Textbooks, Teachers and don’t mention Taiwan…

Two weeks in China with Durham University.

With help from the Stephenson College Bursary fund I took part in a trip to Shenzhen in Southern China.

The most important thing I took from our trip was how many similarities there were between the two countries and their teachers. Often we look at countries in other parts of the world in a very detached way. What I found more than anything is how much I had in common with people on the other side of the world. Teenagers, surprisingly enough, were still teenagers in China. As much as we have an image of strict disciplinarian teachers and pupils marching around courtyards, at the end of the day children are children. They played together, joked around in the corridors and teased the teachers. They even did the teacher’s marking for them!


Pupils seemed to genuinely enjoy school, and took pride in their work. Textbooks were a big part of learning in China, and are something I think we should adopt here. When I think of how much paper I go through every day on my teaching practice it makes me wince: first there’s the exercise books, then the sheets we stick in the exercise books, then the sheets they use once to read from and then throw away, and not to forget the endless spelling lists and timetables sheets. In China they have a workbook. That’s it. One for each subject which has all the information they need in it. There was no fussing handing out sheets, sharing one between two then fighting over it, or collecting them back in and inevitably losing five or six. In this way the classrooms were much more organised despite the extra twenty or so pupils!


It’s difficult not to get lured into accepting a job while in China, the teachers are respected, well paid, well rested and not overworked. And I think we could all do with a two hour nap in the middle of the day! However, I did find myself getting bored. Only teaching two 45min lessons a day was find when we were visitors to the school (with sightseeing and jet lag to get on with!) but wouldn’t be my ideal every day. The days are long, and as the resources are already provided in the form of textbooks, there isn’t much to do in the way of planning. Furthermore, I think I’d get bored re-teaching the same lesson to eight different classes, as primary teachers we’re used to constant change and excitement!


We were warned before we left not to mention the three T’s: Taiwan, Tibet and Tianamon. While in China I did notice the one topic no one mentioned: politics. While in Britain it seems I can’t finish a sentence without mentioning Brexit or spending cuts, in China the political system is rarely, if ever discussed. However, I did not get the feeling that this was a massive problem. People seemed happy, Chinese businesses were thriving, and the city seemed to be very successful, so maybe we are the ones who are too preoccupied?

Collectivism was something I noticed that was very different to attitudes in Britain. Here we are told being different is good, often actively encouraged to be so. However, in the schools in China the sense was more ‘we are all in this together, let’s stay together.’ Deviating from the group, in terms of behaviour or work attitude, was frowned upon, and pupils did not applaud disrespectful behaviour, but would be happy to tell the individual themselves to stop it.

Overall it was a great experience, and I would definitely do it again. My eyes were opened to new classroom strategies, as well as a whole new outlook on education. What struck me most however, as I have said, is the similarities between children across the globe. Children are children wherever you go!

A teaching experience in China – A Stephenson College Bursary Funded Venture

On Sunday the 18th of March myself and 13 3rd year Primary Education students were fortunate to travel to Shenzhen in China to observe Maths teaching and to teach English in Chinese schools for two weeks. Throughout this post I will discuss what I discovered about Chinese teaching and how it differs from teaching in the UK, along with other experiences.

What did I discover about Chinese teaching?

I arrived in China and was unsure what to expect, before-hand I had been told that class sizes were around 50 children per class and I was unsure as to how it was even possible to teach 50 children at once. I thought that the schools would have a lack of facilities and that the children would learn only from text book rote learning, having very little opportunities to engage in active learning.

To my surprise it was actually pretty simple to teach 50 children at once. The children were all motivated to learn and were well-disciplined which meant that behaviour management was not an issue – the children quietly finished their work without causing any issues or arguments. All children also completed the same work meaning that differentiation was unnecessary making planning and preparing for lessons much easier.

Throughout the school day children engaged in: Chinese, English and Maths every morning and lessons such as Music, P.E, Geography, History and Art in the afternoon. The students completed homework every night for around 3hours teaching themselves the work that they would cover in class the next day meaning that before they arrived to each lesson they already had some understanding. The Chinese schools also had state of the art facilities with large sports fields/athletics tracks, dance halls, art studios, a children’s and a teachers library and each child had their own Ipad. However, I couldn’t say the same about the toilets… a hole in the ground.

How does Chinese teaching differ to teaching in the UK?

In the UK a typical school day begins around 9am and ends at 3:30pm, in China a school day begins at 7am and ends at around 6pm; however, from 12-2pm all children and teachers go home for an afternoon nap. In the UK children in primary schools are taught all subjects by one teacher resulting in a lot of cross-curricular links enabling children to learn about Math, English and Science altogether using recourses like The Very Hungry Caterpillar. In China teachers only teach one year group and one subject for example, a grade one English teacher will only teach grade one English. Teachers in China only teach around 2 lessons per day providing them with more time to study their subject and to plan their lessons, although such cross curricular links are not possible. Whereas in the UK teachers teach all day teaching 5-6 lessons and are required to prepare for lessons and developing their understanding in their own time.

What was China like?

Before, I went to China I had a perception that it wouldn’t be as developed as the UK in relation to technology, facilities and resources… I was wrong. China is much more advanced than the UK, they use an App called WeChat for everything! WeChat is used to pay for items in shops and restaurants, to order food and to look at the menus in restaurants, to order taxis, to pay for public transport and to communicate with others. Therefore, using cash in China is more less no more.

As an English person I often take being English for granted when I’m aboard because “everyone can speak English.” But not in China. In China finding a person who could speak English was extremely rare. This resulted in us struggling to order a taxi or to say where we wanted to go and to order food in restaurants, but thanks to our amazing teachers in school we managed to travel easily around China. I can’t say the same for the food though, we often pointed to dishes on the menu but weren’t sure what we had actually ordered or what we were eating. The best was when I asked in the school canteen what was for lunch, they told me it was chicken … it was all of the chicken including its feet.

China was like being famous for two weeks. Almost everywhere we went we got our photograph taken, we even got given two babies to get our photograph taken with and got bought drinks and ice-cream.

Finally, I’d like to thank everyone who helped to organise the trip and who made it possible.


Article written by: Amber Smyth

Ranger Things: 26.2 Miles to Self-Actualisation


Whilst most people’s bucket lists consist of bungee jumping or doing a skydive, one of my biggest bucket list challenges was to run a marathon as soon as I was legally old enough. Because of this, I stupidly decided to train over A-levels for the Brighton Marathon 2017.

After running countless half marathons and 10 mile races, I didn’t quite realise the gruelling difference between 10 and 20 Miles. Throughout training there was cramp, sickness and even reaching an all time low of 5 toe nails, however through the help of hundreds of jelly babies and Mum’s encouragement on the end of the phone whilst in floods of tears stranded in a field 12 miles away, I had finally finished training and was ready to embark on the most incredible race. If I could sell any bit of my running experiences to persuade you to run a marathon, the carb loading the days leading up to the race is fantastic. Shout out to Dad who (despite not running) also helped with hoofing down flapjacks and pasta in preparation to support. Brighton was scorchingly hot and hard work along the sea front, but despite the odd stitch and aching legs I came in at 3 hours 40 minutes, a ‘good for your age’ time. Although, I felt awful waddling like a constipated old woman, after a few glasses of wine I felt fab and couldn’t wait to run again!

However, I initially decided I wouldn’t commit to the training whilst at uni, when the opportunity popped up to run the London marathon for DUCK I couldn’t resist. My training in Durham was quite an adventure and included lowlights such as getting lost on dual carriage ways and stuck in snow. I had one long training race – the ‘Slaithwaite SLOG’ – and what a slog it was. I finally reached the finish to surprisingly beaming smiles, only to find out I had won! How anyone could run a 20 mile race and not realise they were first is beyond me, but somehow my ditsy head managed it.


Anyway, moving on to London!  After watching my uncle run in the elite men’s and Dad (not quite so elite) run the London marathon, it has since been my dream to one day brave the streets of London. After years of waiting, 22nd April was set to be the day my dream came true or so I thought anyway. It is safe to say that although I trained better than I had last year, and ‘carbed’ to my hearts content, London ruined me. This year was the hottest London Marathon on record and in the week leading up to the race I had been frantically checking the forecasts wishing for the sun to disappear (honestly I never thought I’d say that), however unfortunately I wasn’t in luck.
The first few miles were hot but manageable, it was when the midday sun and severe cramp kicked in that the marathon became a serious mental game. With runners walking, collapsing and withdrawing from the race all around me I wouldn’t let myself stop. The last few miles were the hardest miles I have ever run however the crowds were immense and helped me plod to the finish! Despite being a fair bit slower than my time last year, I was relieved to have made it without medical assistance! A quote I have followed for all of my marathon training is ‘everything you want to learn about yourself, you can learn in 26.2 Miles’. As cliché as this sounds, it is true and I could not recommend running a marathon anymore. I learned that I become a moody *insert expletive* when my legs don’t work as fast as I want them to and that I am not a quitter. Thousands of runners didn’t make it to the finish of the hottest London marathon and for those who did I am immensely proud of what each and every runner achieved. Really race day is a tiny spectacle of all the months of intense training, desperately fundraising and sacrifice. However, London will be a run I will never forget. As Dad has been my running inspiration and training bud for as long as I can remember, we are embarking on his last marathon together in Edinburgh on the 27th May (hoping for a PB!). I am still raising money on behalf of DUCK and any donation, no matter how big or small, would mean the world to both of us. My justgiving link is: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Ailie-McGilligan1

To anyone who fancies a challenge or loves carbs, running a marathon is so unbelievably rewarding and life changing. I couldn’t recommend it more.
Lots of love Ails x

Ranger Things: 40ish Days Vegan

Veganism, as many of you will know is avoiding all traces of animal products in foods and in your lifestyle, meaning no eggs, milk or leather products. SO NO CHOCOLATE! Yet for some reason I was determined to experience that torture and live as a vegan for Lent and thanks to peer pressure I am sharing my experience.


The rules sounded easy but within first couple days I realised everything I was used to eating contained some trace of egg or milk. I was tired because I wasn’t eating enough proper food and I had to find substitutes in vitamins and calcium tablets etc. It wasn’t going well.

After spending hours procrastinating by looking at recipes on Google and downloading vegan cookbooks, I realised the food that looked the best was made up of the most stupid ingredients. Like seriously what is egg emulsifier? Do supermarkets sell Liquid Aminos? And I am convinced now that Lucuma ice-cream doesn’t exist.

Even if you find these ridiculously rare fruits, vegetables and substitutes, they cost a freaking bomb. Legit, you’ve got to take out an extra student loan to get your shopping from Ocado. (Personally, I feel that being a vegan should entitle you to have a higher maintenance loans. Just saying.) I was definitely making eating ethically way too hard for myself.

Then the Lord answered my prayers. An angel in the form of Lucy Watson came to me in the form of a cookbook leaving me somewhat enlightened as I discovered that Oreos, Bourbon Biscuits, Popcorn and Heinz Ketchup were vegan friendly. The book became my bible, but her suggested ingredients were still a little out of my price range (after all I do not have an SW3 postcode).


I began to delve further in my research becoming more and more passionate about my little project. I read a similar blog to this, where a girl in America explained to me that loads of foods were vegan friendly but couldn’t have the explicit label because they were made in a factory that handled other meat or dairy products, and may have come into brief contact etc.


Relief. I could eat some of my favourite foods again, with the obvious exceptions.

It was in the relief I discovered the Vegan Society, where they had cheap easy recipes that even I couldn’t go wrong with; vegan lasagne, fajitas, cauliflower steaks, couscous, Thai curry etc.

Vegan Soc

I purchased the essentials: sunflower oil, butter, almond butter, Linda McCartney vegan sausages, dairy free cheese, salt and vinegar twirls, rich tea fingers, a variety of fruit and vegetables, garlic bread, almond milk, wholemeal bread and, the Holy Grail, HOUMOUS!!! I was good to go!

It felt good to eat ethically and I physically felt better. After overcoming the shock that I could no longer eat my weight in chocolate digestives, I had ended up removing all processed and unnatural sugars from my diet.

Best of all, I was eating so that no animals were being harmed or mistreated in any way.

This all went swimmingly until I returned home for the Easter Hols.

Now normally meal times in my house are a right faff. Mum is pretty much the fussiest eater in the modern world, my sister is celiac and I was a vegetarian, meaning for a normal dinner time 3 different meals would need preparing. Safe to say Mum was not impressed by my new decision.

I go back to working full time when I home, meaning the majority of my meals are at work. Work is a small pub close by where the vegan diet isn’t exactly catered for and when I announced this to my colleagues, you would have thought I had told them that I had contracted cholera. So basically by diet there turned in jacket potato with beans.

Nevertheless, I made it through to the 39th day, and nearly the 40th until I practically had Ben and Jerry’s shoved down my throat.

Anyway my experiment ended just in time for me to begin devouring Easter eggs. Whilst it’s safe to say I enjoyed my vegan experience, I will not be following it so religiously. I intend to eat more vegan food, and think more carefully about where the food I’m eating comes from, but I miss wearing my Docs and eating quorn scotch eggs too much to maintain it.

Babe the Sheep-pig approves of this message!

*If anyone has found anything in this article or wants to find out more information on how veganism is healthy and environmentally friendly, or has any general questions about veganism the listen up. John Ellis, a representative of the Vegan Society from Country Durham, will be delivering a talk and open Q&A session on Wednesday 2nd May, so keep your eyes peeled for details.*

An Interview with Stevo’s BUCS National Champions

This week I had the distinct pleasure of catching up with two of the four of our students, Isaac Perry and James Spicer, who have recently achieved University sporting greatness by lifting a BUCS National Championship with the Durham Saints American Football team. The team defeated Derby for the third time in the season by a score line of 17-6 to end their season undefeated and I managed to get the insight of two of the defensive line who were on the ground at the Sixways Stadium.

Durham’s #23 Spicer prepares to defend a Derby play seconds before the snap

Q: Gentlemen, you sit in front of me as National Champions. How does it feel to hear that?

Isaac: I can’t lie that does feel great. Weeks later, I still don’t know how to express it properly, but knowing I got to be part of such a great team with all the talent on the field and the personalities off it is pretty special…. The added label of National Champions is a bonus.

James: It’s a great feeling! Having lost in the national final last year by a missed kick it was such a great experience to be on the winning end this year and it was even sweeter knowing we finished the season 11-0.

Q: Now, despite being National Champions, I know both of you are fairly new to the sport. When did you both start playing?

Isaac: I have dabbled in the past attending a couple training sessions as a Fresher but this was my first year playing the sport properly.

James: I started playing last year as a Fresher having watched the sport for a few years before. There really aren’t any British players who come to University already having played the sport.

Q: Having never played in a National Championship for anything, can you describe the process for me? Is it just like a normal game where you get the coach to the ground or are there a few extra perks?

Isaac: Running out onto the pitch really with the crowd getting loud really got the juices flowing, there was also a ‘mini’ national anthem adding to the professionalism. Additionally, as the game was further away than usual we got a hotel overnight and included the all-important buffet breakfast, which was certainly a nice perk. I certainly wouldn’t mind having that luxury for every game!

Post-game was where the perks really came through, if I’m not mistaken we were posted in the VIP box. There was an open bar for us to open some Champagne and celebrate as well as countless pizzas available to us after the game.

James: As for the day of the game, our preparation doesn’t change, only the atmosphere we are in but it is completely different. We arrive seeing the Division One final being played which allows us time to check out all the camera crew and BAFA (British American Football Association) officials. Also, the facilities are much nicer than the cramped changing rooms we are used to for most of the year!

Q: What’s it like to play in a full stadium in front of a crowd, as well as being streamed to the entire world on YouTube?

Isaac: I do think the stadium alone added to the games atmosphere. The crowd were really energetic and supportive (for both sides) right until the final whistle which was brilliant. Knowing we were being streamed to the entire world did make me nervous, after hearing there would be thousands tuning in I felt the pressure more so than normal. Saying that, I loved that all my friends and family were able to watch and support myself and the team.

James: Having already experienced this the year before as a fresher it wasn’t that overwhelming. However, when you’re playing you’re only focused on what’s in front of you, not who or how many people are watching. The best part of the stream for me was knowing all our old teammates were able to watch from places like America.

Q: I suspect the whole occasion was a bit of a whirlwind and remembering what happened is difficult but are there any standout moments from the game? (We won’t hold it against you if you’re a bit selfish here and mention a moment of personal glory).

Isaac: To be honest, simply being chosen as a starter in the National Championship ahead of a couple ‘veterans’ as a ‘rookie’ (as they’d be referred to in the NFL) was a standout moment for me. But, one of the best moments has to be when Eric Poindexter (our Quarterback, who is actually a wide receiver) came on the field for the defense in the final quarter and broke up a deep pass with a really athletic play on the ball.

James: Probably getting a shout out during the halftime discussion on the live stream for a standout first half performance. Especially as it was by one of my brother’s coaches from Birmingham’s team!

Isaac: Oh and we can hardly forget the moment the final whistle blows! Giving the coach an early shower (pouring the water cooler over him), and the whole team jumping up and down is a memory I’ll never forget.

Q: American Football is a growing sport within the country and obviously you are both now National Champions, so do you see this as being the start of your affinity with the sport?

Isaac: I certainly like that idea; as I’m graduating this year the National Championship may have been my final game, and now that I’ve lived it I’ll definitely do my part in promoting the game in the future as it would be great for the sport to continue growing at the rate it is!

James: As far as playing goes I’ll be pushing for my third national final visit in three years during my final year. But apart from that, I won’t be doing more than watching the sport and going to the occasional Durham game in the future.

Thanks for taking the time to chat with me gents, I really appreciate it and hope that you get that opportunity for a third National Championship game next time around James! 


Ranger Things: Love in Motion – Volunteering

With it only being a month until the end of Epiphany Term and summative deadlines looming, it’s easy to forget that university is about more than gaining a degree. It’s a place where you meet new friends, find your passions in life and try new things. Over the past two years, I have found that there is no better way to do all those things than by taking part in volunteering. Through volunteering you get to meet people from all walks of life, gain new skills such as communication, and make an impact on the local community through exciting activities. What’s more, gaining all this real-life experience increases your employability, complementing your degree. A study by Oxfam (2017) showed that 80% of employers are more likely to hire an applicant with volunteering experience. So what’s stopping you? Time is often a big barrier but, whilst there is the option to volunteer weekly, you could do a ‘one-off’ session and volunteer just once this year. If you are not convinced yet, continue reading because I’m going to share my volunteering experiences with you!

Volunteering abroad

There are so many ways to get involved in volunteering, you just need to know where to look. Last summer, DUCK (Durham University Charities Kommittee) led me to Peru. Here, I volunteered for 3 weeks at an after-school programme which provided a safe place for the children. It kept the kids off the streets and gave them a decent childhood, as well as a good education to increase their chances of escaping the cycle of poverty in the future. After my volunteering placement was done, I trekked to Machu Picchu!

It has to be one of the best and most meaningful summers I have had. Volunteering is more than gaining skills for your CV. It is the best way to meet new people and get to know other cultures better. It also gives you so many opportunities to try new things and go to new places, like Peru! And all these little things you do greatly impact the local community in the long run.

Volunteering closer to home

Back in the UK, every Wednesday I volunteer at a beautiful farm in the North York Moors through Student Commuity Action. This farm is a safe haven for adults who are physically and mentally disabled. Here, we join in with and facilitate whatever activities they are doing, like woodwork, arts & crafts, and animal care. Sometimes we just take a relaxing walk with them in the woods. One of the reasons I keep on going back is the people. Although I am the volunteer, I always feel like the adults I am volunteering with are the ones helping with all their excitement and joyful personalities. Going to this sanctuary helps me to de-stress and get away from all the university work for a while.

When I can, I get involved in ‘one-off’ events to try new things. One memorable event was when we went Christmas carolling at a Dementia care home. As an international student I can’t celebrate Christmas with my family, so it was nice to share the Christmas spirit with the residents who were also unable to be home with their family! Volunteering brings so much you to and the people who you help; it’s really worth getting involved.

Your Turn to Get Involved!

If anything I mentioned intrigued you to volunteer, get volunteering!

Next week from the 19th – 25th February is Student Volunteering Week, when the whole country will be volunteering together. Student Community Action (SCA) is organising almost 40 activities to give you the opportunity to volunteer, both in Durham and Stockton. With opportunities ranging from conservation projects, to kids’ parties, to horse riding and visting to Fowl Green farm, we have many options for you to choose from. Head to https://www.facebook.com/events/1985326794827946/ for the Stockton timetable, and https://www.facebook.com/events/1587849067918800/ for the Durham timetable.

Ranger Things: You Will Never Ride An Elephant After Reading This

Last summer I travelled with 7 other girls to Petchaburi (Thailand) to volunteer with various abused animals for a month being the Deputy Expedition leader of the DUCK expeditions 2017. Since then, I am much more aware of animal abuse and want to share my experiences with as many people as possible. We volunteered at a sanctuary called “Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand” (WFFT) which is responsible for over 550 animals.
Some animals were previously used as pets with some being forced to wear clothes and eat human foods which were harmful to their bodies. Bears were trained to walk on two legs and dance to entertain humans. This upbringing has changed them forever, leaving many sadly unable to return into the wild. At the sanctuary they received the care that they deserved. If an animal was hurt and brought to the sanctuary, it would stay as long as necessary at WFFT until it was strong and healthy before returning to the wild. There was a strict ”no hands policy” meaning you could not touch the animals (except the elephants as they were so mistreated that they would stay in the sanctuary) to make sure none of the animals were humanised and to give them an upbringing closest to as it would be in nature. The animals I worked with ranged from different ape species, otters, bears, iguanas and my beloved cassowary, Bernie.
However, not all animals are brought directly to the sanctuary and a major problem was that a lot of hurt animals were brought to temples because monks must take the animals in. Even though they had good intentions, a lot of them just have no idea how to take care of wild animals. Often monkeys were chained and even when they grew bigger their chains were not removed or changed, meaning their flesh would be hurt and their body deformed as a result.
During my time there I also visited and volunteered at an elephant refuge. Here I learnt many things however the main thing I found out was: don’t ride elephants. Many people wrongly believe all elephants are gentle giants who are so powerful that riding on them causes no harm. Nevertheless, despite elephants being extremely powerful animals, their strength does not lie on their backs but in their legs and trunks. They are exploited for the logging, begging, trekking and the film industry and even when they are hurt, they are forced to work. No elephant would let a human sit on them naturally. In order to do so they have to go through the torture method called ”phajaan” when they are still a baby. No mother would give up their baby by choice so in order to train a baby elephant the mother is killed. Then the elephant is deprived from food and sleep. The aim of this cruel torture is to break the animal’s spirit. Eventually, the elephant will give in and let the tourists sit on her for many hours even though they are hurting her back. Most elephants here at WFFT are still scared from being abused for so many years, a lot of them have deformed spines or other visible injuries and, of course, all are traumatized. My daily work included cleaning the cages and preparing food for the elephants. I especially enjoyed going on walks with elephants and showering them. Some people might here ask what it felt like to be so close to these fantastic animals and I must admit, at first I was quite scared as elephants are very strong and big animals. However, after some time I felt comfortable and there was always an elephant trainer with me so I felt secure.
Elephant Blog
Now I am much more aware of animal abuse and the global wild life trade. Please don’t ride elephants or take pictures with monkeys or lorises who are being exploited to be used as photo-props. They are poached from the wild as babies and their families are killed. Especially in Bangkok the tourists attractions start from crocodile shows, taking selfies with chained animals to watching elephants draw pictures or play football. Don’t pay into this cruel industry! This does not only happen in Asia and countries far away. I think in today’s society we see animals as our property and want them to entertain us in shows, dress them up as humans and take selfies. However, we do not own wild animals and should ensure they are wild and free.