The interview with Ruth and Katja, two of Amity's YAP volunteers, was done during the Amity Mid-Term Conference in Hunan, beginning of 2017.
Who are you and where in China are you located?
Ruth: My name is Ruth. I am 18 years old and I am from Germany. I am taking part in a YAP program. I am doing volunteering work for 11 month in Gansu province and I am teaching the first grade of senior high school.
Katja: My name is Katja. I am 19 years old from Germany. We are living in the same town in China. I am also part of the YAP program. But I teach junior, so 7th grade and 9th grade in a middle school.
So you are in your gap year?
Ruth: Yes, we just finished high-school.
What made you join the program and why you did not straight starting university?
Katja: I wanted to be sure what I want to do after high-school, what I want to become and I also want to get to know parts of the world more or even a little bit more, to have another view on the world. I mean China is a big country and still we don’t know a lot but I think we are in a better position now to understand people who live in a completely different context with a different background. And we have to work this out. And I also wanted to do some volunteering with people.
Ruth: For me it was like, my parents did a volunteering service. So they were always talking about it and telling stories and everything. So I was like: Oh I want to do this, too. And so I applied and came to China. I think it is also about the perspective we have here. Now we are in a different country and there are different circumstances and we just get a different perspective on the world. And it is also about get to know yourself better. How you act in a different situation in a different country with different people.
Ruth: I wanted to experience something different and Chinese culture is so different from German culture and I was like: Ok, I don’t like to do my service in England. I wanted to go to a place where life is very different.
Katja: Actually I applied in January for the volunteering service. I really did not have China on my page. It was more in general that I wanted to go abroad and they told me. “Ok do you wanna go to China? And so I was assigned to go to China.” Then I thought, yes I wanna see that country. It is such a big country with so many different cultures. It is not one culture and to experience like Ruth said a different context which I never had before. And a friend of mine is from China, lived here until she was seven so it was kind of interesting to talk to her before.
Ruth: Maybe I can add something. I had a teacher in primary school and she lived in China before. And when I was accepted for the YAP program I told her and she was also teaching English in China before.
Does the volunteering service and China in general meet your expectations?
Katja: I think I did not have so many expectations. Of course, I thought China will be different from what I am used to, but i did not think how life will be here. That was not really in my mind, because I wanted to be more open and not disappointed or anything so I think China is of course very different but there are always people who help you so that you get more and more used to the way of life. But I also think there are things that are not that different. China is also a globalized country, not as much as some other countries, but it is not like there are no outsiders. So of course, it is different but there are also similarities.
Ruth: I think that is the thing. Many think: Oh it so much different from other countries and you will get the biggest culture shock and it will be so hard for you in the beginning, but for example the products you get in a supermarket. You can get most of the products you can get in Germany. And I think people also try their best to make us feel comfortable and just adapt to what they think our ideas of western life are.
How is your daily schedule?
Ruth: Basically, we spend the whole day at school so we are in the office and then we have lessons. My roommate and I we teach. And then we have three Chinese lessons a week. There are two Chinese English teachers who teach us Chinese. We have some English corners, so voluntarily English clubs for students who are interested to learn more English. So we stay at the schools until afternoon and sometimes we also spend time with teachers or students after school.
Katja: At my school we also visit other teachers at their offices, we have the lessons and sometimes some students who just come over and want to talk. We also do sports and I joined Tai Chi. I have lessons now. We often meet with the other volunteers and also have some local friends. They invited us to come over sometimes. For example one of the teachers in our school is cooking with us traditional Chinese dinners and really integrates us in his family. But we don’t have English corners because junior High school is a little bit different. We have four Chinese lessons a week.
How do you like your volunteering work?
Ruth: It’s great. In the beginning I thought it will be pretty hard because my students are mostly two years younger than me. So it’s my age and if would have had a teacher who is just two years older than me when I was 15 or 16 years old, that would be strange. But it works pretty well, easier than I imagined.
Katja: I think Junior is sometimes a little bit harder, because the students want to move more. They want to go outside. I mean they are just seventh graders, 11 to 13. So I have students who are seven to four years younger than me. But it is quite fun most of the time. Sometimes we also play basketball or we just try to talk to them.
Ruth: One thing I was pretty amazed about was their interest in German culture. I was surprised they were so interested and want to get to know our culture.
Katja exchanges with students
From your point of view, what are the differences of teaching styles between yours and Chinese teachers and how do the students react to it?
Ruth: Mostly, our teaching is different, because they have to give grades to the students. There are a lot of exams and a lot of pressure because the students are heading to the gaokao (final exam). So only two years left and they have to study and study and study. Our English lessons give us the possibility to change something, be more in contact with the students and also make them talk. That is what our lessons are basically about, that the students talk and not only having a Chinese teacher in front, who supposed to teach English but always talks Chinese because he explains grammar points and we have the possibility to talk about things that are interesting for the students, like movies, music and culture. We are free in what we want to do and we can also adapt and ask the students what they are interested in.
Katja: And also that they can relax a little bit more and they don’t have to study the whole time what the teacher says and to remember all the things. I have the freedom to play games with them and to repeat what they have learned. And they have to speak English with me because my Chinese is so little. Sometimes I have to speak Chinese with them and sometimes we have students who have to translate. But still they have to practice what they have learned and I think that is basically what we are there for. We also bring a little bit more relaxing atmosphere in the classroom, because we don’t give marks.
Now, you have finished the first half of the year and you have still half a year to go. How do you think about this mid-term conference?
Ruth: I think it is really useful to get in touch with other people from Amity programs who also have to somehow teach English, but in different contexts. We have the possibility to exchange and have a talk and just to reflect what we have done the past six month.
Katja: It is nice to just think about what we have done so far and what still lies ahead of us. I mean it is not only the half year here, but it was one year ago when the whole thing started. It is quite a long time, but it went really fast for me. So it is nice to think about what has happened so far. And it is going to be hard in some ways to go back home again and I think it is nice to discuss in a mid-term seminar some strategies how to handle these things.
Are you looking forward to the next half year here in China?