Report by Daniel Palmer
This summer I was given the opportunity to spend two months teaching English in rural China. This was only the second time I had ever been out of the country so it certainly was a unique experience and one I will never forget. When most Americans travel to China the typical locations consist of cities such as Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai. I went to Quzhou, Wu Dan in Inner Mongolia , Nanchang and Jiang Xi in southern China.
My journeys took me to villages without electricity or running water and where the locals had never seen Americans before. The students in my classes ages ranged from children as young as ten to adults as old as forty. During the span of those two months I felt a wide arrange of emotions such as the excitement of being able to totally immerse myself in the culture of a different country, to feeling the frustration that comes with traveling in a foreign land and not knowing the language. I walked on the Great Wall of China, went to landmarks that were thousands of years old and most importantly I learned alot. Thankfully I came to China with an open mind and saw how my perspective on everything in life changed. My summer in China was life changing for me and was honestly the most fulfilling experience I have ever had.
Key Trip Highlights:
Great Wall of China
I landed at Beijing Airport and was told that within the next two days I would take a train to Quzhou China. I would be traveling for the duration of my time in China and would not be back in Beijing until the day I flew home. Luckily for me during my limited time I was able to make a trip to the Great Wall of China.
Obviously the Wall is one of the most famous historical sites in China but still I was amazed by the vastness of the landmark. It stretches for miles over mountains and even more mind blowing it was made in the 5th century. The sheer beauty of the view from the Wall was breathtaking, I am truly grateful for the opportunity to visit the beautiful landmark.
First Camp Quzhou China in the Hebei Province
After a brief time in Beijing me and the rest of the foreign teachers were put on a train for our first camp in Quzhou. The ten hour train ride was my first exposure to what I like to call "real China". I don't mean this as an insult only that most urban areas tourist travels to in China do not resemble much of the rest of the country. Boarding the train I saw the first of many cultural differences, on every train I had ever been on in America, each car boards at one time to prevent confusion in China everyone boards at one time. Also like in America people buy tickets for seats on the train but in China people also buy tickets just to stand. I was amazed to see the entire car filled with people and that some stood for the full ten hours.
We arrived at the school at 3AM in the morning and saw where we would be staying for the next two weeks. The school grounds were entirely surrounded by barbed wire and brick wall with broken glass on the top, with the purpose of keeping people out. We found out would be sleeping on plywood beds with mosquito nets and were given one blanket and a bamboo pillow. There was no electricity or running water which included a hole in the ground to be used as a toilet. The next morning our breakfast consisted of a roll and a bowl of rice accompanied with a cup of hot water. Without saying this was certainly a different standard of living then I was used to. I remember thinking to myself" what did I get myself into?" Later that day the other foreign teachers and I were given a tour of the school building. On the third floor of the school I could see out the window from a distance on the other side of the fence the image of three children barely clothed playing on a heap of garbage, right next to a small hut I presume to be their home. I will never forget the feeling I got when I realized they weren't playing but actually looking for food. Here I was an American experiencing the worst living conditions I have ever been subjected to in my live and just a few feet away where children who would give anything to be in the position I was in. The bed I slept in Quzhou might not have been the most comfortable or the food I ate the most plentiful but nevertheless I still had food to eat and a place to sleep every day, which is something this summer I learned not everyone in the world could say. Even education something that in our culture is a fundamental right, is not always guaranteed . The school I taught at was beautiful but only a very few select children were enrolled, outside the school were children who went to a lesser quality school or just received no education at all. It was mind blowing for me to see children kept out of a school by barbed wire fences. I know now the education I received as a child was not a right I had but a privilege I was very fortunate to have.
Before I went to China I considered myself to be a globally aware citizen. I always read the New York Times international section and would constantly be making sure I wsas caught up with all the current issues around the globe. What I realize now is there is a big difference between being aware of something happening and actually witnessing that same thing with my own eyes.
Do not get me wrong, not every moment in Quzhou was a heavy learning experience; in fact most of it was extremely enjoyable. I had the pleasure of sharing my culture with my students in exchange for learning about theirs. I spent entire days teaching my students games like Simeon says and volley ball. Many of my students brought their children to class and I must admit, I spent entirely too much class time playing with them. By the end of the camp I was truly sad to leave Quzhou.
Second Camp in Wu Dan, Inner Mongolia
At the conclusion of the Quzhou camp we immediately headed back to Beijing by train. As soon as we got back to Beijing we had an hour to repack our bags and then were put on a twenty hour train to Inner Mongolia. Despite being exhausted the beauty of Inner Mongolia was still an astounding sight to see. Inner Mongolia has its own unique culture to offer visitors which includes some of the best food you will ever eat.
The camp in Wu Dan was especially rewarding because it was the only camp where my students were my own age. So I truly got to form real substantial relationships with my students, whether it be through talking about music or playing basketball. I bounded so much with my students in Wu Dan that I still email many of them today. While Wu Dan didn't have the same level of poverty that I saw Quzhou , the disparity between the more affluent in society and the working class was still evident. The areas where party members lived all had houses with running water and many even with electricity. Most of my students came from homes without electricity and walked to school on dirt roads. As I traveled deeper into Wu Dan I was shocked to see the amount of garbage on the side of the road and that it was falling into the river that was the primary source of water for the village. Like education I realized access to clean drinking water was not a right I was granted but a very fortunate privilege I had been given. While I enjoyed my time spent in Nanchang and Jiang – Xi , I must admit Wu Dan and Quzhou have a special place in my heart.
Most summers I spend just working a part time summer job to earn a few extra bucks. This summer I got to travel all over the beautiful country of China and got to interact with students my own age from another country. I got to live in a world that most Americans don't even know exists. My horizons broadened and my perspectives on many subjects changed. I saw extreme poverty and frustration along with joy and utter happiness. I saw the effect one person can have on a community and the impact many can have on the world. I'm a different person than I was before I went to China. I am more compassionate and more aware of what is going on in the world. I can honestly say this summer I became a better person.
Class of 2013
Political science major with a concentration in international relations
Volunteer Work at CSETC (the Chinese Society of Education Training Center), China
3rd of July to August 14
Through a program with the CSETC, Daniel Palmer volunteered to teach Chinese students about American culture in exchange for living accomdiations and Traveling in China.
View Photo Gallary
Daniel Palmer is an intern for the Office of International Education, College at Florham, President of the Student United Nations Association and also the Vice President of the student government.