Don't hesitate - Take the jump!
I first visited mainland China during Spring 2014 while on exchange in the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. My first footstep on the mainland was in Beijing, where I stayed for 5 days. I traveled with an American and a German, and we were all blown away by the culture and history of the place. We also went met with a friend of the German, a native Beijinger, who has now become a lifelong friend. He and his family brought us for dinner in one of Beijing's most famous restaurants. I was in awe of the occasion. Chinese people can have a cold, reserved reputation in the west, but once you come here, you realize that reputation is a complete stereotype and that China is unbelievably vast and diverse. After a week seeing the Forbidden City, The Great Wall and other world heritage sites, I spent a few days in Shanghai. Shanghai has a very different vibe, its chaotic and intense, and business is king. Later during my exchange, I jumped across the border to Guangzhou and Shenzhen due to its proximity to Hong Kong. On returning to Ireland for my final year of University, I had the pleasant surprise of sharing my house with two Chinese girls. They often brought their other Chinese friends around and through them I became more and more interested in China.
During the spring of 2015, I saw an advertisement on my university campus for English teachers. Immediately I was sure that I wanted to do it. Following an interview and acceptance, I was flying to China that August. I landed in Changsha for an orientation, and then I was on my way to my new home, the otherworldly Zhangjiajie, famed for it's unique, gorgeous mountains that apparently inspired James Cameron's Avatar. I wanted to live near nature, learn Chinese Kung Fu and Mandarin, and travel when I could, which is exactly what I did. A very experienced, famous Kung Fu Master called Huang began teaching me martial arts free of charge, which I was amazed by. I still cannot believe how generous he has been to me. I feel honored to be his apprentice. During November 2017, I went with him and other masters to Changsha for the annual Hunan Wushu Association competition. I got a gold and bronze medal, and later I was interviewed by the People's Daily newspaper in Zhangjiajie. I traveled to Yunnan, Sichuan, Shaanxi and Henan at various times in the year and visited places such as Tiger Leaping Gorge, Jiuzhaigou, Mount Hua and Mount Song.
I left China in July 2016 and spent a month in India before arriving home. I then started a master’s degree in England, but this was a very painful time for me, and I thought about returning to China every day, literally. I really love China.
So, after finishing my studies, I decided to return to Zhangjiajie, and I am here happy again, and my Mandarin and understanding of Chinese culture is improving with every passing day. Teaching is a huge amount of fun and the students and I have a very good relationship. Chinese students are generally well behaved, but a lot of fun, much to many westerners’ surprise. It’s also very easy to save money in China. It’s the perfect balance here. In Japan, salary and cost of living are both high. In Vietnam, salary and cost of living are both low. China gives you a high salary with a low cost of living. China is still not yet developed everywhere, making it interesting to westerners, but developed enough everywhere so that nothing is too arduous. Don't hesitate if your gut and heart say do it – Take the jump!