Claire Wlash from Co. Wicklow spent six weeks in Shanghai volunteering in a school with her friend Dolores

Claire Wlash volunteered in a school in Shanghai and shares her story with us:

China was a surprise to me on first impression – it felt more like New York., but even bigger. It’s a very impressive ‘highrise’ modern city with fine buildings and as glitzy as any city I’v been in. it is big – and until you get your bearings, rather exhausting getting about, as even crossing the road involves an underground passage way with , it seemed dozens of options as to where you might choose to come back up to street level. There is huge construction going on – repaving/piping with some areas inaccessible in preparation, we understood for this year’s EXPO. The pollution level was high.Claire, Dolores and the English teachers of the local school were they volunteered

We had a week’s orientation – including 2 days of mandarin classes, a tour about Shanghai on the local buses and subway/we were organised to get our convenient ‘travel passes’ , we were introduced to our local food areas. All our queries were answered and we were told to get our ‘presentation’ for school ready. This was to be a Power Point Presentation – I found this a steep learning curve - never having done a ‘power point’ anything since my ECDL training. With a lot of essential help from our very helpful fellow volunteers this was done with reasonable efficiency.

Week 2 saw us at our assigned school way out on the north west of the city – a much more ‘local’ area - straddling a main thoroughfare with a ‘flyover’ overhead on a concrete pod which had the metro line in the centre of this elevation. A busy/dirty area it seemed on first inspection. Our school was tucked behind the main street and so was very quiet/full of bird song in the early morning. We soon got to know our area – a fine park full of all social activity – the parks are a wonderful centre for all social life it seems - dancing/exercise machines/musicians-majong players, duck pond etc. The side streets were a thriving local business area with lots of food stalls/restaurants/shops industry and people. It was really a great BUZZ. – despite the noise and confusion on the main street.

The school is a busy primary school and we had 15hours a week of teaching to do. Some days very busy and some just 1 class. We always had the Chinese English teacher in the class with us to help, sometimes with keeping order and some times and to make things clearer all-round. The classes all had power point presentation facilities and this was the usual teaching method which I thought terrific. It was difficult to know where to ‘pitch’ the lesson – the more junior classes were fine as they learn mostly to music and rhyme and we had a good selection of material. They were terrific singers and seemed to love the classes. I thought the older children could have done with more stimulation in the English classes – their standard was really very good / some excellent. Because we were on just a 6week programme it seemed better to present the ‘assigned’ class of the day and keep to the class agenda – I thought this material a little unexciting.

The school had a very good atmosphere of care and a fine standard of work. All the teachers were young and very hardworking. I loved it all – I learnt a lot / I don’t think our contribution was vast but everyone was very accepting and appreciative. We were there during term exams (for all grades) these are taken very seriously; so we had a lot of canceled classes as the teachers needed to do preparation work.

The winter came in earlier than expected which made keeping warm a priority and an effort. Food was also quite a challenge – though we had a tiny and very special ‘hot pot’ restaurant right at the school gate where we became the regulars. Despite our 2 days of Mandarin classes it was hard to read /impossible to read a menu! It took much mime and pointing to order food – people were amazingly tolerant and helpful.

We were invited to one of the student’s home for a cooking session – to make dumplings and that was a great privilege and great fun. We also went on the school tour to the Film Studios, which presented the Shanghai of my imagination. All the volunteers participated in the ‘Halloween’ weekend at another school – a great dressing up day and fun / we had a super meal as guests of the school afterwards – another ‘hot pot’ meal – but this time with all the trimmings.

We had the use of the city centre accommodation for the weekends and we and all the volunteers returned / it felt like coming home and we did lots of touring/touristing together and had great fun.

 If I was advising a new volunteer to China (Shanghai):

1. You will be asked to do a presentation of ‘yourself/country’ – this is entirely your choice but remember, it will be shown to children from 4-13 years. In Shanghai they start learning English at 4 years and I thought the standard very high. Obviously the young children will relate best to other children /animals/games/toys - they loved rhyming/musical material – great singers! – and you will be trying to get some reaction from the older children to the material.

2. All the classes had Power Point Equipment and all classes were presented on Power Point. So don’t forget your Memory Stick - you can buy them in China of course but its obviously the easy way too carry material.

3. There was a terrific interaction and exchange of information amongst the volunteers / it would still be a good idea to have some ideas for dealing with the particular age groups. The more ideas the better.