Firstly, I would like to say that without TEIC, I wouldn’t be in China writing this testimonial about the incredible time I’ve had so far, so my huge thanks and gratitude to the programme for making it all possible!
I have been teaching in China since August last year, so have been here for nearly 6 months now, and can honestly say that they have probably been the most challenging but also the most rewarding, exciting and enjoyable of my life! I’m placed at a college in Pingxiang, Jiangxi Province, a ‘small’ sized city of about 1.8 million inhabitants. The pace of life here is fairly relaxed but, as with every other place in China, the kindness and hospitality shown to foreigners is second to none.
After taking part in a Summer Language Camp in Beijing, hosted by CEAIE, I got to meet other members of the TEIC programme, so the 10 days we were there were really useful for us all to get to know one another as well as put into practice our newly acquired TEFL qualification. Many of us, (myself included) had never taught or really travelled before, so it was really helpful to meet our future co-teachers and experience teaching for the first time. For a novice like me, it was pretty nerve-wracking going to a middle school and having to entertain a class of 20 13-15 year olds for 6 hours: the definition of ‘sink or swim’ ! However, as with other people’s stories on here, once I got into it and got to know my students a little more, I really started to enjoy myself; mainly because we were having fun but, also because it felt good to know that I was helping the students learn and practice their English, which is really what counts.
Since moving to Pingxiang, I’ve learnt how to teach larger classes of older students, and there have been some rocky moments where I’ve doubted myself and my abilities and things haven’t always gone quite according to plan! The main thing though, I think, is to learn from these experiences and not let any bad ones get you down: they make you stronger as a person and as a teacher as well, which ultimately benefits you and your students.
Pingxiang life, as I’ve said, is fairly laid-back. I still get quite a few stares if I go into town by myself, as there are no other foreigners apart from myself and a couple of other foreign teachers! However, as with the rest of China, Pingxiang is developing albeit at a slower pace & it was a bit of a shock at first, coming to terms with how little Western influence there is here: Pingxiang definitely is the real China!
Having said that, I can’t imagine being placed anywhere else, as everyone I’ve met in Pingxiang, and China so far, have been unbelievably kind and helpful, they really will go out of their way to help you with anything. Pingxiang may be small by Chinese standards but, the people here are all friendly (and naturally, curious!) which I am extremely grateful for, as it’s definitely helped me become more settled and feel more at home here.
Finally, I’m so pleased and fortunate I found out about TEIC when I did, as I was about to graduate, with no real future plans and so decided to give the programme a go. It offered me the chance to travel; since being in China I’ve visited Shanghai, Changsha, Hong Kong, Hangzhou and Hainan Island, live and work in an astounding country, forge new connections with people, and improve and build on skills that will no doubt benefit me for the rest of my life.
It’s not hard to notice that China is consistently hitting the headlines and seemingly fighting for centre place on the international stage. And it’s not difficult to be curious about life other there and what it would be like to be involved with one of the world’s most exciting countries. However, I don’t think anything can really prepare you for the experience of being completely immersed within the cultural side of life, living a day to day existence with the locals, the people and the way of life.
TEIC has given me the opportunity to see beyond the media’s perceptions of China and experience this largely untouched world for myself. My placement within a fairly obscure and remote place: Huaihua, Hunan (still a city of 2million, mind you) was initially slightly irritating for me; understandably wanting to be in a larger and more known city. However, I can now testify to this small(er) scale experience as being an absolute one of a kind and unique opportunity. Living in China is completely crazy but entirely worthwhile.
When I first came to China to teach I had previously had no other job. I hadn't taken a gap year and went straight from school to university. I felt that teaching in China would allow me to experience the awe and wonder of experiencing a new country and a new way of life while at the same time hurling me into the world of work in a challenging environment - I wasn't wrong.
Teaching in China was an extraordinary experience. The first three months were tough, but thanks to the support of the other English-language teachers and the understanding of the staff I was gradually able to become a better and better teacher. My advice would be to size up your classes and tailor your teaching style to that. If you class is small or quiet then you can have a conversation with them, ask them questions, take an interest in them and let them take an interest in you. If you class if big or loud and your Chinese-language skills are lacking then you might need to teach more like a machine, giving the students set tasks: reading scripts, making them ask set questions to their neighbours with predictable responses - as long as they're talking in English you're doing your job sufficiently. All this I had to learn over time, I imagine anyone on this course will have similar stories and will be able to show how they developed personally and career-wise, showing creativity and the ability to adapt to new situations.
Not only was I thrown into the world of work, but in some respects living in China could also be treated as a much more structured gap-year. I worked less than twenty hours and week and had plenty of time to explore the community of Shaoyang where I lived. The generous, and sometimes unexpected, days off meant that I was able to explore more of China. This included Beijing, Xi'an and Xiamen during the Winter holiday, as well as other cities when there was time such as Shanghai, Changsha and Zhuzhou.
As you can see, teaching in China offers an extremely broad range of experiences. I found it a place where you get back more than what you put in, people were often eager to speak to me and show me new things, and something as simple as walking to the supermarket can be enlightening in its own way.
I also met my future wife out there, a Russian colleague who lived across from me in the teacher accommodations. If that isn't an example of the depth of cultural exchange that was available to me don't know what is!