Erfahrungsbericht Freiwilligenarbeit: Ann Christin 2014

Volunteering in Shanghai - 6 weeks 06.08.2014-16.09.2014

One of the first questions I was asked when I arrived at the airport was whether I had been to China before. I answered: “No, but I have been to Taiwan.” and the reply I heard was: “But Taiwan belongs to China“. Later I was informed that if you ask a person in Taiwan whether Taiwan is part of China they would answer: “There is only one China“. Even after some research I did about this topic in Germany, my question is unanswered because the political status of Taiwan is disputed. 

With the first impression of differing political opinions I started my way to the volunteers flat in Shanghai. As I had been to Asia before, arriving in Shanghai didn't evoke a full culture shock. I was rather excited to meet my flat mates who turned out to be really nice and to see the place where I would be living the next 6 weeks. On my first day I already went out to do some sightseeing with the other two volunteers.

The introduction and culture course on the following day gave me some insight into Chinese customs and traditions and I could get familiar with the staff from Xubo working in the office just 3 floors above the flat. Not only in the beginning they helped me to get a transportation card for the metro or a Chinese sim card but especially during my stay in Shanghai they supported me whenever I needed help or advise. It didn't matter if I wanted to buy train tickets to travel to different cities next to Shanghai, to book a hostel or just wanted to know where I could buy the best tea in Shanghai, they answered every question. They always asked me whether my work at the kindergarten was fine and if I had problems they informed the kindergarten. I always felt sure to be able to manage everything in Shanghai especially because if I had questions of any kind they would always have an answer for me. Even in the end of my stay when I finally wanted to get an answer to the  strange question (whether for Chinese people European people also look similar because I often have problems to distinguish Asian people) which has been in my mind for years they were honest, laughed and said yes.

My volunteer work started on a Friday and on my first day in Creativity Kindergarten I only watched one lesson of a teacher and received a schedule, animal cards and some information about my work in the following six weeks. I had two classes of 3-year-old children and should teach 20 minutes lesson every day. The rest of the time I would take care of one class and play with the children.

The first week was a little difficult as the children were quite shy in the beginning because they didn't know me and I needed to find out their English level. But the teachers and care-takers in the classrooms were always nice and helpful even if most of them couldn't speak English.

So I was just looking forward to the next lessons and as I expected it got better every week I stayed there. In the end some children always wanted to take my hand when walking down the stairs or they kept talking in Chinese to me even if I didn't understand it. But I just smiled and continued playing with them. In the end I got to know the children so well that I really didn't want to leave and wished I could take one of them home with me. Additionally, the lunch at kindergarten was very good too and you could take as much rice as you needed so I was never hungry leaving the kindergarten and got to know a variety of Chinese food. 

Furthermore, I only worked until 12 o'clock so I had much time to explore the city Shanghai alone or with other volunteers. At home I was a little afraid that maybe I would be bored after 4 weeks when I have seen everything of the city. But first of all, Shanghai is so huge that there is always something to do and the other volunteers also had ideas what we could visit next so I sometimes rather wished to have more relaxation time in the flat.

Most of the time we met somewhere in Shanghai at one of the thousand metro exits (in one metro station there are up to 12 exits which sometimes are really far away from each other) and did something together. I always enjoyed sharing my experiences with the others and was very happy not to be alone. We went on the skywalk in the highest skyscraper in Shanghai the world financial tower, visited art galleries, did a boat tour on Huangpu river or just relaxed and took a massage after we walked so much through the city.

Although I had been to Asia before, I needed to get used to the crowds of people wanting to get into a metro every morning, the smog of which I never knew whether it was just foggy that day or real smog and Chinese people spitting on the ground. But once you live in China for several weeks, you will also see how helpful and friendly some Chinese people are. It definitely always depends on who you meet but we always found some people who tried to help us finding our way back home. Sometimes this was quite difficult especially in cities like Suzhou where the metro system isn't that good yet and you can only use buses which are completely in Chinese. But we always got home safe. Moreover, I was really shocked that so many people aren't able to speak English. Sometimes it took quite some time finding someone on the street who could help us and could at least speak a little English. But that's why I improved my drawings and gesticulations because those were the only two ways I could communicate. 

Besides that I enjoyed Chinese food a lot. At first I needed to get used to the bones which are everywhere when you eat meat but Chinese food is really healthy and tastes good. I could never get enough of dumplings and I miss them so much in Germany.

On the weekends I actually never stayed in Shanghai. I used them to see more of China and fortunately my flat mates and other volunteers living in Suzhou or even farer away were motivated to travel around, too. I was never alone and even if I had started my journey alone I would have met people in the dormitories in hostels. We went climbing thousands of stairs in the yellow mountains in Huang Shan, visited the capital city Beijing and the Venice of the east Suzhou or did a relaxing bike tour around the West lake in Hangzhou. All trips were a lot of fun and even if I traveled every weekend I still haven't seen much of this huge country and I definitely want to see more.

When I left home I thought after this trip my desire to travel would be satisfied but actually now I am already thinking about my next trip to the East as a volunteer. I liked it so much and maybe I will go back to China but I think I want to explore more countries in the world and volunteering is a great opportunity to do so.

All in all, I must say volunteering in a kindergarten in Shanghai was an unforgettable experience for me. The children in the kindergarten made me smile every day and I had a daily routine. I especially enjoyed staying at the volunteers flat in Shanghai because you easily make friends from all around the globe. Because of the 2-day introduction courses, which are always in Shanghai for every volunteer who comes to China, I met a lot of volunteers who lived in other cities and stayed in touch with some of them to plan trips together for the weekends. The volunteering gave me a deeper insight into the Chinese culture and I never felt like a real tourist only visiting sights. It was a good combination of work, Chinese culture through the contact with Chinese people and sightseeing.

I want to thank everyone who made my stay perfect: thanks to the German organization Open Door International, Xubo and the staff at the Creativity Kindergarten.

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