What began as a mere ephemeral thought, became reality as I begun packing my bags for this two-month long adventure in Hong Kong. An adventure towards self-discovery, impacting lives and building life-long friendships with a unique underpinning experience. This programme was of course not without its uncertainties. Aspects such as living conditions, budgeting, and how the SPICE programme was going to unfold frequently eased its way into my thoughts.
To begin, I was humbly impressed with the accommodation provided for us, volunteers. Living conditions were far better than expected and more than what we really required (it even came with a swimming pool!).The friendly staff at the Wu Kai Sha Village who were willing to help us with our varying needs, and the hospitality showered upon us was undoubtedly the cherry on top of the whole living experience. Budgeting, on the other hand was quite a challenge. For someone who loves going out of the way for good food, being in Hong Kong was definitely the right choice for my belly, but not for my wallet. The variety of top end local cuisine could be found in almost every nook and cranny of the city. If you were to skip the food adventures, and choose to dine modestly (or cook), a humble budget would be more than enough to get you through. Furthermore, a decent allowance was provided together with food and transport cost covered on teaching days. What many of us did during the programme was to purchase groceries from a nearby supermarket and cooking back in the apartment. The apartment was well fitted and equipped with a kitchen, and a living room which had a decent ready supply of basic necessities.
SPICE officially started for the UK based volunteers with a two-week preparation period prior to the actual programme. This two weeks was meant to get us up to speed with what the HK interns had covered so far, and to allow us to work together as a whole and within our individual classes. This served as platform to both contribute to the current framework of things and allowed us to execute our activities in front of other teachers to build confidence and gain feedback. This pulled the different elements of the programme together – allowing it make sense and ensured we did not digress from the objectives. Two weeks, however, was quite a lot of time for the UK based volunteers. We therefore took this opportunity to explore more of Hong Kong’s nature and checked off various famous landmarks whenever the day ended early for us.
During the execution of the programme, many students came with the notion that SPICE was an additional summer class they had to attend. From a kid’s perspective, this is obviously not great. However, I believe great emphasis was placed in ensuring that the programme was exactly not that. With good confidence, I dare claim that many students were surprised at the kind of fun that could actually develop in a classroom, this was at the expense of them being encouraged and pushed to communicate in English. During the first day of the programme, we teachers always made a point to remind the class that making mistakes is alright and that none of us were here to look-down, but rather to help. These hopefully were words of comfort to the students that would cement the notion of trying and moving out of their comfort zone. Without a doubt, by the end of SPICE, many students were unwilling for the programme to end and to part ways. As much as I would say that it was attributed to the way the programme was planned, I dare say that it was more so due to the teacher-student relationship formed. The intentional relationship each teacher wanted with the student, to go beyond a mere one-sided affair.
Lastly, what made this whole programme a success was the people. The coordinators, the HK Interns, and down to the UK based volunteers. It was the common knowledge that whatever we did, whether small or big, we were doing for the students. This influenced the way we interacted and fostered a tight community with a clear goal. SPICE was a great experience, not just for the students, but for the volunteers as well.