I was born in Europe, but I am feeling daughter of this earth. When I was a child I dreamed about countries around the world several times and I imagined to move from my home with an essential backpack, to board a ship and to land somewhere. Probably, too much adventure books during my childhood or it is just an attitude, the typical behaviour of traveller. In any case, applying for PLACE in it seemed a great opportunity to discover a new world and to learn something about myself. Volunteering is generally considered an altruistic activity; for me it is both a challenge and a personal development. Nepal, India, China were the choices. I never imagined to be selected for the country of the great dynasties. China? Incredible, amazing, big, crowded, polluted China? I started to daydream on food, people, smell, cities and other infinite things. I was immediately ready to go there.
Some VISA troubles later, I finally left Rome with the savour of my last strong coffee in the mouth, my 33 Kg of luggage and many expectations. I landed in China the day after and 30 hours later the departure I was in Guangshan. “Chī guò fàn le ma?” it was my welcomed in town. Literally “have you eaten?”, translated with a simple “hello”, it’s not only an informal greeting, it’s more a state of mind. In few days I discovered that Chinese are kind as much as they eat spicy food. “bù là – no spicy” was the second phrase that I learned to continue to use my taste buds in the future. Asking about food it means taking care of the others. That attitude is reflected in several actions of Chinese and, of course, in the behaviour of my Chinese colleagues and friends. Did I need a bicycle? In three days they found for me an amazing, rusted city-bike and I was able to go around and explore the city in complete freedom. I loved my bicycle enough to give it a name: She. Did I need tea? I was invited for drinking a cup of traditional tea and I went back home with a typical tea bottle and the best tea of China, directly from Henan province. Basically, it was always in this way.
The day after my arrival I started my teaching experience in the school. 3000 students were there. Each class was about 60 children. It was interesting to know the educational system of China. Daily student life starts at 7.30 a.m. and it ends at 21:50 p.m. More and less 12 classes per day. Lessons last 45 minutes and there are 10 minutes of break each hour. Little woody desks, uncomfortable chairs, windy classrooms, big and sophisticated screens for teaching. Practically, an anachronistic but efficient school. The students were respectful, diligent and generally very shy. I taught English 4 hours per day and I organized workshops to spread respect for the environment and healthy lifestyle. Everything was a success. I gave them tips for learning English or doing recycling, reducing waste and reusing. Strange topics for a farmer region. Sometimes I thought that I needed to learn more than to teach. China has problems, but not more than some European countries. Chinese should learn more about pollution, but western people should rediscover the bond with nature that Chinese still have. The most meaningful experience was with children. They gave me drawings, hugs, smiles and a meaningful life lessons: the smallest things can make the biggest and our smallest actions often have the largest impact on lives of others. The relations with local people were incredible exciting, especially for the frequently communication difficulties. Experimenting body language has been fun; learning and using the 5 magical words, “xiè xiè – thanks” – “qĭngwèn – please” – “nĭ hăo – hello” – “zàijiàn – goodbye” – “huānyíng – welcome”, demonstrated that kindness and respect are the keys of success.
My experience lasted less than three months. I travelled a bit with my backpack around China before to come back to Italy. During my hiking I think about my future plans, that are now more ambitious than three months ago. Sometimes moving forward it is hard, but backward is definitely more. Travelling opens the boundaries of the mind, therefore applying for EVS programme it is a great opportunity; being selected for it could be the first step to change your life. Now, what is the next?
EVS volunteer within the Erasmus + project “Planting Cities”