Like most students on international exchange programs, Shavia Westmoreland experienced culture shock on the Critical Language Scholarship (CLS) Program in Beijing, China.
Instead of withdrawing or isolating herself, Westmoreland overcame her culture shock by doing an activity she enjoys in the U.S. – volunteering.
“A friend brought me to the Chunmiao Children’s Foundation’s Orphanage for Disabled Children to help my transition out of culture shock,” she said. “He knew that I loved volunteering and language teaching and figured the orphanage would be a great place to ‘develop a feeling of home’ in cultural immersion and enhance my language skills.”
Westmoreland enjoyed the visit so much that she started volunteering at the orphanage. She visited once a week to teach English and also did several “non-purpose” visits on the weekends, just to spend time with the children.
“Volunteering enhanced the cultural immersion experience with CLS,” she said. “I was able to interact with people of different regions, classes, and backgrounds who all shared a common interest in helping children. I was in an environment not as structured as the host family or classroom setting but also not too unpredictable, so it allowed me to develop independence in a safe setting.”
Interacting with the children, staff, and volunteers taught her more about Chinese culture and gave her opportunities to practice Chinese.
“I experienced a deepened understanding of Chinese culture through my interaction with the staff and volunteers. At the end of all conversations, I found that there were more similarities between us than there were differences,” she said.
Volunteering also gave Westmoreland a sense of accomplishment and the courage to explore on her own.
“The experience developed my courage to venture out and explore Beijing on my own, giving me hands-on practice outside my class lessons,” Westmoreland said. “The feeling of self-sufficiency is an accomplishment for a study abroad student, and I believe my volunteering was a great supplement to CLS and was a huge aid to my personal growth.”
Westmoreland is a junior at Hampton University and works as a teaching assistant for the beginning Chinese class.