I landed back in the UK a few days ago after having spent a memorable six weeks volunteering in Hong Kong and, jet lag aside, I feel very positive about the experience. It therefore seems like a good idea to write a bit about my time there.
I came across the SPICE programme on a university Facebook group directed at modern languages students. SPICE stands for ‘Summer Programme for Immersion in Communicative English’, and it is directed at improving the confidence of disadvantaged children living in the Tin Shui Wai area of Hong Kong. The programme consisted of two two-week sessions in local primary schools, teaching English through interactive games and activities. Being an Italian student myself, I was not sure whether I would even be suitable for the application process but in a whim I emailed Josephine. I had been looking for something substantial to do over the summer of 2016, with the aim of gaining experience working with children to help me in becoming a teacher in the future, and the SPICE programme struck me as the perfect balance between something fun and exciting to do over summer whilst also looking good on my CV. Luckily the application was open to any student at my university and I was offered a place on the programme starting at the beginning of July.
My friend Joy, who also decided to apply to SPICE, and myself flew to Hong Kong on the 2nd July, arriving there on the evening of the 3rd. The six UK university volunteers were going to be working alongside twelve students from a local Hong Kong university, and right after arriving Joy and I went straight to a very sleepy, authentic Cantonese dinner to meet our fellow co-teachers. After we went back to our accommodation, the YMCA Youth Village in Ma on Shan which had amazing grounds and a swimming pool. Training started the next day; the six UK volunteers navigated the MTR network and arrived the university for a few hours of catching up with the planning that the HK students had already started, and to find out which groups we would be working in. I was to be a teacher for Class 3, working alongside Joyce and Christopher. The week was a great way to get eased into HK life, get used to the time difference and get to know the rest of our cohort. But everyone was pretty nervous about teaching starting the following Monday!
The first programme went by incredibly quickly. The YMCA school in Tin Shui Wai were very welcoming and really helped us with the teething problems which tend to occur when eighteen 20-22 year olds are trying to run a summer camp! Joyce, Christopher and I met our class on the Monday and after a few days with many name tags everyone started to get to know each other. We played countless ‘ice-breaker’ games to learn each others names and overcome some of the children’s shyness and reticence to speak English. We tried our best to follow the lesson plan which had been meticulously created by the HK students, but on several occasions we had to improvise to avoid the kids getting bored. For example they raced through the reading task, a level 2 adaptation of ‘Finding Dory’, and many of the boys were not very impressed by our choice, so instead of asking them to invent their own ending to the story in a dramatic adaptation, we asked them to create their own drama with whichever characters and plots struck their fancy. This of course led to many zombies, machine guns and death scenes, but the children had so much fun and spoke more English than they had all week.
Because of the success of the drama, we decided to adapt our lesson plan for the second programme, which we started after a much needed four-day break during which we explored HK but mostly relaxed by the pool in our accommodation. Our second class, Class 3. 2.0, consisted of a very different group of P5 children. We were faced with a few children with an incredibly high level of English, but also many whose level was lower than the first class. This was very challenging at first, but by dividing up into groups and asking the children to help each other we managed to overcome this. Our second class were also very sporty and absolutely adored the sports block of the day, but were more reticent to work on the dramas and creative lessons. They soon warmed to the idea of creating a play when they realised they could make their own swords and guns out of our arts and crafts materials! It was interesting to have a different group of children the second time round, it made us think on our feet and stay motivated.
The last day of the programme came around really quickly, finishing up with hundreds of selfies from staff and children alike. It was very sad to see the children go, but because of the Class 3 Whatsapp groups it is as if they never left!