shanghai, the city I was living in for that month; what an incredible place! Not forgetting the ten hour train journey for £14 return (!!!) to The Yellow Mountains and experiencing breath-taking views that I will never forget.

My time in China gave me a huge insight of the world around me, coming home as a different person for all of the right reasons. I experienced a completely different culture and it was an extraordinary experience at just eighteen years old that will stay with me for life…

If reading this has inspired you, or your family to travel and would like to approach the Lions for a Youth Travel Bursary please see the application form to check eligibility and note the annual closing date for applications of 31 March