Willow - I Love My China Experience!
Teaching in China was something I’d been thinking about doing for a good few years. Now I’ve finally made it and I love it. It’s hard to sum up the last 6 months but I’ll try.
I had a hectic couple of weeks finishing up work and leaving the UK so before I knew it I was being met at the airport by two lovely women, Seven and Christina, from the college I would be teaching at. They took me to my huge flat, then off to lunch and the next day out to shop for essentials in the city centre. Less than two days after my arrival I was being ushered into a classroom to teach my first lesson, with the only response to my numerous questions on teaching being “as you like”. Obviously, I was terrified.
I teach Business English at a technical college in Changsha, where my classes are nice and small (around 25) and almost entirely girls of 18 to 20 years old. The first few weeks were all about finding my feet and getting to know the students. My students are incredibly sweet, almost entirely well behaved and capable enough to continually surprise and entertain me. I never had any aspirations of being a teacher and who knows what I’ll do in the future. I’m into the second term now though and feel pretty happy listing my occupation as ‘teacher’.
The hours are minimal so one of the great things is all the time you have to explore, meet people, get lost and such like. Hunan food is the best. Now I’ve travelled around China a bit with some other teachers, we appreciate even more how good it is. Too many favourites to list! My college has a really nice balance between leaving me to it and helping me out when I need to send money by Western Union or whatever. The most useful thing they did was immediately show me the local bus routes and how to get a coach to nearby cities. It’s 10p to get anywhere in the city and a pound to get to the bigger city of Changsha nearby. One thing you can not miss is getting out and about by train. Armed with a phrasebook and some dates on a piece of paper we made it to the big sites and it could not have been more worth while. Even though we did have a national holiday overbooking disaster, involving 17 hours crammed into a hard seat carriage overnight back from Xi’an. Ah the memories! Another one to that will stay with me forever is spending a snowy Christmas day up in the mountains of “Zhang Jia Jie”, the world heritage listed Avatar mountains. Sian (another MKT teacher) had been invited by her students and I was lucky enough to go along too.
As far as day-to-day life, it can be what you make of it. If you teach uni students you’ll get endless offers to go for lunch, KTV (karaoke in private rooms, an integral part of China!), see the local sights or go shopping for example, which is always good fun when I say yes. In Xiangtan there are also plenty of other foreigners, friendly locals and a reasonable nightlife. I’ve met so many people and had so many bizarre experiences I can’t even remember. There are of course the odd lows and moments of frustration. To teach in China I’d say you need an open mind and a little independence of spirit. But it’s been amazing, everything I hoped for and I certainly don’t think I’m finished with the place yet. The best advice I could give would be, prepare to be unprepared!
Finally, I’d like to thank Lanhu Cultural Exchange Center for getting me out here. I’ve had no problems whatsoever (touch wood…) to need to call on their assistance but the application process was incredibly efficient, every question was speedily answered and there’s regular contact, so I know I have a friendly eye on me should I ever need anything. Thanks!