The experience of a 90s-generation Xiaoshan girl who volunteered to teach in Africa
[Trans.: Xiaoshan is a district in Hangzhou, the capital of the Chinese province of Zhejiang]
By Xiang Yaqiong
“It was a new experience for me.” That was the evaluation Guo Xinyu, a 90s-generation university student, gave of her experience teaching in Cameroon after she returned from a volunteer trip to scorching-hot Africa.
Although Guo only taught there for a month, her trip was one that she would never forget.
Shocked by the crude construction of the school
Guo is a sophomore studying Spanish and intercultural communication at the University of Nottingham’s Ningbo campus. She is an simple and genuine young girl from Xiaoshan. Not long ago, she and a few companions went to Cameroon to take up volunteer teaching jobs. Before this trip, most of what Guo knew about Africa was from television.
Although Guo and her companions had prepared themselves mentally before they went on the trip, Guo was stunned by the crude conditions at the school they were to teach at when they arrived there.
The so-called “school” consisted of a few, shabby one-story buildings, and there were no blackboards in the classrooms. In addition, students from different grades went to class in the same rooms.
“Although the learning conditions were inadequate, the children there studied very hard and were fixated on their studies,” Guo said.
She also said that she used English to interact with the students because English and French are the official languages there. She also conveyed Chinese culture to the children by teaching them Chinese. According to Guo, the students there had an intense interest in Chinese culture.
Some people say it requires a lot of courage to volunteer to teach in Africa. There is no water to take baths with, so you can only clean yourself using a wet cloth. There is also a shortage of food, so people try to conserve what little food they have; when they are famished, they break off a small piece from a cracker and eat it to allay the hunger. However, these were not the most significant difficulties that Guo and her companions faced.
She became homesick when she was ill
When volunteering as a teacher in foreign countries, the biggest fear is not a lack of food or clothing, but is instead getting sick. Illness was the most challenging, interminable and homesickness-inducing experience for Guo and her companions.
Guo suddenly got a fever on the fourth day after she arrived at the school where she was volunteering. What was worrying was that there were many people there who were sick with malaria, and the area was infested with mosquitoes. Guo was afraid that she had contracted malaria.
Soon afterwards, she was sent to the local hospital for treatment. “Those days when I was sick were when I missed home the most. This was also when I had second thoughts about the trip, and considered whether or not I should go back home,” Guo said.
She added, however, that the local people fortunately had had a lot of contact with Chinese people and gave them a lot of help. This made her feel welcome in a foreign land. In the end, Guo and her companions supported each other and persevered.
When this reporter asked her why she chose to volunteer in Africa rather than elsewhere, Guo said that she had resolved to go to Africa because she enjoyed helping the people there. She said she did not regret her decision to go there. It was not only a novel experience for her, but it was also a chance for her to disseminate Chinese culture and, in doing so, help the people of Africa learn more about China.
Chinese culture is welcomed in Africa
What struck Guo the most was the warm welcome the locals gave to Chinese people. Whenever the locals meet yellow-skinned people on the streets, they greet them warmly, even if they are strangers.
Guo also said that when she went to interact with the locals at the Confucius Institute there, she found that there were many Africans who were very proficient in Chinese and were eager to interact with her and her group.
“In the one-month period I was there, I discovered that life there is more easy-going that it is in many Chinese cities. And precisely because the standard of life there is not as high as it is in many parts of China, many people are content living with much less than Chinese people would consider comfortable,” Guo said.
Guo and her companions were attracted to Africa because of its simple and friendly nature, and they cherish the memories of their time there.