Opportunity China’s Partnerships and Recruitment Manager and former English Teacher in China, Will Perrins, has been travelling up and down the country, to speak with students across the UK about living and teaching in China and will be at the USW Opportunities Fair on Thursday 9 November 2017 on Treforest Campus.
Speaking with students from a wide and diverse range of disciplines and backgrounds has given me the opportunity to reflect on some of the concerns and queries raised by final years who are considering teaching in China.
Support networks and expat communities
One of the more common concerns among students I spoke with across the UK was whether they would be able to easily find friends and navigate their new surroundings without feeling isolated. This is incredibly important and was one of the major concerns I had before travelling to China myself. I could draw on my positive experience of having made very close friendships and bonds with both my fellow foreign teachers and Chinese staff at my school, with whom I was put in contact before my departure.
Addressing these concerns reminded me of how tight-knit expat communities are in China, particularly within 2nd tier cities. This can be a double-edged sword, with personality clashes sometimes being unavoidable and the intense nature of working with the same colleagues in a foreign country occasionally putting a strain on relationships. However, the resilience, patience and empathy that emerge from living and working in such an atmosphere, in addition to strong bonds and life-long friendships I acquired made it an undoubtedly positive social experience.
Many students expressed a concern that, although they would love to teach English in China, their lack of classroom teaching experience would negatively impact their effectiveness as a teacher in China. This reminded me of having arrived in China with very limited teaching experience in the age bracket of my new classes.
Although I had run theatre workshops and tutored in the past, part of me still didn’t feel fully prepared for this experience. I was told before I left to be patient, find a positive in every new class I taught and was encouraged by my fellow teachers to persevere and begin each lesson with passion, zeal and enthusiasm.
This attitude carried me through my teaching experience in China, and alongside the support and camaraderie of my colleagues, enabled me to be elevated to the position of Foreign Teacher Manager in under 2 years.
There are countless examples among expat teachers of those with limited experience traversing this steep learning curb through a positive mindset and attitude. I find that the those who have the best experience, and who often make the best teachers exhibit these traits and motivate themselves on a daily basis by the pride they take in their development.
Language and culture
A country as different as China naturally brings with it concerns about navigating a completely foreign language and culture. When speaking with students about their concerns over these cultural differences it took me back to my arrival in China, speaking very little Mandarin and knowing even less about Chinese culture, the immersive learning experience I had was vital!
It was through my expat and Chinese friends and colleagues that I quickly learnt about core Chinese cultural concepts such as the importance of Mianzi (Face) in almost all daily interaction. Although I made my fair share of cultural faux pas throughout my first months living and working in China, I found people forgiving and willing to help.
Having the opportunity to immerse myself entirely in a different culture and language gave me the chance to learn the world’s most spoken first language in an intensive and cost-effective manner. Had I sought to gain the same standard of education at home it would have most likely cost over 100 times the amount.
I found my experience speaking with students about the challenges, benefits and occasional absurdities (both positive and negative), really took me back to the excitement I felt during my first few months in China.