Friday, 18 March 2016
WRITTEN BY: Nancy Bucher
As my time volunteering in a teaching placement in India is quickly approaching its end, I have been reflecting on my experience and what I have learnt over the past 4 weeks. I now know that some of the most friendly and happy people I've met have been Indians. No matter the circumstance, happiness shines through. Many are keen to chat and meet a foreigner with a curious grin.
I have a new found appreciation and thankfulness for everything that I have because I have seen that so many people are not as fortunate. Despite that, some of the happiest people we met had so little, which makes me believe that it's not what you have that makes you happy, but what you make out of a situation and your own positive attitude.
I have come to understand that it is the dedicated, continual and sustained hard work of the volunteers in the schools and boys home which results in the students gradual progress of their education. It doesn't happen overnight, unfortunately. I wonder constantly what will happen when I leave and the new volunteers don't arrive for another month. Have I actually made a difference and what will my kids remember? I can only hope that my short time here has given them a small boost in their learning which will be continued by the next didis.
I have seen Pankaj's saying in action- anything is possible in India, and it seems that almost everything does happen. From the boys home to the streets and markets, life here is a crazy, indescribable experience.
I now more than ever know that to travel and see the world is such a rewarding, inspirational and eye opening experience. I've definitely caught the travel bug being surrounded by all the other travel loving and orientated volunteers.
India, its been real! I have loved every moment. I have taught, played, become a mentor, travelled, met amazing people, turned 21, celebrated 2 national days and had the most surreal time. Now it's time to go home and bring on the next adventures!
Thursday, 17 March 2016
WRITTEN BY: Nancy Bucher
India has been a whirlwind of culture, traditions, emotions, spirituality and friendship, and going into my last week of placement in this country of endless possibilities, I want to share my top five travel and teaching tips - not from an experienced, travel expert or teacher, but a young girl who has visited India for the first time to teach young kids and travel, and has had indescribable experiences over here.
You have probably heard it before but it's so true - India is a country full of traditions and a culture extremely different to Australia. I can't roam the streets here in clothes that don't cover my entire legs and shoulders, I can't buy alcohol as it is not appropriate for girls to do so, I do say namaste and smile at strangers who are in the same tuk tuk. So my first tip is to come with an open mind and enjoy and embrace everything about the Indian way of life while traveling here.
Secondly, say yes to every opportunity you can while you're here and throw yourself into the placement - into teaching, into the sports and games with the kids, into eating traditional food, to the experiences and to the adventures. As cliche as the saying may be, it's really true - the more you put into the experience, the more you'll get out of it. As our leader Pankaj always says, everything is possible in India, which also means I always hold degree of caution when in public and I expect the unexpected.
On a teaching note, it is important I think to set realistic teaching goals and expectations for your students and for your teaching - my school placement has been with grade 2 students who don't often have volunteers. The language barrier is very strong and it's tricky to teach some students - others pick up on things so fast. The level of differentiation in my class in high. Be prepared to not be able to teach your students everything you wish. I tell myself each time I enter the class, try your best and baby steps are all you can hope for. Nothing happens overnight and continual practice and the hard work of the future volunteers is what will shape the kids English education.
For first time travellers and teachers, it is important I think to prepare yourself to be overwhelmed, both in school and in daily life here. The students are beautiful but they are just like kids everywhere – they can be cheeky or not want to do as they’re told, and on top of that, there can be many kids in your class, 2 teachers, and a varying but prominent language barrier and levels of ability. As for daily life and routines, prepare yourself to be the centre of attention, just walking the streets or sitting in a tuk tuks, there are stares all round, especially at big groups like us. Shop owners will hassle you to check out their store and beggars will ask for money. Just brush it off. Expect the unexpected. You will find yourself not knowing where you are, which is particularly hard for me because I have a natural urge to always know my sense of direction. One of the best things about travelling with our group and Pankaj is that you will always have people looking out for you.
Wednesday, 16 March 2016
WRITTEN BY: Georgina Griffiths
The week of Chinese New Year was filled with the constant bang of fireworks and firecrackers being let off. They were a shock at first, but became a part of the craze of the city very quickly. On New Years Eve, we ventured back out to Houhai Lake where we enjoyed dinner in a family restaurant and then walked around the lake the streets, dodging the fireworks going off in all directions. Up on the rooftop bars, we were able to see the fireworks and crackers exploding over the lake and in the sky. Never have I heard so many firecrackers at once and seen so many colourful fireworks (that may even be more spectacular than the fireworks on the Harbour Bridge)! After New Years, lessons got busier and busier with the ever-looming teacher practice (TP) where our groups would meet up regularly to decide on lesson plans and various activities. Each day we would sleepily hop onto the bus at 7am. My group had a class of 15 8 year olds with limited English. We taught a range of topics during the week including animals, sports, clothing, countries and a variety of songs. It was a great experience and got us excited to get to our placements and teaching!
The final days in Beijing were spent crossing off the last of the things on our ‘must see’ lists. Highlights included the Temple of Heaven, the Lama Temple, watching the sun set on the Forbidden City from Jiangshan Park, the 798 Art District and Beihai Park. We tried to travel and visit somewhere each day to make the most of our time in Beijing, and by the end of the month, I think we did pretty well having ventured across most of Beijing, and mastering the subway system! On our last night, the ImmerQi team organised a graduation dinner at one of the local restaurants. It was a communist themed restaurant where the staff were dressed in uniforms and we ate and drank out of metal bowls and cups. We were handed our certificates from the TEFL course and a few speeches were made. The next day was departure day which was very emotional, as I had never thought I would become so close to the group in just a month!
Before arriving in Suzhou, we took a 16-hour overnight train to Hangzhou. The train had triple bunk bed compartments which were quite small but a lot more comfortable than they looked. It was a lot of fun and a great chance to meet the new people I was placed with, as well as trying to speak with the Chinese families sharing our compartments. Once we arrived in Hangzhou, we had another orientation where we met the other interns and were taken to the local hospital for a medical check. It was such a strange experience being taken around a Chinese hospital into various rooms with many people peering in to see what was happening! Our in country partner then took us out to West Lake for the afternoon, a famous area of Hangzhou. West Lake is 6.5 kilometres squared and takes 4 hours to walk around.
Once we arrived in Suzhou, we were all taken to a school for a welcome ceremony where all the principals and head English teachers of our schools met us. We were introduced to the education bureau and asked to introduce ourselves through an impromptu speech! Afterwards, we were whisked away to our schools where we were given a brief tour and shown our offices. My school is called the Su Yuan Experimental Primary School and has 2600 students. It still amazes me how big the schools in China are and how many of them there are! We have been told that there are to be 50-55 students in each class, which is double the size of any class I have ever been a part of. I have been placed with an English girl named Amy, who I am also living with. Our apartment is a quick 10-minute walk from the school, and is also very close to the subway station and bus stop, making it very easy to go out and explore the area. The teachers at our school speak very good English and have been very helpful in showing us around the area and lending us a hand in organising ourselves. Amy and I are very lucky in that there is a fresh fruit and vegetable market in the street of our school making it easy to pick up ingredients for dinner and very cheap!
As we were given the first week of school off teaching, we were able to explore the area a bit. Afternoon adventures included strolling down the traditional streets of Shan Tang Street and Ping Jiang Road which were lined by beautiful canals, making the area live up to its name, ‘Venice of the East’. We were also able to visit gardens such as the Lingering Gardens and immerse ourselves in the history of the area in the Suzhou Museum.
The first week of teaching has been a lot of fun! With many timetable changes, its been tricky to know what I am teaching and when! I have been assigned to teach Grades 1 and 2, and have 15 classes per week. It was at first a shock to see 50 tiny faces staring up at me, but as the days have gone on, I have become more used to such large class sizes. I have figured out that the students love to sing songs, so each lesson I’ve taught and practiced songs with them. It’s so rewarding to see them so excited and eager to learn. We have settled into our school and area rather quickly, getting used to the routine of the city and all the crazy ‘Classic China’ moments!
Tuesday, 15 March 2016
WRITTEN BY: Nancy Bucher
I lie in my bed after waking up - the air is still and the sunlight creeps through the cracks in my curtains. There are long streaks of quietness intertwined with the sporadic noises of dogs howling and the colourful and upbeat sound of truck horns.
It's roughly 9am when I am greeted with the familiar voice of Pankaj yelling from downstairs that breakfast is ready. Typically, an array of Indian porridge, spicy omelettes, toast, bananas and chai are spread out ready for us to dig in. A sneaky jar of Vegemite is also hidden in our fridge for us Aussies craving a familiar piece of home.
With bellies full, we hurry upstairs to the collect the bags which we have prepared with lesson activities and games for our students, mine grade 2, and all cram into a van - one van goes to the Aakhriya school and one to Sonariya. The drive is windy and bumpy as we scoot past the local houses, farms, hotels and fruit markets before arriving at our school. I spend roughly one and a half hours teaching my grade 2’s who learn about numbers, letters, writing their name and colours. Each day we sing the hello and goodbye song with all of the kids and volunteers which is the best way to start and finish the school day. Because my school lacks English teaching volunteers, the language barrier between the kids and I is the hardest part of the job, sometimes it's like talking to a brick wall. Everyday, we make the tiniest of improvements, but that's all I can hope for.
It's just past midday now and the group of 18 re-group back at the house. Lunch is served, an assortment of curries, naan bread, yoghurt, rice, papaya or pineapple and cucumber.
After lunch, the daily schedule varies but generally we have a few hours of 'free' time which I use to lesson plan (this takes up a lot of time), visit the local store or markets, chat to the other volunteers, read on the balcony in the warm sunlight and write in my journal.
It hits 4pm and we all gather together with excited grins - it's chai time! Huddled and in need of a pick me up, we all enjoy a cup of this traditional Indian tea of mixed spices and ginger, and a cheeky pack of Parle-g biscuits.
Our short lived break is over as the group make our way to the boys home which was established to care for orphans and destitutes. Because the boys go to school during the day, our role there is to build their confidence through educational games and activities, followed by games of soccer, volleyball or bullrush.
By 7pm, bodies are hungry and exhausted. Dinner is served, the dishes similar to the lunch menu. I retreat upstairs to finish lesson planning for tomorrow, a few hours pass, and then I relax with the other volunteers after the hustle of the day. We're tired, beaten and bruised, eyelids falling down, but I feel the excitement for what the next day brings because as tough as teaching the English lacking grade 2’s and the cheeky boys at the home can be, the joy and smile that glows on their faces as we approach makes everything worth it.
Monday, 29 February 2016
PROGRAM: Language Immersion
WRITTEN BY: Mirella Carr
Before beginning the blog, I’d like to take a moment to remember the 130 lives lost in the Paris attacks on the 13th November 2015 in an act of terrorism that will not be forgotten and I, along with millions of other people, will stand in support of these devastated families and the French population.
Now only a few hours out of Sydney, on the last leg of this seven-week long journey, I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on the adventure my exchange in Lille had been. Not many can say that they’ve been to a foreign city, speaking a foreign language in a new family and school for seven weeks, but luckily enough, 23 others and I can.
Éric (my exchange’s step dad) met me there and took me to their home…of course stopping at the ‘boulangerie’ on the way home to get me a ‘pain au chocolat’ (the start of what was, WAY too much ‘authentic French’ food). Being a Wednesday, Jeanne (my exchange), returned home at 1pm from school. We had lunch with her, Éric and her best friend – Zoë. For me, the hardest part was over. I was always nervous of first meetings, especially not knowing how much French was expected of me. But, these nerves were wasted, as the family was so nice and if I ever didn’t understand anything, it was never awkward but just funny for everyone involved. They would always help me and it’s important to make it clear you are here to speak French only from the very start, and my family helped me with that.
The next day it was off to school. I was placed St Thérèse D’Avila with one other Australian who wasn’t in my classes but I could always count on for a super quick English conversation during breaks. I was lucky to be in a house a total of 10 metres from the front door of school, directly in the centre of Lille city. Although, it didn’t make getting up for school much easier, when school started in the dark at 8am in the freezing cold, I don’t think I ever quite became used to that part.
The classes and teaching methods in French schools are so very different to Australia. Jeanne took English, extension English, French, Spanish, Latin (4 languages!), maths, PE, religion, geography/history, biology and physics/chemistry. The classes were the same length as my ones at school but they seemed to last for a lot longer because I understood very little. The classes were 30-35 people and there were 6 of these classes in each grade so about 200 people. The days were long, starting at 8am and finishing at 5:30pm, a long day when you’re used to finishing at 3:20pm. We had 2 15-minute breaks during the day and one 1.5-hour break for lunch. But we didn’t eat till 12 every day at lunch – no recess!
Despite all these changes, the food was one of the biggest. My family made it very clear from the first day that I should get prepared and used to a life of cheese consumption for the whole 7 weeks, which was exactly what I did. The biggest meal was at lunch; dinner was generally a small thing with a lot of baguette and cheese. Lots. Not to mention the snails I also had for dinner…not as bad as one would think.
After the initial week I was told that it would be an easy ride from there. However, for me it was a different experience. The holidays were the biggest challenge for me because this was when I discovered I had a lot of differences to my host sister especially because we spent every day all day together. As well as this, missing family and friends was a common trend amongst all the Australians in this Christmas period. But I was lucky enough to have some awesome experiences like driving over the Belgium/France border for extended family Christmas day and then the day after we drove in the other direction to a town in the Reims wine region. We stayed there for 3 nights and here the family took me to many sites such as the cathedral in Reims – a major tourist destination that I was lucky enough to be able to see.
Over the duration of the holidays and first few weeks of term, my family took me to both Bruges and Amsterdam. These were beautiful cities with amazing sights and we had some really fun times here. The weekend I spent in Amsterdam was one of the highlights of my trip especially because I became so close to both Jeanne and her older sister (Manon) over the duration of the trips.
We had New Year’s back in Lille and then we were back into the swing of school where I worked on my French and it was all cemented. The constant listening was enough to dramatically improve my skills and each day it was nerve racking but so rewarding to speak French each day and see it improving.
We had 3 meet ups with the Australians – Christmas markets (and time well spent on the huge Ferris wheel and gazing at the beautiful dessert creations France does too well), ice-skating and the full day battlefields tour. These were some really great experiences and it was always fun to meet up with the others and see how they were doing on their exchanges. We also had opportunities here to go see the more touristy side of Lille and do some sightseeing.
One of the most special days of the whole experience was the last day of school in, which I was asked to do a presentation in English about Australia for their English class. I played them songs such as Waltzing Matilda and Down Under and then their teacher asked them to sing the Australian National Anthem despite the fact they did not know the words or the tune. They then had a surprise ‘class party’ for me with a signed card from them all.
And then it was all over and before we knew it we were at the meeting point in Lille saying goodbye in the cold at 5:30am for the last time to all our beautiful host families. I promised my host sister I will see her again, and there is a high chance she will come back and stay with me during her long holidays, which we are both so excited about. And with that, 7 teary-eyed Australians set off on our journey back Down Under. We were so very excited to get home and see our friends and family but in the same way, we dreaded leaving the beautiful country. I am so thankful for having had the opportunity to go on this trip and know I will remember it for a lifetime and I have made a friend that I will have for a lifetime.
Thursday, 25 February 2016
PROGRAM: Language Immersion
WRITTEN BY: Chloe Osborn
Parents hugged their children too tight for comfort, people checked the weight of our too-heavy suitcases (I blame the jumpers), the last few camera flashes were being set off and a few tears were rolling down cheeks when the time finally came for us travellers to check in.
As we sat at the gate waiting for boarding we chatted and played card games (for one game called ‘spoons’ we had to find 8 spoons – the café that gave us them was slightly confused by our request but obliged).
On the plane ride to Singapore, we watched countless movies, read books, desperately tried to learn French from our dictionaries and phrase books, and chatted amongst ourselves. We eventually reached Singapore Airport where we re-grouped for a little bit before we were allowed to go explore for an hour. We promptly found the fast food again. Cards were thrown down triumphantly whilst we waited for boarding on our flight to Paris! We were all exhausted by that point so most us slept for the majority of the 14-hour flight. As we started our descent, we tried to make out some of the landmarks such as the Arc de Triomphe, as we would sadly be unable to view them ourselves, as we could no longer go to Paris for the first part of our trip.
However it was great as we were able to go see our families earlier! We said goodbye to the Lille/Rouen travellers as they were getting a bus from Paris airport to their cities, and the 7-week Bordeaux and 5-week Lyon travellers found our way to our domestic flights. We then had our first taste of French food as we bought croissants, ‘chocolat chaud’ and even macarons from Laudre! We said goodbye again to the others who were going to Lyon as we separated to board our different domestic flights.
Everyone was feeling a mixture of nervousness, excitement, tiredness and eagerness as we went to collect our bags. People were frantically asking others what they should be saying to their host family once they met them and of course most importantly, “Do I kiss them on each cheek?”
As we all met our own host families and the others’ as well, we said our final good byes to each other and parted to leave to our new homes for the next several weeks.
Once at the house, I gave my family a few small thankyou gifts of typical Australian things, and they were delighted about their jar of vegemite and a new Christmas tree decoration: a small koala bear with a Santa hat on. After that, I told them about my life in Australia and what we do ‘down under.’ We established that I didn’t ride kangaroos to school and that not every living thing would kill you. However, my host sister’s younger sister could not fathom how I would want to leave 35-degree warmth for 5-degree coldness.
The next week we all tried to settle into our new family’s life and daily routine, which of course meant tackling the big thing. School. In French. Help.
Luckily, we all survived and started to relax a bit when we met all our host sibling’s friends and teachers, and tried to understand as best we could what everyone was saying. We soon all started to have fun going to school and enjoyed learning new subjects that we may not have done back in Australia, such as Spanish, physics and French as our English class to name a few. Soon enough, it was time for the Christmas holidays with our families!
We had our first group excursion to the city, Bordeaux. We were taken around and shown the monuments of the city by a student. We were shown the Saint-André cathedral, Le Grosse Cloche, Grand Theatre, Rostral columns of the Esplanade des Quinconces and the Place de la Bourse, which has the world’s largest water mirror. As we filled in our booklets, we walked around the stunning architecture of Bordeaux. We even lit a candle for Antipodeans in the church of Église Notre-Dame. We shopped down Rue Sainte-Catherine and ate crepes in the amazing ‘Marche de Noel’ that was set up in the centre of Bordeaux. We all had a great time and were sad to say goodbye, however we would be seeing each other soon.
The Christmas holidays were full of laughter, eating, watching Christmas movies, and more eating. For the first few days of the holidays, my family and I relaxed before preparing ourselves for Christmas with all the family. I tried eating Fois Gras, oysters, the amazing bread and of course the ‘bûche de nöel!’ After Christmas, we did a few touristy things such as visiting the Bassin d'Arcachon, Chateau Féodal de Beynac and St Emillion. Soon the holidays came to an end and we had to return back to school, but it wasn’t so bad as we got to go see our French friends again. ☺
School resumed as normal, and I started to settle into the normal 6:30am wake up routine. We went to classes, ate baguette sandwiches for lunch and went home at 5pm each night. Living in a different daily routine was so interesting and new, as we really experienced a whole different way of life.
On our last weekend in France, we had our second outing with all the Australians and their host siblings. We all got together and (tried to) create amazing canalés, madeleines and of course, galette des roi. We had an great time catching up, showing off our French skills whilst relishing in being able to speak English and meeting everyone’s host siblings. We all realised that in a week, we would have to sadly leave France so we said our goodbyes to some of the host siblings we had met over the time spent in France. My host sister couldn’t come to the cooking class, however I soon found out why not when I came home to a surprise leaving party for me! It was so nice of my host sister to organise that with all the French friends I had grown close with, and I really had no idea it was happening!
The final week of school was sad, as we had to start say goodbye to everyone we had met. I had my final day of school one day earlier, because on my last full day in Bordeaux my host sister and I were going into the centre of Bordeaux with her friends to go to the University open day there. After we had seen a couple of lectures we went and had some lunch and ate it on the steps of the Grand Theatre, before we exhausted ourselves on the Rue Sainte-Catherine (my poor savings account – and suitcase). It was the perfect way to say goodbye to the beautiful city and all my French friends.
The time had come for us to sadly leave Bordeaux on Friday morning at 4am. It hadn’t hit me until I was packing my suitcase on the night before that I was actually leaving. It had been such a surreal experience and I didn’t want it to end! As I checked in my too-heavy suitcase, the time had finally come for me to say goodbye. Cue the tears. I had managed to keep my sobs under restraint whilst saying goodbye to the family until I had to say goodbye to my host sister – we both couldn’t handle it at such an early time. The bond we had created would truly last a lifetime.
The flight to Paris was very quiet, as we were all tired and upset about leaving, however we were starting to get excited about seeing all our friends and families in Sydney again. As we finally touched down and went through to the arrivals, we were all definitely excited to see everyone we knew.
I have definitely had the most amazing experience on this immersion, and it has benefitted my French speaking so much more than I thought. Not only that, but I’ve had the chance to live in a different country and lifestyle that is so different to Sydney. I’ve made some truly great friendships with people and especially with my host family and sister. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience and I am truly grateful for everyone who I met and can’t wait to go back!
Wednesday, 24 February 2016
PROJECT: Nursing – Griffith University
WRITTEN BY: Laura Boulogne
Day 11 or 'Monday blues':
Today, a lot of us were touched by fatigue and homesickness so the general mood was dragged down. However, we kept going and never stopped, and we closed the clinic at 3:30pm after seeing 145 patients. That night, we had a team meeting, a few chocolates, a good debrief and got the general mood right back up.
Day 12 or ‘So many cute babies and pregnant mums!’:
This morning was cold but as the sun set, we warmed up and kept working at a rapid pace. By lunchtime, we had seen more than half of our triaged patients. Today was a good day for everyone and we all worked well under Maddy’s supervision. I had a few interesting cases like a suspected heart block, lymphatic cancer, hypertension with a BP of 200/95 and a few common colds, UTIs and chest infections. The 101 patients we saw today meant we had an early finish and we had everything all packed up by 3:30 so we jumped in the trucks and headed home.
Tomorrow will be our last clinic day and it gave me food for thought. It has been such an interesting trip! I have learnt so much about myself, my goals, limits and qualities in nursing; I have modified my assessment so much to adapt it to the Laos community and this trip was extremely good for me because now I know that I can apply my new knowledge about different cultures to help me treat people from all different backgrounds when working in hospitals back home.
Most of all, I have to say that I have learnt to trust myself, trust my instinct and trust that I have the knowledge and the skills required to be a good nurse and to assess patients of all ages and to work in a multidisciplinary team of health care workers and translators.
Day 13 or ‘Last clinic day’:
The clinic went really well this Wednesday and Celise was our last team leader. As she made her speech, I tried to remember our very first clinic and it reminded me how far we had come since day one. Just as I had opened the first clinic with maternity education, I opened this one with Lizzie, Tiffany and Elisabeth C playing the role of a pregnant mom giving birth. We saw a few more than 75 patients today.
Day 14 or ‘Sex education day’:
Today we went to Ban Pak Seng's high school to teach Sex Education. Divided in groups of girls and boys, our team educated them on the reproductive system, contraception and menstruation.
The girls sessions went well as we explained how puberty changes us physically, emotionally and our personality. As we moved on towards periods and menstrual cycles, we observed the girls writing questions on the paper we had given them. After giving out the girls day packs and talking about STIs and sex safety, we answered questions and realised how little the Laos High School students knew about sex and their own bodies.
Lunchtime rang and we headed up to our head quarters to sort through all the boxes and got our donation bags ready. The rest of the day was the closing ceremony, a game of volleyball, and bacci at the high school as well as the award ceremony with the teachers. I got the translator award as I had been translating all of the French signs.
Day 15 or ‘Blessings at the village and to the bouddha caves we went’:
Today we had a traditional Barsi ceremony as we got blessings from the inhabitants of Ban Pak Seng. We left with the flowers and travelled down the mountain toward the Mekong. We visited the Bouddha’s caves and placed the flowers on one of the altars. We went back to Luang Prabang by boat and cruised down the Mekong. We all enjoyed our last day together as a group and got ready for our final weekend of exploration. Sadly, Allison and Cara were be leaving us early and were going to have to say our goodbyes to them tomorrow.