Several years ago, I was studying computer applications at my community college. It was my last semester before graduating and I knew I did not want to immediately transfer to a university. I had other plans. During one of my geography courses, the professor showed a picture of the haystack hills as a slide in a PowerPoint presentation. I was captivated by the unique formations and told myself I would visit the place and climb one. But first I had to find out exactly where they were. I did some research and discovered Guilin, china
was where I needed to go. But how would I get there?
A few days later, I received an email from a non-profit organization based in Provo, Utah
. There was a picture of a squinty-eyed chinese
kid and several lines of text that grabbed my attention. It must have been destiny. I quickly visited their website, where I had all the information I needed. Their home page displayed a message, saying, “Find out what it is like to travel the world and live abroad for a semester. As an ILP teacher
, you'll travel, serve, and make life-long friends with other college-age volunteers who have similar standards and values. By interacting with children
for a few hours each day, you will give them something that will open doors for them for the rest of their lives–the english
language. You'll have a safe, unique chance to live with the local people in Russia, china
, or Ukraine.”(ilp.org) Their website contained detailed information about apply
ing, program cost
, teaching methodology, training, orientation, travel, housing, food, language and cultural classes. I called and talked with a representative for a few hours and I learned more information. After that phone call, I made the decision to apply
. I would be teaching english
as a volunteer for International Language Programs (ILP) in china
with ample time to tour the country.
After a year of working and saving, I traveled to the ILP headquarters in Utah
for mandatory training meetings. Program alumni presented several lesson plans, teaching activities and the methodology of interactive play. Program directors also talked to the groups about past experiences and their personal visit to the schools we would be teaching at during the semester. Each group had one or two designated head teacher
s that travelled with the group. They offered teaching ideas and support as well as being in charge of administrative/behavior responsibilities for the group. The program cost
was approximately $2000 which included round-trip airfare, visa, housing, and three meals per day. Volunteers were encouraged to bring $1000 of personal money for travel and souvenirs.
Upon arriving in china
, a chinese
liaison from the Wuxi Guanghua School met our group of 30 teacher
s at the shanghai
airport with a large bus. We travelled about 70 kilometers west to the city of Wuxi. Dormitory rooms were provided on campus. We had a few orientation meetings with the head teacher
s about rules and restrictions, were assigned our classroom and classes, and immediately began teaching. I taught 20 hours per week plus lesson planning. Each class contained 10 to 15 students. My classroom was mine to use and decorate I pleased. I drew many page-sized flash cards and taped them to the wall for the students to view and practice at will. As it was my first time teaching, I did not know how to manage the class in the beginning. With the help of my head teacher
s, I quickly learned how to engage the students' interest and not dwell too long on one activity.
Our teaching schedule consisted of teaching four hours each day for a week and a half, followed by a four-day weekend. Each four-day weekend we were free to travel anywhere in china
(usually by train) as long as were back at the school to teach Monday morning. I visited several famous landmarks and cities in china
, Xian, Hangzhou, Suzhou, and of course, the haystack hills in Guilin.