Darian and Aaron Ngai (Brothers)
Aaron: Being a part of Project Shine in China for 10 days will always be one of the most meaningful events of my life. No matter how much I knew about diversity and history, China always seemed to me as a faraway foreign land with different peoples and cultures that have been at odds with our own Western ideals. I have heard many stories of many others travelling to different countries and telling us that they are very alike, but my mind would still subconsciously hold on to difference. Only now once I’ve seen and experienced them face-to-face could I truly realize how much we are truly alike.
During Project Shine, I was amazed at how we were welcomed and received even though they only knew where we were from and why we were there. What kept striking me as time went on was that their enthusiasm never diminished. They were literally the most well-behaved and most dedicated students I had ever seen, and I doubt that I would see anyone else do one better.
“I feel very happy. Do you think so? I believe you say to me, ‘I’m very happy the same as you’” — Paul
What I have learned from them is heartbreaking. To know that they study for almost all of their waking hours for almost every day is stunning, but to know that many of them have doubts in their largest exam next year is devastating. On top of that, many of them have family issues. And yet, they manage to smile, cheerfully greet us every day without respite. Yes, their culture has conditioned them to be this way, yes, their education system had a hand in their outward cheerfulness but I can tell you from experience that those aren’t the only reasons, but that a large part is because there are genuinely so.
“You not only our teacher, but also our friend. As your student and friend, I would miss you forever” — Cindy.
Although I went as a teacher, I left, having been taught so much more.
This is my first missions trip, and I found it special, not because it was my first time, but because I met a group I felt was family to me. On the first day of the trip, before I met my teaching partner, I was beyond nervous. Who was this mysterious man, whom I was not only teaching with, but was going to room with? Once I met him, these questions only grew. This was true, not of only my roommate, but the rest of the team. I wondered, who else had the heart to travel 20 hours just to teach English? Day by day, each person found a special place in my heart, and I unwittingly fell in love with our team. This was the first of many wonderful surprises on my trip.
“Remember you aren’t alone, because I will support you forever” -Angel
“Thanks for your every move to let us feel your warmth. I will use my power to pass this love, so that every child in the poor mountain can feel your love” -Kitty
The students I taught were welcoming. They first struck me as shy, reclusive, and somewhat apprehensive, much as I was on the first day. Over the ten days I knew them, they have grown to be outgoing, unique, and admirable individuals, each with their own hopes and dreams. It astonished me, how, though they come from poor financial upbringings, they remain hopeful and work hard for their own futures.
A student of mine, Katy, was the first to break my shell of “foreign English teacher” and took me as a friend, and I saw that the students were much like myself. She taught me phrases in Chinese that were popular and phrases that would help me survive. Other students followed suit, and I became very comfortable with the students, not as their teacher, but as a fellow student and friend. I just happened to be enrolled in a different class.
Throughout this trip, I have realized one fundamental truth about myself: I can do so much more. Going on this trip has expanded my horizons, and shown me that, since there are so many cares in this world, why bother being selfish? Going to China has been the greatest experience of my life, and I cannot bear to imagine what would have happened if I hadn’t.
Home. To some, it may translate to 7345 Granville Street, and to others a place where you find family. After Project Shine, I realized that home is where your heart is. And now, my heart is both in China and Canada. In a letter my student, Annie, wrote to me, she said “China is your home forever.” Thinking back to the day before our first class, I never would’ve imagined a student saying that to me. I asked myself: What if I can’t teach my students anything? Will they like me? What if I disappoint my students? My fears were almost instantly shattered, and I quickly realized it’s not about how well you teach, or how much information your students absorb. It’s about the love.
On the flight back to Vancouver, I could not help but cry. My heart ached with a bittersweet feeling of love and longing for my students. The thought of continuing life miles apart from them seemed like an impossible feat. But as I read the letters my students had written to me, I noticed a trend. Many of them told me “I wish you happiness every day” or “Don’t cry, keep smiling.” However these kind words only invoked more tears; I was touched. The image of my students waving goodbye while holding back tears flashed in my mind. How could someone be so selfless? Despite the feeling of loss my students and I shared, they were able to set aside their sadness and wish only the best for me.
During our sharing meetings, many Project Shine team members asked “What did I do to deserve this unconditional love (from the students)?” To be frank, I still don’t know the answer, but on the plane ride, I realized something. Maybe it doesn’t matter if we “deserve” the love or not. Love is a feeling sometimes thoughts cannot comprehend.
An element of the human condition where words fail. We can, however, thank the students. Happiness — true happiness — is the joy of making others happy. It’s that simple. Returning home, I made a promise to myself. I will radiate with love; a love so loud that it shines. I am not perfect, and I do not know if I can love others the way my students loved me, but I must try. It is the least I can do to thank my students. I long to share with the world, the wealth I felt in Luocheng. Although my students are miles and miles away, they will live on through my heart. Thank you, Project Shine. Thank you, Luocheng. Thank you, Class 9. I love you.
Love can be as simple as helping to fill up your water bottle, helping you to carry your bag, or even lending you their fan on a very hot day. With just 10 days, the students of LuoCheng has shown me how much more love can be, especially when it is genuine and sincere from their very hearts.
To be honest, I first came to Project Shine expecting to teach English and share love to these students, who would’ve known that I ended up learning how to love from them! They each possess such pure and grateful hearts, that they treasure each relationship, each moment with us. Something we can all learn from, to give thanks to every little thing in our lives. As a result, just in 10 days we have all become much more than just teachers and students. As students say, “you are like my mother, your love surrounds me like sunlight and yet gives me freedom” and “you are like my sister, you will comfort me when I am very sad”. We have become family.
However, the greatest joy and take away from this whole trip was when I saw changes in the lives of both our students and teachers. It struck me when a really quiet student John wrote this in his goodbye card:
“At the beginning, I was not used to it because my English was not good. But your enthusiasm has infected me and made me fall in love with this class. We have paid a sweat but also harvested friendship. Love is selfless and priceless.”
Project Shine not only sparked their interest in English again, but has also led us and the students to think and talk about love. Another student Summer wrote, “I will use love to help more people, because of you, you taught me!” It was so encouraging to see these changes in students as well as in us. This has led me to realize that, when people come together with a humble and grateful heart, and is willing accept and understand another’s culture, it truly changes people. Imagine how many lives it will change or inspire if Project Shine keeps running for another decade or century! Project Shine was the best way ever I could’ve spent my summer. Thanks for reading!
Out of all of the many different feelings I experienced participating in Project Shine, none of them stuck to me more than the feeling of gratitude. The students were thankful for having us come teach them English, as Dan expressed “I send you my everlasting feelings of gratefulness and thankfulness “, but I also felt that despite the the fact that their dorms were small and uncomfortable, only a few rooms in the school had air conditioning — and none of them were the classrooms, and a multitude of other less than pristine living conditions, the students were still pleased with what they have because they were always cheerful and working hard. What reinforced this thought for me was that many of the students were the same age as me, and they were so eager and happy to befriend my fellow teachers and I as Leanne emphasized ” Do you remember this question? ‘Can I be friends with you?’ Yes, I want to make a friend with you.” In comparison, very few of my fellow students in my highschool would ever be seen as cheerful as the ones I taught. The students in my school would always be complaining instead! They would complain about homework, friends, and everything in between. Sure the students I met in Project Shine would occasionally grumble about stuff, but they never dwelt on it and just went back to being cheerful.
Back home, I’ve always heard about people that were thankful for what little they had on TV many times, but when I actually saw this take place in LuoCheng, it just stuck with me. So, in a way, I am thankful for the students showing me what sincere thankfulness looks like!
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