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Doing an Internship in New Zealand

May 11,2016

New Zealand is a country just a few people had on the screen until 2001, when Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” hit the cinemas and showed the world the beauty of this quite remote island. Since then tourism highly increased. New Zealand also offers some cultural diversity, though predominantly a western country, there is still a vivid culture of the original inhabitants of New Zealand, the Maori, whose language is still taught in school and spoken by a notable portion of the country’s citizens. People interested in indigenous Polynesian culture will for sure get their money’s worth.

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Why doing an internship in Australia?

May 10,2016

We wondered why so many people want to go to Australia and came to a conclusion: because it is simply amazing!

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Volunteer's Story: Michelle

April 25,2016

As a college student, I am always in search of how to channel my energy and career towards my passions, which are healthcare and international development. For instance, although the American system has its problems, its healthcare and education are still “accessible” to the majority and the awareness of mental disorders and learning disabilities has increased throughout the years. I experienced and understand the American system, but now I crave to see how other countries are handling these issues. Thus I was excited to truly take a peak at how China cares for their unique citizens compared to the models witnessed in America (Texas). That was my motivation volunteering in Shang Gang Disable Center and I was not disappointed. I believe this opportunity was an essential to my life. However, like all first-time international volunteers, my experience had obstacles to overcome.

I have always been fascinated with the Chinese/Shanghai culture, however all my knowledge has been gained from dramas, blogs, documentaries, articles, and friends. With that, I held a very romanticized view of Shanghai, China and I believed that I, a non-mandarin speaker and an American with limited exposure to the true Chinese culture, could of course navigate through the hustle and bustle of Shanghai. I was wrong. The first few days, I recognized that there would be a mountain to climb and after my first day of work in the Shang Gang Disable Center, I realized that mountain like the Shanghai World Financial Center was steep and towering. The biggest obstacle for me was the language. I thought in Shanghai everyone would know, understand and speak English, but most knew as much English as I knew Mandarin. At first I was surprised that most could not speak or understand basic English, but my surprise slowly turned into acceptance. After all why should they speak English when they live in China, where the official language is mandarin? However struggling with daily interaction with store clerks or bus drivers could not compare with attempting to forge bonds and make an impact to the students of Shang Gang. Most of the students spoke only mandarin, therefore interacting with them during their lessons and activities was both daunting and difficult at first (even though they were extremely welcoming and nice). Also because they were adults and needed to be treated with dignity and respect, I could not just play nonsensical games or prattle like I would do with children.

After the initial culture shock, I prepared for my trek up that mountain. I poured my energy into creating a bridge of communication with the students. At first I tried to communicate through only body language. However after my first English lesson I discovered some of them spoke English well (when prompted) and most did understand basic English words. Coupling their English with my basic Mandarin, we communicated with simple English and Mandarin words, bodily language, hand signs and of course iPhone applications (English to Chinese dictionary, phrase book, and sentence translators). I enjoyed my time with them, crafting discussions and conveying meaning. It was fun and every misunderstanding was met with patience and amusement. Working in Shang Gang, I became more flexible and resourceful. I have met amazing people that taught me a lot about adversity and diversity.

While slowly climbing this mountain (overcoming obstacles), I witnessed how China cares of their unique citizens. Shang Gang Disabled Center is an impressive facility that offered sign language, voice lessons, music (drum), dance, drawing, English class and other lessons depending on the volunteer teachers. In the beginning, walking through the hallway of the center and looking at the students’ artwork, I can honestly say their drawings were surprisingly good. Also I later found out the center provided resources for the students that show a high aptitude in a course in order for them to further their talents. In addition, observing their sign language class I was stunned that all the students could “sign” full sentences and have conversations. I can honestly say that they are vibrant, thriving, and intellectually bright in this center and especially in my English lessons. Moreover, this place provides a productive environment for mentally disabled students to learn and also create friendships. With that said I would hope there are places like Shang Gang everywhere in China and even the world.

In conclusion, I came to China wanting to enrich others with my values and skills but in the end I feel like I was the one most enriched with this experience. I became part of this city as I met new friends at Shang Gang, XuBo, and elsewhere. However, navigating through this urban jungle would have been much harder if it was not for the workers of XuBo (they all speak English and Mandarin fluently). They were extremely helpful and friendly. Any problem ranging from being stranded in the railway station to the ATM machine never returning my debit card, they were available to help me solve the problem. The staff at XuBo enhanced my experience in Shanghai and also in reflection, I would say I have become more independent, resourceful, flexible, social, and the list goes on. This was an excellent experience. I would advise anybody to volunteer outside their comfort zone because not only will you learn more about yourself (weaknesses and strengths) but also be immersed in a different culture that will broaden your perception. Of course, I will be coming back to China in the future and hopefully by then I will be fluent in Mandarin.

Volunteer's Story: Max

April 24,2016

My name is Max and I am one of the volunteers of Xubo Art. I am 20 years old and after graduating the German high school in 2012 I wanted to take a year off before I am going to the university. I was very interested in Asia so I planned to spend time there and divide my journey into two parts: I started traveling around for three months in South-East-Asia from Singapore to Vietnam. The second part was a volunteer work as an English teacher in China. I searched for programs and organizations that offer such things and I found OpenDoorInternational and its partner organization Xubo Art in China. So I arranged a volunteer work in Suzhou and Mianyang for three months.

My China experience started in Shanghai where I arrived from Bangkok. After a (very) short introduction I spent the rest of the week in a flat of Xubo in Shanghai and then went off to Suzhou with another German volunteer. Suzhou is just about an hour away from Shanghai so I spent most of the weekends in the bigger city. In Suzhou we lived in a little apartment that was part of the school building. There were already two other volunteers teaching. That was the reason for some several problems we had to face at the beginning of our work because it was not organized that well. But Xubo helped us where they could and so most of the problems got solved.

The teaching in the suburb Luzhi we stayed was very much fun. I taught the second and third grade in English. The other volunteers and I had surely no problems with doing that. The teaching methods are very simple and completely different to German ones. That has to do with the size of the class. 45 pupils in one classroom is totally normal and that means as a teacher you are not able to focus on single students. You have to educate and teach the whole class and hope they will be able to follow your speed and pay attention. If the children were not motivated there is no chance for them to learn something because no one would be there to explain it another time.

The lessons were mostly about learning by heart so if you would have asked 100 students the question “How are you?” you would get 100 times the answer “I’m fine thank you! And you?” No doubt they can spell English words better than I do. The everyday life was often pretty much the same but very fun though. The kids loved foreigners and we were always welcomed there. After nearly every lesson the volunteers had to sign the school books. They were very excited about us and were very interested in our lessons. We played games with them, used PowerPoint presentations or taught stuff from theirs school book of course and sometimes made a German part when there was time left. All in all the lessons were always nice and every time an experience. After school we often played basketball with the sport teachers of our school. Like ping-pong basketball is really big in China and nearly every student carries his ball.

The life outside of the school was not always easy but interesting though. I really enjoyed communicating with other people who neither speak German nor English. I ran out of money so I only saw Suzhou and Shanghai but these two cities were just awesome. I stayed at the east coast for 2 months and saw a lot of stuff, I have been to really cool but always really adventuress places.

While I’m writing this I am in Mianyang in the province Sichuan 1800 km west of shanghai and having the last month of my journey. Till now I like it here better than in Suzhou because the school is way smaller and feel more integrated into the social life.

To put it in a nutshell I can say that I will never regret this volunteer work. It is so much fun, the lessons are great and the students love you anyways. So If you want another experience than just traveling then do stuff like this. And you will surely have enough free time to see everything you want to.

Volunteer's Story: Mariana

April 23,2016

Hi! My name is Mariana Monteiro, I am 19 years old, I’m from Brazil and I’m an International Relations’ student. I’ve always wanted to do volunteers jobs, but I was never quite sure where to start, and so, I decided to begin with China, a country that has a culture way different from mine and that would be a really challenge for me. I must admit that when I first arrived in Shanghai I was scared by almost everything; the city was huge, I didn’t know the language, and the whole culture was new to me. However, I kept my mind opened and everything worked out just fine. I spent 7 weeks teaching English at the Creativity Kindergarten, an amazing place with a peaceful atmosphere in the middle of the loud Shanghai. I had three different classes everyday with kids from 3 to 4 years old, and although the language was a barrier in the beginning, I ended up managing to develop methods to talk with the kids. They really were the best part of everything, always willing to learn and to participate, teach them and see their progress gave me a feeling of satisfaction that nothing else could make me have. It was a truly amazing experience!

After the kindergarten I always had plenty of time to discover Shanghai, either by myself or with the other volunteers in the flat. It was awesome to have the opportunity to meet people from all around the world, and make friends that I know that I’ll keep even after the staying in Shanghai. I also made some Shanghai friends that I hope I’ll visit again in the future. During my stay I also visited other places, like Beijing, Suzhou and Huzhou, and although some of them are quite far, is very easy to move around in China and that is never really a problem. The people who work at XuBo are also an important help, they always do everything they can to make your life here easier and your experience unforgettable. I will definitely miss my life here once I’m back to my everyday life in Brazil, I met really nice people, discovered amazing places and had awesome experiences. These 7 weeks passed extremely quickly and I hope I’ll come back here someday. Thanks for the memories, China!

Volunteer's Story: Marietta

April 22,2016

My First week in Shanghai started with an Introduction of the City, Mandarin Lessons and the first private Sightseeing tour. After you have learned how to use your metro transport card, nothing can stop you in Shanghai. Because of the Expo everything is signed and written in letters and even the taxis have a translation service hotline. You will learn easily how to communicate with taxi drivers, order your food by pointing to pictures and haggle on the fake market. Shanghai is great for shopping and you should leave enough space in your luggage when you arrive. During my time in China I traveled by train to Suzhou, Hangzhou and Beijing and always had good experiences with the transport and the trips in general. I met a lot of nice volunteers from all around the world and enjoyed many of my weekends and dinners with them. It is highly recommended to do some traveling, which is very easy to organize, and inexpensive as well.

My work time was between 8.00 and 16.00. During the week I had 9 lessons of 40 minutes each. My timetable was Mon-1 lesson, Tues - 2, Wed - 3 , Thur - 2, and Fri - 1. Between 11.30 and 12.30 was time for lunch. The meals were always good and (I am always picky with food) I found something to eat every time. The teachers and especially the Exchange Coordinator Mrs. D. were very communicative and caring. They joined me at lunch and were very interested in European culture and our ways of teaching. By the way, they taught me Chinese food vocabulary.

A normal day started depending on the lessons between 8.00 and 12.30. My first lesson began suddenly. I got my translated timetable and knew the classroom I had to go to. As I stepped in front of the Class a spontaneous hurricane of applause started. Obviously they seem to like their new German teacher with the long blond (“yellow”) hair (“like a Vampire”). After everybody got a sign we could start to work. I was teaching German by using a mix of Chinese vocabulary and easy English. I prepared my own working papers with German and Pinyin and PPPs for the lessons. During my free periods I would sit at my office desk and use the Wireless-Lan to prepare my lessons or check e-mails. Although the secondary school is more demanding than the kindergarten, the contact with the pupils is amusing and instructive. They were very interested in me and my lessons. Sometimes they gave me small presents like pencils, exercise books and so on. I don’t want to ever forget that experience which ended with a sad goodbye.

The time in Shanghai and especially at the Tongji Secondary School was very impressive and I learned a lot about the Chinese culture, lifestyle and livings conditions. I will miss my pupils and the time in school. Moreover, I will also miss the food and the gorgeous skyline of Shanghai. 

Thanks, May

Volunteer's Story: Sofia

April 21,2016

Hello my name is Sofia Jordan and I am from Australia. I decided to volunteer for 5 weeks teaching English after completing my international teaching qualifications. The choice to teach particularly in China dates back to childhood when my father was the Director of the NT Trade Development Zone with strong connections to Chinese culture. Our family spent a great deal of time with Chinese colleagues and delegates. 

After a long flight from Adelaide in South Australia I arrived to Shanghai and was greeted by a happy staff member from Xu Bo and taken to the flat by bus and taxi. I found myself holding my breath and closing my eyes a couple of times amazed by the traffic, the cars, buses, bikes, scooters and people all trying to get somewhere in what appeared to be a great hurry.

After completing two days orientation in Shanghai (leaving with my Chinese name Su-Fei) I flew to MianYang and was greeted by two of the primary school teachers holding a very beautiful sign. I was so touched by the warm welcome and such genuine appreciation of me coming all the way to MianYang to teach at their school, Longmen Primary, as they do not have many foreigners coming to their school.

Longmen is out of the main city of MianYang so it's 'off the beaten track’ as one would say in Australia, a quiet town that is very committed to education and family. For me this was the perfect location as I was a little nervous about the placement and only being able to speak 'Hello’ in Chinese as this was my first travel experience to a place where English was not their first language.

On my first day at school I was greeted by smiling faces of children, some curious, some shy, some nervous as many here had not even seen a foreigner. This was also event in the town as I walked around with many adults looking with curiosity. I did feel a couple of times like an alien, however as the weeks past parents became aware I was at the school teaching English.

The town has a wonderful intimate community spirit which can be lost in larger towns and cities and I have really appreciated getting ‘back to the basics’ of caring about your friends, family and neighbourhood with the food here in the Sichuan Province being spicy and so delicious with ‘Baozi’ being my favourite breakfast snack.

I enjoyed the opportunity to be creative with the lessons bringing in songs, dance and a sense of humour with stories from Australia about my favourite animal the koala, to a bird taking bacon from a picnic and getting to speak about my family. I was very fortunate to teach in both the primary school and middle school from Grade 1 to Grade 8 and received a warm welcome from both teachers and students.

I would highly recommend a volunteering experience to MianYang in particular Longmen Primary School as the people here are so friendly and welcome you into their community.

Volunteer's Story: Luna

April 20,2016

My name is Luna and I'm 17 years old. I'm still going to high school in Germany but I wanted to do something useful during my summer holidays so I joined the Xubo volunteering program. My Journy started in Shanghai where I stayed in a Xubo flat for 2 days, then I went to Zhengzhou, a city about six hours by speed train away from Shanghai.

At first I shared a flat there with another volunteer from England who taught at the same Middle school as me. The students were around 12 years old and really interested in western culture. It wasn't too difficult to teach them, since I could use PowerPoint to show pictures and I also used the blackboard a lot. It was fun how excited the children got about some games which are hated by German students. I really enjoyed my time there, but after two weeks I had to move to another flat and I had to teach at another school. It was weird to suddenly live all alone since I've never lived alone in another country than Germany, but I got used to it. The teaching job here was much harder than at the other school. Most of the students were at the same age as me, so it was really difficult to not be a friend but a teacher for them. I also learned that younger students are much more motivated, I sometimes got really frustrated when some students just slept during my lesson. It was also a lot harder to communicate with them, but in the end we got used to each other and I had much fun.

It was really surprising how much the kids loved foreigners. On both schools I almost felt like a celebrity because everyone wanted to take photos of me, or with me. It even happened that students tried to secretly take photos of me during the lesson. I think something like that would never happen in Germany, but I found it quite amusing.

Living in Zhengzhou was kind of challenging too since you barely find anyone that understands English. But I still managed to survive somehow even though my Mandarin is very bad. I'm really obsessed with Chinese food, it taste so much better than everything we have in Germany and it's also much better compared to the food you get in German Chinese restaurants. All in all I'm really glad that I spent this month in Zhengzhou and not in a big city like Shanghai for example since it was a new experience and who knows when I'll have the chance to visit a city like this again.

Volunteer's Story: Lena

April 19,2016

My first working experience in China was coming to an end. I had been working in a primary school for four weeks, teaching English, but since the semester examinations were approaching, there would be no lessons during the last ten days of my stay in Shanghai. So I asked for a new placement, never thinking or hoping that my second working experience would be as fascinating as the first one. A student of medicine had just arrived and I was asked, if I agreed to accompany her in her placement, which would be "Cerecare Center," a Wellness Center for children with Cerebral Palsy (CP - the term refers to a disorder of movement, caused by damage to the motor control centers of the developing brain). At that time, I did not even know what Cerebral Palsy is and I agreed to work with the new volunteer. Something which, during my first day there, I was afraid that I would regret!

I was confronted with an "unknown, special world," a reality with which I was not familiar and which - I thought - would not be able to bear! Having to do with children who can not live a "normal"; life seemed to be beyond my limits. I remember I could not help thinking: "this is too much for me" - trying to help little children do all these common, simple things that we take for granted. We helped them walk, stand, sit, eat, go to bed, dress, play. Things for which healthy children do not have to struggle! I was almost in a state of shock, trying to hide the tears that were coming to my eyes, feeling lost, confused and helpless, until I had to remind myself that I was there to help! So I somehow started to "function" in this new world, trying my best to do what I was asked for – which, to be sincere, was not really much, because the staff were too kind to let us get too tired! But once you get there and you get to know the children and have feelings for them, you find yourself wanting to do more and more! You can not stop thinking of ways to make them have fun, singing and playing with them or teaching them English words. Every afternoon, we had a break form 12:00 to 14:00, when the children would have their nap and although in the first days we would use this time to rest (something, which was not really necessary, we were not tired), as the days went by we would use this time to prepare a game for the children. During one of those breaks we made some "puppets" out of color paper and chopsticks! I remember myself, hidden behind a small, portable blackboard, moving these "puppets" for the teaching game we had thought of. I could not see the children's faces, but I could hear them laugh - and at that magical moment, this small room had become the whole world! No words can express what you feel, when you know that you can offer those children some nice moments. A small "piece of you" that you give them, as tiny as it may be, gives back an enormous reward, a unique feeling of doing something so precious, so worthwhile!! 

Volunteer's Story: Ilaria

April 18,2016

I've been in Zhengzhou two months already and I can honestly say that so far it has been the richest and most rewarding experience of my life. Everybody inside and outside the school is very kind and helpful. Moreover speaking Chinese is giving me the opportunity of meeting a lot of Chinese people wherever I go. As a matter of fact, everybody seems to be very curious and interested in foreign people, maybe because it is quite difficult to run into foreigners in this city. The city is not touristic at all, and I believe it is part of its appeal. It is very big and extremely crowded but it is a truly Chinese city. In particular, the neighbourhood where the school is abounds with people with their little stalls and carts selling food and the traditional “xiaochi”. Especially at night is it very picturesque. Moreover the people living in the neighbourhood are getting used to seeing me around and always greet me or stop to ask me about my mother country. As far as the classes are concerned, I must admit that teaching 68 students is quite a challenge. I teach grade 7, which is the first year of middle school, so the level of English isn't very high and sometimes it is difficult to explain the exercises in English, without translating in Chinese. However, the students are very smart and learn very quickly. Many of them are very shy and do not dare speaking in class but I always try to organise some sort of game or competition in order to involve everybody. Especially when some kind of prize is at stake the vast majority of the class will strive to win it. In these weeks I have noticed that the students are more willing to take part in the lesson and answers to the questions are increasing. What I am trying to convey is that studying a language can be fun and that there are other ways of learning, and I think many students are really improving. For me the most important thing is that they enjoy the class and start appreciating English and I believe that many of them really do, since they are already asking me when I will come back to China.

Apart from the regular lesson I also teach the so called “English Salon”. The students who participate are really smart and the reduced number allows me to getting to know them better. The activities are varied, from listening to songs to tongue twisters and cartoons. At the moment we are watching “Beauty and the Beast”. The next weeks, however, will be devoted to the organisation of the Christmas Party, when the students will have to sing and act in English for the teachers and for their parents. I hope I will be able to recreate a genuine Christmas atmosphere and make them experience a part of my culture. After all, that's why I am here.

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