Tell us about your path to TEFL teaching. What inspired you to move pursue teaching English?
Throughout my childhood and until the completion of my years at University, I wanted to teach English. It was always my strongest subject at school and I have always loved the language dearly. Upon completion of my university studies I moved into a career in management, forgoing my childhood dream.
Four years ago I decided to formalise my management qualifications, completing my management degree. I was invited to continue with masters study and, through that, I mentored and met a group of students from Shanghai. They talked about Shanghai and I decided to have a look for myself. So I came here for 5 months in 2017 and fell in love with the city, culture and people.
I returned to New Zealand for a couple of months to organise my paperwork etc. and returned to Shanghai, to live at the start of 2018, where I have been working as an ESL teacher ever since.
What was the move to China like? Had you travelled far from home before?
The move to China was both scary and exhilarating. I have travelled to a few other countries including Australia and Indonesia, but never a country that I knew so little about. And the countries I had previously travelled to used English as a common language, making being there relatively easy.
That was part of China’s allure, the fact that English, although it is being used more frequently in Shanghai, is still an uncommon language in daily life
Did you experience any culture shock? What are your top three tips to avoid culture shock?
Absolutely! The cultural differences between New Zealand and China are stark and dramatic. My top 3 would be:
- Many men will make a loud noise as they clear their throat to spit. This is very common and when I first arrived I thought it was some form of insult, but it is just their way of clearing their throat and the longer I live here the more I realise how effective it is.
- The body language of local Chinese people is completely different from what I am used to back home. In many ways it comes across as being very intimate, but the reality is there is a wonderful innocence to it i.e. walking on the street with their arms around each other or women going places together hand in hand, or when they talk with me, the eye contact etc. seems to indicate attraction but is really just how friendship is expressed here. And they always talk about going to play with their friends, even as adults.
- Smile. I see many foreigners travelling around the city, always with sour expressions, and I have been guilty of the same many times myself. However, whenever I have travelled with a smile on my face the effect is wonderful as there is a constant stream of reciprocated smiles and goodwill returned. In a city where the people are used to being just another face in the crowd, a smile goes a very long way.
What are your top three packing essentials when moving to China?
- Don’t bring too many clothes because you will probably lose weight coming here. For example, since coming here in 2017, I have lost approximately 40kg and all the clothes I originally came with no longer fit me. This is due to a more active lifestyle and healthier diet here.
- Take a really good winter coat and scarves. Winter here is deceiving. The days feel warm but are actually very cold and the wind icy. So a good winter jacket and a good scarf are essential.
- Bring your usual medication with you (check if it will come through the border first of course). Common medications like ibuprofen or paracetamol are difficult to buy from a pharmacy here and often I have had to resort to Tao Bao (Their equivalent to Ebay) to get some. Especially since the local medications are very weak or suspect i.e. the last local paracetamol I bought contained formaldehyde.
What do you get up to outside the classroom? Is there lots to do and see?
There is a lot to see and do in Shanghai and I often feel spoilt for choice. Each week I try to go somewhere on one of my days off, always preferring to either walk or take the subway. I spent a long time, traveling to, and exploring the end of each subway line, visited museums, galleries and so on, and generally had an absolutely wonderful time. My biggest problem though is I often feel like I still haven’t even scratched the surface of Shanghai.
What have been some challenges you’ve faced on the road to living abroad? How did you overcome them—any advice for our readers/future TEFL adventurers?
There have been many challenges with living in China, but the first thing I have to stress is that no matter what, never forget why you are doing this. The paperwork required to come to China can be somewhat daunting, but it is paperwork and the Chinese government is not that dissimilar to other bureaucracies in the world. Prepare your paperwork thoroughly, check it, check it again and double check what is required of you and then check it again before submitting it.
You will need to be proactive about your visa and permits to live here since often the employers are more concerned with you being in the classroom than doing what is necessary to provide the correct documentation to stay. You need to ensure that you are well schooled in what is required for you to stay here and make sure that whoever is responsible for organising the documents is actually doing what they say.
And the same goes for your salary, bonuses and any other entitlements you may have. It is up to you to ensure you receive them correctly.
List the 5 best experiences you would recommend to anyone visiting/moving to China?
I have only lived in Shanghai at this stage, I have not yet ventured beyond the city limits but within Shanghai, my top picks would be:
- The Bund. This is a popular spot for tourists and locals alike and is often very busy. The views are stunning, especially during the evening and it is well worth a look.
- East Nanjing Road. This is a close street with fantastic shopping lining both sides. Here you will get a wonderful mix of international and local brands.
- The Shanghai Art Museum. This has been my favorite place to visit. The building is spectacular and the interior stunning. I was taken aback during my visit with an exhibition of children’s art. I had never before seen an art museum exhibiting children’s art before and it left a lasting impression.
- One of the many ‘old towns’ within Shanghai. Shanghai formed from a conglomeration of older towns and many of these still exist today. I have come across several during my exploration of the city and each one has been mesmerizing in the simplicity and architecture.
- Any of the many temples throughout the city. As with many Asian countries, there are temples everywhere. In Shanghai, these range from small, simple temples to ones with an almost ‘shopping arcade’ feel to them. The big thing is to learn the decorum expected when visiting these temples because many are still being used as places of worship. Don’t be a stereotypical tourist, and show respect.
Do you plan to continue teaching English in China? If so, what are you hoping for? If not, what’s next?
My plan is to continue to live and teach here in Shanghai. It has a wonderfully safe feel to the city and I feel at home here. I do plan to travel to other countries but as a tourist, rather than to live. My roots for the time being are here.
I will continue to teach for as long as I can and fulfil my childhood dream. I have been working with some local friends about setting up an organisation to help foreigners settle in and adjust to daily life here, as well as looking to expand my teaching network.
So life here is fun. Don’t get me wrong, I work hard here too. But every day feels worthwhile and fulfilling so, for me, my life in Shanghai is never a bore, or grind or chore. It’s a privilege.