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A Love Affair With China

volunteers-and-chinese-students

 Journal entry by Barbara, a volunteer serving in China. 

I am always proud to say I have been to Xi’an three times, returning after my first trip in 2007 when I chaperoned a high school trip. Upon retiring from my teaching career, I wanted to “give back to life,” to “pay it forward” for all of the good things in my life. I Googled “volunteering” in “Xi’an”. Instant synergy:  Global Volunteers and me, Barbara – and the beginning of my love affair with Global Volunteers in Xi’an.

“In 2 days, after teaching my last classes, I shall board an airplane for my homeland and friends. But once again, I leave a large part of my heart in Xi’an. How can I explain?”

My first assignment with Global Volunteers in Xi’an took me to a primary school. Mingming was the classroom English teacher. We worked together on lessons she partly prepared, and I contributed my conversational English skills. It was during my first service program that China unfolded its mysteries for me in Xi’an… New, delicious dishes with sauces and seasonings unknown before.

teach English volunteer in Xi'an

Volunteer Barbara teaching english to chinese students in Xi’an

When not preparing lessons, we were guided to the Terra Cotta Warriors Museum, to Banpo, the world’s oldest ancient village, to monasteries, and inside the city walls, for towers, pagodas and the Musim Market. A world exotic, and filled with lanterns and dumplings and the rapid ripple of Chinese conversations. Because English language is required of children in school, I often had children run up to me in the street with a shy “Hello” to practice the language.  What a treat. Not only were the young ones welcoming, but the Chinese people everywhere were gracious and helpful. Even without a common language, the people are eager to serve.

And too fast I had to leave those cheery little faces in their classrooms, and their teacher too. Mingming and I emailed to each other weekly for 9 years.  Who wouldn’t want a good friend from half way around the world?

“And the years rolled on, but always I held Global Volunteers in my heart, and with it, Xi’an and my friend Mingming.”

volunteer in Xi'an teaching

Barbara helping chinese college students practice their reading

For 8 years, I had touted the joys of teaching English in China, of the wonderful experience of Global Volunteers programs. Aha, I found a friend who wanted to join me, and we signed up for September 2016.

When I returned, we were a small team of three, assigned to the Xi’an Biomedical Technical College, majors in nursing and associated medical technologies. We may have been small, but we lent our energies and ideas to teaching 140 college students who were in their early years of learning English. The students, boarders from surrounding farms, were eager and welcoming to these foreigners whom they could barely understand. We laughed at my attempts to pronounce their names. It was important that I keep trying, to make my mistakes for them, and to model my persistence.

volunteer-teaching-english-in-china

Alex, one of my teammates, with the Chinese students.

With the students teaching, we also had an English teacher present to translate as needed. The teachers’ dedication and enthusiasm for their students would have inspired anyone. However often I had some difficulty understanding their pronunciations as well, but they were constantly questioning and eager to learn and improve.

Gracious to a fault, they invited our team to a family celebration of the Mid-Autumn Festival, 2nd largest holiday of the year. We helped to clean chives for the dumplings, we soon learned to make. As we waited for them to steam, we learned to play Mahjong, enjoying 5 games. I didn’t win. A lovely family of friends.

Now as I pack my luggage for returning to America again, I realize I have a home here too, in Xi’an… a family of teachers and students, who have welcomed me, taught me and given to me more than ever I brought to their classrooms.

“I see the great significance of my Global Volunteers service in Xi’an, for we have formed bonds, we have brought joy and love to each other. We have made the world more beautiful than I ever imagined… We shall always hold each other in minds and hearts, hands joined across the many 7000 miles, bridging them for all to benefit.”

volunteer in Xi'an China

The team of three volunteers, Barbara, MaryAnn, and Alex, with the colege students preparing chinese dumplings.

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