Jacqui Kelly

After an initial start in Guiyang, Guizhou province I ended up spending the majority of the year teaching English at Shandong University in Jinan. This tricky patch at the start was made infinitely easier by the swift and efficient responses of Phil Thomas and his continued support throughout the year. It is important to realise that work ethic and organisation will not comply with British standards, my experience was probably best described as 'ad-hoc', you definitely need to go with the flow. But that is not to say it was not fantastically rewarding, enjoyable and challenging experience to see how my teaching was making a real difference to my students' English and in my case to them passing the necessary exam to study abroad. Chinese students have a different temperament to their British counterparts having been brought up in an education system which encourages conformity rather than independent thinking. However, while they may seem timid and reserved at first I built a strong relationship with many of my students as they became more relaxed, humourous and inquisitive in my lessons. Games are a good way to break the ice or pep up the students in their post lunch lull as after that two hour lunch break (I kid you not) they can come back a little bit snoozy. The amount I taught varied between 10 and 20 hours a week which still left lots of time for exploring and having fun with plenty of pennies to do it.

Learning some of the language will definitely make life easier. I won’t lie, it is much harder than French or German but locals will be really impressed if you give it a go. Finding an English student to be a language exchange partner can be an inexpensive and fun way to do it as you can also make friends. I guess the biggest problem of not knowing the language is ordering food (I confess I did not cook once) but don't be afraid to just go to other people's tables and point. They won’t think it is rude they will probably be coming over for a good look at you anyway!

There are plenty of opportunities for travelling, whether at weekends or national holidays. Everywhere is far away in China so don't be put off at the thought of spending 10 hours on a train (my record is 36) as you will always be well rewarded by what you find at the other end. I spent my final two weeks in Western Sichuan and while there were some bottom numbing bus journeys to get there I also had some of my best experiences there: living with nomads, climbing glaciers and riding horses. Don't be afraid to go off the beaten track, even if you don't speak much Chinese, a few words, hand signals and smiles go along away.

China is a country that will continue to surprise, amaze, frustrate, and intrigue you during your year there. It is packed with history and culture, varied in landscape, language and food and everywhere you go you will find the most endearing people. Definitely an unforgettable, life shaping experience