Living in China has been a completely new (and massively surreal) experience for me. I’d always said through school that I wanted to do a year abroad somewhere once I was finished with university, but my friends thought I was way too much of a home bird to ever do it. The idea of applying for a massive TEFL course was really intimidating and daunting as well, so I never really seriously considered going for it. I got to about 3 months until the end of my Arts degree with no idea what I was going to do next when my friend, who was in the same position, messaged me saying she’d had an email from the uni careers service because there was going to be a presentation about living and working in China. I went (admittedly partly because, at the time, it was a good excuse to get away from my dissertation) and met Andrew. The China Teaching Experience was really appealing and stuck with me because it was so small and personal, and didn’t have the same intimidating and daunting exterior the other companies had. My main concern over the week was whether it would fill up before I could apply!
At the moment, I’m 3 months away from the end of my China adventure, sat in my room at my school in Shanghai. When people ask me what it’s like living here, I don’t know what to tell them. It’s only been 7 months, but I can’t imagine what it was like not living here anymore, and I have no idea how I’m going to go back to living in the UK! My biggest worry in the time between being accepted and moving out here was how I was going to cope with the homesickness, but apart from the culture shock in the first month or two, settling was actually relatively easy looking back. You struggle to imagine where your family and friends would fit in with your life here, so you don’t tend to miss them as much as you would think. Andrew’s information about this time is pretty spot-on and helpful – I remember him telling me about how the stress will pass, and he was totally right. The children I teach have helped me so much because they are desperate to get to know you and be friends with you. A boy in one of my Grade 6 classes will bring me a Lindt Lindor chocolate every couple of weeks, whilst a group of girls in a Grade 7 class love to watch and talk about pop stars, especially Taylor Swift! And if you’re ambushed by students wanting your WeChat so they can message you, there will be an unending stream of ‘hello teacher! How are you?’s for weeks. Next week, I’m throwing myself a birthday party in all 10 of my middle school classes, teaching them about cake and candles and playing games, because they loved their Halloween and Christmas parties so much. The teachers are also incredible at helping you settle in, probably because they’ve seen it all before. I corrected a teacher’s daughter’s essay yesterday, and I got rose-flavoured pastries as a present, the caretaker gave us a huge strawberry cream cake for Spring festival and another teacher loves to chat about politics, despite me thinking it was pretty taboo!
Undoubtedly, the hardest part of China is not when you’re teaching, but when you’re living here. For about a week everything smells funny and tastes funny, and you seem to hate every Chinese person you set eyes on. Once this fades, the whole thing is just becomes ridiculously normal to the point that you forget you’re in China – until something China-y happens, like your school’s opening ceremony for Sports Day rivals the Olympics, or a young boy break dances on a stage to ‘Yellow’ by Coldplay or Andrew lets you know on WeChat what mental thing is in the news or you make friends with one of the women selling fake handbags at the market and she messages you to tell you about the new Louis Vuitton bag she has in that she thinks you’ll like (she was right, it’s really nice and I’ve been using it since I bought it).
Andrew is incredibly helpful during this time – he’s constantly popping up on WeChat and offering support and sharing information. As time goes on, you won’t need to contact him but knowing he’s there and has already been through everything you are going through is incredibly comforting, and, I know from other people’s experiences, this does not happen with bigger companies. This is what gave me the confidence to move to China in the first place, which has been one of the best decisions I have ever made. It’s given me direction for my future since I’ll be doing a Masters in International Relations so I can keep coming back! This has been an experience I’ll never forget and I am incredibly grateful to Andrew and The China Teaching Experience for making it happen.