First Impressions - Tom Hume

Having visited China every two or three years since 1995 (the last time in 2003) I assumed I would be somewhat immune to any culture shock. It turns out that I had forgot how different China can be! Living in a new country certainly brings up its surprises and challenges, but it is all an experience and, most of all, interesting. I have been placed on campus in a the University of Xiangtan in Hunan province, which is around an hour away from the provincial capital, Changsha.

Many of the locals want to practice their English and will stop you in the street, chat, and ask for your phone number in order to be friends and practice their language skills. Almost everyone I have met have been extremely friendly. Most people will go completely out of their way to help you, possibly because you are a Westerner, and believe me, not many people have seen one before!

I have gotten used to the stares when you walk down the street, go into a shop or do any daily activity and I think this has prepared me very well for teaching. Instead of a few dozen pairs of curious eyes on the street, you have a class full of eager and curious students. Teaching is certainly an experience. I'm not going to pretend that every class is utterly fantastic (even at university you have the odd handful of apathetic students) but most are fun and rewarding: especially when you get the feeling that they are progressing and understanding you!

The accommodation here is fantastic- we have brand new flats equipped with a new PCs, air conditioners and a kitchens with all mod cons. However, as the food here is so cheap (an meal in an average restaurant on campus is around 6 Yuan- or 50p), the latter seems to go unused. Food is generally is extremely hot and spicy- in the UK I was thoroughly in the bland food camp but after a few (painful) introductions the hot food surprisingly seems to taste fantastic and I can't imagine returning to the blandness of traditional UK food! However there is one food that has to be smelled to be believed: stinky tofu. The putrid smell puts most foreigners off, but if you can brave the odour then it is not as bad as it tastes (which is not a fantastic review for food…). I will not describe it here for fear of putting other travellers off!

All in all, my first impressions are very positive- TEIC have been very helpful in the university placement and any questions or requests have been dealt with swiftly. I would thoroughly recommend such an experience to anyone who has an interest in China, likes travelling and being abroad, or just wants to experience something new and exciting!

If you have any questions (including about stinky tofu) feel free to contact me at tomhume89@gmail.com

UPDATE: Four Years Later....

- my memory of the application process is a bit hazy because I did it almost 4 years ago. But from what I remember, it was all fairly easy, and the visa application was smooth too.

- when I applied, I ended up in a province I hadn't ever heard of, let alone applied for. But it worked out brilliantly - 4 years later I'm still in the same province (albeit not with TEIC anymore). Honestly, I think most provinces have their pros and cons and thus I wouldn't get too focussed on one place only.

-the city I was put in was fairly small for a Chinese city, although just an hour away from the provincial capital. I was put on a uni campus which was a world in itself so rarely ventured downtown. The
city though did have Western fast food places like McDonalds, KFC etc. and a few decent bars. The accommodation was great- newly built and fairly well furnished.

-TEIC were great. They look after you and will help you if there are any problems. As I mentioned, I'm not with them anymore, but for a first time in China I couldn't recommend them highly enough.

- my likes and dislikes would take a whole essay to write as I'm now married to a local and am fairly settled here, so will try to condense them quickly (and put in the relevant ones!)

PROS- low cost, great food, an enjoyable job, lots of free time, adventures in a new place (even getting a bus the first few times seems like a mission), genuine curiosity from the locals

CONS- too much curiosity from the locals (i.e. it's nice having people being friendly but on the odd day when you can't be bothered, it's pretty annoying), huge amounts of people, last minute invitations to
do random lessons, etc

The pros outweigh the cons by a million miles though!

- we were very lucky as TEIC (mainly Phil) put 5 guys together and we ended up having a great time and being very good friends. As for locals, there's always opportunities to make friends, but the language barrier can often hinder things. From what I've heard most applicants got placed with other foreign teachers too.

-there was plenty of time to travel- working in a university will get you longer holidays (I had 2 and a half months off in the winter!), but in a school you'll get random days off for sports day and exams.
Saving is easy for travel as things are so cheap.

Tom