Read Tobio’s inspiring interview about TEFL in China!
First, tell us about your path to TEFL teaching in China. What was the most exciting part?
I would say my “path” began in High School because my school was partnered with a school in China. I hosted some students from here, and in return, I ended up coming for a few weeks and just really enjoyed the culture, history, and food. After that trip, I felt I wanted to come back, but I couldn’t really figure out how for a while. I’ve been thinking about pursuing teaching, and teaching English in China as part of an internship felt like a good start.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. You’re from America, you’re teaching in China. What else is going on?!
Generally, at home, I do a lot of art in my free time, like physical drawings and traditional 2-D animation on paper. I like to cook with my family as well as for them, and we foster kittens for the local shelter.
What was the move from the States to China like? You’d traveled to China before, how has this experience been different?
After your first flight that’s over 10 hours, every flight you can possibly take feels pretty normal, so the flight wasn’t an issue at all. The limited mandarin I knew was not helpful in social situations, but exclusively helpful in purchasing items and bartering. So, aside from being used to some cultural elements (simple things like no toilet paper and less personal space), it was kind of like it was my first time. I hadn’t been to Shanghai except on a layover, so I felt like I had a whole world to explore for the first time, anyway.
Tell us a fun story about Man’man, your homestay kid brother.
The first night that I was here, Man’man was awake to see me, despite me arriving at the house at about 10, so it was far past his bedtime. He seemed very excited and showed me a single toy, his magnetic writing board (I don’t remember what these are called in the United States, but they have a little tab at the bottom you can swipe left and right to erase) and was making circles.
Obviously, I expressed how cool it was that he could make circles with a circular magnet through sounds, then took the pen and turned the circles into suns. He loved that for some reason and then ran around dragging me around the house to show me all of his toys until he had to go back to bed.
Describe a typical day in the life of Tobio as a teacher TEFL in China.
Generally, I wake up at about 6:30 so that I can shower before eating breakfast and going with Man’man and his grandmother to drop him off at school, and we read books in the car. Sometimes I bring new picture books into the car, but every time he wants to read the Thomas the Tank Engine books over again anyway, so we do that.
Once he’s dropped off, I usually fall asleep a little in the car on the way back, and some days Man’man’s grandmother takes me to the market with her to help carry her groceries. I get home, and I study Chinese based on what we learned in the last class (Class is on Monday and Wednesday, Monday is my day off but on Wednesday I just go to class instead of taking Man’man to school) until about noon, when I eat lunch and help with Man’man’s little brother, Yi’yi, who is 2 years old.
Yi’yi likes me, which essentially just means he wants me to watch him do things like taking bites of food and play with toys all the time. He’s a bit too young to teach English outside of simple phrases since he can’t even pronounce his Mandarin correctly yet.
Once Yi’yi is napping, I can take a break and either study or do something else until 3, when I go with Man’man’s grandmother to pick him up from school (and read Thomas again), and then we play until 5 pm when we go into a room with a blackboard and play games involving English words.
Dinner is at 6, and then we play more until 8:30 when Man’man takes a bath and goes to sleep, and I’m free for the night (So I usually just immediately go to bed anyway.)
You’re a bit of a foodie. What are the top 3 must-have cuisine experiences everybody should try when in China?
I can’t say I’ve tried that many new foods this time around, because I only have one day off a week, anyway. In no particular order, try the sweet potatoes from the vendors with mobile roasting carts, they’re much better than you remember sweet potato being, especially if you’re hungry (And if you get the chance, try Ba Si Di Gua, it’s really great). Find a western-style bread place for good pastries (and cheap, too!) on the go.
My favorite is BreadTalk, but there are plenty to choose from. My third choice is fairly simple, but if you haven’t tried tomato-egg stir-fry, it’s one of my favorite foods. The acidity of the tomatoes works really well with the fried eggs, and if they put in ginger it’s even better.
Tell us three things a future home-tutor in China should know before they go? What are the top three packing essentials when moving to China?
Most of the things I brought that ended up being useful are things you can buy here, but of those, a regular dodgeball for playing catch while learning words have been extremely helpful. I brought a whiteboard in case I had to draw pictures for Man’man on the go, but I just use the whiteboard to practice my writing while studying, and it’s super great for that. Also, I bought these here, but blank flashcards and a water bottle are both things you’ll definitely need.
In terms of things to know before you come here, I guess studying up on what things will be different is always helpful. In my household, they don’t drink water at meals, so I have to drink water at other times more frequently than at home. Laundry is done more frequently here, because it is air-dried, so the amount you can dry is limited by space and hangers. I also think it’s important to know what is within walking distance of your family’s home. There’s a grocery store not far as well as a bread store right next to it, but if I didn’t know they were there, I would probably be taking the subway to get anything.
Do you have plans once your TEFL in China experience is finished? More English teaching?
I am long overdue to go to college, so I’ll be doing that when I get home. Once I finish college, though, I want to move back here and teach in a classroom setting.
Thank you so much for your time Tobio! If you’re curious to discover more TEFL experience in China or abroad, make sure to read these blogs and videos:
Harriet’s Experience in Thailand
Madelyn’s experience in South Korea