I was in my final year of University, I had 6 months left of student life before graduation and a lot of my friends had already found graduate jobs and knew what they would be doing come July, or they at least had some sort of plan. To put it bluntly, I was terrified. I didn’t want to have nothing, I felt like I needed some sort of idea or plan. I’d always wanted to do a Masters, but finding funding for a Masters in theatre in near impossible, and years ago I’d seen an advert for teaching abroad in Asia, so I decided to have a look (it was also a form of procrastination to avoid dissertation work), a girl can dream right? I googled around and via my University careers website, stumbled upon an advertisement from TravelGrad, China Teaching Experience. After scoping out other offers, I realised that TravelGrad was offering the best deal cost-wise and that you got the same deal as other companies, but could pay a whole lot less! I applied online and one day later had an email offering a skype interview. A week later I was sat nervously on Skype waiting to have a short interview with the company director; Andrew. I guess my theatre degree did something for helping me act confident and convincing him, as a few days after the call, I had a confirmation email offering me a place! A couple of drinks at the pub to celebrate and tell friends were in order!
Fast forward to mid-August, all of the paperwork was completed, I had received my Visa and on the same day it arrived, sat and booked flights for two days later, and put up a quick Facebook post to tell people I was leaving in two days! Three days later I met Andrew at Beijing airport, then spent two weeks meeting all the other people with the company, some who would be in the same city as me, and doing a two week intense teaching week with some summer school students to complete the practical side of my TEFL qualification. As crazy and stressful as it was, being thrown into the deep end was the best thing because it meant I had to get involved straight away and just go for it, no time for being scared!
All too soon, those two weeks were up and it was time to get on a bullet train (400mph!) for 9hours to travel all the way to Guangzhou! Myself and the three other teachers were collected by our school, taken for a meal, and shown to our new apartments (in the Teachers Dormitory at the school) to settle in and get some sleep, ready to be up and out by 10am the next day to be shown around Foshan!
We settled in pretty fast, manage to figure out what buses went where, where the good places to eat were, how to work the metro, we’ve even become so localised that we now own travel cards that we use on the buses and metro and just top up when needed. Luckily Foshan and Guangzhou are so close to Hong Kong and Macau you can go for a day or weekend trip and just enjoy yourself! I’ve also become so used to the stares and sly photos being taken that I’m pretty much immune to it now. So many Chinese people must have photos of me or selfies with me on their phones it’s so strange to think about!
A month after being in Foshan, there was a public holiday for one week, and I managed to get the guts to go traveling a little bit! I headed to Guilin with some fellow teachers. I managed to successfully work the Chinese train online booking system, and we spent an amazing 3 days in Guilin and YangShuo. We travelled, saw pagodas, rice fields, traditional Chinese villages (a drastic change from the city life we had become used to!) and explored the Karst mountains via a tiny boat made up of 6 long plastic tubes tied together, a motor, and some wooden seats. That was an experience to say the least!
Since then I’ve gotten pretty confident, the students and teaching on a whole is less scary, and I’ve been having Chinese lessons to slowly pick it up! I’m nowhere near fluent yet, but it’s a big improvement. Conversations so far are a big the easiest, and reading menu’s in Chinese and is tricky so I usually order what I already know how to say, or point to the pictures. But hey, Chinese is the hardest language in the world, and it’s only been short amount of time so I’m doing pretty ok!
It’s safe to say I’ve fallen in love with China. People ask what it’s like, and quite frankly, it’s almost impossible to describe. It’s just a different world out here! I miss my family and friends, but after a while you start to forget and just settle in to life out here. There are times when you’ll get huge feelings of homesickness. Christmas out here is pretty hard, being so far away from family was horrible, but I take it as a chance to travel and distract myself with seeing friends in other cities or exploring new places.
Its currently mid-March, and I can’t believe how fast time has gone! In two weeks I’ll even be on Chinese TV judging at an Oral English competition!
In a way, I don’t want to leave, I could stay forever! But I know that if I stay for too many years then I will never leave, and I’ve other experiences to chase!
Teaching in China was an experience that I never expected to affect me in so many ways, nor this much. I’ve made friends that will be friends for life, and memories that I will never forget. It’s been months of adventures, and I’m certain there’s plenty more to come!