First Impressions - Liwsi Merrigan

This piece comes from a slightly different perspective than those below, but ultimately has the same outcome.

I’m a 21 year old recent graduate from a tiny village in the Gwendraeth Valley; I class Cardiff as a big city. I now teach at a High School in Tongling, Anhui province, where the population of the school alone is three times the size of the population of my village.

I had done a fair amount of research on China before deciding to teach here. The research served me well up to a certain point; knowing not to expect the Western style toilet in most places and to expect being stared at from all angles no matter where you are (including at the non-Western style toilets mentioned above), for example.

But no matter how much research you do, you will never be prepared for everything China has to throw at you. My first week in Tongling ran very smoothly. I had been invited to numerous banquets, made friends with a few teachers and their families, been given a fantastic apartment (by both Chinese and British standards) and had been taken on many tours of the city and its surroundings.

I then received the news that the local police bureau would not accept my TEFL certificates. Words can’t explain how much of a shock this was to me. The same certificates that were used to grant my work invitation, work permit and visa were now being declined. This meant that I had to get another certificate and apply for a Foreign Expert Permit in order to be granted residence, all this had to be done within 30 days as my visa was only valid for that amount of time.

Needless to say I was furious! Why didn’t the school check this before offering me a post? They knew exactly what qualifications I possessed. I immediately sent angry emails to Phil at TEIC, Leon at CEAIE and the school, venting my frustrations and asking what I should do next. This was due to sheer panic and fear at the thought of having to give up a job of a lifetime. Within an hour Phil had replied (god bless the time difference), stating that he would personally contact CEAIE and ensure that this was looked into further, agreeing that this should never have happened.

The whole process from the moment I found out that I might be forced to go back to Wales, until actually receiving a hard copy of my residence permit took 3 weeks exactly. I was riding the ultimate emotional rollercoaster throughout that period. During this time I was in constant contact with TEIC and CEAIE, making and receiving phone calls at 11pm and being informed of every single update, no matter how insignificant. Long story short, I had to complete an online course, wait for the results then apply for the FEP and residence permit. The fact that I couldn’t speak Chinese and therefore had to rely on other people to resolve the problem frustrated me. I finally received the permit at 4pm on November 30th, a mere 8 hours before my visa expired.

Could this have been avoided? In the UK: yes. In China: probably not. The Chinese bureaucratic systems are unbelievably complex, to the point that people who have lived in China their entire lives don’t understand. The country and its systems are incredibly unpredictable. At the time, I despised this. By now, it is one of the many things I absolutely love about China.

Had I not had such an incredible experience during my first week, the easiest option would have been to accept that I would not be granted an FEP and I would have to leave the country. The fact that I am now living in one of the most dynamic and thriving countries in the world is down to the cooperation between TEIC and CEAIE, the friends I have made here and the experiences I shared with them before and during the “situation”.

I have been in China for a month, during this time I have experienced things that friends and family back home cannot believe. Every day I see something that makes me laugh and I can’t wait to share with friends. Even things that we find trivial at home, like going to the supermarket, end up being experiences that I will look back at and think “Waw, I can’t believe that actually happened”.

An open mind, patience and a positive attitude to life. If these are three traits you possess, you will undoubtedly thrive in China.

I have just realised that I haven’t mentioned anything about teaching. The fact of the matter is, that there is so much more to a TEIC placement than just teaching. The teaching itself is a fantastic experience! The students have a thirst for any knowledge about the UK. Last week I got a class of 60 to say “Nadolig Llawen”, made me feel right at home. They will speak to you at any given opportunity and be grateful for any help you can give them. The best advice I can give; centre every lesson around yourself. The mention of the word “I” silences the class immediately.

I love my job!

TEIC I am eternally grateful.