Skip to Content

Volunteer Teaching a Year in Rural China

Monica Wong... and a toothy friend.
Monica Wong… and a toothy friend. Lovely to converse with you, Monica Wong! Please tell us a bit about your background.

Monica: I was born and bred in Brooklyn. I work in social media but before that I taught during the summers and on weekends. I started teaching when I was 16.

I began working at a daycare center and eventually moved on to teaching elementary school children. I’ve traveled all over China and I’ve been to Istanbul, Madrid and Honduras. I’m currently in New York City working to save for grad school.

TT: Nice! Tell us more about your teaching-traveling in China.

M: I taught English at a migrant school in rural Shanghai for half a year, which you can read about in detail in my blog post, Climbing Out of Poverty. It was one of the best travel experiences I’ve had thus far.

TT: How did you find this opportunity to teach abroad, and how did you pay for it?

Monica's students in rural China, standing at attention
Monica’s students in rural China, standing at attention

M: I was able to volunteer at this migrant school while I was studying abroad at Fudan University in Shanghai.

As for finances, I had a 4-year college scholarship, which included a $7,500 education grant. I used the grant money to pay for my study abroad fees.

TT: Tell us one moment from your travels that was particularly powerful.

M: I was strolling along The Bund in Shanghai one night after dinner. My boyfriend and I were just killing time, waiting to meet up with some friends at a bar called Attica.

This little boy in rags approached us and asked us if we wanted to buy some origami flowers. We politely declined. He came around again and my boyfriend decided to chat with him. We learned that he lived across the Huangpu River, slept in a cardboard box, and he usually stops “working” when his uncle comes to pick him up. It was 10:30 pm already. I wasn’t sure how much longer he had to “work” for.

Shanghai building
Ahhh… China’s buildings…

After we parted, my boyfriend and I headed to Attica, paid 100 kuai to get in the door, and pretended like nothing happened. But I was torn inside and really angry at myself. I dropped 100 kuai like it was nothing, while this little boy sold origami flowers for 1 kuai.

TT: How have your travels impacted you as a teacher, and in your career trajectory in general?

M: Traveling has definitely changed my career course. I used to want the corner office. Now I want the world. Traveling has shaped my life-time goal of establishing a non-profit organization to build schools for children living in poverty.

TT: How have your travels impacted you as a person?

M: I am who I am because I’ve traveled and because I’ve seen the world outside this bubble I live in within New York City. I see things differently. My wants and needs have changed dramatically. I realize that I have everything I need, and there is nothing I want that I can’t find.

TT: What advice do you have for other teachers who are dreaming of travel?

M: Nike says it best: Just do it! This is my latest favorite travel quote: “Do not travel to escape life, but travel so that life does not escape you.”

TT: Thanks, Monica. Fascinating and enlightening!

In China, America, or Tanzania, the joy of delighted student faces is universal!


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Valerie Hamer

Tuesday 31st of January 2012

I enjoyed reading your interview. Travel and teaching abroad is a fantastic experience for sure and I love your insights into the resulting self development.


Monday 6th of December 2010

I've heard of that bar before and had similar experiences. The nearly non-existent middle class is really crazy in China. Somehow I'm bargaining 3 kuai for a scarf and later that night I pay 25 for a beer. It confuses me :/

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.