It’s difficult to know where to begin when talking about the summer camp, so I’ll start with the obvious. Pairs of us are teaching classes of twenty. I’m with Rebecca (a fellow Xinjiang volunteer), who was due to be up in Fuhai until her partner dropped out at the eleventh hour, so she’ll now be in Kuitun instead, which is actually closer to Karamay. I think we make a pretty good duo – we’ve certainly gelled a lot, even compared to other pairs. We’ve been planning and teaching everything jointly, and by the time they suggested splitting it so we got either mornings or afternoons free, we didn’t see the point, because there were only a few days left.
The lessons themselves were great fun, and having the same class throughout meant we got to know them very quickly. I imagine it’ll be a slower process later on at our projects where we’ll see each class for one hour a week, but I’m sure in a year we’ll get to know them a bit. It’s been enjoyable, but the timetable left a little bit to be desired. We had six hours a day to plan for, as well as evening activities with our class. Some of the evenings were given to Survival Mandarin lessons with Andrew (English name), but we mostly used them to prepare our performance for the closing ceremony with our class. Ours opted to sing Rolling in the Deep by Adele; most of the students are slightly tone deaf and have questionable rhythm, but it’s good fun all the same (we’re encouraging them to be enthusiastic, not accurate).
We have also had a few excursions (the only time we’ve left the [prison] school): first, an entire day at the Gubei Water Village, then a short trip to the local park a few days later. Aside from the whip-wielding Chinese man it was much like any other park, crisscrossed with paths and plants, so naturally we sat on a Table Tennis table to play cards.
We’re in rooms of two (I’m sharing with Kieran) though the room itself is designed to hold eight. Due to us being forced to stay up for a full day at the start, I haven’t noticed the effects of jet lag too much, except perhaps that getting up in the mornings has been easier than usual. Many prefer to miss the Chinese breakfast: largely rice, boiled eggs and fried bread things; I personally have no complaints. We were promised a ‘Western breakfast’ one day, which turned out to be packaged burgers (for breakfast?!). The biggest accommodation-related issue emerged when the showers, having run non-stop for several hours, overflowed and flooded the entire corridor. Unfortunately the English Trainee Teachers (that’s us) had rooms along the shower/toilet corridor, meaning our rooms were the ones which got flooded. Teamwork meant the water was swiftly removed but anything on the floor was soaked in (used) shower water. After that, there was no hot water to encourage the students to be quicker in the showers (or because they used it up, we weren’t sure).
The day of the closing ceremony came very quickly and was accompanied by a highly impressive LCD screen completely filling the back of the stage. Despite the incredible heat (we were on the sports field) the spectacle was great fun. Every foreign teacher sang or danced on stage with their class, culminating in a passionate rendition of Don’t Stop Believin’ by all of the teachers. As the students left, a few actually ran off their coaches to find their teacher for a final goodbye. It’s incredible how attached you can get to a class after only ten days – no matter how intensive the schedule.