Hangzhou Trip

VII Trip to Hangzhou

Inara Ramji SenAH 

 

During half term, nine Paulinas took a break from the stress of A Levels to visit the beautiful city of Hangzhou on a part-educational, part-volunteering school trip. However, none of us had realised how incredibly rewarding the trip would turn out to be, and how large an impact it would have on us.  

Throughout the trip, we stayed on the Hangzhou Dianzi University campus and attended Chinese classes there. The university was founded in 1956 as the second public university in Zhejiang Province, and is renowned for having a very strong background in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) with its graduates going on to high-paying jobs in many fields. We were paired up with students from the university who showed us around the area and kept us company throughout our stay. 

Chinese universities are very different from traditional English universities, as they resemble more of a high school than a place of independent learning: students have timetabled classes, vocabulary tests, are given homework to hand in and even eat together in a cafeteria. As a result, the Chinese classes that we attended at Hangzhou were not actually that different from our Chinese classes back at St. Paul’s, although in Hangzhou we were surrounded by significantly older international students. The teacher also spoke no English whatsoever, but we discovered that we were actually able to understand everything, and soon found our Chinese had improved, even after just a few lessons.  

In addition to attending these classes, we also volunteered at the School for the Deaf which was located not far from the university. We spent three afternoons there, teaching and playing with children of all ages, from 6 years old to the perhaps not so child-like age of 22. From the moment we arrived at the school, we were made to feel so welcome by the children who couldn’t wait to show off their selfie-taking skills. On the second afternoon, we were split into pairs and introduced to the class that we would be teaching. I was told I would be teaching English and cooking to a class of 16-17 year olds – definitely a daunting prospect considering that  I had no teaching experience at all, and that not only was my spoken Chinese limited, but that my Chinese sign language skills were absolutely non-existent. It was definitely going to be a challenge! However, it soon turned out to be one of the best experiences of my life, and I can honestly say that I have never had more fun. From making animals out of marzipan, to teaching an English class by mouthing and hand gestures – the memories are priceless. In addition, many of the teenagers  I was teaching had never even left the school campus, and sharing stories with them, and teaching them about London and a world outside the campus that they had never seen, was a hugely rewarding experience for me.  

On top of our time spent volunteering and learning, we also managed to spend some time looking round the neighbourhood, and our excursions during the trip included some wonderful experiences. We visited Shanghai, stood on top of one of the world’s tallest buildings with only a glass floor beneath us, got kicked out of shops for bargaining a little too hard, saw a stunning light and dance show on the surface of a lake, and even sang Chinese karaoke for three hours straight. I can safely say that this trip was one I’ll never forget – for all the right reasons.