The ECGs’ 10 Year Anniversary Booklet

The project that I undertook with Hurstville City Uniting Church’s English Conversation Groups (ECGs) is the creation of their 10th Anniversary Booklet. We asked both current and former students and helpers to share their favourite memories at the ECGs. We also sorted and included photos from the past ten years to be added into the booklet. The purpose of such a project is to reflect on how much the organisation has grown over the past ten years and to celebrate a big milestone for the organisation. The testimonies shared by those involved have also revealed the positive impact that the ECGs have had on the students’ and helpers’ lives and reinforces the value of volunteering and cross-cultural exchange. Whether the student or helper has been a long-standing member of the group or was simply involved with the ECGs for a few months, these testimonies reveal common experiences of self-growth and a sense of community within the organisation.

The main components of the booklet include a nine year photo timeline, a foreword written by the organisation’s founder and coordinator, student testimonies, helper testimonies, and a few pages of photo collages. The purpose of the nine year photo timeline is to demonstrate how the group has changed over the years but to also recognise the long-standing members of the group. Unfortunately, group photos were not taken each year so from 2011 to 2013, substitute photos have been used that do not include all members of the ECGs that year. I also asked Ivy, the founder and coordinator of the group, to write a foreword reflecting on the ten years of the ECGs since its inception in 2010. Following the foreword is the main component of the booklet, which are the student and helper testimonies. The testimonies do not encompass everyone who has been involved in the group but former and current students and helpers who were willing to share their experiences and responded to our request for written submissions. We also went through old photos to find pictures of these helpers and students to include in the booklet alongside their testimony. The final pages include photo collages with group photos and photos of members of the ECGs who weren’t depicted in the previous pages.

The reason why I decided to become involved in this project was because I was a volunteer of the ECGs myself. I was able to witness the value of the organisation first hand and felt a personal connection with the organisation through my own involvement. I felt that many of the students and helpers had stories to share and different reasons for coming to the ECGs. While this group only formed a small part of their routine on a Tuesday morning, it had made a significant impact on their lives more holistically. While the aim of the group is to improve students’ English speaking skills through conversation groups, the underlying experiences of self-growth and cross-cultural understanding is something that is not recognised enough and is an important aspect to highlight when celebrating the ECG’s ten year anniversary. I am excited for the ten year anniversary of the ECGs next year and my hope is that all students and helpers will be able to read this booklet, realise the difference that they are making and continue to work hard and be involved in such a worthwhile organisation.

Teaching English, Learning about China

The organization that I have been volunteering with is Hurstville City Uniting Church’s English Conversation Groups (ECG). The conversation groups run every Tuesday from 10am to 12pm where volunteers teach English to students in small groups of two or three. The main focus of these groups is on conversational English so classes tend to be more interactive as students are encouraged to talk about their weekend and other activities they participated in during the week.

I began volunteering at ECG in April this year after seeing an advertisement on SEEK. My initial surprise was that the demographic of both the volunteers and students was on the older side. The majority of teachers were retired teachers who were continuing their passion for teaching upon retirement. When I joined, there was only one person younger than me who had just graduated from high school and was taking a gap year.

The students were mainly, if not all, Chinese migrants from either Mainland China or Hong Kong. They were divided into two distinct generations: my parents’ generation and my grandparents’ generation. Those in their late sixties to early eighties had come to Australia to rejoin their children, most of whom initially migrated to Australia as university students but were now living here as permanent residents or citizens. In contrast, the younger generation of parents mostly consisted of mothers who had come to Australia to accompany their child as they entered and studied in Australian high schools.

Personally, the reason why I enjoy teaching at ECGs is because I feel like I am constantly learning more about my family and my heritage through the students that I meet. The students have so many stories to share and often their experiences of living in China reveal parallels with the experiences of my own parents and grandparents, sparking deeper conversations with my own family. I remember during one class, I was talking to one of my students who was only a few years older than my parents and she was telling me how she had always had an extremely anxious personality. When I asked her if she had always been so anxious, she told me that she hadn’t been so when she was younger. However, during the Cultural Revolution, her father had been persecuted and was later found dead in a river and she had suffered relative nervousness since that event.

When I was growing up, I had an old brick phone which meant that I hardly used it and sometimes would forget to turn it on after class. However, whenever my dad would try to call me and I wouldn’t pick up, he would call again and again in an urgent manner, scared that something had happened to me. For me, I had always found this behaviour strange as he was not an overly protective parent in general. Once I discussed this with him, and after sitting down and thinking about my question for a while, he answered saying that it was probably something that stemmed from his childhood. My grandfather was a political figure in their county which meant that during the Cultural Revolution, he was either persecuting members of other factions or being persecuted himself, depending on the way power switched in the top levels of government. Hence there would be periods at a time where my grandfather would disappear and be on the run without his family knowing where he was. My dad explained that this was the kind of anxiety he felt when he couldn’t get in touch with me and how he had developed a natural tendency to imagine the worst.

I have found it extremely insightful to listen to the experiences of older generations of Chinese migrants who attend the ECGs. Not only is it a window into what China was like during the Mao era, but it is also extremely important in order to gain a deeper understanding of my parents’ upbringing and the fears and motivations reflected in their behaviour.