In this interview:
If you are interested in teaching English in Hong Kong, or just curious to know how life is there, you are going to love this article. You might have a lot of things in your head when you think about this city, and today we are going to show you what it is like to be a TEFL teacher there. Meet Michael, a TEFL teacher currently working in Hong Kong. He kindly accepted to answer our questions (and we had a lot!).
What’s your background? What drew you to teaching abroad?
My name is Michael Agyekum originally from Ghana. I hold a bachelor’s degree in Administration from the University of Ghana, a Professional Chartered Accountant Certificate, and a master’s degree in Finance from Lingnan University, Hong Kong. I have over 10 years of teaching experience. Teaching has always been part of me. When I was in high school, I enjoyed teaching my colleagues after classes hours.
After graduating from the University in Ghana, the love for teaching grew and I taught in most Secondary schools and Remedials Schools (Students with Special Needs). I used to assist students who failed in their West African Examinations to re-sit their exams. The schools received an increase in their pass rate by almost 80%! This success story was mostly attributed to the fact that we understood the students and were able to teach according to their needs. We inspired them and we felt proud when these students made their way to most of the prestigious Universities and tertiary institutions in the country.
I have also taught in villages and volunteered with Non- Governmental Organizations as a means to reach out to people living in some remote parts of Ghana. I take pride in seeing my students improve over time and aim to instill the same lifelong love of learning that I possess. In my spare time, I enjoy travelling to explore new cultures. I like hiking, reading, playing football and rock climbing. I am also fluent in 4 African languages namely Twi, Ga, Fante, and Ewe.
Did you always know you’d end up in Hong Kong?
It has always been my dream to teach abroad but never thought I would end up in Hong Kong since I didn’t know much about the city. However, I knew there are opportunities available everywhere abroad for teachers.
Tell us about your career path in Hong Kong, if it has varied over time.
I came to Hong Kong because a friend who was pursuing his Ph.D. introduced me to consider pursuing a career abroad. He said a lot of great things about Hong, it being one of the financial hubs in the world and English being one of their official languages making it quite easy to interact with the locals. I did a lot of research about the country, and out of curiosity and my desire to take on challenges, I decided to pursue a master’s program. While in school, since the desire for teaching was still burning, I would go out especially on weekends to volunteer to teach English in most of the schools free of charge through the assistance of Education Recruitment Agencies. I also interact with students in English during their lunch breaks and organize some drama activities to boost their confidence in speaking English fluently.
You did your TEFL accreditation with Premier TEFL. What were the best
parts of your TEFL course experience? Do you feel like it prepared you for
teaching in Hong Kong?
Yes, the Premier TEFL program prepared me well for the challenge of teaching English in Hong Kong. I come from a finance and accounting background, although I had the passion to teach however I have not received any professional training or undertaken any course in teaching. Premier TEFL program for me is the best course anyone can pursue if you want a career in teaching. The course exposed me to a step- by-step practical approach to teaching, most importantly to teaching English as a foreign language.
Since my experience, I have recommended the course to most of my friends, and they have never regretted pursuing the course. Most of them are now teaching in Hong Kong. Premier TEFL is internationally recognized and all the institutions in Hong Kong recognize it. It is flexible and convenient as well since it can be studied online. Teaching grammar, pronunciation, vocabulary, and organizing and managing modules prepared me for this challenge and I am extremely grateful to the Management team and staff of this reputable institution for this TEFL course.
What are two interesting things about Hong Kong that the average person wouldn’t know?
What fascinated me most when I arrived in Hong Kong especially as someone coming straight from Africa, was how developed the City is and how friendly every Hong Konger is. I was astonished to know that Cantonese and English are their official language. According to statistics, about 96% of Hong Kongers speak Cantonese and about 45% can speak Mandarin which is the official language of China. Almost half of the population speak English since it was once a British Colony just like Ghana. Therefore, Hong Kong is predominantly a mix of Western, Chinese, and British cultures. This makes it easier for foreigners to adapt quite easily to the culture.
I was also surprised about the importance the Hong Kong government place on Educating its citizens, especially the youth. The government invests a lot in developing human capital in Hong Kong. Hong Kongers greatly respect teachers, irrespective of their nationality. Plus, students are well-behaved.
What are some challenges that you have faced and how have you overcome
One of the main challenges I faced is the high cost of rent and the high cost of living, especially in the center. Getting affordable rent in the city is not easy. The cost of living in Hong Kong is high. Housing will be your biggest expense, especially if you choose a modern apartment in the city center. Most housing in Hong Kong is unfurnished and lacks storage space as well, although at times certain appliances may be provided. However, rents are cheaper and there is more space further out of the center. I have rented a room outside the city which is relatively cheaper.
Food and groceries are generally expensive, as much of the produce sold in Hong Kong is imported, but you can save money by buying locally sourced food. I usually cook and package my food nicely to save cost. The public transport system makes it easy to get around Hong Kong. The city’s metro, the MTR, is the most popular mode of transport, covering most areas and crossing onto the mainland. Fares are based on distance and most commuters have a rechargeable Octopus card that can also be used for groceries and other transactions. Hong Kong’s buses aren’t as crowded as the MTR, but they can be slow in peak traffic. Taxis are relatively cheap. Not all drivers speak English, so it’s a good idea to have your destination written down in Chinese. Ride-hailing services are also available in Hong Kong.
Tell us more about life there. Are you treated differently because you are
In schools, people respect teachers. What I have realized is that most Hong Kongers are usually reserved and do not want to open up, especially to strangers and I think Africans in general. However, it is quite different from how they opened up to the Europeans and Americans. Once one gets close to them they are the best people you hang around with. They like to hike, swim and play sports. For me, a smile is a universal language that transcends every culture and breaks barriers. I always approach them with a smile, and it draws people from all cultures closer to me.
You told us your contract is going to end soon: What are your plans now? Do
you think you are going to stay in Hong Kong?
Yes, my contract with my school ends in May this year. I plan to continue to teach abroad for a long time. As a result, I have started applying to schools both in Hong Kong and overseas recently. Hopefully, I will get into one of the schools and teach English which I enjoy doing. I have dedicated my career to developing and improving students’ literacy skills through developmentally appropriate, and research-backed techniques like what is being offered by Premier TEFL.
What do you think?
Wow, what an interesting story! What do you think? Do you think you could teach in Hong Kong and excel, just like Michael? We greatly appreciate Michael for taking the time to sit down and answer some questions for us. Hopefully, it provided a greater background and insight to Hong Kong for all readers. We cannot wait to hop on the next airplane to Hong Kong! Are you joining us?