A Year to Remember
Living in China for a year has been an interesting experience for me personally. My situation is likely very different from other applicants because one of the main reasons I chose to do this program after graduation was to be able to spend time with and better get to know my family living in the Hunan region. Growing up in the U.S., I never really understood what living in China would be like and this year has given me real insight into the lives of my extended family and China as a whole.
The Lanhu program is really great because you are allowed to apply as a couple, which gave my partner and I the chance to endeavor on this program together. Initially, getting all of the paperwork for visas/work permits completed was time consuming and tedious, but Shazer and others at Lanhu were very helpful and informative in answering our questions. Once we arrived in China, we had an orientation week where we received some TEFL training and got a chance to mingle with the other foreign teachers in the program. This was nice as it helped us settle down a bit and make some new friends.
Our school provides us with an apartment and three different liaisons to help us with different aspects of adjusting to life in China. They helped us set up our phones and bank accounts within the first week which was extremely helpful because essentially all monetary transactions in China are made using WeChat rather than cash. Thus, not having a working bank account tied in with your WeChat account can make life very difficult here. Our apartment is very large and very livable, although there is not a real kitchen (just a hot plate) so additional kitchen supplies may need to be purchased if you want to cook often. We have generally not had problems with the apartment, and when we did, a school liaison helped us promptly.
I teach two types of classes at the high school—normal first year high school classes and “international classes”. The international classes consist of only 2 students who are preparing to go abroad soon and I work with them one on one to help improve their reading, writing, listening, and speaking skills as well as introduce aspects of American culture to them. These classes have been very rewarding because I directly witness the kids improving and I am able to tailor lessons to their interests and needs. The normal first year high school English classes consists of about 50 students per class and are more difficult to teach. The students can be very rowdy and difficult to manage in the classroom and have wildly varying English ability, so any given lesson may be too easy for some and too difficult for others. In addition, many of the students seem uninterested in learning English and will instead try to joke around and be disruptive or just ignore you. Thus, it can be difficult to teach these classes and one must be very patient with the students. The school does not give much oversight in terms of what to teach— you are kind of on your own with what material you choose to use. This can be daunting at first, but once you find a rhythm it gets easier.
During the eight months I’ve been in China, I have gotten to travel around East Asia a bit which is very exciting. The school is not very forthcoming about dates (like what days we have off for which holidays, when test dates are… etc) so it is a little bit hard to plan trips ahead of time— more likely than not, trips will have to be pretty last minute. However, all the foreign teachers will get 3-5 weeks off for Chinese New Year, which makes it an ideal time to travel. One really awesome thing about China is the high speed railway system. It is extremely convenient and fast. I really love visiting cities and thanks to the high speed rail system I was able to take a couple trips to Hong Kong easily.
Lastly, living in China has given me a real opportunity to spend time with my extended family, which I rarely saw growing up. My grandfather lives in Zhuzhou so I am able to see him every weekend. I also am able to frequently visit Guangzhou and Changsha to see my cousins. It has been an absolute privilege to be able to spend Chinese national holidays with them and experience different aspects of Chinese culture in China with family. This year has been a whirlwind experience completely different from life in the U.S. I am very glad I took this opportunity and will remember this year for the rest of my life.