Enoch Tilahun, a secondary school student at William Ellis School had the experience of a lifetime in March 2016, when he visited Yunnan province in China for a cultural exchange. To raise the funds for the trip, Enoch did a sponsored walk through central London linking places associated with China and the tea industry including the Chinese gallery in the British Museum, Soho, and Tea Trade wharf on the South Bank. The Jack Petchey Foundation also supported his trip by awarding him a £180 Individual Grant for Volunteering.
Enoch and his fellow volunteers spent the first three days with the New Construction School in Kunming and then five days with Dali Nationalities Middle School; these schools specialise in teaching students from ethnic minority backgrounds. Within the Chinese education system, ethnic minorities often lose out in comparison to Han Chinese students; this project therefore focuses on these special schools to help the students improve their English language skills and heighten their confidence in interacting with foreigners. The young people at both schools were eager to meet Enoch and his group in order to practise their English and find out more about life in the UK.
At the primary school, Enoch gave a presentation about “Life in London” explaining his daily routine at school and what he does during his free time. He also helped the children to improve their basic English language skills by reading with them, playing English word games and singing nursery rhymes with the children. Enoch also got to practise some Mandarin and observed how the students spent their day at school. The primary school students also taught the English group how to make dumplings- something their friends and family back home will surely be excited to sample!
When the group arrived at the Dali Nationalities Middle School, they were treated to a dance performance by the students and learnt some of the dance routine themselves. The students at the middle school had a good understanding of English so Enoch and his group were able to converse with them and get to know the students much better. Here, Enoch also started a tea study project with the Chinese students and compared the tea drinking habits of the two tea-loving nations. He took a survey of their tea drinking habits and discussed the importance of tea in Chinese and British societies.
Enoch continued his tea culture study by visiting a tea factory where he learnt the history of Chinese tea and what makes it so important. The group learnt the ancient methods used to manufacture tea and even got to visit a tea plantation and pick their own tea leaves.
Enoch had an amazing cultural experience in China; not only did he help the Chinese students practise and improve their English, but both groups left the experience with a greater understanding of each other’s cultures. Enoch hopes to go on to study Chinese language and culture at university, and this trip has inspired him to work even harder to reach this goal.
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