Stories of EF philanthropy around the world

An interview with volunteer teacher, Stella Zhuang

School construction took a 15-day break at the beginning of October in observance of Nepal’s most auspicious Hindu festival, Dashain. Held every year between September and October, Dashain commemorates the epic victory of godly good over demonic evil. Nepalis celebrate the annual festival with flying kites, bamboo swings, new clothes, countless pujas (religious rituals), and thousands of animal sacrifices to appease the Mother Goddess Durga, who played a pivotal role in the celestial battle.

During the break, the EF Nepal team interviewed a special member of the school project: Stella Zhuang, a former English Center manager for EF China who moved to Nepal to become a volunteer teacher.

Tell us a bit about yourself. Where did you grow up? What interests / pastimes do you pursue outside the classroom? And who is your favorite English author?
I grew up in south China and graduated from Sun Ye San University. I have a bachelor’s degree in English Literature and a master’s degree in business management. I like traveling, taking photos and reading, and my favorite English author is Charlotte Bronte.

How long have you been teaching at Jalapa Devi Higher Secondary School?
I started teaching at Jalapa Devi school in April 2016. [Prior to that] I worked for EF China for almost 10 years.

We understand your daughter is also in Nepal as well?
Yes, my daughter is almost 14 years old. She teaches Grade 2 and 3. In her leisure time, she does her own studies.

What prompted you to become a volunteer English teacher in Nepal?
When I was an EF employee, I admired our EF teachers who could use English as a tool to enrich not only the students’ language knowledge but also their spiritual life. Why I came to Nepal as a volunteer English teacher is very simple: EF has a project to rebuild a school and the school needs more qualified English teachers. When I heard this, I told myself I should go. I believe the decision was made from my heart since I always wanted to be a teacher when I was a girl! Once you have the chance to realize your dream, the only thing you can do is “Just do it.”

Did you consider teaching any other subjects or was English always your first choice?
Teaching English is not the only option. I hope that I can contribute more to my students. In Nepal, besides teaching English, I also teach my students drawing and once a month, I will be a physical education teacher. To be honest, I am really not good at teaching sports!

Please describe conditions at Jalapa Devi HSS.
Fortunately, the main school building did not collapse during the earthquake last year, but it caused a lot of damage to the campus. There is a lack of power supply and therefore the students are taking classes in pitch darkness. However, the students are studying hard despite the poor school environment and life condition.

Tell us about your students.
I teach students in grades 4 and 5. Most of them live in the village where we stay, or in the surrounding mountains. They all walk to school every day; some of them need to climb the mountain and walk more than one hour to get to school. Their parents are farmers, shop keepers, or jobless. But no matter how poor their living condition, the students always smile and are friendly. They respect teachers and are very polite…though sometimes they are naughty!

What do you find is the most effective way to teach your students?
Body language plus reading out loud has proven to be the most effective way for me to teach Nepalese students, as I cannot understand Nepalese and their English is still not proficient enough to understand complicated words.

What are the biggest challenges you face teaching English in Nepal?
The contents of the textbook do not always correspond with the students’ English level. And students of the same age are put into one class, but their English skills are very very different. The English level of students in Nepalese public schools is quite low relative to their grade due to lack of teaching resources, especially oral English. But most of them are eager to learn and are curious about new things.

What do you think are the biggest challenges facing Nepalese students today?
The biggest challenge facing Nepalese students – especially the large number of kids in the rural area – is the need for more qualified teachers to enlighten them. Of course, financial support is required to bring more teachers. The kids in Nepal are very lovely. I hope we can do more for them.

What do you deem to be your biggest teaching success?
Keeping the students always curious about the world and giving them the confidence to explore it.

Volunteer teacher, Stella Zhuang, with her daughter who is also a volunteer teacher.

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