Learning to Teach and Teaching to Learn
By Sophie Hsu, August 22, 2012
My sister, mother, and father were the first ones in my family to volunteer and teach English at the PEACH Foundation summer camp; they enjoyed it so much that my mother tried to convince me to go; at first, I did not want to at all. I did not have a good reason; I just didn't want to. But I finally gave in, I mean, why not try new things in life?
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During my first year at PEACH camp, I was so nervous, since I had never done anything like this in my life. Even after the first day I cried because I felt a lack of self-confidence. I had a feeling that my students did not like me and that I was a horrible teacher. I thought to myself that the week would go by so slowly. But before I knew it, the last day had already arrived.
Growing up as a Chinese American, I was unsure of whether I would fit in with my students or be able to feel a connection with them. At first, it was slightly hard to communicate with them, considering my Chinese was so horrible and choppy. To my surprise and pleasure, I slowly began to find things in common with my students, such as similar music tastes, in addition to sports, and gradually developed a connection with them. At the end of camp, my Chinese definitely improved that I now feel comfortable speaking the language, no matter where I am.
I additionally had never taught before, so this whole teaching thing was completely new to me. Each day of camp, I would teach three periods of English; what I would teach to my students was up to me. I would spend time each night planning lessons for the next day that included grammar, writing practice, phonetics-just anything that could help them.
Even though my role was to teach my students and improve their English, they also taught me about their culture-the ethnic minorities, which vary from Han-Ni to Yi to Mosuo to Naxi, along with their education system and lifestyle.
As part of the culture in China, such as in the Sichuan and Yunnan provinces, there are special tribes or ethnic minorities. Each tribe is unique and is characterized by the spoken language/dialect, the traditions, and even minor details like the colors or stitches on the traditional clothing. There is just something indescribable about the culture of these ethnic minorities that makes it a one-of-a-kind thing, that there is nothing else like it in the world.
Speaking from the perspective of an American student, there are times when I complain to my parents, friends, or teachers that I get too much homework and that school is boring and hard. Sometimes I feel I am just attending school for the sake of my parents. Since attending PEACH, I have now come to realize that an education is extremely valuable and that I am not going to school solely for my parents, but rather, for my own sake. I now believe that regardless of a person's financial situation, whether he or she attends a private versus a public school, or even where he or she lives, an education is an education and is something that should be taken seriously with effort because there are students out there who would do anything to acquire one even if we think it as just something we're naturally given.
Since volunteer teaching at the PEACH camp during high school, I have become a different person and have acquired a whole new perspective of the world beyond my own. During these four summers, I have volunteered in Yanyuan in the Sichuan province, Yuanyang in the Yunnan province, and also Lijiang in the Yunnan province. During my freshman year, I was just a very shy and quiet turtle who was afraid to talk but I am now a young individual unafraid to meet new people and express my thoughts. Although the first year attending PEACH was a bit of a challenge, I now always look forward to attending camp; it is the highlight of my summers. Every year keeps getting better. At each session, I meet new people and expand my knowledge.
If it were not for PEACH, I would have never had the idea that I could make a difference in today's world. I have realized that it is important to help those in need, whether it means the local community or across the ocean in China. Prior to PEACH, I also never thought of how honestly grateful I should feel for who I am and how thankful I should be to my parents every day, such as "forcing me" to volunteer at PEACH camp. To be able to help these less fortunate is truly both a gift and a cherishable experience. PEACH camp and the foundation have inspired me such that I currently have a strong interest in education and have chosen childhood education and childhood special education as my college major.
I love PEACH so greatly that I have participated in the summer camp a total of six sessions beginning my freshman year up until my senior year, and even hope to return as a college student in the future. As a result of returning to the summer camp in Yuanyang for the past three years, I now truly consider it as my second home; it is always a joy to see some of my former students and meet new ones, and it is a place where I feel connected to the people and where I feel like I belong and am a part of. At the PEACH summer camp, one does not only truly learn to teach, but also teaches to learn.