Thursday, September 13, 2012

Take the Plunge - Teach English in China

I was in a rut, bored, suffering from empty nest syndrome, getting close to retirement age and was in need of 'an adventure'. To have a 'real' adventure my husband and I decided to go to China and teach English.
This was totally out of character for us, we loved to travel, but even so, going to a country like China, which was basically an unknown, was seen as something rather radical. Nevertheless, we researched the possibilities and decided we would go.
We had no teaching experience or qualifications. So we attended a local TESOL college, studied for the next three months, passed our exams and were awarded our qualifications. This gave us access to work in thousands of schools and universities in China.
ESL stands for English as a Second Language. Another acronym is TESOL, Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages. Even though our English was very good, we knew it was going to be a totally new ball game for us.
Both my husband and I were trained public speakers, confident, had raised five children, were well read and had an excellent general knowledge base. This, along with the training and teaching manuals we received proved to be adequate resources.
To find a suitable job, we searched the internet. There are many sites these days where recruiting agents advertise teaching jobs in China. But when we did this, in 2005, it was more or less up to us to find the jobs. However one of the websites was huge, with job boards for all the different Asian countries and we found thousands of teaching jobs advertised. Where to go was the next problem, after all, most of the names meant nothing to us; we didn't even know where these places were.
Eventually we settled on Longyan university in Fujian Province, where the weather seemed similar to our home town, and the city was not too big. We were a bit worried about getting lost in a huge city, when we couldn't speak a word of Chinese and we didn't know how much English would be spoken there.
We planned everything very carefully. We packed what we thought we might need, and with our heads full of dreams and ideas for teaching we had a goodbye party and took the jet stream to China. We planned to have four days holiday first, to get our heads around being in such a new environment.
Was it a good idea? It was a fabulous idea. Where there problems? Of course! The first major problem reared its ugly head as we left the airport having just touched down. Being super organised I had printed off the hotel's address in Chinese. We were horrified to find that none of the taxi drivers could read Chinese! If they couldn't read Chinese there wasn't much hope of finding English speaking people. After a long, frustrating and temper raising experience with several taxi drivers, a security officer, and a help desk lady that spoke almost no English, we made it to our hotel, only to find out I had printed all the instructions in Japanese! What an idiot!
Staff from our new university collected us after our four day holiday, and took us to our new home. It was about two hours from the coast, way up in the mountains. We had to go through endless tunnels on the road. Hot, tired, and with a monumental headache I arrived at the campus.
Students were delegated to drag our bags up the six flights of stairs to our apartment. There were no elevators here, and we got very fit going up and down those stairs several times a day. We puffed up after them to find ourselves in a three bed-roomed apartment with a view over the city to the mountains.
We were left to unpack and rest, with instructions that we were to meet the other teachers at the school gate at 6pm and they would take us out to dinner. 
We sat on the bed, my husband and I, and grinned at each other like school kids let out for the holidays.

'Well, we came for an adventure, we're going to get it,' my husband said. 
He was right. That year became a life changing experience, for us, and for the wonderful students we taught.

If you're bored, in a rut, can free yourself for a year or so, why don't you consider taking the plunge too? Teach English in China. It will be one of the most rewarding and exciting things you could do.

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