In elementary school I was surrounded by hundreds of students who came from all over the world. This multicultural school was embraced by the Principal, Vice Principal, teachers and secretaries who worked very hard at encompassing all the different cultures and educating all the students on the variety of cultures through multicultural days showcasing the different foods, art, dances, theatre and languages. There was not one year that went by during my 8 years of elementary school that we did not celebrate the diversity, something that I thought was common place until I moved cities and changed schools. This celebration of diversity was an important part of my childhood as it allowed me to understand different cultures and to not be afraid to ask questions. It also allowed me to see that we are all people and although we can look different we all have special values and morals that need to be embraced. Without my positive experiences at school I know that my interests in other cultures may have withered and died. Instead I was left with a strong sense of being apart of a global community.
Once I finished high school, I took some time to travel. My first journey was to Australia. I went to visit my relatives and to pass the days playing in the ocean. I had the pleasure of staying on a farm for a few days and was taught the ways of catching fresh water Yabbies using Kangaroo meat, minding the grass paddocks and how to shear sheep.
When I had returned back to the city from my farm adventure, I attended concerts featuring all types of music. It was here that I met up with an Aboriginal man who taught me the art of didgeridoo. He also enlightened me on the phrase “Dreamtime” represents and what it means to be “dreaming.” He informed me that I needed to go on my “walkabout” in order to find my animal, although he was very positive that I was from the Kangaroo. I asked him how he knew and his response was “I just do.”
A few years later I was offered an opportunity to go to China to teach English, an opportunity that I could not give up. I spent just over a month teaching children English through music and sports. Even though I was the teacher the students taught me a lot bout Chinese Culture, different foods and that my hair is “weird” – it got really puffy and big thanks to the humidity. These children also taught me about patience, what it means to be a teacher and how important education is.
One thing that I will never forget was when a student asked if I would hit him if he did not do well. I was shocked and told him that in Canada the teachers do not hit the students. Now that is not to say that teachers in China hit their students, this is one child who asked a question based on his personal experience. But it did make me really think about how much stress the teachers and students are under. Upon talking to a teacher in China I was told that they often work 12 hour days, and there is a lot of pressure on everyone for the students to do well. If the students fail, the teachers fail. Something that just does not happen in Canada. This enlightened moment forced me to really focus on teaching the students a different way. I wanted to show them that learning English could be fun and exciting and that it was okay to make mistakes. For the three weeks I was there I wanted to take away some of the pressure and hoped to impact the students in a positive way.
The day the camp finished I had a lot of parents thanking me for helping their children come out of their shell. One mother told me her child cried when she was left with us and now cried because she did not want to go home. I am not sure if I made a giant difference in the students lives but I can only hope that they will look back on the camp fondly.
A few years after the camp I was invited back to teach again. I jumped at the chance as I truly loved my first experience there. This time around we had less children and we focused on making it more about combining the cultures rather than it being all about Canada. We were still teaching English and I was still teaching sports and music, but this time the English teachers were learning Mandarin twice a week. This was a wonderful addition! I learned a lot about dialect, tongue placement and to listen to the words and who they are said. It was fascinating!
The time I spent teaching in China really made me rethink my path in life. Up to this point I was working as a landscaper with an interest to start my own company. Once I came back from China the second time I made the decision to go back to school to become a teacher. I want to give students the same experiences I had in school. Celebrate the fact we are part of a global community and as global citizens we need to look after each other.