Interview with Kyla Alexander

Life as a long term volunteer

We spoke with Kyla Alexander about her experience being a long term volunteer with International China Concern. With over a decade of experience, Kyla is the head of all our China Operations and is based in our Hengyang Project.

How did you decide to be a long term volunteer? 

It was mainly based on the need in China, but also my own desire to do something for God and to use my life to make a difference in the lives of children. I first came on a short-term team for two weeks where I saw the needs of the children. As I talked to people and realized the length of time required to really make an impact and to settle into China and develop the language and culture, I knew I needed to commit for five years. That was twelve or thirteen years ago that I made that decision.

Do you give a lot of thought to what comes next for you? 

No, I don’t. My life is very fulfilled in China. I feel very blessed to be there. I feel I’m able to make a difference in the lives of children, so I don’t really think beyond this. Neither do I worry about it because I think that God has always provided for me. I believe that if I had to leave China for any reason, then He would continue to provide for me and continue to show the way to me of where He wants me to be.

What kind of language training did you go through when you started? 

We all have different ways of learning, but the best option for me was going to university. I did a two-year course in Changsha in China. It was an immersion program. I had to learn how to read and write, as well as speak and listen. That was the best thing for me. I would recommend, whether you’re a visual learner or book learner, to go that route. It really lays in a good foundation for the language.

Did you experience culture shock at all? 

I’m still trying to figure out if it was culture shock that I experienced. I would have called it an underlying culture stress that went on for a period of time, but not shock. I was never in a dreadful state at any point, but that doesn't mean that other people don’t go through that. We’re all different as human beings and we all cope in different ways, but most people will experience some level of stress or shock.

Was there a particular memorable moment that helped you make the decision to stay long term? 

On my second trip into China, I was working within the welfare centre in Changsha and there was a little girl that came in. She had just been abandoned and she had a large growth on her head. The staff locked her in a room and separated her from the other children and said she was going to die. I was desperate to get into that room and just hold her and put my arms around her. God really did something in my heart that really moved me to come to China through that experience. That little girl did die and that cemented my decision to use my life to make a difference for these kids.

Was it difficult to raise the support to be able to volunteer full time? 

I found it surprisingly easy to raise support, but it was personally challenging and I had to overcome my own obstacles about it. However, once I was was past that and could accept living as a volunteer, God has provided for me over the past 12 years.

If someone were to start as a volunteer, but didn't have specific professional skills, like education or therapy, what kind of work would they be doing? 

Everybody has their skills. We sometimes have children that need foster care. Or people just need to model love and care with the local staff. There are roles that need to be filled like writing the children’s sponsorship reports or organizing activities for the children or training and supporting our office staff. Sometimes what we need are just hands and a heart to model love and care.

Is there anything you would say to someone thinking of coming to China long term? 

You’re not going to be the same. You’re going to be changed, likely in areas that you’re not expecting. You may come in thinking that you are going to help and do this and do that, but you will find that God will be the one working in you. While you’ll be making an impact, you will also be impacted and you will be changed.