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Working while traveling affords foreigners unique way of seeing China

2015-03-05 09:19 Global Times Web Editor: Qian Ruisha
Nikolas Jaspert (middle), a volunteer teacher from Germany, poses at a local festival in Gongcheng Yao Autonomous County in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. (Photo: Courtesy of Jaspert)

Nikolas Jaspert (middle), a volunteer teacher from Germany, poses at a local festival in Gongcheng Yao Autonomous County in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. (Photo: Courtesy of Jaspert)

For the past five months, Nikolas Jaspert, an 18-year-old volunteer teacher from Germany, has lived in a shabby dormitory devoid even of mattresses in Gongcheng Yao Autonomous County, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, a mountainous rural region in China's southwest.

Before he began teaching at Guanyin Primary School, most of the 60-odd third-graders that are now under Jaspert's charge had never encountered a foreigner before.

"I think it's very important that everyone has an equal opportunity to study English," Jaspert enthused, adding that for a lot of his students, knowing English could open the door to a brighter future.

"I don't think it's good that some students have better opportunities to learn English, like students in bigger cities. Education should be fair, so I think it's really important to [do what we can to] help [those living in] rural areas."

Jaspert admits that his living quarters are more humble from what he is used to. During the summer, he was made to endure sweltering temperatures as high as 33 C without an air conditioner. As winter fell, he had to heat water in a gas tank if he wanted to have a hot shower. But he said it was worth it.

"Every time when I finish my lessons, the students come up and give me a hug or give me some of their sweets," said Jaspert.

"In Germany, students don't appreciate their teachers that much."

Jaspert's experiences in China as a volunteer teacher is a world away from that of a regular tourist.

Teaching in the countryside

Each week, Jaspert teaches two English classes, one at a local high school in Gongcheng, the other at Guanyin Primary school in a township two hours away by bus.

"I decided to come to China because I'm really interested in Chinese culture," said Jaspert, who made the trip across shortly after graduating from his high school in Munich last September.

"I went to boarding school in England for a year, where I made friends with many Chinese students, so I wanted to learn more and explore China."

The year-long volunteer program Jaspert signed up to was through KulturLife, a German organization partially funded by the government.

"Volunteering [for a year] grants people the chance to really live like a local person. [You learn to] adapt to the culture and see how the culture works," Jaspert said. "Whereas with only travel, you can see the country, the important sites, but you can't understand the country."

The county in which Jaspert is staying is mostly inhabited by Yao people, adding further local flavor.

"Two or three months ago, there was the Panwang Festival," said Jaspert. "People from different ethnic minorities were wearing different clothes, and there was a lot of different food. It was amazing."

Another highlight, said Jaspert, was witnessing a pig slaughtering ceremony.

"We ate a lot of pork chops afterwards," he laughed.

Jaspert said the months he had spent in China so far had given him a clearer vision of what he wants to do after he returns to Germany.

"[My time in China] has made me realize that I like to communicate with different people," said Jaspert. "Being a businessman could serve my purpose and I would have many chances to be in contact with China as well."

Playing with pandas

Besides overseas-based initiatives like KulturLife, there are a number of programs in China that seek to bring volunteers to the country from abroad. Among them are Teach For China, a Beijing-based NGO that recruits volunteer teachers to work in rural areas, and Greenway China, an organization that runs volunteer programs to help underprivileged children and conserve China's wildlife.

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