My Teaching Assignment

I am now committed to volunteer as an English teacher at a primary (elementary) school on ChangXing Island, less than an hour from the center of Shanghai. ChangXing is the smaller of the two islands in the middle of the Yangtze River as seen on the map below.

The organization that is mediating my placement, Travel-to-Teach (T2T) helps place volunteers in three different Chinese locations, including Shanghai. I had wanted to work at their Sichuan location but the recent earthquake made that very difficult. In Shanghai, they place teachers in about 20 schools, which are located in both urban and rural settings. Apparently, foreigners on the island are pretty rare so you are regarded with great interest by the locals. Recently, a couple of volunteers made the front page of the local paper, shaking hands with the mayor. There is a promotional video on YouTube that is narrated in Mandarin. A Chinese-American friend found it interesting, picking up interesting tidbits such as 1) the island first surfaced only 380 years ago, 2) the first people moved there only 160 years ago, and 3) it was originally comprised of six smaller islands before the inter-island channels were filled, creating a single island, about 20 miles long and 2 miles wide.

There are many paid teaching positions in China, which include monthly salaries, living accommodations, and airfare remuneration. However, most of those positions require a one-year (or, at least, a semester) stay and that was longer than I wanted to be away from Grace, Michael, our kittens, and all the other things I’ll miss about home – such as my pillow 🙂 Volunteer positions allow you to specify the length of your stay, usually anywhere from 2 weeks to a year. I also learned that some of the volunteer placement organizations have quite expensive program fees. T2T has very reasonable rates as they are based in Thailand, run largely by young people who work cheaply for the opportunity to live abroad, and keep their overhead costs low by restricting marketing and advertising to internet-only.

I’m excited about the opportunity to experience China other than as a tourist. I think the island will provide a rural experience during the week while, on weekends, I’ll return to Shanghai and be with other Shanghai-area volunteers, in one of the most modern cities of the world. I’m not certain yet but I think I will have internet access in my private room at the school (they also provide all meals during the week) so Grace and Michael and I hope to use Skype to talk frequently, computer-to-computer. If that doesn’t work out, there are always phone cards.

I’ll be arriving in Shanghai on September 1st where I’ll be met at the airport by Jessie, the coordinator for T2T’s China program who has been wonderfully helpful so far. I’ll get a 5-day orientation in Shanghai before starting my work assignment. The orientation includes things like Chinese culture, getting around Shanghai, and five hours of Mandarin lessons. Actually, the normal orientation is only 2-days long but I signed up for the extra three days just to give me some more time to overcome jet-lag before starting work. I will finish my assignment on November 28th and return home on December 2nd.

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