Every once in a while, I write about my experiences as a volunteer in the Chinese section of the Shenyang International School. Since the fall of 2010, I have volunteered in this English immersion program for little cuties. Little, amazingly smart and funny cuties. I am so privileged to be a part of their village.
Bulletin boards, door decorations, copies & printouts, laminating, reading aloud, crafts, more laminating. Zipping winter coats and colorful backpacks, opening snack bags, watching at recess, pushing on the swings, being “it”. Saying “use a small voice” and “sit down please” twenty times a day. Encouraging reading and writing, hugging, listening, smiling, laughing and so much more. An absolute privilege. They fill my heart every day.
If you have 10 minutes, you can enjoy three great songs and take a look at the beautiful faces that filled my school year. http://youtu.be/6Z-SXtth-Ro
I slept and I dreamed that life is all joy. I woke and I saw that life is all service. I served and I saw that service is joy.” – Kahlil Gibran
I love to volunteer. And I love volunteers. I have met some great ones in Shenyang. Two years ago, I met Dorothy. While living in Thailand, she had helped refugees from Burma. At the same time, I also met Kazumi. She is Japanese and has lived in Shenyang for more than 15 years. I don’t know where she finds the time to do all that she does. When we plan activities for the Dream Home orphanage (http://chinadreamhome.org/index.html), Kazumi organizes our bell choir, puppet shows, skits and more. This year, other friends from the International Club, Tricia, Karina and Ortrud visit the orphanage every week. They sit with the children, play with them, help feed them, love them. And a new friend, Sue, volunteered in the orphanage and nursing homes with an organization called LIGHT (http://lightshenyang.org/). It is an honor to know these people and hear about their time and effort to make some difference in another’s life. It inspires me.
So here are some recent photos of my volunteer experiences in China, and some of the people who inspire me.
When we told people that we were moving to China, we heard more than a few jokes/off-handed comments about adopting a cute little Asian baby. After a lengthy Twilight discussion with G&B, we even joked about naming the baby girl, Bella. Well, in our time here, I’ve encountered so many little ones that I could bring home. Oh my goodness, they are cute! And my volunteer work at the Shenyang International School and Barbara’s Classroom has increased my opportunities to bond with awesome little ones.
Last fall, I connected with people at Shenyang International School to do some volunteer work. As fate would have it, I was placed with the Chinese kindergarten class. I started going once a week in October and met six beautiful, smart, amazing kids. The numbers expanded and I experienced their physical and intellectual growth through the end of the school year. Luis, one of my favorites, went from squeaking out 2 or 3 English words in the fall, to asking full questions and making jokes. Christina, an amazing Chinese/Danish girl, absorbed everything I said, even when I didn’t realize it. While others were trying to grasp the difference between “I am from America” and “I am from China”, she raised her hand and said, “Miss Julie, I am from Denmark.” Well, yes you are. (She is the blonde one in the pictures. Her primary language is Chinese thanks to her native mother.) Now many of those children are moving on to the first grade and I hope I can continue to know them, teach them and learn from them.
A friend from the Shenyang International Club heard about my volunteer work at the school and asked me to do some work at her teaching center, Barbara’s Classroom. I started by doing a craft class for 4-5 year olds every other Saturday afternoon, then I also helped out with their summer program. Barbara said Chinese children do not get a craft experience in school, and she felt the kids and parents would find it interesting. The first day, when I announced that we were going to make rabbit ears (see photos), the kids cheered. Wow, how do you top that? The children at the Classroom have varying levels of English, and they learn every day. I am inspired.
I have always loved working with children and China is no exception. But, before you ask, no, there won’t be a Bella in our house anytime soon.
When we went back to the US in December, I can’t tell you how many times I was asked, “what do you do all day?” This is a painful question for me, being a work-oriented person after all. Here I am again, an expat wife and without a job. A homemaker, a shopper, a member of the international club. But you know me, I’ll figure it out. And I’ll find positive things to do.
I asked a lot of questions about volunteering, and a couple of great people finally responded. And now, every Wednesday, I get to spend the day with eight smart, cute, active, energetic, cute, rambunctious, cute kindergarteners. Jimmy always finishes his work, never sits still, and likes to hold my hand when the class is in line. David surprises by one day acting shy and the next day wearing his Mr. Incredible costume to school. Amy loves to sing, is so good at math, and is the one I would take home at the end of the day. Luis amazes me with his English sometimes, and has an endearing raspy voice that I love to hear. Ruru is smart, cute, privileged, and knows it. Christina learns fast, ignores the boys, and loves story time. Sunny was new to the class in January, and finally spoke to me two weeks ago, in English. Tom understands everything I say to him, absorbs new words, and, as the teacher says, “cannot control himself in class”. Chinese is the primary language of all of these children, but their school day is in English, for the most part. Their teacher is Mrs. Wang, and there are two assistants, Miss Anna and Miss Grace. And on Wednesdays, they have Miss Julie too.
I take the bus with other students and teachers on Wednesday mornings, arriving at the school about 8:20am. The kindergarten spends 20 minutes doing a simple activity like theme coloring. Then they have a “morning meeting” where they sign the “Good Day Everybody” song and talk about the days of the week and the day’s date. And we’re off to Chinese class, where the 8 of them learn and I learn too. This is their only class in Chinese all day. After Chinese, RECESS!, where I relish the sounds of “Miss Julie, chase me please.” And the American monster chasing giggling, screaming children around a playground. They have a class called character building where they learn about patience, friendship, etc. I’m not sure how much of the patience lesson they absorbed, but it will get there. The music class, math, then lunch. Ah, eating in the school cafeteria … brings back memories. Coincidentally, Wednesdays are usually Western food days, with a rotating menu of spaghetti, pasta alfredo, and sloppy joes. I didn’t think I would ever see someone eat a sloppy joe with chopsticks, but I have now and they do it amazing well.
After lunch, they have play time then nap time. (Let me pause here and advocate that play time and nap time be a part of everyone’s day, not matter if they are in kindergarten or sitting in a cubicle somewhere.) When they wake up, it is story time. This past week, I read them The Cat in the Hat (to honor Dr. Seuss day) and they were captivated by the pictures and my ability to read in rhythm. One week in January, Mrs. Wang sat down to read them the story, and Jimmy asked her, in Chinese, why Miss Julie wasn’t reading because she reads more beautifully. I understood his compliment, and tried not to smile too big. Then we’re off to language arts class where a wonderful South African woman is their English teacher. I help out on my days by organizing the letter of the week craft. R is for rainbow. U is for umbrella. O is for ocean. Imagine the possiblities. After English is math. Why a school would give kindergarteners a math class at the end of the day, I don’t know. School is dismissed at 3:20, and I stay around to do an afterschool program on more English. They have some play time, then we begin. I manage to teach them new words, speaking in some short sentences, and teaching left, right, up down, despite the 4:00 energy level in a 5-year old.
By 5:00, I’m glad I don’t volunteer every day. I’m glad I’m not their full time teacher. And I am so glad that I was given this opportunity to be with them, teach them, learn from them, and make a little difference. For those who really know me, you know that I was probably destined not to be a mother. But children and families are what my heart lies. It was fate that I became Miss Julie.