First Impressions & Final Report - Chris Thomas

First Impressions

The first two months or so in China have flown by, and at the same time it’s now almost hard to imagine not being here, as it now feels like home. Every day has been graced with the funny, the fascinating, and often the downright bizarre – in the best possible way. We were thrown in at the deep end in starting teaching about a week after landing in the country, but this was a good challenge. More to the point, I was made to feel completely comfortable by firstly meeting Amy (one of the coordinators) in Changsha with my fellow members of the programme, and then also upon arrival at the University in Xiangtan where I’d be teaching.

When I was first shown my apartment I couldn’t quite believe it was all mine. I assumed we’d be placed in Halls-of-Residence or the like, but in fact I was given my own flat complete with balcony, brand new furniture, and TV!. I am living in a new building on campus which is populated entirely by foreign teachers, including French and German, as well as many other English teachers. So this serves as a ready-made base from which to make friends and certainly helped with any ‘culture shock’ I may have had. (In fact, I think the latter is usually a bit overrated by most commentators; the only real cultural shocks I’ve had have been positive and funny experiences by and large – you have to just accept that you’re in for several different and amusing experiences on a daily basis).

Teaching-wise, I’ve enjoyed it even more than I thought I would. My timetable is fairly kind, with only one 8 o’clock start, and plenty of free time to do several other things in the meantime when I'm not busy coming up with lessons. This includes playing music, playing ping-pong, or tackling the Chinese language with private lessons. I teach very small classes of no more than about 12, but on the other hand I teach them up to five times every week. This means that we have built up a great rapport, but also ensures I am very much kept on my toes as far as lesson-planning is concerned, as I have to come up with a whole new hour-and-a-half lesson on almost a daily basis. I’m far from running out of ideas as yet though, and once you start to think and do research there are endless possible classes you can do on all manner of subjects. For example, I have had a ‘travelling abroad’ theme running for a few weeks now, which included classes on ‘hotel vocabulary’ followed by an episode of “Fawlty Towers”! I am lucky because as it is in small groups, the students are far more keen to contribute and to speak, and the lessons generally thrive on interactivity.

Overall it’s a real pleasure to do a massively rewarding job which relies so much on thinking on the spot and being imaginative – a world away from my previous desk job!

Final Report

Today is my last day in Hunan province; I leave on a train for Beijing tonight. I finished teaching over ten days ago now but have spent the last week doing things with my students and the friends (and girlfriend) I've made here.

It's all gone swimmingly well really over the past year. I've massively enjoyed the teaching, where I was teaching two classes for the whole two semesters, just 20 students in total and teaching them several times a week so I got a great rapport with them. What's more, in a stroke of brilliant luck and coincidence, these students belong to the International Exchange College and over the next year many of them will be going to Xiangtan University's partner institution....Swansea University! So I hope to see them back in the UK over the next few years; they will finish their degrees there.
Apart from the teaching, the 5 of us who you placed in Xiangtan have been very very fortunate and have had a great and fun year here, spending every weekend together and going travelling. It's been truly the most ideal start possible to the experience of teaching in China. I've grown as a person in innumerable ways, which is a cliche but a cliche for a reason! There've been so many unique experiences along the way that it's hard to remember them all.

I've got a job teaching in Xiamen at a private school starting in September (which as I'm sure you know is Cardiff's twin-town), so I'm really looking forward to that. Before that I'll go travelling for 6 weeks around china, making my way south from Beijing to Hong Kong, with Tom and 6 other friends who are coming from Cardiff.

I hope all is well and I just wanted to say thanks for presenting this opportunity.