We were lucky to get to know ESL teachers Graeme and Victoria in more depth earlier this year, but we just *had* to reach out again for a second interview.
Why? Because both decided to extend their program in China, where they have been teaching English abroad since February.
What makes the China life so sweet that they just couldn’t say 再見 Zaijian quite yet? Let’s find out!
Tell us about your best day in China so far (in the classroom). Any bright moments with students?
Graeme: It’s hard to pinpoint a particular day. All days are great, but it’s the moments when students open up or something clicks and you see the change in them.
So many of them are shy and quiet at first but breaking that barrier is extremely rewarding for myself and the students.
Victoria: In the last two weeks, I have been having one to one exams with my students. They have 10 minutes to answer pre-prepared questions. It has been really great to get to know them and hear about their lives on a personal level.
The classes are really big, so you don’t often get the chance to talk to them individually. Many of the students are shy about talking in front of their peers and seem a lot more relaxed with only me in the classroom. They came up with some interesting and original answers.
Now let’s move further out. What have been some trip highlights while you’ve been off the clock?
Graeme: China has so much to offer and we have had some great times. We visited Dujiangyan, which is a beautiful city with beautiful turquoise rivers. It is the hometown of one of my students and when she found out we were visiting, she met us from the station, showed us the sights and took us for some gorgeous food.
The people are so generous and friendly. They are so proud and excited to have us visit them.
Victoria: We saw the giant Buddha in Leshan, which was absolutely beautiful. I really loved going to the panda breeding centre in Chengdu. The pandas are such beautiful animals and have funny characters.
We also went to a lantern festival just outside Chengdu and it was stunning, thousands of different lanterns in all different colours, shapes and sizes.
What makes your school placement such a good fit, and what advice would you give to future ESL teachers in China considering their school placement options?
Graeme: From day one, we have felt relaxed and happy here. The college has beautiful grounds and is on the edge of the city, so the it’s not too busy. The teaching is relaxed and we are given opportunity to teach in our own styles.
Future teachers coming to China will have different experiences depending on where they are placed, but just be prepared to adapt and don’t worry too much. It’s always going to be a steep learning curve when you first arrive but that’s part of the fun.
Victoria: The students are fabulous, very welcoming, and always wanting to include you in different activities. We have been judges at singing contests and an English talent contest. They invite you to day trips around the city and introduce you to some of the local cuisine, which is delicious.
We get a lot of freedom in between classes to explore the area and concentrate on any hobbies/skills we are trying to develop. Finally, we live in an area that isn’t over-populated and has many beautiful parks and scenery.
Was there one moment that made you decide you weren’t ready to leave yet? Or was it a series of moments? Describe your decision making process.
Graeme: For me, it was a series of events. We were thinking about where we going to go after China and it dawned on us that we didn’t have to leave. We are having such a great time and doing amazing things that we figured that an extra year would be a breeze, and at the same time, we could save some money ready for the next leg of our journey.
Victoria: For me, it was the feeling of freedom that I have whilst I am here. I sometimes struggle with anxiety, but staying here for the last four months has de-stressed me. I feel relaxed and happy and I didn’t want to give that up.
What was the process like extending your visa and program — any logistical hurdles you had to jump?
Graeme: Extending the program is simple, we just told our Chinese contact and he started the process immediately. The visa is proving to be more complicated, as China has just changed the rules and getting definitive answers and information is a long process; but, once we return to the UK in the summer, it should go smoothly.
Victoria: Like Graeme has mentioned, being accepted back has been easy, but because we are coming back as professional teachers, the process is a lot more complicated. Make sure that you are prepared in advance.
Do you think it is important for foreign teachers to be open to longer placements and why?
Graeme: I think if you can stay longer in a place to teach then you should. I have learnt so much this first term and my teaching style has had to adapt from what I was used to in the UK.
I now feel prepared to teach next semester and able to offer the students a more productive and interesting experience.
Victoria: I think if you really want to experience a culture you should stay longer. I would have liked to start teaching my students from the first semester as they get used to someone else’s teaching styles and you have to give them time to adapt.
What do you think is the ideal amount of time someone should commit to teaching abroad? What benefits do they reap if they stay longer?
Graeme: Teaching for one semester is a good amount of time to start with. Some people may get homesick or not enjoy the experience as much as we have but if you find a place you are happy with then staying for longer will bring a host of benefits.
Making new friends, having more time, and understanding to explore the country and being a part of local life make living here a great experience.
Victoria: For me, I think teaching for two semesters is most beneficial for both the students and the teachers. You have more chance to settle in, get used to the students, and enable them to get to know you from the start.
I believe you will feel that you have more ownership of the course and the student’s learning.
Describe a particularly hard day while teaching abroad and how you were able to overcome it/move past it.
Graeme: I don’t think I have had a hard day yet. I think I am lucky, as I know other teachers on the program have had some hard days. I think my hardest times are when the weather is hot and the students are tired.
Trying to motivate them can be challenge… but nothing compares to trying to motivate UK students. ?
Victoria: Like Graeme said, I don’t think I’ve had a really bad day. You have to gauge the students’ levels and abilities early on.
I have one class who I felt were more unmotivated, but it turns out that they had lower abilities than my other classes and were very shy when it came to speaking English in front of each other. You have to sometimes adapt your teaching to suit all levels.
Have you found some sense of “normalcy” to your life abroad that helps you find balance, community, responsibility, contribution — the normal things that lead to a happy life?
Graeme: Yes, I think it’s important that you do have some sense of normalcy. I found that once I was used to my teaching schedule, I could organise myself around it very well.
You find places to eat that become regular, see familiar faces around campus and on the streets, and learn where to go shopping, go for walks, runs, or just relax. I have been asked to be part of community events, judge singing contests, and take part in a volleyball tournament. All of these lead me to meet new people who become friends and help you fit into local life.
Victoria: Most definitely and that is why I wish to return. Our teaching schedule enables us to have time to exercise (there’s a great running path, by the river), go shopping, and eat local dishes.
We have met some wonderful locals who can speak great English and who include us in many activities and social gatherings. We live close to a shopping complex that has a great cinema with English speaking films, many restaurants, and KTV (everyone loves karaoke here).
Four months later, tell us what has most surprised you about the Chinese culture.
Graeme: Most things in China are surprising, but I think it’s the friendliness and generosity of the people that has surprised me the most. Whether we are on a local bus, visiting a tourist attraction of having a bite to eat in a restaurant, people are always so kind and curious.
Victoria: Yes, definitely the hospitality. People will not let us pay for anything, we do try. People are so happy to meet you and want to involve you in their lives.
Be prepared for many selfies, sometimes strangers will hand you their babies so they can take a photo. This is funny but not so much for the baby, who is like “what is going on?” ?
There are a few things that are annoying at first such as; no such thing as queuing, spitting, shop assistants following you and pointing at everything, smoking in restaurants, but you get used to the different cultural ways pretty easily and then it just goes over your head.
多谢 Duo xie, Graeme & Victoria! Who knows, maybe we’ll be able to interview you when you decide to stay for multiple years… ?