Melanie returns to her studies in the UK and looks back on a summer at SPICE in HK……..
After spending two months in Hong Kong I have now returned to the United Kingdom. Being back home, I reflect on my time with SPICE and I wish to share personal thoughts about the programme as well as what I have learnt and gained from volunteering abroad.
I have always had a passion for travelling and for a few years now I have been wanting to make good use of the long summer holidays I am lucky to have whilst being at university. I had worked with children before SPICE but never in a classroom environment, therefore the programme was the perfect opportunity for me to find out if teaching was a suitable carrier path for me. My experience in Hong Kong and the gratification I felt at the end of each of the three programmes we taught in different schools when some of my students came up to me and said, in English, a language they barely trusted themselves to speak in seven days ago, that they loved SPICE and did not want to go home, has convinced me that I want to become a teacher after I graduate.
I remember getting on my plane to Hong Kong as if it were yesterday. A lot of thoughts were racing through my mind but mostly I felt excited to discover a new culture, meet new people, do something I had never done before and make sure that my students would have the best possible SPICE experience ever. My first impression when I stepped out of the airport and into the new city that was going be my home for the next two months? ‘Everything is so different!’ Mountains and sky-scrappers everywhere, bushy wild and vibrant green vegetation sprouting on top of every hill and a very humid climate that you ultimately end up getting used to. I could not wait to explore the city during every single minute of free time I had and I now I feel I can say that I am leaving Hong Kong with the certitude that I have seen almost everything that there is to see.
My time in Hong Kong has raced by and it does not feel like I have been away from the UK for almost two months now. I believe that shows how enjoyable this experience has been. I shared a flat in the Chinese YMCA Wu Kwai Sha Youth South Village with the other four UK volunteers that had been selected for the programme and other exchange students on placement in Hong Kong for a month or taking part in other volunteer programmes. The YMCA is located slightly far away from the city centre but on the other hand we live right next to the pier and the world heritage site Sai Kung which I really recommend visiting.
I started the first two weeks of SPICE prepping for the next five teaching weeks to come. Tasks included coming up with activities and games suitable for children whose native tongue is not English: we needed to make sure that the rules were simple enough for the children to understand whilst making sure that the activities remained fun and challenging enough to boost their sense of confidence and English speaking abilities. We also prepared special activities such as outings to the Hong Kong Country Club for example or International Day. International Day always took place on the seventh and last day of each of the three respective programmes. The students of each class (there were five classes per programme) represented a country and invited the students from other countries to come to their classroom to teach them something they have learnt about the country they represent. My class (class 4) represented Thailand so my students taught their peers how to play a traditional Thai game called one-legged rabbit.
During the next five weeks, I taught three different sets of children, usually from age 10 to 11. I was in the classroom with two other teachers, both born and raised in Hong Kong and I find myself lucky enough to say that we have become very close friends after all the challenges and good times we have been through together. The whole of the SPICE team (there were 16 of us working alongside each other every day) have grown very close and the fact that I was able to share this wonderful experience with amazing people is definitely one of the main reasons that have made this trip unforgettable for me.
Teaching was not always easy. Some children were not necessarily always very cooperative and did not want to speak English with us or the language barrier was too great for them to understand what we were saying to them. Others did not want to engage in the activities we had prepared for them because they found them ‘boring’. However, we often only encountered these challenges at the start of a new programme and by the end of the seven days the children had warmed to their teachers, were having fun and left saying they had made a lot of good memories thanks to SPICE.
SPICE has been a great human experience for me, I have bounded with people from a completely different culture from mine and I feel like I have learnt a lot from it. I have also learnt how to become a better teacher, the value of team work and this experience has reinforced my desire to further travel and discover more about Asia.