It’s a new and unfamiliar world out there for recent college grads. When the graduation gowns are stowed away to the back of the closet and the celebration champagne runs out, the sobering reality of life as a non-student both frightens and excites young adults beginning a new chapter in their lives. Some prioritize traveling for a short period of time, unwinding and celebrating their hard work while others immediately enter the work force to jumpstart their budding careers. Job hunting turns out successful for some while others struggle to enter employment. Unfortunately, many are oblivious to the surprising amount of high-demand jobs readily available on the other side of the world. One of these unorthodox employment options is rarely considered by bachelor degree holders with a firm grasp on the English language: a traveling ESL teacher.
A 30-second Google search reveals there is no shortage of ESL teaching positions throughout the world. The qualifications for an entry-level ESL teacher position in China’s booming English teaching industry are pretty straight-forward: be a native English speaker with a college degree and (at least) be TEFL certified. Normally, you can contact a recruiting agency in the U.S. that vets and places applicants in Chinese schools legally, but I’ve also met expats that came to China on a whim with tourist/non-work visa and found work. This is pretty risky considering it is illegal to make money in China as a foreigner without a Z-visa and SAFEA work permit, and a non-work or residence visa would require traveling outside of the country (or to Hong Kong) every 3-6 months for renewal. Either method works, but I would personally recommend researching reputable recruiting agencies to help place you in the country of your choice; it’s less stressful being a legal foreigner.
The craziest part about up-and-leaving to teach English in another country—in my experience, China—is how regularly you’ll surprise yourself. The trials and tribulations (maybe a little dramatic, but it wasn’t easy) I’ve faced during my time here influenced my personality, understanding, and overall perspective on life and this world for the better. The definition of success and happiness completely changed for me. Many of my exploits in the past 11 months make for great stories, but those same situations made for even better learning experiences. If someone told me that a year after graduating college I would’ve began learning Chinese, end up favoring Chinese food more than any other food, befriend both Chinese and other expats from around the world (Australia, South Korea, Zimbabwe, Canada, England, Tanzania, Japan, New Zealand, Hungary, Germany, Spain, Ireland, Scotland, and other Americans), travel a good portion of Southeast Asia, complete the Great Wall Marathon, be rented as a foreigner for promotional dancing, eventually walk into a Chinese classroom with no fear or inhibitions to teach 13-16 year olds English daily, and play tour guide for my parents visiting me on the other side of the world, I would’ve found it difficult to believe.
The life of a foreign ESL teacher is what you make it. Do you just want to work part-time while also private tutoring on the side? No problem. Do you want to work full-time with a heavy workload? The opportunities are there. Will you have time to travel and explore your surroundings? Oh yah, you betcha’. Does it provide a decent living? You would be surprised. I make 5,000 RMB (~$800) per month with a little extra on the side from private tutoring and my school pays for my apartment, utilities, visa fees, and healthcare. My paycheck is spent on eating out, weekend shenanigans, travel, and really anything I want since my only regular expense is groceries. If I decided to stay and teach a 2nd year? I would make 10,000 RMB per month minimum, still have paid holidays, housing stipends, and paid healthcare depending on the school. I’m not living the life of luxury—although private tutoring for wealthy families can get you invitations to expensive dinners, wine tastings, and other swanky events—but I’m truly comfortable.
So whether you’re seeking a change of pace, a new life, a convenient and cost-efficient way to travel, or a résumé builder, be aware of the opportunities afforded to native English speakers. At first, teaching will be intimidating and you’ll embarrass yourself more than once. Do take solace in the fact that it becomes easier and easier each passing day to the point where it begins to feel natural. In my experience, after the Chinese academic year flies by and the school year is over, it feels odd not hearing the collective”laoshi hao” (hello teacher) each morning as you begin your lesson.
If you have any questions about being an ESL teacher in China specifically, don’t be afraid to ask!
One particularly interesting business tactic that has fascinated me during my time in China is the “Rent-a-Foreigner” strategy. In order to appear more international and exotic, some Chinese companies—ranging from real estate to engineering—will hire foreigners to give their companies an international face to appear more high-end. The entertaining consideration is you don’t need any knowledge or education to do this; you just play the role you are assigned. The greatest part? You can make some good money as well.
Here is the Weixin commentary based on the BusinessInsider article. It’s a short, interesting read that provides a little more information on why the Chinese perceive the foreign face to be advantageous during events and other business-related happenings. I mean, it’s a running joke here that you can buy anything off of TaoBao (think Chinese Amazon and Ebay on steroids), but I didn’t realize that you can really buy anything, even foreigners. Shoutout to Shelby Tuseth for sending this article to me.
I told myself that if the opportunity presented itself, I would at least interview and try to be that foreign face just to experience it. I would be able to meet new people and possibly have some fun while earning that sweet Mao money so why not? On April 4th and 5th, experience it I did.
Over time, a few friends I’ve made over here would post in their WeChat feed (think Facebook, but more mobile-oriented) that they knew of a company looking for a “white male, 6’0″ or taller, aged 21-25.” A few of the times that I applied for the position, I was turned down with the reason being that I wasn’t skinny enough. Maybe to some that would be upsetting, but you also have to understand the expectation of skinny here in China. I’m a 33″ waist which is pretty common for men my age in the U.S. The first position I applied to was looking for someone “lankier than me.” It was just funny having that explained by my friend who originally asked if I was interested. After a few more attempts, I was finally accepted to help a kitchen appliances company, Robam, advertise during a shopping holiday at the beginning of April 2015 here in Nanjing. Little did I know, I signed up for something a little more intensive than handing out coupon fliers.
That weekend, I met up with a group who were also in consideration for this event and I quickly realized that I was the only male among about eight Asian women who were around my age. We get to Robam’s meeting room where we were told to wait. The leader of this Robam promotional event has the girls stand up, show her how they look with different hair styles, and a few other things to ensure their qualifications and they wrap up after about 20 minutes. Meanwhile I’m just twiddling my thumbs wondering what they will require from me. After the girls are ok’ed, we’re told that all of us can leave. I’m a bit puzzled so I ask one of the girls why the Robam woman didn’t even talk to me. The woman heard me and told the girl to ask me if I can dance… which I said yes to. Apparently, with that sole question, I was hired. Did I just accept a role in an advertising dance promotion? Yes. Yes I did.
We were going to be working Saturday and Sunday doing choreographed dance promotions at 4 different Robam store locations in downtown Nanjing. They would pay me 2,000RMB (~$330) for the whole weekend and while it wasn’t exactly what I was expecting, I went with it.
All of us met again Friday night April 3rd, to finalize the full dance and I was fitted for the outfit that I would rock as the front man of my troupe: a pretty snazzy chef uniform. I just remember thinking to myself what is going on?
Throughout Saturday and Sunday, we were led around various Robam locations within a shopping mall center and put on a 3 minute show starring Jack the Weigouren Chef and his Chinese French Maids. In total we probably did about 8-10 dances each day and we even got to cruise on Segways a couple of times. While walking–sometimes Segwaying(?)–between locations, we would carry signs with the girls chanting a slogan in Chinese. Meanwhile, I would just lead the girls in a line from location to location with the camera crew and assistants directing me. I have never been stared at so much in my life. Every time the music would start, shoppers and passersby would look to the source of the upbeat tempo, see our costumes, and realize that some white guy is making an ass of himself for the sake of commercialism. We would start dancing in front of maybe 10 people and by the end of our routine, there would be 70+ people recording us on their phones; at other locations, it was much more people.
So without further ado, here is the entertaining video of our dance with the laughing of my friend Tony (the person filming) included. Sorry it’s not in 4K and surround sound.
Although it was a little odd at first, the whole weekend was fun. The entire job turned out drastically different from what I imagined and I was paid for something I thought I would never get paid to do. Sounds like the embodiment of a perfect foreign experience in China to me.
Here we go with the 3rd chapter of Faces of Nanjing No. 5 High School with a larger-than-normal collection of my 7th graders. Unfortunately the seniors that I teach are less accessible before and after my classes, but I will manage to get a few interviews at some point.
This time we have a good mix of 7th graders from both class 10 and 11. Enjoy!
Name: Zhong Yi, G7C11
Voted the most adorable classmate (apparently her class did this in another period), Zhong Yi brings a large lamb stuffed animal almost everyday; it’s uses range from a pillow during nap time to hug buddy when she has to speak English in front of the class. Usually she can be found walking arm-in-arm with her best friends during P.E. or enthusiastically turning any English lesson into a time for her to practice her drawing.
When are the happiest? “When I am with my dog.”
If you could have anything in the world, what would it be? “More time to spend with my friends and family.”
What do you want to do when you grow up? “I don’t know. I have time to think about it.”
If you could give advice to someone who is having a problem, what would you tell them? “Happy stories. It will make them feel better.”
If you could only eat one thing the rest of your life, what would it be? “Something sweet.” Like what? “Uhhhhhhh…Cake!”
Name: Xuxin Yu, G7C11
While he is one of the more quiet students in Class 11, Xuxin Yu likes to talk to me in-between classes about Transformers, CS:GO, and various superheroes. His show-and-tells have included his favorite band being Cold Play and his favorite scenes in the Transformers movies. You can usually find him playing basketball after study hall or just laying down and enjoying the Nanjing sun.
If you could only eat one thing the rest of your life, what would it be? “Chocolate.”
What is your biggest dream? “I want to be a professional computer game player in China.”
If you could give advice to someone who is having a problem, what would you tell them? “I would want to invite them to my party.”
What is your favorite class? “P.E. class.” Why? “Sports are my favorite.”
Name: Zhu Kexin, G7C11
Being the deskmate of Wu Longing comes with an exhausting high energy presence during class and no one handles it better than Zhu Kuxin. Once she starts having fun, the party doesn’t stop until the bell. Her and Wu Longing foster the energy in the classroom and help people be serious or relaxed when they need to be. They are pretty much inseparable. She is the other mind behind making every character in a romantic relationship die during story activities and always claims it makes the love more beautiful because it continues in heaven. Always entertaining.
What is your favorite class? “Computer class.” Why? “Because I can play computer games.”
What is your biggest dream? “I want to be an artist.”What kind of artist?“I don’t know! There are so many different artists!”
If you could give advice to someone who is having a problem, what would you tell them? “I want to play a fun game with you. Do you want to play and be happy?”
If you could only eat one thing the rest of your life, what would it be? “I don’t know.”You have to pick one thing.“Ok. Ice cream.”
Name: LiWei Jin, G7C11
A DOTA player amongst the many League of Legends enthusiasts in my classes, LiWei Jin enjoys everything you would find in a boy his age: video games, sports, and nervously teasing girls. When he is called upon to speak English, he likes to tap at his teeth as his gaze wanders as if he is following a fly zoom around the room. He also reps the flyest shoes in the class.
What is your biggest dream? “I want to be Superman.”
If you could only eat one thing the rest of your life, what would it be? “Beef.”
What is your favorite class? “The holidays.”
If you could give advice to someone who is having a problem, what would you tell them? “You are lucky to be alive. Don’t be sad!”
Name: Zhou HongYi, G7C10
Another one of the more quiet students I teach, Zhou HongYi has a tough shell to crack. His English is actually pretty good for his age, but he can get quite nervous talking in front of his classmates and even just talking with me. He must think that I am always testing him or something because I can always see his gears grinding for the best possible answer to a question, even if it is a simple answer. He doesn’t ask his classmates for help like many of my other students so he takes the time to think and will then answer my questions 3-5 minutes after moving on.
What is your biggest dream? “I want to be the manager of the biggest company in the world.”
If you could only eat one thing the rest of your life, what would it be? “Pizza.”
If you could give advice to someone who is having a problem, what would you tell them? “Should we go to the sea? We can be at peace.”
What is your favorite class? “English.”Why?“It makes me feel good talking English and I have fun.”
Name: Jin Joaquin, G7C10
Although many of my students are avid gamers, Jin Joaquin takes the cake when it come to being a League of Legends fanatic and loves tying the game into our current unit. His drawings and stories? League of Legends. His past 3 show-and-tells? Each have been about the various aspects of the game. At the beginning of the 2nd term after Chinese New Year, I asked the students what they wished for going into the new year and he replied: “I hope Teemo gets deleted from the game. I hate him so much.” (Teemo is a character who embodies the soul of Satan and is frustrating to play against.)
What is your biggest dream? “I want to be a successful computer engineer.”
If you could give advice to someone who is having a problem, what would you tell them? “This is nothing. You must think of the good things and you will be lucky.”
If you could only eat one thing the rest of your life, what would it be? “Hamburger. No cheese.”
What is your favorite class? “Math. I think it is cool and I wear glasses so I have to like math.”
Name: Wang WeiChen, G7C10
It can be both funny and annoying at times, but Wang WeiChen is one of the more vocal students in my G7C10. He likes to give his opinion on everything we do whether it be to me, his deskmate, or the entire class. Thankfully he enjoys 99% of what we do so it is never really a problem, but some of his classmates tell him to quiet down sometimes. He has joined Jack’s Super Awesome Lunch Crew a few times and even bought me a few yogurts much to my surprise. Jin Joaquin and him are very close friends.
What is your biggest dream? “I want to be a teacher when I grow up.” What kind of teacher? “A math teacher in China.”
If you could give advice to someone who is having a problem, what would you tell them? “I will take care of your problems. You should be happy everyday. I am always happy.”
If you could only eat one thing the rest of your life, what would it be? “Beef.”
What do you do with your family during the 2 months of summer holiday? “We will often have a big dinner at my grandparents home many times during the week and we have a good time.”
(I would like to thank GoGlobal for asking me to write an advice piece for future teachers in China. If you are interested in ESL teaching and are toying with the idea of traveling while working, make sure to look them up.)
After talking to students and teachers from Australia, Canada, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Italy, Ireland, and many other countries around the world, I’ve understood that your academic experience is going to be different depending on where you grow up; China is no exception.
Different classrooms and different students require a range of techniques to effectively teach without driving yourself or your students crazy.
Just to re-iterate the title of this post, I went through an orientation through the AYC program about teaching in China, but I still had no idea what I was doing in the beginning. It was nerve-racking, downright intimidating, emotionally exhausting, and there was a lot of trial and error. Now, I get excited about teaching my classes, the students have fun, and I can walk into my classrooms with full confidence and leave at the bell with a smile as they wave and say “goodbye Jack.”
In my first year of teaching China, I’ve learned so many new things regarding this work that it is hard to pin them down. I hope that the advice I offer here, to foreign teachers entering the Chinese classroom for the first time, allows you to have some traction as you begin teaching the first couple months of class. Just remember, you are not alone in your anxiety and it only gets easier. Much, much easier. Let’s get into it.
1) It’s all about the environment. You want to start off your classes well? Smile. Laugh. Embarrass yourself a little bit. I introduced myself the first day with a Powerpoint that had awkward baby photos and the students loved it. Just prove to the students you’re human. Try to speak some Chinese (even if its wrong or terrible) because that shows you understand their struggle with English. Your students will be a lot more willing to try English when they feel comfortable. Also, seeing you make mistakes with their native language lets their guard down.
2) Questions. Your students have been taught since day one in primary school that the teacher’s word is law and you don’t question it…ever. Remind your students every single class that they can ask questions if they are confused or if they need help with an English word. Just make sure they know you are ok with questions and that you WANT them to ask questions.
3) Who will answer? You have to directly pick out a student if you want them to answer a question or speak in front of the class. No one will raise their hand if you ask “Would anyone like to answer the question?” Learning 80 different Chinese names can be a bit difficult so (if they already don’t have them) assign “study numbers” to your classes. If you call out “21,” you’re asking the student with that number to answer or speak and they will do so.
4) Critical thinking. One of the most confounding things I’ve noticed in the Chinese classroom is that rote memorization is love, rote memorization is life. They are taught to pass multiple choice tests, not answer open ended, opinionated questions. Students memorize their vocab books and activity logs, but when you ask them to apply that knowledge, you are met with blank stares. In all of my lessons, there is at least one activity that requires students to speak their opinion about the topic and explain their opinion. Each class they are expected to be called upon with this activity so they remain engaged and are more willing to ask questions. Get them solving problems too.
5) The chattiness. Students will jibber jabber while you lecture or try to explain an activity. The students don’t talk to personally spite you; get that through your head. Just understand that they only understand 50% (if that) of what you’re saying so their attention can be fickle. Eventually your students will know not to talk when you are talking (I have a loud, booming voice which helps too). Make sure to establish some type of attention seeking device for when your students are less than respectful and make that device clear. A sharp whistle (works wonders) or three quick claps are effective. If you look intimidating, a silent stare can get the class to quiet down, but you will be met with looks of fear.
6) Ask your students what they want to learn. I did this with every single class of mine on the first day. Asking students what they want to learn will basically write your lesson plans for you. Different cultures and food, conversational English slang, how to talk to an American girl, U.S. politics and history, English humor, and how to make friends were a few things my students listed. Obviously I couldn’t teach all of this, but it gives you an idea on what your students expect from you. They’ll respect that you actually took their suggestions seriously and in turn, your lessons will be more enjoyable to them.
7) Remove your “ums” and “likes.” I’m still challenged with this aspect of public speaking, but your ability to teach and lead a classroom will exponentially increase with the less filler words you use. Whenever you use these stallers in your speech, your kids pick up on it which can be a bit frustrating. Be conscientious of your speech and it doesn’t hurt to write out notes on your PPT or a note card.
8) Word Choice. So you have graduated college and you use an array of vocabulary to communicate, great! Now that goes out the window when you are teaching a class of 7th and 10th graders who barely know English much less understand you. Although it may sound–and feel–like you are talking down to your students, make sure you use the simplest of words and talk at 50-75% speed. You just have to gauge your class’s English level to realize what vocabulary you can use to communicate your lessons. Otherwise, your entire lesson will go in one ear and out the other.
9) Lesson Planning. Plan your lessons ahead of class. It’s much easier going into the week knowing exactly what you are doing each day with all the materials ready instead of scrambling at the last moment. Make sure you make the purpose of the lesson clear to your students so that you are not met with”Why are we doing this?”
Preview: Show students what they are going to learn.
Presentation: Present the material to them and if you able to, use videos.
Practice: Have the students repeat new words, have them do dialogues, have them ask and answer each other’s questions, fill in the blanks, etc. Just get them using the new information.
Production:This is where I have games come into play. The students enjoy competing and they are using the new information without really realizing it.
Performance:Homework, finishing activities, talk to their parents in English using the new words, etc.
10) You are the fun class. These kids are at school from 7am-6pm everyday and their study habits are ludicrous. They have no time for creativity or leisure. You’re the class that allows them to participate; they don’t want to passively listen to you. I’ve had success with games that require conversation between classmates, talking about themselves and their interests, or activities that are competitive (e.g. Team hangman, 20 questions, tongue twisters). Arts and crafts days (use sparingly) allow the students to decompress after a rough midterm week. Monthly show and tells are my bread and butter. Make your students be creative, imaginative, and original.
Here are some resources available for ESL teachers: ESL cafe, TEFL.net, iteslj.org, and eslkidstuff.com. This advice mainly applies to middle school and high school students, but some of it is applicable to primary school; I just don’t have an experience with primary school children.
If you are working with 1st graders, good luck and god speed. Have any questions, comments, or want me to elaborate? Just ask!
If you didn’t get the chance to see my last post about some of the wonderful students that I have the privilege of teaching, you can check out my motivations for doing a HONY type human-interest piece here. I get a kick out of doing these interviews, which allow my students to showcase their personality outside of the classroom. This post includes four of my 7th graders that hail from Class 11. Cheers!
Name: Yang Sen, G7C11 (I didn’t do this in my last post, but from now on I am going to put the surname first since that is typical in Chinese culture.)
Yang Sen is a pretty calculated student. He chooses his moments to speak and in general, he is naturally curious. He usually eats lunch with Flint Lockwood and I, but somedays he will not even say a word; he will just listen. He is constantly puzzled why I always get beef and rice and even though he already knows the answer, he likes to ask me why I don’t get noodles and pork (not very filling). He is a Minecraft junkie who loves to do everything during class except speak English.
What has been the happiest moment of your life? “When I go to my grandparent’s home. I can watch TV, they take me shopping for nice things, and cook with them. That is where I am always most happy.”
If you could give advice to someone who is having a problem, what would you tell them? “Don’t worry. I will help you.”
What is your biggest dream? “I want to do something amazing.” Like what? “Fly in the sky with no help.”
Name: Wu Longing, G7C11
Harboring a hatred for boredom, Wu Longing puts 100% effort into any activity or lesson during class. She motivates students with the energy she brings to classroom, but on the 1% chance she is not rarin’ to go for Foreigner English class, it can be a struggle. During her group story activities, she will somehow steer her team into writing a romance story that ends up with the lovers dying in the end. Every. Single. Story. The first story I can remember had the couple dying of heartbreak and the latest one has them falling off of a cliff. I don’t know.
What is your biggest dream? “My biggest dream is to be an artist.” What kind of artist? “I will use Chinese gardens, flowers, and trees.”
What is your favorite class? “Chinese. It’s easier than English.”
If you could give advice to someone who is having a problem, what would you tell them? “I will show you some interesting and happy things. I want to tell you happy stories to make you feel better so you will smile.”
Name: Wang Si Miao, G7C11
The self-labeled “nerder” of Grade 7 Class 11, Wang Si Miao is the most video game and comic obsessed student I teach. He runs around with his hood up, arms flying behind him, and a pencil hidden in both of his sleeves so that he can practice being an assassin. His knowledge of Marvel based superheroes is unparalleled and his passion shows; he became extremely flustered with a classmate who would not copy the Avenger’s story during a group “make up a story in English” activity. He is the third member of Jack’s Lunchtime English Speaking Crew and never stops talking about Assassin’s Creed…never.
What has been the happiest moment of your life? “When I came to this school as a top student. Also I was able to finally play and beat Assassin’s Creed Victory. So happy.”
If you could give advice to someone who is having a problem, what would you tell them? “I will say ‘don’t worry’ and then I go help them. No matter what.”
What is your biggest dream? “Which dream do you want.” What dreams do you want to tell me about? “I want to be an assassin with Spiderman’s powers. I will make the world better. Technology and practice will make it possible.”
Name: Ma Wenjie, G7C11
The head honcho and class decision maker, Ma Wenjie is quite vocal. If she doesn’t like something, if she is bored, or if she is done with an activity and wants feedback, she will make sure you know. She is the most popular girl in Grade 7 with many friends in the two classes at the high school and with the junior school 7th graders. She went to primary school with most of her classmates and her decisions are final among her friends. I swear she is the class mother as some students will check their homework with her or ask her to speak for them if Warren is not around.
What is your biggest dream? “I want to be a teacher. A Chinese teacher. Maybe travel, but I don’t know.”
If you could give advice to someone who is having a problem, what would you tell them? “I can cry with you. No problem.”
What is your favorite thing in the world? “Hong Kong films.”
Why are their two 7th grade classes at this high school? “We are the best in all things at school. Much better students than junior school.”(I 100% agree with this statement).
I’ve always found Humans of New York to be one of my favorite human-interest pieces that I peruse daily. It reminds me that every single stranger I walk past each day has an entire life that I have no clue about. They have their own problems, interests, and personality that I will most likely never know of. The amount of events that occurred in our lives to lead each of us to that exact location in the world is crazy to contemplate. I guess you could say these are my shower thoughts?
I really should’ve thought about doing this type of thing when I first arrived and started teaching at Nanjing No. 5 High School. My students are all friendly, love to talk English with me, and enjoy taking pictures (although I thought it might be a little weird if I were taking pictures with/of my students with my phone, but I guess it isn’t here). So I started interviewing individual students outside of class, and eventually my coworkers will work their way into this mix, to help introduce the wonderful people that have made my work this year both fun and rewarding.
My main classes are Grade 7 Class 10 & 11 so it can be pretty funny trying to teach English to 13-year-olds who know just enough English to be knowledgable and who clever enough to make jokes at my expense. Some of my students are middle class and some are super rich. Some have excellent English and some struggle a bit. Some can be found out on the basketball court during break time while others can be found leisurely walking around the track or sitting, nose buried in a book. I’m more than thankful to be consistently teaching 90 students who are diverse in their interests and—if their math teacher didn’t completely fry their brain in the morning—enjoy my classes enough to freakin’ clap when I enter the room. Most likely, it’s because my class is less stressful than any of their other classes.
So without further ado, here is my first edition of “Faces of Nanjing No. 5 High School,” introducing three of my 7th grade students.
Name: He goes by Flint Lockwood, G7C10. He won’t tell me his Chinese name…
Flint is probably my most helpful and most intelligent student. He taught himself English through American movies, has a deep fascination with “Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs” and “Men in Black,” and even eats lunch with me while asking the most random of questions.
What is your biggest dream? What do you want to do in your life? “I want to be an inventor and make the world a better place.”
How are you going to achieve that? “First, keep working hard at my studies and learn many new things.”
What is you favorite thing in theworld? “Science.” Just science? “Oh and scientists.”
If you could give advice to someone who is having a problem, what would you tell them? “No matter how bad it gets, it will be good. Everything gets better.”
Name: Meiwen Gu, G7C11 (technically GuMeiwen since Chinese names typically put the surname first. Her first name could mean “warm beauty,” but I may be wrong.)
Meiwen is shy around me, but very popular in her class. I have to coax her to speak English and when she does, she speaks it well. She has a habit of meowing in my class at random times and enjoys tongue twisters.
What is your biggest dream? What do you want to do in your life? “I want to be a teacher. Maybe teach in different countries, but I don’t know.”
What is your favorite thing in the world? (stone-faced and stares at me) “Cats.”
If you could give advice to someone who is having a problem, what would you tell them? “Get a cat. Pets make everything better and will make you happy.”
Name: Warner, G7C11. He just likes to be called Warner…
Warner is one of my favorite students. He is the class mega-phone; I can always count on him to translate instructions, get people excited, or help me understand how the class is feeling during class. If I explain an activity we will be doing, he gauges class opinion, stands up in the nicest way possible, and says, “I think that the class will not like this the most, but they will still do it.” I have to resist laughing because his voice is still a bit high, but is always very calm. He is a huge gamer who plays League of Legends and Minecraft, and is obsessed with the show, “Fringe.” He always refers to J.J. Abrams as a genius.
What is your biggest dream. What do you want to do in your life? “Policeman. I want to help people as a policeman.”
What is your favorite thing in the world? “Nature. It is the world.”
If you could give advice to someone who is having a problem, what would you tell them? “You just need to be brave.”
How did I go from a Minneapolis job-hunting hopeful to a foreigner casually eating dumplings contemplating whether I should teach American football or tongue twisters on Monday?
February, 2014—In the midst of a pounding blizzard, the University of Minnesota makes the decision to resume holding the annual College of Liberal Arts career fair despite the weather ensuring low attendance.
A week leading up to this job-hunt circus, I research every single one of the 150+ businesses to be in attendance, jotting down notes and marking their locations on the mini map we were provided. Although I glance at the Ameson Year of China, I put it in the back of my mind since I was determined to begin working in Minneapolis, MN after I returned from backpacking through Europe after graduation.
Although both of my parents are teachers, I didn’t find myself following in their footsteps as I plan on having a career in project management, the public relations, and the advertising industry.
I tirelessly work my way through countless booths, passing off my resume and scribbling down answers from the set of questions I prepared. When all is said and done, I begin eyeing the exit but notice my path took me right by the Ameson Year in China booth; I decide I can stomach one more informational interview before heading home to contemplate my future. Although I left the AYC booth feeling positive (I found it was the only job I was excited to apply for), I couldn’t have told you that a year later, I would be living, working, and developing myself in the vast, foreign land that is China.
That’s cool and all, but why would you move to the other side of the world?
Growing up, my parents always made it a point to travel. On holidays (when I wasn’t playing hockey), my family would either pack up the car for a road trip or collect our bags for a flight. Whether it was to Glacier National Park, Montana or down to Key West, Florida, I was familiar with traveling and experiencing new places. I believe that traveling is a necessary influence in becoming a well-rounded person.
After evaluating my post-graduate opportunities, I decided to challenge myself further and work in China for a year. Maybe I would find more opportunities in a growing country after my first year teaching. Maybe I would enjoy living there more than America. Maybe I was just delaying the real world back home. I really didn’t know. The only thing I understood was that making a big jump like this, sticking with it, and learning from it was a big risk that would make for a worthy investment in my future whether I decided to stay longer than a year or not.
After a successful application process, I was happy to know that the next year of my life was planned for Nanjing; a city that I’d never heard of, living in a culture that I’d never experienced, communicating in a language that I’d no knowledge of, and teaching English in a capacity that I’d never worked. Challenge accepted.
After the longest flight of my life, one information-packed week in Shanghai, and a 2-hour train ride, there I was, in a city 12 times the size of where I call home, placed with 2 AYCers (each of us at different schools) that I had come to know at orientation, $1000 that I brought with me, and my class schedule given to me by my school. The rest of my time here depended upon my open-mindedness, interests, willpower, and patience.
So you have a little optimism, a passion for new experiences, and the ability to just leave all of your family and friends that you have come to know and love the past 22 years of your life. Well aren’t you special. How did it go?
The first month or two was quite a trial. I had to establish some type of routine, explore my surrounding neighborhood locating my favorite supermarkets and restaurants, and really put myself out there to meet new people. I eventually found a group, both Chinese and expat/foreigner, who I am extremely proud to call friends and many of whom I will for a lifetime. I’m constantly meeting new people every weekend as well. It was just really difficult understanding how patient you have to be. Going out and trying to force myself into friendships wasn’t a worthwhile effort. I had to accept that the friendships and networking come casually and with a little patience, my friends group became apparent and I began meeting more and more people over time.
Teaching was difficult at first, but with a little experimentation and more time, it became easier. I started getting acclimated to standing in front of my different classes consisting of 45 13-year-old 7th graders and 45 16 year-year-old seniors. In total, this year I taught five different 7th grade classes, two 8th grade classes, and seven different senior classes. I took into full account what my students wanted to learn (US culture, sports, video games, improving their speaking, etc.) because there is absolutely no hope attempting to teach them a language and a disinteresting topic at the same time. I even surprised myself too. At the beginning, I would just grind through my classes to get to the weekend. Eventually, I found myself enjoying this whole teaching thing.
I became close with my coworkers who gave advice on my lessons and would help me with every single problem I ran into including finding the printer room, telling my students what to bring for next class, or even getting my laptop fixed (that was a dark week). A few even took me out to dinner with their families and the English department presented me with high-quality scarf and gloves for Christmas. (Side note: They don’t understand how I wear just a light sweater in 50° without a jacket and hat. I’ve tried to explain to them that I’ve lived in the cold my whole life and for 4 years, I braved Minnesota winters just to get to class in the morning, but they still think I am crazy for not dressing “warm enough.”)
The students were not easy at first either. They gibber-gabber and gossip loudly when they get bored. They will ask you completely irrelevant questions ranging from if you have a girlfriend to when was the last time I ate at McDonalds. It can be incredibly frustrating. Somehow, my students began looking forward to my classes (this may be because I am the only foreigner English teacher at my school) and eventually started policing themselves. It’s an amazing feeling when a student starts talking when yo are and a few students turn around and tell the interrupter to “shut up because teacher Jack is talking.” Feels good man.
Thankfully, most of my students have a functional grasp over the English language so I’m not required to speak Mandarin. I do take the opportunity to at least try because: 1) My students find it incredibly entertaining to hear my horrendous accent and futile attempts, and 2) why not take advantage of a two-way learning system where the students can help me learn? It takes a lot of stress and frustration off of them when they see me go through the same embarrassment and frustrations learning their language as they experience when learning mine. The more fun they are having, the more fun and rewarding my job is.
I do find it entertaining how incredibly physical my students’ friendships are with each other. In class, boys and girls give each other a couple light jabs on the shoulder, pinch each other’s cheeks, or hang off of each other. Some hold hands while they walk around the track at lunch and last week I witnessed 3 seniors hold one of their friends down and tickle him. Not exactly the physicalness I grew up with or a component common in American student friendships, but it doesn’t even phase me any more.
It’s a huge advantage being an American English speaker here in China as it usually opens opportunities for you to teach others in your free time. Usually, a coworker of yours knows someone who wants to improve their English or you have a friend of a friend who needs the lessons. One of the families I tutor for has a daughter attending school in Delaware next year. On New Year’s Day, they invited me to their daughter’s piano recital and on my birthday, they took me out for coffee and skating. The father will even make me dinner after our weekly lessons and talk with me for hours. I’m already appreciative that I became close with the students and coworkers where I teach, but I would’ve never thought that I would become so personally close to a Chinese family; a family I feel invested in and who will keep in contact with me when they move to America.
Depending on your age, height, and skin color, you can find other less common opportunities…
That leads me into something I found to be the most profound learning experience here: self-awareness. Growing up in a predominantly white suburb of Minnesota and attending a predominantly white high school and university doesn’t leave much for being conscientious about your race as a Caucasian. I was more judged on where I was from, my hobbies, my accent, but my race was never brought up in casual conversation and before coming to China, I never really thought about a person’s race no matter who I was talking to. The media I ingested, the people I interacted with everyday, and my hobbies had me surrounded by more English-speaking (apart from Spanish class) Caucasian males and females than any other race or ethnicity. Coming to China was eye-opening.
You also have options for non-teaching opportunities just for being an English speaker here in which, some of these jobs are only given to you depending on your skin color. No matter what, if you do not look Chinese, you will be stared at as people around you try to figure out where you are from and what you speak. And I don’t mean a quick glance over; people here will stare you down as if you are the first extraterrestrial to ever touch down upon this Earth. They are curious about the laowai ordering Beijing Duck in Mandarin at a Chinese restaurant and look on as he struggles using chopsticks.
While I’d never say it was a negative or distressing experience (outside of a few people making fun of me for my accent or referencing me as a few disrespectful terms), here in China I’d experienced being a minority for the first time in my life. It was just crazy to realize that.
So it sounds like you had a pretty good year learning about yourself, the culture, and finding enjoyment in your teaching. What did you take away from it?
I honestly could give a 50 bullet-point rundown of all the differences and learning experiences in China, but you can find anything that I would’ve thought of in the bullet-points section here in a photo-essay written by one of last-year’s AYC participants, Linda Wang.
I’m incredibly comfortable and confident at my job and I couldn’t be happier about my placement here at the Nanjing No. 5 High School. My students and coworkers respect me, my work is rewarding, and I received a generous amount of holiday time to travel China and SE Asia. Participating in the Ameson Year in China program gave me this great opportunity to further my capabilities while expanding my interests and knowledge; a unique opportunity on the international scale with a multi-cultural experience.
Initially, my plan coming to China was just to take a gap year to figure out my future while (hopefully) learning a few things along the way. Almost a year later, I’ve learned more about myself than I could’ve hoped. I proved to myself that I could live on the other side of the world, away from any sort of familiarity or comfort that I’d grown accustomed to, and fully benefit from the experience. I’ve met some amazing people that I would’ve never met otherwise. I like Chinese food more than any other type of food and it’s going to be difficult not having the option to go get chow fan at 3am in the morning. I’ve continued to learn and push myself and China gave me this motivation. I’ve assimilated into a completely different culture that, admit-tingly, still feels mysterious at times, but although I still may be a weiguoren, I don’t really feel like it anymore.
Growing up in the U.S., I became comfortable. Now I am in China and let's see me out of my comfort zone