Henna Jurca
Henna Jurca
China 2011
Henna Jurca is a Senior at Belmont University in Nashville, TN with a major in Asian Studies and minor in Chinese. Henna will be volunteering and studying through the Keats School in Kunming, China. Read More About Henna →

Last Day in Kunming

It is Friday evening and I have said my goodbyes to the Elderly Home, Autistic School and Keats School.  I have mixed emotions of sadness and happiness.  I am especially happy that I was able to volunteer at two places and help both the young and old.  It was extremely hard to say goodbye to the people I have regularly been helping and spending time with for over a month.  I am so grateful to have the Lumos Scholarship which allowed me to experience something so life changing. 

At the same time, I am ready to go home to start classes again at Belmont.  This trip made my passion for China and Asia grow even more.  I am really excited about the new things I will learn in my Asian Studies classes next semester!

Advanced Chinese I – Dr. Andrew Siao
Seminar in Asian Area Studies – Dr. Joan Li
East and West Psychologies – Dr. Peter Giordano
Japanin the Shogun Age – Dr. Cynthia Bisson
Spirituality in World Religion – Dr. Marty Bell

Below are some of my final pictures:

Goodbye picture with the boss at the autistic school

Goodbye/Thank You Letter from the autistic school

Goodbye picture with the boss at the Elderly Home and Wang Yeye

She is such a great teacher and has taught me so much more than just Chinese! She is one my greatest friends now 🙂

Giving me my certificate for completing 120 hours of Chinese study

Validation of Volunteer Service (need that convo credit!) and Certificate for Chinese Study

Special thanks to Cynthia Leu for generously funding this amazing experience. 

I also want to thank Dr. Maggie Monteverde for helping me so much with my application process. 

Thank you Dr. Ronnie Littlejohn, Dr. Andrew Siao and Arthur Lachowicz for writing such great recommendation letters.

Thank you Paul Chenoweth for setting up my blog.

And thank you to everyone else who read my blog!! 🙂

One Week & Two Days Left in China

Last Monday (7/25) and this Wednesday (8/3) I reached more blocks in my Chinese.  It just made the elderly home a little more difficult.  But I am always able to help and still make them happy anyway.  I found a place to develop photos so I could give some of the pictures I took to the elderly and autistic children.  The elderly were especially happy that I did that.  I have never seen someone so happy to have a photo!  Huang Yeye (Huang Grandpa) put the pictures in his hat and would constantly look at them every few minutes.  Then he asked me to put the pictures in his room but Wang Yeye told me that Huang Yeye does not even know where his room is... (he just has a minor mental disability... if I heard right his wife was murdered...but it could just be me mixing up Chinese words!!) I’m so glad that I can make them happy!!  And for the last few days at the elderly home I will be teaching a few of them some English!

At the autistic school Last Tuesday (7/26) I focused on one boy because his emotions were all over the place.  He was hitting, screaming, throwing things, crying and would randomly calm down for a few minutes.  This boy is 2 years old and just began showing symptoms of autism.  His mother was so frustrated but patient for a while.  Once her patience grew short, she slapped him really hard on the face.  This left a horrible bruise.  I encouraged her a lot and told her that she was a great mother either way.  Then that Thursday (7/28) the boy was again not stable.  I went over to try and help.  He was wearing a tank top that day and I saw bruises on every inch of his arms and back.  I am talking about REALLY large bruises that cover whole sections of his body.  It is really hard to see especially since I cannot do anything about it.  This boy seemed to just really want some love.  When one of the teachers gave him a hug he would stop throwing a tantrum and hug the teacher back.  But his father was with him that day and was not patient at all.  At one point he was grabbing his son’s neck like he was going to choke him or something!!  It is so sad.

Some parents will be patient and kind to their disabled child, but there are some really depressed parents that do not treat them the right way.  But then I really have to realize that the parents at this school actually kept their children instead of abandoning them in the first place.  Many mentally or physically disabled children will be abandoned because it is shameful in the Chinese culture.  There are also so many expectations from Chinese parents.  Having a “imperfect” child is a bad “investment.”  Most people can only have one child because of the one-policy in China.  Some will have a second child if they are rich and can pay a crazy amount of money.

After being there for over a month I have JUST now realized that I have really only seen a select few autistic girls.  Most of the children at the school are boys.  It actually makes a lot of sense because many families want a son instead of a daughter.  So having a girl that is autistic is the worst combination and these girls will most likely will be abandoned.  The few girls that I have interacted with at the autistic school are just so precious...  It really makes me think that there are some really great parents at the autistic school and I admire them for not giving into what is “acceptable” in the Chinese society.

Brother and Sister - they are amazing children!

Helping in the Music Class

I have really gotten attached to these children.  The little boy in my previous blog post, who has the paper ring on his ear, will always be wearing them on his ears after his art class.  I think his mom uses it as a reward now – if he can cut these shapes then he gets to wear them on his ears haha...  Another boy only participates in the exercises in music class because he really likes me a lot and will only listen to me.  It is interesting because I have only seen him show any kind of emotion when he around me.  His grandma is so happy to see this!  I have also told some parents, who have children that refuse to talk, about the story in the United States where an autistic boy began speaking with his dog (see previous blog post for the short story).

So aside from my amazing learning experiences, I took a little trip this past weekend.  I went with one of my friends from the Keats School to Dali (大理).  It is a small city about 5 hours away from Kunming. 

We took the Sleepers Bus so I didn't have to miss class or volunteering on Friday and we could still have all of Saturday...very very interesting experience...I'm not sure how often they wash the sheets, but in the morning they just folded the covers for the next group

Dali University...um...I wish Belmont was there haha

Took a horse to LITERALLY climb the mountain... no, I did not know that it was literally going to climb straight up. Two hours up, one hour on the mountain, two hours down.

Pretty close to the top of CangShan (Cang Mountain)...yes, the horse climbed the whole way and if the horse ever fell I would have been (seriously) injured. It was an adventure!


I got to hold a monkey at the top of the mountain!!

I came down from CangShan with the horse from one of those hills over in the distance...

Picture of Dali University and Pagado is all taken during my horse ride

I loved Dali!  First, I just LOVE mountains.  Next, it really reminded me of Tibet(I went last year with the Belmont Study Abroad group).  Then I really like cities in China that keep their traditional style.  It was a great place to relax and see something different.

I miss China already and I haven’t even left yet!

Constantly Learning

I just spend over an hour writing on my blog but the internet completely messed up and then it erased my entire blog post 🙁 I already posted it and everything but I looked back and it was completely gone like I never even posted anything!  For now I will post the pictures that I had in my post but I will come back later to write the stories that I lost...

This is Huang Yeye - 79 years old - he has a mental disability but it is not extreme - he smiles until it is time to pose for a picture haha

Me and another volunteer (she is from Spain) with an autistic child

Music Class

Only 3 years old and already practicing characters

Helping in "art class" and making it a little fun by putting the paper he cut on his ears! Even though his mother is constantly wanting perfection, I think she was really happy that I could make her son laugh and smile!

All I really want to say is that it has been a great week and I have been learning so much from this whole experience as a volunteer in China.  Since volunteering in China is still not a regular thing in some places I have not had anyone tell me to go there, do this, do that, etc... I have had to decide things on my own to help in the best way possible.  I think that has really caused me to become a leader.  I never even knew I had this in my personality until now.  All of this is hard and tiring but definitely so rewarding!

Long Week

This Thursday was the hardest day of volunteering yet.  I have had a very busy and long week going to both places to volunteer, waiting really long for extremely crowed buses, long Chinese classes, and studying after it all.   So I was particularly exhausted on Thursday.  My brain just would not and could not comprehend Chinese that day.  At home I usually reach a block in my Chinese every few months.  Since I am forced to use it all the time in China, I have reached a block every week.  I know that it will pass after a day or two and when it does I am ten times better.  So I look forward to the language block... but when it happens on a day when I am extremely tired, it is not a great combination.

On Thursday I helped out in the Autistic School’s art class.  This class was more like “playtime” where the children could work with puzzles, cut shapes, trace, etc.  A parent/grandparent was with their child so that made it a little more difficult.  First I spent time with a girl who is 3 years old.  She is so cute and extremely bright for a 3 year old!  Her mother did not really think so, though.  The girl’s mother was constantly yelling at her because she could not put a badly made puzzle together correctly.  At one point, even the mother put some pieces together wrong!!  How do you expect a little 3 year old child with autism to do it correctly then?  She was also yelled at because she could not use the scissors correctly while cutting paper shapes.  I honestly think that they should not be holding scissors at 3 years old.  Besides, her hands were almost too tiny to hold them!  The mother had no patience at all.  There is just so many expectations from some Chinese parents.

That was nothing compared to what I saw next.  All of a sudden out of no where, I heard really loud yelling and hitting noises.  I looked over and saw a grandmother slapping her grandson on the head, face, and pinching him really hard because he could not trace shapes PEFECTLY.  He could follow the lines but not PERFECTLY.  I was so angry.  This boy is 6 years old and has a severe case of autism.  He cannot speak at all and did not even understand why his grandma was hitting him!  All he could do was cry.  I immediately had to help him.  I grabbed a chair to sit beside them both.  His grandmother was holding his hand so tightly and tracing the shapes for him (what a way to teach, huh).  Since I sat down next to them, the boy was distracted and turned his head to look and smile at me.  When he looked over, she immediately slapped his face and held his head down towards the tracing paper.  It was so rude!  I decided to distract the grandmother a little bit and asked her how old he was, what his name was, and then I began to help him trace the shapes myself by slightly directing his hand movement.  He actually traced them really well!  I made sure to compliment him the entire way through.  She finally walked away angrily to watch from a distance.  A few minutes later, another member of his family came to sit beside us and told him that if he traced it badly then his grandma would hit him...literally.  This family member also told me that he was really sick the day before so that is why he was not tracing so well.  She was almost apologizing to me for his “bad” tracing.  All of this is being said in Chinese and I was trying so hard not to look completely shocked.  All the while, the boy just wanted to be hugged and comforted.  It was one of the hardest things I’ve seen during my volunteering.

Well that was depressing... how about something a little happier?

How about seeing the CUTEST BABY EVER on my way to volunteer

Yeah, that's right, I have Harry Potter 7-Part 2! Can't turn down a bootleg for 10 kuai ($1.50) in China. Amazing movie!! Very rewarding after a long week...

Elderly Home and School for Autistic Children

After conversing with my Chinese teacher about my volunteer work, I have decided to help out both at the Elderly Home and the School for Autistic Children.  Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday I will go to the Elderly Home and every Tuesday and Thursday I will go to the School for Autistic Children.

After doing some research about autistic schools in the United States, I realize that I could potentially help out at the that school.  Many schools in the U.S. have a personal teacher for each autistic child.  Because each autistic child is different, therapy sessions and exercises must be different.

I just need to be firm with the owner of the school and tell him that I really cannot just sit there and talk to him for most of the time.  I need to do what I am there to do – help the children!  I think that if I sit in on as many one-on-one classes as possible, I could give my advice on their therapy exercises.  This is the one class that parents cannot be in, so I think that will be better.  I observed a one-on-one class on Friday with a boy named Ming.  He is eight years old but cannot speak at all.  Every exercise they did just did not seem very helpful until the teacher sang some songs.  I do not want to take over the class, but maybe give some suggestions and see if they will take it or not.  For Ming, since he seems to really love music, maybe they could include music in a lot of his therapy exercises. This may help him with his learning of every day activities.

One exercise I did not agree with. The teacher was holding the candle so close to his face...any regular person would be uncomfortable with this.

So I will continue at the Autistic School.  I will also be staying in contact with my friend Casey (she went on the Belmont Study Abroad trip to China last summer).  She wants to eventually work with autistic children so I will definitely be asking her for some advice. 

But today is Monday and it was my first day at the Elderly Home.  Some of workers and elderly can speak Mandarin, but most of them speak the Kunming dialect (which I cannot understand at all).  It does not matter, though...because help and company is all the same. 

I learned that this elderly home only has physically and mentally disabled elderly people.  Some of them have already told me things that do not make any sense, but I will just always smile and act like I am interested.  There are a few that can feed themselves but many cannot do every day activities.  Today I helped feed the elderly and took some of them for a walk in their wheelchair.  They were so happy that I was there and are constantly smiling at me!  I am so glad that I can give them happiness.  One old man I took for a walk was SO proud to have me walking him!  He waved to everyone and pointed at me when we passed by.

The way to the Elderly home

One side of the Elderly Home

Another side of the Elderly Home

Helping the elderly eat

Wang 爷爷 - 75 years old - I took him and others on a walk around the elderly home

It is really sad because no one wants to help these elderly people or give them company.  The people running the place even asked me why I was coming there to help, told me it was a waste of my time and I should go somewhere else.  I told them that I really wanted to help and also explained that I have a scholarship.  Next they told me I could just come there, take pictures and pretend that I have been volunteering there. It is so bizarre!!!  It is understandable though because in China there are not many people who volunteer.  I suspect that I am the first volunteer this elderly home has ever seen!  They do not understanding the concept of giving without getting anything in return.  They are always just thinking that there must be some hidden reason why I would do this.  To me, I get the joy of giving these elderly people company, helping them, and seeing them happy.  So I am getting something in return.  The Chinese community just does not understand such things.  I did not even fully realize this until I began volunteering in China.  It is something that cannot be taken personally.


After a short time of volunteering at the School for Autistic Children, I realize that this is the wrong place for me to be.  It is a good school with a great purpose, but I am not able to really help these children.  I have observed their music class, one on one therapy class, and gym class.  However since these children are autistic, they are having an extremely hard time getting comfortable with me.  Even the teachers have a hard time in class and they have been teaching the child for months or years.  It makes me wish that I was a doctor or therapist so I could help them!  At the same time, the parents are always by their child’s side and there are a lot teachers constantly helping at this school.  I feel like this school does not necessarily need anymore help.  The building is not the best quality but they seem to have everything they need and I was  almost more of a distraction by being there.

This school is just always showing me how great they are and how much they help the autistic children. That is wonderful!!  But so far I feel like the owner has been enjoying practicing his basic English with me while the children are in their classes.  Each day I have been waiting for the opportunity to help but I just seem to do less each day.  I have tried playing with the kids and conversing with ones that are not as severe but it is still extremely difficult and they are always playing with their parents or being carried around.  Since I am not that helpful, I decided to find somewhere else to give my assistance.

I would say it was a great experience because I got to see how a different culture interacts with their autistic children.  Because mental and physical disabilities were looked down on for a long time in China (and even still is), they are not as experienced as some schools in other areas of the world (such as the United States).  I did not agree with some of their exercises for the children, but there is no way for me to change the way their teachers do things.  At the same time, I am no expert at all on autism.

I talked with the Keats School and they immediately understood my observations.  When I expressed to them that I wanted to find a place where I could give more help, they said that I could volunteer at an elderly home. What they said next surprised me!  They told me that most people do not like to work with the elderly in China and thought I wouldn’t be willing to do that work.  One reason is because they are old and many people like to work with children.  Also the conditions in which the elders live are really bad and many are not very clean. That is why they sent me to the School for Autistic Children. If many people do not want to do this then I REALLY (I cannot emphasis REALLY enough) want to volunteer there.  I was a little disappointed that the Keats School did not give me all my options in the first place.  But here is something that I have seen several times in the Chinese culture – they do not always want you to see the worst of the worst and they want to make sure that “Westerners” are as comfortable as possible. So it was all out of good intentions. 

Below is an extremely great video that Dr. Ronnie Littlejohn showed in one of my classes.  It gives a little information on the elderly and elderly homes in China.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0MkBk0rU8Ec  (I was able to find a paid secure server that allows me to view blocked sites in China)

BUT LET ME JUST SAY, the elderly home I went to see today is NOTHING like the one in that youtube video.  The elderly home was even concerned that it would be “too harsh conditions” for me to volunteer in.  They wanted to call a nicer elderly home for me to volunteer in!  I insisted more than a few times that I wanted to stay and volunteer there.  So for the next month, I will take the bus every afternoon on the weekdays to volunteer at that elderly home.  I know I will see some really hard things in the next four weeks, but this is real life for them.  I am ready to face it and hopefully I can give them some happiness.

Street Life and Volunteering

I have begun my volunteer work at the school for autistic children!  I will be there Monday thru Friday for 3 hours each day. It is really going to be difficult work on many levels. 

At 1:30pm everyday I will walk to a particular bus stop to go to the autistic school.  I will volunteer from 3-5pm and then get back on the bus during rush hour to return to the Keats School.   It only takes 15 minutes at the most on my way there.  During rush hour there are a lot of people on the bus and it can take anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour to get back to my school.  Only the owner can speak a tiny bit of English, so I will only be able to use Chinese while I am there.  The children do not have the most severe case of autism but there is only one more level of severity above them.  The ages of the children are from about 3 to 8 years old (give or take).  If the children are really young the parents can take the classes with them.  The owner really wants me to talk with the parents as well.  I should get used to it soon and I think it will really improve my Chinese.

School Information Book, News, and Advice

"Let us get together, and give children more"

The Lobby and Family waiting room

Hallway that leads to the playrooms and classrooms

Exercise/Balance/Activity Room

When the children get to know me and are comfortable around me, I will be able to get pictures with them.  For now I just took pictures of the school itself.  The building is very low quality, no airconditioning, and a lot of open areas for mosquitos to get in.  All the pictures you see above are the main parts of the building (excluding the playrooms and classrooms).  Everything is on one floor except for the gym, which is also used as a storage/junk area.  

I learned that maybe in the next year they will have to move to a different location because the city of Kunming wants to destore the building they are in, and build a skyscraper in its place.  It is really sad because China will sacrafice an autistic school for modernization.  This is a huge issue and going on everywhere in China right now.

I have been exploring the city of Kunming before my volunteer work began.  I am glad that I had some time to become familiar with the local area and also get used to the bus system.  I have seen many sides of Kunming – rich and poor. 

The pictures that I will post below may be disturbing.  They are of disabled and poor beggars on the street.  I see them around every corner.  I just want you all to be aware of what I see everyday.  Many of the disabled beggars are owned by gangs so giving them money will only help the gang members.  Also many of these people were kidnapped at a very young age and purposely disabled by the gangs.  I feel so helpless because there is not much that I can do for them.

He ends up at a different part of the city everyday...only someone else could move him and his things

There are some people that I can help, though.  And I will help with any chance that I get.  The look on her face cannot be described by words.  It looked like she had not eaten in a very long time and was too shocked to even say anything for a while.  It was a great feeling.

I had some really good leftovers from my dinner so I decided to find someone to give it to instead of taking it back for myself

Instead of going to an expensive hotel or area to get a massage, I found a place that gives blind people a chance to have a good life.  They do their best job and are the nicest people you will ever meet!

It is suppose to say "Blind Massage"

Such great and hard working people who are looked down on and taken advantage of by many people in the Chinese society

 On a somewhat happier note, here is man who actually enjoys sitting on the road with his dog and playing his Erhu (Chinese violin).

They match and have the same smile 🙂

Communication with Autistic Children

Below are some questions/phrases that I will use while trying to converse with the autistic children in Kunming, China.  These are only a few out of many phrases that I will prepare.  I know all these sentences by heart, but I wrote the translation below for those who cannot understand.



What do you like?


Where do you live?


What is your minority?


Do you like animals?


Do you like dogs? Cats? 


I think you are very smart!


You are smarter than me!


You are very pretty!


You are very cute!


Let’s draw together.


Draw me a story.


Draw what you did yesterday.

I once saw a story on the news about a dog really helping an autistic child with communication.  The parents even communicated with their child through the dog!  It was a very interesting thing to see because the autistic child would not really talk with his parents except when they would “pretend” to be the dogs voice.   I know this is extremely unlikely, but I would looove to bring a nice trained dog with me to volunteer sometime.  All the dogs I have seen here in China are usually small, very obedient and never on a leash.   I heard that one of the Chinese teachers at the Keats School has 8 dogs...  MAYBE I will able to arrange that somehow... on some days...

I have also heard from my Chinese teacher that one autistic person drew his entire trip to New York.  I actually remember seeing that on the news!  I immediately learned how to say the last sentences above.  If I can communicate with the children through drawing and art that will be very helpful!

Starting Chinese Class

Yesterday I arrived in Kunming!  My flight was 3 hours from Shanghai.


I decided that I would try and only use Chinese on my flight.  Because of this, I made another friend!  The man sitting beside me (his name was Chen Er-jia) saw that I was a foreigner but speaking Chinese so he began to talk with me.  I told him why I was traveling to Kunming and how I got a full scholarship to volunteer and study for 6 weeks.  Chen Er-jia told me that he is the Director/Manager of a  large Biology company that does importing/exporting from New York to China.  His son just finished his first year of college studying Landscaping in Europe.  Er-jia gave me his business card and contact information.  He told me that if I needed anything while I was in Kunming, I could ask him. 

I am actually surprising myself with how much Chinese I can understand and speak!! After we talked for a little while, he let me borrow a Chinese comic book called “Facebook.”  The “Social Network” was one of the stories in the comic book.  I wonder why there would be a story about Facebook in a Chinese magazine but still be blocked...hmmm.  But anyway, I began to review/practice my Chinese on the airplane while reading this interesting comic book.

Reviewing my Chinese on the airplane (复习中文)

I could only understand 50/50 but it was good practice anyway

My Keats School Chinese teacher picked me up from the airport. She immediately began speaking Chinese with me.  My brain began to literally hurt after a while of using Chinese so much... Now I really appreciate the fact that I do not need to think while speaking English.

Chinese Teacher (我的中文老师)

My bedroom (卧室) - no Air Conditioning but I have Wifi!

My bathroom (卫生间) - shower and toilet

Today (Monday) I began my first 4 hour Chinese Lessons (8:30am-12:30pm, Monday-Friday).  I really hope to drastically improve my Chinese by the end of 6 weeks!! 
I also learned that I will permantely be volunteering at a “School for Special Kids” (that is what the Keats School called it, but it is a school for autistic children).  At the moment, this is the place that requires the most need in Kunming.  I have never worked with autistic children before so it will definitely be a challenge.  I am ready, though!  This school is actually on a short break until next week.   So during this entire week, I will particularly focus my Chinese studies on communication with children.  Since they will be autistic children, it will be especially difficult to interact and communicate...hopefully a week of preparation will allow me to better assist them and be their friend. 
Keep watching my blog for updates on my volunteer work with the children!

Finally made it…

After a day of plane rides, airports, loosing my iPod, and making three new friends, I’M FINALLY in China!

Last stop in the United States

Shout out to Elliot Holden who I met on my flight from Atlanta to Los Angeles.  His trip ended in LA and was only 5 hours, but what we had in common was we were both on our way to pursuing our dreams and doing what we love.  Elliot is in LA trying to get his music (www.lunarblush.com) on “Vampire Diaries” (one of my favorite shows EVER) and “Pretty Little Liars.”  Very cool.

Got the Passport and necessities to keep me healthy and knocked out

Visa and Boarding Pass

And ready to board my 14 hour flight!

Translation on the plane made me feel like I was already in China...

Shout out to Emily who I talked to on my flight from LA to Shanghai.  She is a Senior at Western Kentucky University and staying in Shanghai for 6 weeks to study abroad with a Business group.

Emily and me at the Shanghai Pu Dong Airport

I was so happy to finally land in China.  It was one of the longest trips I’ve ever had...

There is a reason you can barely see anything... so much pollution

And finally shout out to Zheng Xiao, who I met on my 3 hour bus ride from Shanghai to Hangzhou.  She just graduated with her Undergraduate degree in Marketing in Hangzhou.  Xiao will begin studying for her Graduate degree in Boston, MA this September.  It will be her first time traveling outside of China so she asked me a lot of questions about how life is like in America.  She had interesting stereotypes of Americans – like how everyone eats a ton of meat and no vegetables, and stores close at 6pm everyday...haha!  Unfortunately I was not able to get a picture with her =

Right now it is 1am here and I am WIDE awake... but I guess I should get some sleep if I want to adjust to the time before I fly to Kunming, China to start my volunteer work and studies.  More posts soon to come!