came to China because I wanted an adventure. It was a spontaneous,
spur of the moment decision, perhaps for the best, because maybe
if you spend a lot of time thinking about moving to another continent,
you can talk yourself out of it.
Nine months in, and I’m not regretting a thing. Teaching
at Beihang Flying College has been a fantastic experience. There
have been the inevitable ups and downs, as you would expect when
you move to a country so utterly different from your own, to do
a job that is so different from any job you’ve done before.
But for me, that was the whole point – stepping out of my
comfort zone, to learn about a new culture and different way of
Initially, I saw teaching as a way and a means of surviving in
China, a chance to earn some money so I could travel in the holidays.
But actually, teaching has been the best part of this trip for me.
The students, all teenage boys who are training to be pilots, are
fun to teach. We focus on oral English, covering a range of topics
and practising a whole variety of English speaking exercises –
role plays, conversations, debates, presentations, group work. Anything
to get them to speak up! The key to a good lesson is to find a subject
the students are interested in, and challenge them to find new ways
of expressing themselves. Always keep it fresh, if the students
are bored they can be unresponsive, and lessons drag.
That said, the students are usually bright, friendly and curious,
and it is not unusual for me to come away from a lesson smiling.
However, they can be lazy, and rogue sleepers/texters/PSP players
are not uncommon. Don’t be afraid to crack the whip!
There have been a few communication problems with the foreign teacher
department at Beihang, usually based on misunderstandings and cultural
differences. I would say to prepare for this you should communicate
your needs carefully, and handle every situation with patience and
good humour. On the whole though, the situation has been good and
we have been happy and comfortable here.
I’m also very glad that I ended up in Beijing – for
me, the centre of China! The Chinese are extremely proud of their
culture, their nation and their capital, and it shows. Beijing has
a rich and varied history, and a promising future. Living here in
the run up to the 2008 Olympics has been fascinating. Beijing is
changing and developing at an incredibly fast-pace. Everyday you
see workers building, renovating, and improving. I very much hope
to come back to Beijing within the next few years, to see how our
little corner at Beihang has changed.
Another aspect of this experience that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed
has been learning Mandarin. Difficult, tongue-twisting and confusing,
yes - but its not as bad as you may imagine. A good way to start
is one-on-one tuition, either with a school or language partner.
Neither is hard to find. Chinese people can be very friendly and
you will constantly find yourself inundated with offers of language
help. I’ve had one-on-one tuition at a nearby language school.
I also have lots of Chinese friends, including two language partners,
all of whom I meet regularly. I love being able to converse with
the locals, and even a little basic Mandarin can make all the difference.
And the travel? The Spring Festival break was fantastic, as it
gave my fellow teachers and myself the opportunity to explore China.
And we did, from North to south, or more precisely, from the freezing
cold Ice and Snow Festival in Harbin, to the comparatively balmy
climate of Hong Kong. Along the way, we visited Buddhist monasteries,
ancient archaeological sites, world-famous museums, and cosmopolitan
cities. We had a brilliant time; I have so many interesting, amusing
and downright strange stories to tell. There’s nothing quite
like a 15 hour trip on a Chinese sleeper train!
My time in China is nearly over; I will fly back to the UK next
month. I know I will miss my life at Beihang, and all the quirks
and ‘only in China’ stories that have made it so much
fun. I feel that I have developed a special affinity with China
and Chinese people. This has been an amazing year.