I’ve had an incredible first week in China with the other Project Trust volunteers. Although the revised departure date was somewhat stressful for all involved, having two weeks to begin getting used to a different lifestyle and country as a large group will be incredibly valuable.
Since I’ve covered the plane journey and ensuing day elsewhere I’ll be brief here – suffice to say there was a slight delay in me noticing the effects of jet lag because of sheer tiredness – but we were given a few days’ grace before heading off to the summer camp for a special brand of TESOL teacher training.
Beijing is an incredible city, even downtown where our hotel is situated. Despite the pollution and sheer weight of traffic, there seem to be far more trees and foliage by the side of roads than in other major cities I’ve seen. Looking out from a sixth floor window, the rows of houses look like they’re surrounded by forest because of the treetops emerging above them.
After the visit to Tiananmen Square on the first day we were more or less left to our own devices. Having trooped off to Beijing Zoo where, and eventually found the queue for foreigners (badly signposted), we wandered aimlessly there for an afternoon. One evening we were also introduced to karaoke by Mike. It seems to be called KTV here. Incredibly fancy, and we paid the equivalent of £10 each for two hours (still a lot by Chinese standards!). You pay for the room equipped with giant screen and a couple of microphones through which all the classics can be belted, often drunkenly.
Sunday was down to business; we were introduced to an American teacher (also called Mike) for several lectures with the post-university TEFL teachers. Most seemed to be a more theoretical approach to the information we were given at Training on the three-learning-type model (Audio, Visual, Kinaesthetic) but the cultural notes were very helpful. Again theoretical, but useful nevertheless: China’s high context culture compared to our low context. Apparently we can seem blunt because we tend to give relatively straightforward answers (when we’re not awkward about the answer).
Following his lectures, we were carted off to the respective summer camps – three different destinations for the TEFL teachers, though thankfully all from Project Trust were together – which meant a two hour coach journey. We arrived late in the evening and were introduced to the staff members at the Mi Yun Middle School.
That’s where I am now; we are somewhat out in the sticks (compared to downtown Beijing, at any rate) and they don’t seem too keen to let us out for any reason (for our safety). Cue prison jokes. It doesn’t help that we’re in dorms with thin mattresses and communal showers (plus the food is off trays). But this is not strictly fair as a description – the dorms are designed for boarding students, so they’ve put us in twos which is hardly uncomfortable. The food is a buffet every meal and I’m rather enjoying it, though I seem to have gained a reputation as a fast eater thanks to Calum. Not much can be said in defence of the showers, but if you go at the right time the ones with shower rails are free.