Scottish Charity Number: SCO36069

20th November 2011

Leaving Home, Arriving in China by Natalie Smythe

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Sitting in Newcastle airport waiting for my flight to China was possibly one of scariest things Ive ever done. Its more the idea of living somewhere you know so little about, although leaving my family and friends for a whole year was tough too. After nearly two days traveling, I arrived in Beijing with the 25 other Project Trust volunteers for China. As I stepped off the plane the first thing that hit me was the heat, really smoggy, damp heat. The next thing I noticed was the sheer amount of busy people and the noise they all made!

First, we spent a week in Beijing on the orientation week that Project Trust had organized for us, which I thought was brilliant! It was such a great way to get us all used to living independently in china, from simple things like a few language lessons to finding the best way to hail a taxi and get around effectively. The cooking course was a real favorite of mine, learning to make dumplings. Another unforgettable event was tobogganing down the great wall of china- not something you get to do every day!

So after a week in Beijing I had my first experience of a Chinese train ride… Oh dear. Imagine a cramped carriage full of people smoking (there are no enforced laws against public smoking here) in the boiling heat for 26 hours. It definitely a shock after the luxury of transport at home! Feeling very ill and very tired, I arrived at my project.

Straight away I thought our hosts were really great. We were taken out for a Chinese banquet and met the leaders of the school course tried new weird and wonderful food. I think the thousand year old quail eggs have been the weirdest food Ive tried at a welcome banquet so far, although the whole fish head fish soup and the chicken feet have come a close second and third.

At first, settling into Dingxi was quite hard, I missed people at home a lot in the first couple of weeks and adjusting to the climate, food and language barrier was difficult. The lack of home comforts was a huge shock for me, even though I had been expecting it. You really dont realize how useful a washing machine is until you have to hand wash everything, or how nice showers are until you cant have them anymore! Not knowing what was the best places to buy food and learning to cook using a hot pot stove as a makeshift cooker was also a challenge, but one that weve overcome with the help of our new Chinese friends here. The teachers who live on the same floor as me and Jane are brilliant, especially Anna and Dianna who are both English teachers. Theyre great friends and we often cook together, play sports, or just chat.

The first day of teaching was completely terrifying. The idea of standing in front of seventy Chinese teenagers and giving a forty minute lesson, fifteen times a week for one thousand teens in total Again it was just the unknown again that was the scary part. How will they react to me? Will I be able to give a good lesson? How much English will they be able to speak? What should I do if they dont listen to me? However, after taking those first steps into the classroom, most of the nerves disappeared. All of my classes were really welcoming and greeted me with a round of applause, very embarrassing but not the worst thing in the world! After that, teaching has been mostly very fun, I have a huge mixture of classes so in some classes Ive laughed until Ive cried, and other classes can be quite badly behaved and difficult to deal with. Ive decided to make an effort with the students that I can help and get them interested in English, and for those who dont want to know, Im still trying but I shouldnt let it get me down.

Altogether, its been a great start and Ive got lots of aims for the next few months. I would like to set up an English club, visit some of the other volunteers projects, make some good friends with my students and also make some friends from the local college.

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