Since our three-week journey has wrapped up, I’ve had some time to reflect on the trip and everything that I experienced while in Shangri-La. Before going, I couldn’t help but think about how nervous I was to be traveling halfway across the world with a group of strangers. And while it didn’t bother me much, I kept thinking about how unprepared I was to deal with the language barrier. I went into the experience knowing very little Chinese or Tibetan, and I was scared I wasn’t going to be able to contribute to teaching the kids or form relationships with them.
“It was amazing to see how relationships could be formed without sharing a common language. All it took was a little bit of patience and a lot of fun.”
Now, I can say that while it was very difficult for the first couple of days, we eventually did figure it out. The kids were so excited to have us there and to learn English, but they also just wanted to have fun and get to know us – just as much as we wanted to have fun with and get to know them. Outside of when we were playing basketball or jumping rope, we did struggle with the language barrier at times, but I learned to either draw out pictures or pull up images on my phone to try and explain what I was saying, and they would do the same. The kids were so patient and eager to learn, even when it was tough to communicate. It was amazing to see how relationships could be formed without sharing a common language. All it took was a little bit of patience and a lot of fun.
One of my favorite memories from ACE was when we went up to Shika Snow Mountain and stopped by this little shelter where these two women were making and selling yak products. The food was amazing, and it was very cool to see the food traditionally prepared. However, I also I couldn’t help but notice these two little girls who were playing in the field of leaves near the shelter. I waved, and they waved back and giggled, so I walked over to see what they were doing. As I got closer, I could see that they were collecting leaves. I tried to ask what they were doing but they didn’t know much English, so I reverted to acting out what I was trying to ask. They told me they were collecting leaves to make a house. Then they invited me to help them so as they picked the leaves they would hand them to me to stack in a pile so they could build their house later.
“Without this program, I wouldn’t have rediscovered my love for working with children, and I hope to continue following this passion back at school through volunteering and coaching.”
Not only did this experience prove to me that the language barrier wasn’t insurmountable, but it also showed me how welcoming the culture is, even to strangers like me. Being welcomed into China with open arms from the CERS center and the Tibetan culture made my experiences one of a kind. I’m so grateful that I had this opportunity to explore a new culture and step outside my comfort zone to experience a new language. Without this program, I wouldn’t have rediscovered my love for working with children, and I hope to continue following this passion back at school through volunteering and coaching.