Interview with Graeme and Victoria — Calling All Brits: UKan Teach Abroad as a Couple ?
Greetings! We’re here today with Graeme and Victoria, two creative souls who’ve put their collective arts skills to work as ESL teachers. The best part? They’re a couple, too!
We love love. 🙂
Graeme and Victoria have respective backgrounds in music and performing arts/creative writing. For now, they’ve traded in their easels and music stands for rulers and chalk boards. After completing the Anglo TEFL scholarship and zipping around Asia for a few months, they are now teaching together in China.
Read on to learn more about the in’s and out’s of teaching abroad as a couple and how a traditional pedigree isn’t necessary to succeed as an ESL teacher.
1. What kinds of individual travel experience did you each have before you embarked on this journey together?
Graeme: I travelled when I was younger and spent five weeks in Kenya working on various community and nature programs. After that, I settled into my career and didn’t travel as much as I wanted. I spent some time in Tanzania and was lucky enough to teach in Memphis, USA but most of my travels have been throughout Europe.
Victoria: I have been abroad many times. I backpacked around Europe using the Interrailing option when I left University in 2001. I stayed in hostels, it was a wonderful experience.
2. What made teaching English as a foreign language an attractive job option?
Graeme: After finishing teaching in 2014, I felt a bit burnt out from the pressures of the English educational system. We set off on our travels in 2015 and worked on various volunteer programs around Europe, but we avoided teaching as I felt I needed the break. We then volunteered with Angloville program in Poland, which involved teaching adults. This renewed my interest and passion for teaching and encouraged me to seek out more teaching opportunities around the world.
Victoria: Like Graeme has mentioned above, we didn’t set out to teach when we began our world travels in August 2015. We felt exhausted after teaching so long in England. Teaching the Polish participants as part of the Angloville program was a refreshing change to teaching methods and expectations back home. It was exciting and I felt that it was something that I would enjoy doing in the future.
3. Why did you choose the Paid China Internship?
Graeme: Our travels then took us to Asia, where we worked in India, Nepal, Thailand and Cambodia. We worked in schools and orphanages teaching young children English. We had not planned on visiting China, but after we saw the scholarship advert on the TEFL website, we jumped at the chance to continue teaching and earn some money to help extend our travels.
Victoria: We made a decision to teach in China after seeing the TEFL post about intern jobs. Like Graeme has mentioned, we had such an incredible experience teaching English in Poland, Nepal and Cambodia, we thought that teaching for a longer period in China would be a challenging, yet rewarding experience.
4. You have both worked in educational capacities in the past, but did not specifically teach English as a second language. In what ways has the transition to a new subject been challenging?
Graeme: The initial transition was not too bad at the beginning. A big part of teaching is communication and classroom management, so we felt lucky we had plenty of experience in these areas. The hardest part was understanding English grammar. It’s not something you really think about as a native speaker, but once you start looking into it, it’s actually quite complicated and often hard to explain.
Victoria: It was also tough gauging the student’s level of English. The students in China are very shy and do not like to speak at first in case they get anything wrong. I have to remind myself to speak slowly and constantly ask the students if they understand. You have to explain everything to them. A lot of the times they get the pronunciation wrong and you don’t want to keep pulling them up on it, as they will be embarrassed and might not answer in the future. I try to listen to mistakes and then discuss it with the whole class, so you’re not focusing on individuals.
5. Describe your first week in the TEFL classroom in China. Don’t hold back on funny details!
Graeme: Teaching in China is a very different experience compared to the UK. As a tall English man with lots of the curly hair I got a lot of interesting reactions from the students when I first walked into the classroom. Selfies are a regular occurrence now and the students are keen to spend as much time as they can with you. Things aren’t as organised as what I would have expected but the behaviour and maturity of the students is far higher than any group of students I taught in the UK.
Victoria: Using a chalk board was a bit of a shock at first. I am used to modern technology, so it felt very old school (ba dum chi!). It can make teaching difficult and everything takes longer. I have managed to get a computer and projector in most classes, which makes teaching much easier. There isn’t any heating in the classrooms, so, depending on where you go, be prepared to teach in cold conditions. I teach in my big coat and sometimes even wear gloves.
The students are very innocent and naive compared to Western students. You have to be careful what you say sometimes. I taught a unit on relationships and showed them a video with two people kissing, they all giggled and became embarrassed, some even covered their eyes, even though they are aged between 18-20. Most of them are not allowed boy/girlfriends until after university. Be prepared for selfies and also, they want to go out with you, for dinner or other social activities. This is normal and permitted in China, which was odd to me at first.
6. What has surprised you most about living abroad with your significant other?
Graeme: We have been on the road for nearly 2 years now and she has surprised me in many ways in that time. I think what stands out the most is how adaptable she is. Whatever situation, job or country we are in, she gets on with it and fits right in.
Victoria: I would be lost without Graeme, literally. I have no sense of direction and have no idea where we are going half the time. Graeme is brilliant with maps and directions. He gets us safely to each destination. Travelling can be lonely at times, you can feel homesick, but having your partner with you helps with this. I feel it brings you closer as a couple, you experience things together that you would never experience at home. If you can survive travelling, sometimes for more than 24 hours in one go, in uncomfortable conditions, wearing sweaty, smelly clothes and feeling very sleep deprived, you can survive anything.
7. What is one piece of advice you would give future couples considering hitting the road together?
Graeme: It’s hard to narrow it down to one thing but if I had to I would say, just go with the flow. It’s easy to get stressed, homesick and angry at times, but just take a deep breath and relax, and dont blame each other if things go wrong. It’s all part of the travel experience and things going wrong can often lead to some good memories.
Victoria: Go for it! It is a life changing experience, something you can look back on with utter joy. I believe travel educates you more than any degree or qualification can. It opens your eyes to our beautiful world. There will be times when it becomes hard, really hard, but these are the times that make you who you are. It changes you as a person, changes you for the better.
8. What do you miss most about life in the UK?
Graeme: As with most people who travel I miss my family and friends, but after them I would say I miss fish and chips with some mushy peas. It’s the first meal I’m having when i get back to the UK.
Victoria: My family and friends, but with today’s technology, it’s not too bad. They are only a Skype or Facetime away. My favourite chocolate and a good cup of Yorkshire tea. Although I have just had a box of Yorkshire’s finest tea delivered to China. Remember everything is still there, if and when you decide to go home.
Thanks so much Graeme & Victoria! Best of luck in China and beyond.
Update: Graeme & Victoria extended their stay in China…find out why they couldn’t leave