Richard Lewis

The lifestyle in Guiyang is the complete antithesis of West London, where I am from - a fact which at first made me quite homesick, and made me question if it wise for me to be here, but now it is the characteristic which most endears me to the city. When I first arrived in the provisional capital of Guizhou, the complete absence of westerners was certainly a culture shock, albeit one that I had tried to mentally prepare myself for.
I was aware that there were a number of American Peace Corps volunteers based in the city’s universities; however, I made a conscious effort not to seek solace in this friendship safety-net. I was in China after-all and sought to embrace that fact.

I have since made countless friendships with Guiyang natives that have arisen from being approached by strangers in the street. An unthinkable approach to forming friendships in London, this is quite the norm in this vibrant city. As the presence of westerners is rare in this part of China, when I am in public, I am constantly approached; either for a photo, or asked for a phone-number or email address - an innocent request by locals in order to establish a friendship with the intention of improving their conversational English. It is also not uncommon for me to be dining in a restaurant, and on going to pay my bill, I am informed that a fellow diner has settled it, with the simple message; 'Welcome to my city.' This incredible hospitality is present in all throughout the region, and so, although I have no western friends, I very seldom feel lonely. On the rare occasions that I have felt a bit homesick, I have been able to quite literally call on my invaluable friend 'Skype.'

The city of Guiyang is however not a utopian civilisation nestled in Southern China – there are some major short-comings, principally the general standards of hygiene, which fall a long way short of what I have come to expect. Furthermore, due to my lack of fluency in the language, difficulties can arise when attempting to communicate with locals; which can result in wires being crossed, and it is often the case that I receive conflicting messages. However, I do not write this as an absolute negative of everyday existence in China, because although certain aspects of life can be trying, you soon adjust to your new environment. I found my life here ran a lot more smoothly when I stopped making comparisons to the UK.

The slower pace of life in Guiyang has enabled me to step-back and take stock of where I am in life and make some decisions with regards to what I want to do in the future. Although I do not recommend this as a reason for doing something as extreme as this, part of the reason I signed up to this placement, was that during my final year of University, I was at a loss as to what I was going to do once I graduated. Funnily enough, I did not seriously entertain the idea of teaching as a career, however, I intended to travel, and I knew that a 'teaching-holiday' would certainly enhance my CV. I have just under a month until I return to London, and I am now frantically scouring the internet for vacant TA positions, because after my experience here, I cannot imagine doing any other job than teaching... I guess you could not really ask for a better endorsement of the placement.

Many people may cite the fact that a year in a foreign country - which is 'foreign' in every sense of the word - would be too far outside of their 'comfort zone' and thus use this as the principle argument for not doing it. From my time here, I have come to appreciate that it is by only going outside of your comfort zone that you can unearth some of the greatest rewards from life. The fear of 'would I survive a year in China' is now replaced with the most satisfying realisation that 'I can, and did do it.' If you approach this placement - or anything for that matter - with a positive mind-set, you are sure to benefit from the experience of doing it. My advice to anyone intending to pursue a Chinese teaching placement is to throw yourself into the country head on and I think you cannot fail to be enriched by the experience. Most importantly, every day, the children that you teach will reassure you that you are doing something truly worthwhile.

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