Recount a scene from your encounters with individuals from the community you are serving. What details speak to the differences and connections you perceive between yourself and those individuals? Is there a specific image or memory that will remain etched in your mind?
How have you explained your home environment to your coworkers? Is it an accurate reflection of your culture? What have you withheld? Why?
There are a lot of differences between myself and the children who I serve. Because of their disability, they live at the CereCare center pretty much full time. Most of the time doing almost anything is a conscious effort for them, from walking, sitting up straight, to eating and raising their hands. Besides the physical differences, their childhood is different in that they do not attend traditional schools and live with their families. I remember how rough elementary school was with a very heavy backpack and loads of homework. Their curriculum is much less rigorous and their lives revolve much less around traditional academics. Moreover, some of the children are orphans, so they've never known what regular homes and upbringing feel like.
I can't recall a specific image or memory right now, but the general sense that I get from talking to the children is that their lives move slower and so they are eager to learn new things, especially English. What I mean by that is when I was in school, things moved fast - learn, absorb, read, write, pack, get to the next class on time, repeat, go home, finish homework, eat, studying, sleep, etc. There are very few moments of rest. At the center, after every activity is a half hour of transition for drinking water, going to the bathroom, and maneuvering in general. Most of it is done in 20 minutes at most, so I find myself sitting there with the kids waiting for the teachers or just chitchatting. They are also very fortunate to have loving teachers who develop close relationships with them and keep track of their individual progress closely. The teachers joke around with them, tease them, and hang out with them very often. All in all, they live in a much less competitive and aggressive world than I do. Sometimes I feel like my life is a race - in school, in transit, in extracurricular activities, etc.
Another way that I perceive differences between myself and the people I encounter is when I explain my background and my purpose to my coworkers and other adults. I usually first explain that I was born in Hong Kong and lived there until I was 9 before I moved to NY so that they understand why I know Chinese, and then I explain that I go to university in the U.S. and am volunteering during summer vacation in Shanghai. It is very humbling when the other person is impressed that either a) I know English, b) I know some Chinese, c) I'm volunteering, and/or d) I'm abroad by myself. I explain that in the U.S., a lot of people spend their summers doing volunteering, internships, and other kinds of community service. One woman I met said that unlike American schools, elementary school in China is very very rigorous, and by the time Chinese students make it to college, they relax and party. I think many people probably think that Americans all have it pretty good, but that is not necessarily true. I explained that there are just as many problems with the American education system, there are also a lot of American college students who just relax and party, and that in fact, a lot of people, including mine, don't really have it good. Outside of the center, people assume I am simply vacationing in Shanghai. Well, news flash, I cannot just fly to Shanghai and do nothing but spend money for two months. What I do withheld sometimes is that my volunteering is linked to my studies at school. It is rather complicated to explain what I study to begin with - sociology, women, gender, and sexuality studies, and also a minor in poverty studies, basically. I don't necessarily reveal that I am hoping to do more than just spend a few hours a day with disabled children for two months, because I don't want to alarm anyone. I also want to blend in so that people would treat me normally and let me be a fly on the wall. So far, it is going decently. I am more comfortable in my placement and becoming a regular with the children, and I hope to find out more about the community as I get to know them better.