Throughout my twenties I had always been keen to live abroad and experience a completely different culture to my own. I’d planned to go travelling when I finished university but the recession made it difficult to save enough money to make my plans a reality.
Five years on, my partner and I decided that we wanted to travel whilst working and living in another country. We both liked the idea of teaching English abroad, so we decided to enrol in the 120-hour online course from TEFL Org. We both had full-time jobs at the time, so the course was perfect for us as we could complete it at our own pace.
We both knew we wanted to teach in Asia, and it seemed that China would be the best fit for us. Many schools offer great packages for international teachers, where accommodation, meals and decent holiday periods are included as part of your contract. The opportunity to learn Mandarin Chinese was also really appealing, and we were eager to throw ourselves in at the deep-end and experience a culture completely different to our own.
With that in mind I landed a job at a kindergarten in Phoenix City, a suburb of Guangzhou, the third-largest city in China. Up until that point I’d never even heard of Guangzhou, so the idea of moving half way across the road to live there for a couple of years was daunting, but exciting.
Arriving in China for the first time was a bit of a culture shock. We arrived in August so the city was like a furnace, but still a welcome change from the drizzle of the UK. My first few days in Guangzhou were a blur of medical checks and visa-related admin, but I quickly fell in love with the place. I remember my first venture into the downtown area of Guangzhou. I was blown away by the sky-scrapers and bright lights! The architecture is just so different from what we’re used to back home. The Guangzhou skyline is still one of the most spectacular I’ve seen, and I never tire of looking at it.
After a few days of settling in, I was ready to start at Phoenix City International Kindergarten. Here, I started work as a homeroom teacher for a class of 25 students from ages 3-4. I’ve since moved up a grade with my class, who are now aged 4-5. It’s been great to watch them grow and it’s amazing how much they’ve changed and grown up in a relatively short period of time.
On an average day I start work at 8am, before breaking for a three-hour lunch at midday when the children have a nap. The students go home at 4.30pm each day, when we usually have meetings or office time before finishing at 6pm. My classes include language, phonics, maths and science, but as a home-room teacher I spend most of the day with the children, from preparing their snacks or helping them get ready for different activities like PE.
Although my new routine took some getting used to, I had lots of support from my two Chinese co-teachers who helped me to settle in. The job is great fun, and it’s rewarding when the students start to use English to communicate not only with their teachers, but with their friends. Every lesson is different and it’s great to watch the students enjoying activities that you’ve organised. Some of my favourites have included a colour run, making dumplings and holding our own Rio Carnival.
One of the other obvious perks of the job is the opportunity to travel. We often spend our weekends exploring the local area or visiting other Chinese cities including Shenzhen, Shanghai and Zhangjiajie. One of the other reasons we opted for Guangzhou was its close proximity to Hong Kong, a city which has now become a firm favourite for us. Guangzhou is also a great hub for travelling outside of China, and we’ve been lucky enough to visit countries including Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia.
Over the last couple of years I’ve had some incredible experiences that I would never have had if I hadn’t enrolled in a TEFL course. I’ve feasted on so much weird and wonderful food, gazed at awesome skylines, chilled on beautiful beaches, belted out tunes at KTV bars and even attended a Chinese wedding. It’s been an experience I’ll never forget and one that I would recommend to anyone!
You can read more from Harriet on her blog – ‘Where Harriet Went’