Not all of us are looking for a long-term career or experience for the future – some of us already bring these with us. But, like most others, we are looking for something different, a change, a challenge. After working for many years for the National Health Service, that was the situation I was in.
I had visited China as a tourist a few times and had loved all of it; the people, the noise, the hustle and bustle, the complete change in culture from that in the west, the sheer vastness of the country, and diversity of its people.
I managed to land a job in Shandong province, a part of the country of which I had no previous experience. The job was as a homeroom teacher in the primary department of a large international school (approx. 4500 students).
My introduction to the school, my class, and my teaching schedule, was well organised by the school’s management team. They gave me ample opportunity to get acclimatised to my duties. I must admit, my first lesson in front of a class of 8 year olds was more than a bit daunting. But staff and students alike were very happy to welcome the newest foreign teacher recruit. During the first week there were many occasions when I was mobbed by a happy mass of students – and not always from my own class – all eager to know my name and practise their English on me. At the end of the first week I got to meet the parents of my students, all delighted that their kids had a new foreign teacher. Thank goodness for google translate! Although one Mum did manage to ask me, in English, if I like beer. Not a question I was expecting.
I was told that I would be teaching in a small city, but 8 million people seemed to be quite a lot to me. The size of the country and population is something that you cannot compare with the UK. As in so many places you could still find the familiar names – MacDonalds, Pizza Hut, Starbucks, H&M etc. In the two years I have been here the Western influence has spread even further.
I really love my job here – it is enjoyable, and taxing, without too much stress. The kids are a pleasure, great fun, and very loving. To live here is great too and to rent a large apartment is very cheap, as is the cost of eating out. We are very fortunate where I am to have an authentic Italian-run restaurant, with the best Italian food I have tasted outside of Rome.
Like others who take this kind of job I wanted to incorporate travelling and exploring along with the teaching. Thanks to the fantastic bullet train it is very easy and affordable to reach many places within China. Shanghai and Beijing are just a few hours away so they’re very doable any weekend. A two month break for summer, and a month break for Chinese New Year, allows either the opportunity to go back home or to explore other parts of Asia – the destinations being almost endless. Since I arrived here I have enjoyed trips to Japan, Thailand, Hong Kong, and the Phillipines.
If anyone were to ask my advice I would most certainly say take the plunge. The job itself is very fulfilling , the rewards being far more than just financial. China may be a very long way away from where you live, but it is a comfortable place to live. You can find most things you would want in the UK… except maybe Branston pickle. I have never heard any of my friends here – male or female – say that they have ever felt threatened or ill at ease whilst out and about in China.
We far more often regret the things we don’t do rather than the things we do. If anyone would like to ask any questions, or to enquire about vacancies at my school, I would be very happy to help and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.