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Arrival I arrived in Nepal from London on Monday 6 October, after a connection in Delhi. When I arrived, I was met by a man holding a sign with my name for Frontier Nepal, who took my bags along with another man and showed me to the car that was to take me to my accommodation in Kathmandu. First week and Dasain It turned out that I had arrived in Nepal in the middle of Dasain - the country's biggest religious festival. As a result, the majority of the Nepalese staff were away visiting family, so I stayed at the project director's house in Kathmandu for 6 days with his family and a couple of other volunteers. Asim and his wife were extremely hospitable, and were excellent in introducing me to Nepali culture (and cuisine!), ensuring that I got the most out of my time in Kathmandu which, due to the festival, was significantly longer than I otherwise would have had but was a good opportunity to acclimatise and learn as much as possible, including from the language lessons with Krishna, who was wonderfully patient and helpful. Royal Chitwan National Park On the Sunday after I arrived (12th October) I took the 7 hour tourist bus down to the sub-tropical environment of Chitwan for a two day safari, which wasn't part of my original package, but since there were other volunteers going, I asked if I could tag along and pay the 66 GBP for the trip, which was money well spent. The trip consisted of a stay in a simple but fairly comfortable lodge, one of a host packed together in Sauraha on the edge of the National Park. While there, we had a great time taking a ride down the river in a dugout canoe, seeing a host of birds, as well as a gharial and a marsh mugger crocodile, visiting the elephant stable and going on an elephant safari, where we saw five single-horned rhino, which was fantastic. Nirmal Pokhari Once the adventure in Chitwan was over, it was time for another 7-hour bus ride to Pokhara, in the shadow of the Annapurnas range. Pokhara itself turned out to be much more relaxed than the manic streets of Kathmandu and Thamel, with wider streets, significantly less traffic, and a generally more chilled out atmosphere. Not that there was much time to soak it up, as I was met by another volunteer and we went down the road to Birotar to get the local bus up to Nirmal Pokhari, where I was going to be teaching for the next five weeks. The bus rides to and from the village were one of the most memorable experiences of my time here. The 'road' was, from the bottom of the hill, simply dirt and rocks, and extremely steep, so the journey, which lasted just over an hour, was by far the bumpiest I've ever experienced, but remained enjoyable in a strange way. And I soon figured out that life was far more interesting, and the journey more pleasant, riding on the roof - once you get used to the fact that the bus comes very close to the edge of sheer drops down into thick jungle! All part of the fun. On arriving at the village, and negotiating my way down a lengthy rock staircase (which I was to come to know very well over the next month) in the dark with my increasingly heavy rucksack, I was welcomed by my host family. The host family - Laxman, his wife Sita and a host of others - in many ways made my stay in Nepal what it was. They were extremely kind, considerate and helpful, and made every effort to ensure that I was comfortable and happy. Also, the effort I had put into learning as much Nepali as possible really paid off, since the level of English in the village was limited (although Laxman's was fairly good, along with one or two others around). While the accommodation was unsurprisingly basic, and there was (as expected) no shower or flushing toilet, I think had those things been there then I might have felt that I wasn't getting the true experience of living a Nepali lifestyle with a Nepali family. As it is, I am leaving after my six week stay with a real sense of having genuinely lived amongst locals, never seeing another foreign face, except when taking my weekly trip into Pokhara for using the internet, making phone calls, and seeking out sustenance in the form of something other than daal bhaat (although there's no doubt that Sita is a fantastic cook!). Teaching The day after I arrived, I woke at 6am and was taken by the other volunteer staying with us - which was great, as it ensured I had someone who spoke English to show me around, and help me get to know the ins and outs of village life - to the Library in Maidan, which was back up the aforementioned rock staircase (I use the term 'staircase' in the loosest possible sense - suffice it to say that I didn't feel the need to do any other trekking while I was in Nepal). The Library was where we taught the local children in the village, from around 6:45-8am every morning. The children were a lot of fun, even if at times some of them could become extremely attention seeking, but patience and a good sense of humour allow you to endure some of the more trying moments and really get a great deal out of teaching them and sharing your experience. The facilities were pretty limited, but sufficient for our needs, and most of the children seemed to get something out of the lessons. However, the ages and ability of each varied enormously, so it was sometimes difficult to judge how to pitch different lessons. This was particularly true because the children that attended the private school in the village tended to have much better English than those attending the public school, which created an even greater imbalance. We soon determined that whatever happened, it was important to try and keep the lessons fun, the children occupied and involved, and not to try to do anything too difficult. In particular, it was extremely useful to have more than one volunteer teaching, since this made it much easier to keep the children amused and occupied, and provide additional help and attention to those that needed it. And sometimes, classes could be as much an exercise in crowd control as in teaching! But the children were great fun to be around. In the evenings, we would also open the library for around an hour and a half, from about 4-4:15pm, just to let the children play and draw, since they were taught in the Library in the morning, and then had school all day, so we felt it was important to allow the children at least some down time in the day, which they otherwise might not have had. This generally worked well, although there was an extent to which some children would only come in the evenings to play, and not to the morning class, but it was difficult to determine the extent to which the various festivals that happened during my stay were the cause of varied attendance. Still, I tried a few different methods of trying to boost morning attendance, which to a greater or lesser degree seemed to work. I also spent some time, outside festival periods, teaching in the public school about a half hour walk from the house where I was staying. Again, this was a lot of fun, but at times very difficult. On several occasions I was simply shown into a classroom and told to teach English. However, the level of English of many of the pupils was quite poor, and the teachers were trying to teach them some concepts that were almost certainly above the level of many of them, not helped by the fact that the English teacher's own English was far from perfect. In addition, the children in the school, as with those anywhere else, were extremely reticent and it often took attempts with several different methods of teaching to find one that elicited a response. Once again, the best thing that I found was to be enthusiastic, enjoy yourself, get a few laughs from the children and ensure that you taught them by writing on the board a lot, rather than just speaking, as they found reading and writing English easier than just talking. Summary Overall, I had a fantastic time in Nepal. While I had come here not intending to teach, I really enjoyed the experience and found the people here extremely friendly, helpful and honest, and the children a great deal of fun. While above I have tried to point out some of the more difficult aspects of the placement, this is simply to give other volunteers an idea about what to expect, and allow them to think about how they might overcome such pitfalls. But there is no doubt that my experience was overwhelmingly positive, in particular given that I was staying away from all the tourist places, living a genuine Nepali lifestyle with a wonderful family and in a beautiful village, where the views of the mountains were always stunning and never tiresome!
So many thoughts are going through my head right now sitting here at Beijing Airport! These last four and a half months have been some of the best in my life and I don't think I am ready to leave yet! Before I left the hostel today, I don't know why but I was slightly nervous and scared about going home because now China just feels like home to me. It feels like just yesterday I was at Beijing Airport but this time I have four and a half months worth of great experiences with me. When I first got to Yantai I was really excited to make new friends and experience China but once getting to the university my feelings changed. I found it so weird because no one speaks English. I found out that there might only be one other Westerner and everyone else was South Korean. I was really upset as I thought I wouldn't have many friends and I decided that I would go home the following month! That first day I was on an emotional rollercoaster just because it is hard to adjust when you are alone. You are in a place where hardly anyone speaks English and you have to do everything on you own and I thought I would be able to adjust really well... but I obviously didn't! But this all changed on my first day of class! When I first applied to the China Mandarin Course at Yantai University I did not know what to expect. When I first arrived in Yantai I couldn't believe how beautiful it was and I instantly knew that I would enjoy studying in such an amazing city. The day before classes started I received my textbook which all seemed easy to use. When I first started my classes I found it slightly difficult but I guess everything is always difficult when you first begin. The teachers are very helpful and within no time I was really beginning to enjoy learning Chinese. Most of the teachers can speak good English which is really helpful whilst learning. My classes were for 4 hours every morning which gave me the rest of the day to make other plans. The course requires a lot of independent study, especially more if you are a Westerner as the Chinese characters are much harder to pick up so the free afternoons are ideal to do this. The teachers are all really helpful and are always willing to go through things and spend time with you after class if you are not quite sure of something. Yantai gives you great chances to practise your Chinese because most people do not speak English so you have to learn and practise as you go along. I am a vegetarian and I have to admit that I found it very difficult to find decent vegetarian meals, especially for the first two months or so. For breakfast I would eat fruit, for lunch I would have the only vegetarian dish in the canteen which was a tasty Korean dish, and for dinner I would eat bread and sometimes order pizza. Although it may sound a little bad I am glad it happened because it teaches you that life is not always perfect and you are not always going to have everything you want and need at your doorstep! I would regularly go to bar street (a street with just bars on it) and then to Ali Baba (the main club where all the foreigners would go) and it's there that you realise how many foreigners there actually are in Yantai, of all different ages and nationalities. Most of the foreigners work at the shipyard, on the oil rig, as English teachers or students learning Chinese! All of the people I met were so nice and outgoing and this is where I found a group of friends I will never forget or lose contact with. As most of those people had been in Yantai for such a long time they knew all the Western restaurants and good places to go so I had finally found places that would cater for my dietary needs. Whilst studying I would always see signs about English teachers being needed but I never thought anything of it. One day during class a woman came in desperately looking for someone from an English speaking country and since I was the only one in the university she asked me if I would consider teaching English in a kindergarten and I absolutely adore kids so I thought it would be a great opportunity for me! I taught 2 hours a week and I would get picked up and dropped of at my dorms! The kindergarten was amazing and I can't even explain how nice the principal, teachers and children were! I had 5 classes where my oldest class was 6 and youngest class was 2. On my last day all the kids were fighting to hug me and said they would miss me! I can't believe what a great bond I made with the children in 3 months! I took my work friends out for dinner the next day and the principal bought me a really nice present to say thank you and she offered me a job for when I return next summer which was nice! That brings me to another great thing about China! The shopping is great! A bottle of water would cost me 10p, a bus trip 10p and food and living is generally very cheap. But I must say that pampering yourself is the cheapest! A manicure and pedicure including a massage is only GBP3! Ahh the spas were AMAZING, like no spa I had ever been to in London and it was approximately GBP4 entry which included a full day buffet and access to a lounge room, tv room, gym, pool, sauna, jacuzzi, steam room, showers and then any treatments you wanted were really cheap! I got my nails done every week! Being a student also gives you a lot of discounts at restaurants and sights and the university will give you a student card when you begin. Another thing I should definitely mention are the Chinese people.... they are so nice and really make an effort to make you feel welcome and are very patient with foreigners. Yantai is a beautiful town and having been to their cities I definitely prefer it! Yantai runs along the coast so you are always at the beach, which was only a 10 minute walk from my dorms and because of this the air quality is much better! There is hardly ever any bad traffic and transportation is really cheap! The local government in Yantai has made a huge effort in the city! Everywhere you go there are so many beautiful flowers and gardens.... I don't think I have ever seen so many flowers in one place! The city is very clean and peaceful! I did a lot of fun things in Yantai such as jet skiing, having a parrot on my arm, holding a monkey and much more but it's too much to write in this diary entry! Just outside of Yantai there are many cities that you can visit that are only a few hours bus journey away. I visited Beijing and Qingdao with my Korean friends, and although I came to China to learn Chinese, having so many Korean friends I can also be proud to say that I know a little Korean too :) My final weeks in Yantai were hectic! I don't even know where my last two months went! At the university your final mark is made up of 60% fal examination, 20% m-terms and 20% oclass performance. In my mid-terms I got 98% a the results of my final examination were: Reading- 85% istening- 83% omprehensive- 88% peaking- 92% (ghest in the class :)) So I guess my hours of studying after class really paid off! Overall, I don't think any words in this diary could explain the last 18 weeks of my life! Every time I think about my time here it makes me so happy! So now here at Beijing Airport on my way back to London, I couldn't be any happier and I think this is probably one of the best decisions I have made! I have made some amazing friends, had some great experiences and just had the time of my life. Not only did I learn so much about China and other cultures but I also learnt a lot about myself. This trip has really changed the way I see things and I can't explain what a great time I had. Leaving makes me sad but I look forward to returning to Yantai next summer and experiencing it all again. But for now, goodbye China!
I didn't really know what to expect from this project because I didn't have any experience in journalism, just the intention to enrol on a course when I returned home. I mainly got to shadow the more senior journalists at the English language newspaper I was assigned to, which was a great way to learn about the day to day tasks as a journalist. When they needed it I helped do research for a particular article, generally helped out around the office, and went out on assignments with my mentor to cover stories. I had a really great time and picked up so much in a short space of time. I would recommend this project to any budding journalists out there!
I'd done a bit of diving before - just my PADI Open Water last year - and I was looking forward to getting back in the water in Cambodia. The Island is a tropical idyll with no vehicles, no roads and no mains power. Instead there are long, golden, untouched beaches, dense jungle and, below the calm waters of the Gulf of Thailand, diverse coral reefs teeming with life. The small population of a few hundred live off the land and sea, mainly fishing for squid, and trading with the mainland for other commodities. At the edge of the village is the marine conservation project. For those who are fond of their creature comforts there might be a bit of a culture shock but everyone quickly learns to love it. My main objective was to do as much diving as possible and contribute in whatever way I could to the conservation efforts. This was impeded a bit by the weather but I managed to do a lot of cleaning on the reefs as well as some great experience diving - deep, night, drift - and getting my Advanced Open Water. In between I also took advantage of some of the other opportunities: jungle trekking, building, beach cleaning with the local kids and helping out in the village; I even did bit of English tutoring. The social life, at the project and in the village as well, was great. After a day's diving there was always time for a beer or a round of the local rice wine. The island is a breathtaking place to live, the goals of the project are admirable and the diving is awesome; however, what made my month on The Island such an incredible experience - and what will keep me wanting to go back again and again - was the people: locals and project staff alike were, without exception, wonderful hosts, great company and genuinely inspirational to live and work with.
So my 4 weeks have come to an end. This is a very special, unique place. The location is amazing! The work that is being done here, pre-school, mobile school etc etc is improving the lives of many in the community and with time the evolution of the work here could have a profound effect, this is fascinating to witness and be a small part of. I would like to thank the current team, you have all been such a support and have made my time here really enjoyable and I am looking forward to developing my international friendships with you all. I think with all your hard work this place is truly special and in the words of Bon Jovi - You got to keep the faith!