“My trip to the Far East was an amazing experience and I am very grateful to have been able to go.“

Polly Davies

Malvern Girls’ College, 2002

Polly Davies

Malvern Girls’ College, 2002

Our Travel Award financed Polly Davies' trip to China in 2002 so she could gain a greater understanding of a place that had been becoming rapidly more involved on the world scene. Polly selected Gap Activity Projects, a company which places gap-year students in jobs and projects worldwide to allow her the right amount of support and independence during her trip. She was keen to live and work in another country and really get to know it rather than purely travelling or being involved with large group activities.

Polly lived and worked at No. 1 Foreign Language Experimental Middle School in Liuzhou in Guangxi Province, South East China: a co-educational boarding school for pupils aged between 12 and 16. There, she taught English to 12 classes, consisting of between 30 and 60 students, of 40 minutes a week each. She was teaching only spoken English, which at times proved tough, due to the large class sizes and the students' the varying abilities.

"As well as teaching them, I conducted their English oral examinations, judged several English speaking competitions and held informal ‘English corners’. The students were great fun, with bags of personality and my teaching partner and I often went out with them and their families."

On the weekend of the ancestral memorial celebrations she accompanied one of our students to her family tombs high up in the hills surrounding the city. They watched an extraordinary ritual take place which really highlighted the curious mix of ancient and modern that exists in China today.

Incense is used to contact the dead during the ancient ceremony. Food and rice wine is then laid out for them, along with lit cigarettes. Everyone takes turns to bow with incense at the tomb and to pray and fire crackers are let off. At the same time small fires are lit and pre-assembled, cheaply made packs of paper objects that the dead might desire (money, clothes, credit cards, cars and gold bars) are burnt.

Liuzhou is a large, polluted, industrial city with a population of around 1 million at the time. It is attractive with the surrounding Liu River and mountains. The city is famous for the manufacture of coffins and its fantastic stones- for which there is a festival every year. Polly's school was on the very edge of the city and looked out onto countryside and a huge natural park. She was there during the outbreak of SARS, with travel outside the city forbidden. During this time the tiny foreign population of Liuzhou diminished to about 6, all entertainment venues were closed, her flat was disinfected everyday and they were given face-masks. As for the students, those who lived outside of the city were unable to go home for several months.

“By the time I left, Liuzhou really felt like home. Although I don’t want to be teacher, I found teaching a rewarding and useful experience. More importantly, I have gained some insight into a culture about which I would otherwise have had only a very sketchy and probably prejudiced view. I hope to return to China to see the places I missed because of SARS.”

Following her five months in China I travelled for 6 weeks in Thailand, Laos and Cambodia, particularly enjoying Southern Laos due to the lack of foreigners and the friendliness of the people.

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