ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Eunice Chan, a senior at Castilleja High School in Palo Alto, was among nine Castilleja students who traveled to a rural town in China to teach English this past summer. She is the founder of the Book Box Project, which donates books to underprivileged schools in rural China. Eunice notes that "ink and cinnabar" in the headline refers to a Chinese proverb, "Ink and Cinnabar cannot be kept in the same box without each gaining a little of the other's colour."
BY EUNICE CHAN
Sweltering heat? Check. No air conditioning? Check. A place where English is met with blank stares? Check. Ideal conditions, even though they were the opposite of those at Castilleja School in Palo Alto?
In July, I and eight other Castilleja students journeyed to the extremely rural county of Ru Yuan in China to teach at an English Teaching Camp for Chinese secondary students.
We expected no trace of home in a week entirely foreign to our comfort zone. Instead, we found many similarities between us and the Ru Yuan students.
China Care Fund, a nonprofit organization based in Hong Kong, led the annual English Camp to Ru Yuan. Our trip grew out of the Book Box Project I founded to donate English books to underprivileged schools in rural China.
Ru Yuan Senior High School was one of the benefited schools. The Castilleja volunteers joined 30 other volunteers from Hong Kong, England, and Australia to teach 75 Ru Yuan students in three classes: oral, listening and writing.
The Castilleja students devised a nutrition curriculum, teaching the importance of healthy diets and food choices. We interacted with the Ru Yuan students through lectures, stories and games, forging friendships beyond the classroom. In the evenings, we bonded with them by watching English language movies such as "Bend It Like Beckham" and "Around the World in Eighty Days."
None of the volunteers had expected the students’ English level would be so high. “I was expecting that there would be a cultural and language barrier,” said Christina Sun, one of the Castilleja volunteers. “But we can easily converse with the students in English.”
A heated soccer game, which the Ru Yuan students won, added to the connections between volunteers and students. “I think it showed them that being a girl shouldn’t be a barrier to playing soccer,” said Rekha Arulanantham of Castilleja.
The trip was an eye-opening experience for the Castilleja girls. We learned as much from the Chinese students as they learned from us;
“I was expecting to come here and just teach and hopefully learn a little bit about the Chinese culture,” said Lizzie Harmon, a Menlo Park resident and a Castilleja student. “But I’m learning so much here. I’m learning how to be a better teacher, how to make English accessible, and most of all, how the students in China live.”
Each of the participants is eager to return next year.