Nik Verweel's Gap Year Grant report 2019
The Trust awarded a Gap Year Grant to Nik Verweel. Nik worked in rural Heilongjiang, China’s most Northern Province, as a Project Trust volunteer teaching English at a local school. This is his report on his return.
Nik Verweel's report
On August 8th 2018, I set off for rural Heilongjiang, China’s most Northern Province, as a Project Trust volunteer to teach English at a local school. The experiences, the friends I’ve made and the memories will stay with me for many years. There were ups and downs, but throughout I continued to learn and develop myself.
Sadly, due to family reasons, I had to cut short my year by two months.
A typical day at Huanan Peili School
At 07:00, breakfast in the school canteen. Straight away, I was in the midst of my students asking me questions about English grammar and spelling. Their English, a little robust at the start, improved each morning. During the day I would teach my classes, and with students aging from 12 to 14 this was always a new adventure. Early morning lessons, or lessons just before dinner, were filled with excitement and energy, making it a challenge to keep everyone focused. In the middle of the day, after hours of hard work with a few more prospective hours of hard work, the students would slump and get tired and it was difficult to excite them.
Planning lessons was hard work. Each class had students at different levels of English and many students required a lot of help. At the start of the year it was overwhelming, but as the months went on I gained skills that made the process easier and allowed me to teach my students better.
During the evenings, after a day of teaching, I’d explore the rural town of Huanan and its surroundings. There wasn’t much to do, unless you like farming. I studied Chinese culture and language, and really opened my eyes to this new culture.
The difficult times
The nine months I spent in China had a fair few difficult days or weeks sprinkled through it. For me though, the winter was the most difficult obstacle to overcome. Winter meant months of -20°C and darkness. The coldness invades everything, no matter how much you try and stay warm. It was difficult to stay motivated during these months, but once winter was over I felt really good for having made it through.
Being far away from family is always difficult, especially if there’s things going wrong back at home. Coupled with the every day struggles of living in China, such as the language barrier, the power and water outages, the random illnesses, this could sometimes become very difficult to deal with. Staying positive throughout it all was hard, but in the end I managed it and the rewarding feeling was worth every second of struggle.
Saying all this, the overall year was very positive and I enjoyed it very much, regardless of the occasional difficulty or rough day.
Impact on community
After 8 months of teaching, I could see a difference in the level of English of my students. When I arrived in August, the students were shy, had bad pronunciation and their grammar was lacking. When I left, they had gained confidence, improved their pronunciation and were getting a hold on difficult grammar.
Their improved English should help them during their school examinations, after which they can go to University anywhere in China. This is a big deal for the students, as they have grown up in poverty and a university education will allow them to get a better job.
Impact on me
Coming back from China, I feel a changed person. I’ve picked up so many skills during these months, skills that will also be useful for university, have learnt some basic Chinese and I’ve decided to carry on doing volunteering work.
After seeing the agriculture around Huanan in China, I’ve made the decision to study International Land and Water Management at university. Being surrounded by agriculture, I got an insight in to how unsustainable their practices were.
I hope to return to China some day with my degree and contribute to more sustainable, eco-friendly and better-paying agriculture. Hopefully this will see the area be lifted from poverty some day and allow the younger generations to get a better quality of life.