By Erin Nyland, teacher in Shanghai 2018-19
I’m sure if you ask anyone about their most memorable moments of primary school, then the most common answer would be the following: the memory of experiencing a school trip.
Memories of school coaches parked line in line at the school entrance spring to mind; where all students are frantically ushered onto the coaches by teachers who are worried about trying to keep numbers in their heads, and desperately trying not to forget a child. School lunches are home-packed with extra snacks for the journey, and excitement is bubbling within every child because it involves sitting next to your best friend on the coach and of course, the best part: missing a full day of school.
During my time teaching in China, one thing that every foreign teacher had in common is that the Chinese schools have very little communication with you, and a lot of details that should be told to you are never actually communicated, because that’s just how the school systems work in China.
For example, I was never told when my lessons were cancelled. Instead, I would find out about these things myself – even if that meant when not a single child would turn up to my empty classroom.
So, whilst teaching, I heard through the grapevine that there was a school trip approaching at my school and I thought that this would be the perfect opportunity to not only venture out of Shanghai, but to really experience what a Chinese school trip is like and build better relationships with the Chinese teachers as well as the children.
So, one day whilst I was eating lunch in the canteen with a group of Chinese teachers from my office, I asked if I could join on the school trip, too.
“Why would you want to come with us?” They all asked me surprised. “You will not enjoy it because you will be worrying about the health and safety of the children”. However, I told them that it was something that I really wanted to participate in. And with my eagerness to join, they were more than happy to accept me on the trip.
A lot of people can reminisce their own school trips, whether that was to a history museum, an art museum, or even a historical landmark. But in China, the school trips are bigger and better. I was joining the primary school for a school trip to an amusement park in Suzhou, a neighbouring city outside of Shanghai, located in the province Jiangsu.
When I arrived at school on a Thursday morning of May, I went straight to Grade 3 class 1, and as I walked through the door to a classroom full of children who were looking at me with puzzled faces, wondering why I was there. They were all incredibly happy to find out that I was tagging along with their class on the school trip – it really is so warming to see how little things like that can really change or improve a child’s day.
I received my first piece of food from a child – a piece of candy, something that I quite simply could not refuse (under the child’s circumstances). I was told at the beginning of the day by a Chinese teacher to “get a bag ready and be prepared for a lot of food given to you today” – and she was certainly not wrong about that: by the end of the day I received: a half-eaten cucumber, two apples, a lolly pop, a meat sweet, a preserved egg (?!), a sushi roll, a kinder Bueno bar and handful of crisps.
The day was filled with lots of rides and eating a picnic together. The children all fought about who were going to sit next to me on the ride, so of course, it was a great feeling to be the celebrity on the trip. Seeing them so excited to go on the ride made the nervousness of speaking English stripped away – they were forced to speak English because that’s all I could communicate to them with. It was so nice to hear them all really trying to communicate to me about the rides, even if it was something little as “are you scared?” or “I did not open my eyes!”.
By the end of the day, we drove back to Shanghai with a coach full of 40 tired students, 2 Chinese teachers and myself, an English foreign teacher. For me, the day was incredibly fun and insightful. I learnt a lot, and even spoke to some Chinese teachers that I had never even communicated with before at my school – purely because I didn’t even know that they could speak English!
I believe that taking part in whatever your Chinese schools have to offer you, big or small, you should always say yes, because the children will really appreciate it, as well as the Chinese teachers, and you will surprise yourself with just how much fun you can have.
This is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and it truly gives you a taste of the culture in China, what it’s like to be a school child, and you even get to experience a new place in China without spending a penny.