Penelope moved to China to embark on Mandarin lessons. Over the past 6 years she’s developed her career and grown her family. With a TEFL certificate under her belt, Penelope knows she can boost her salary by as much as an extra US$1,000 per month. And, she’s our first interviewee who’s lived through the Coronavirus experience, first hand in China. Read on to discover her inspirational story.
Tell us about Penelope! What’s your background?
I am originally from Venezuela, South America and during my late 20s I was into traveling and backpacking. I came to China 6 years ago as a Mandarin student. After my Mandarin improved enough I took a job as a Spanish teacher, then as an English teacher and since I loved the experience I decided to prepare myself better in the Education field. I got a Bachelor’s degree in early Education and since then I enjoy one of the most rewarding things in the world: The smiles of my Kindergarten students!
You’re from Venezuela and currently in Shenzhen. Tell us about your unique journey to China that’s lasted 6 years?
When I first came to China I wasn’t alone. My fiancé was with me. He already had a job as a German teacher in the same college I was studying Mandarin in Zhengzhou, the province of Henan. We settled well here and prospered greatly. The first two years we traveled around the country and visited some other Asian paradises. Then we decided to get married and started a family. So 3 years later after my arrival I was teaching and fully pregnant. Chinese are kind and treat pregnant women as queens, so I never had an issue with that. The experience was so pleasant that one year later I was carrying my second baby in the womb!
Our readers will be keen to hear first hand about your experience of living in China through the Coronavirus outbreak. What are some challenges that you have faced and how have you overcome them?
At the moment my older daughter is 3 years old and the smaller is one, so the biggest challenge was to convince them that we couldn’t go out to play. Being in a lockdown for eight weeks can be very exhausting especially with the demands of two infants that really can’t be more than 10 minutes without supervision.
Thankfully I am a resourceful kindergarten teacher and I have plenty of ideas and material to keep the little ones busy plus the help of my husband made things easier and way more fun. Other than that, the worry and anxiety for the situation going on outside and the suffering of the ones that were sick was hard to handle.
However, we were conscious that we were stuck at home but safe, meanwhile others like doctors, nurses, police officers, health providers, etc were outside wishing to be in our place, to be home, and could not. We felt more than lucky.
What advice do you have for individuals considering China as their next teaching destination?
China is a great destination to grow as an individual. It can be shocking at first because things work totally different here but with an open mind one can just embrace it and learn so much.
Here we really learn to accept the difference and be part of it. China is also really safe and the job opportunities and the packages that come with them are usually great. Plus, if one is dedicated enough, he or she could learn a new and powerful language, could have plenty of time to cultivate oneself, read, master a new hobby and use the time in very productive ways. In a few words, start anew and be a better person.
Can you share with us a favorite story or two from your time in China so far?
When I first came here I felt like a celebrity. Everybody wanted to take my photo and admired things of me that in my society were completely usual. It was fun for a while but after feeling like I was constantly chased by paparazzi, I began wearing a t shirt that said **I’m not a monkey, I am just like you**. People just laughed and still took the photo.
You’re about to embark on your 120 hour Advanced TEFL course to boost your resume. What words of encouragement do you have for individuals considering getting a TEFL certificate?
My resume will look brighter and my opportunities will be wider, plus the salary will increase a lot. In brief, let’s say I am making 15000 yuan (US$2,110) a month, well, after my TEFL I can get a job that pays me up to 23000 yuan ($3,240)! And really, I’m not a native English speaker but the natives can make more for sure!
What are two interesting things about China that the average person wouldn’t know?
On a positive note I will say the average Chinese is really kind. In general they are very curious of western culture and show genuine interest in it. They might try to invite you to eat (and argue to pay the bill) and also offer help or their company to ease your way into Chinese life. Chinese are really really good, legitimate friends.
What are your career plans once you gain your TEFL qualification?
I plan to move to a tier 3 city in China because life is more slow paced and inexpensive than my city. Also the job offer spectrum is wider because most of the international teachers prefer the hustle and bustle of the big cities. Me and my family are more connected with the land and open spaces, so we plan to take this new adventure soon.
Thank you for taking the time to share your life-changing story with the Premier TEFL community. Happy travels!