I am a bit of a self-confessed teaching geek. Both my parents, a sister, uncle and in-laws work in various education roles in the UK. My teenage-self swore I would never be a teacher because of this! By accident or design, I find myself a High School English teacher at Chiway-Repton School in Xiamen.
After teaching in Thailand for two years, my journey in China began in 2015. In a small city (1,000,000 people) outside of Wenzhou in Zhejiang Province. I was blown away by the sights and smells of the Walking Streets where grills, bowls and tables heaved under the weight of delicious snacks. I was also deafened by the loudness of the local Wenzhou dialect being thrown around the streets. Apparently, it is so complex that it has been used as a military code in the past.
I made some great friends there and attended my first Chinese wedding with over 400 people. As I settled in to life in China, the value that Chinese parents put on education really began to shine through. This can come across as a little extreme in some cases, but on the whole, the education of children is central to the success of the family and the society as a whole, and I really respect that.
我在那里结识了一些好朋友，第一次见识了 400 多人参加的中式婚礼。在中国安定下来后，我开始注意到中国父母对孩子的教育非常重视，虽然有时会显得有些极端，但总体而言，孩子的教育对家庭乃至整个社会至关重要。我真的很尊重中国父母的想法。
In the summer of 2019, after moving to bright and clean Xiamen, I was looking for a volunteer project to keep me busy for a couple of weeks in the summer. After connecting with Stepping Stones, an NGO in Shanghai, I was placed with a summer camp for ‘left-behind’ children in the Yong Kang area of Zhejiang. This really made me experience a different side of China. I had explored a number of bigger cities at this point and was taken aback by the relaxed and chilled rural life there. We taught in the morning and later had time to explore the fields, mountains and even rode in a hot air balloon!
2019 年夏天，我搬到了明净的厦门，然后一直在寻找志愿项目，让我在接下来几周保持忙碌的状态。我与上海的一个非政府组织“铺路石”(Stepping Stones) 取得联系，他们安排我去浙江永康地区的“留守儿童”夏令营工作。这确实让我体验到不一样的中国。我已经游览过中国的一些大城市，仍对那里宁静闲适的乡村生活感到吃惊。我们上午授课，一得空就去山野间探险，坐热气球！
Alongside another volunteer from Shenzhen, we learned about the difficult childhoods these kids have had. Growing up in villages where a large proportion of the adults have migrated to cities in search of work. Some of the kids wouldn’t see their parents for two years at a time. The local volunteers there were left-behind children themselves and they were acting as stand-in parents for many children. It was heart-warming to see the extended family and support network they were creating around the children. Inspired by these stories, I decided to write my MSc dissertation on the topic of left-behind children and the community groups supporting them. To learn more myself, and I believed it would benefit my High School students in Xiamen to learn about how other children grow up in China.
Wanting to continue after graduation, I connected with Zuzana and we organised volunteer teaching at Guanren Library & the Bird Nest Kindergarten for migrant children. The highlight of this for me was watching my own students excel as responsible classroom teachers. Shy students came out of their shells to teach, prepare lessons and look after children, who took great delight in having some strangers come to their classroom and teach them English. At the mention of education, I had the full support of school administrators, parents and a core team of students who wanted to give their time and energy.
我毕业后想继续做志愿工作，于是我与 Zuzana 联系，组织学生在官任图书馆和鸟巢幼儿园给外来务工子女上课。这是我的高光时刻，因为我看到自己的学生成为了负责任的老师，表现非常出色。向来腼腆的学生从舒适区中走出来，教书、备课、照顾孩子，孩子们见到陌生人进入教室，教他们英语，也感到非常高兴。这次志愿教育活动，得到了学校管理层、家长和愿意付出时间和精力的学生核心团队的全力支持。
I have continued and completed a further summer camp for migrant children in Tong’an and during the pandemic teaching continued online and will probably change the way education can be delivered in some positive ways. My current school hopes to continue to work with local education groups in Xiamen and beyond. In my day job, I am lucky to work with some of the most privileged families and students who have dreams of top universities and studying abroad. I hope for those students who do choose to volunteer that they see how lucky they are and not everyone gets the opportunities they have had.
Ten years of teaching later, I continue to be amazed by the passion and dedication of teachers here. One aspect that has stood out for me is the individuals who have devoted their entire lives to helping others through education. From the volunteers in Yong Kang, to Mr Ding who runs the migrant library network in Xiamen, and Sun Laoshi who converted half her house into a library and school in Tong’an. Educating children, and often books are central to their plans for getting the best opportunities for the students around them. I have only met a very small number, but I am sure there are many more all over China.
Xiamen is a special place with lots of talented locals and expats working in volunteer and educational roles. In many ways it reminds me of my university city, Bristol in England. Currently I am working alongside a group of 25 writers who are passionate about writing short stories for a Young Adult audience. We hope to inspire more High School students to read in English by creating stories they will find engaging. We hope to also turn this project into a fundraising endeavour in the future and publish a free e-book to share with teachers. This writing project has proved more popular than initially expected and we are hoping to begin a face-to-face Creative Writing Workshop very soon. We aim to meet twice a month, and writers can share anything they have written; receive feedback and critique of their work. The written word is powerful and has so far brought together writers from China and various countries around the world through stories.
厦门是一个独特的城市，这里有很多才华横溢的当地人和外国人，从事志愿和教育工作。厦门让我想起了我的大学城，英国布里斯托尔。目前，我正与一个由 25 名作家组成的团队一起工作，他们热衷于为青少年读者写短篇小说。我们希望通过创作有吸引力的小说来激发更多高中生阅读英文。我们希望将来这个项目能募集资金，出版一本免费的电子书，与老师们分享。这个项目比预期更受欢迎，我们希望召开面对面的创意写作工作坊。我们的目标是每月碰两次面，作家们可以分享他们写的任何东西，接受反馈和批评。文字的力量是强大的，我们已经通过小说把中国和世界各国的作家们聚集在一起。
Happy Reading & Writing to you all! Look out for the free Sabre Short Stories (Volume 1) coming in summer 2022.