When I landed in Chengdu, I was met by two wonderful people: Professor Nie and Vanya a student at the Chengdu Sports University who spoke English very well. On the drive to the school, we spoke English and Mandarin and got along very well, and this set the tone for the entire trip.
Soon after I arrived, two college students on spring break, Ryan and Jessica, arrived for brief volunteer assignments from the United States. The first weekend we went to the Giant Panda exhibit. I met professor Nie’s sister there. Later I went to her birthday party and sang “Happy Birthday” to her in English. Next, I went to a meeting with many graduate students along with Ryan and Jessica. I told the graduate students I did African dance. I was very surprised when they asked me to give a demonstration — so I did!
Dance played an important role during my stay in Chengdu. One day I was talking to two young women who asked me to join their dance class — a similar class to our jazzy-funk. As a result, I ended up dancing in several classes with other students. In one of these classes, I developed a strong friendship with a young woman, she was a dance major and I named her Mia (she asked me to give her an English name).
Besides teaching dance, I also worked with students teaching them English and loved it. I worked with entire classes, small groups and one-on-one. Jo-Jo, one of the graduate students, asked me to teach her class English, which I did several times. It got so I could effortlessly set up exchanges with students. I would help them with English and they would help me with Mandarin.
There were many “firsts” that happened to me during my stay in Chengdu. Three students took me to an ice cream place in Chengdu. The woman who worked there, who could not speak English, told me I was the first foreigner who had ever been in the ice cream parlor. Then I met five high school girls who had come to the city to test for the university. They told me I was the first foreigner they had ever spoken English with …
I recently turned 56 years old. Two weeks ago, I sent in my retirement papers to the post office where I have been working for 25 years. I will retire January 3, 2009. In the meantime, I have received a wonderful offer to become a teacher in Tianjin. So, I am ready to begin my new life in China in early 2009!
None of this would be possible without my experience as a volunteer at Chengdu Sports University, which was provided to me by United Planet.