Where are you teaching at the moment?
I’m teaching in north-west China, a province called Xinjiang.
Why did you decide to take a TEFL course?
I decided to take a TEFL course because I saw it as a great opportunity to work and travel. I really wanted to experience living in a different country, learn a new language and learn more about different cultures. The time in my life was perfect, although I had a reasonably well-paid job that I enjoyed, I wasn’t tied down in any way and I needed a change from the daily grind. I felt that if I didn’t do it now, it might never happen.
Best experience in the classroom?
I created a game using giant dice, where names are pulled from the hat and the student chosen must roll the dice. On the board I had the numbers 2 to 12 written with a question or forfeit including “4 = sing an English song” and “12 = do a little dance”. The class just loved it, all cheering each other on. Plus, I had some unexpectedly wonderful performances from the students including a few beautifully sung English songs. We had so much fun.
Worst experience in the classroom?
Only a few weeks after I had first started teaching, I was stood on the small stage/platform at the front of the class, explaining ‘dairy’ (I think) and took a step back. I managed to lose my footing and went flying off the platform behind the big TV, reappearing a moment later in a cloud of chalk dust. I had a class of 50 rolling around the classroom with laughter. But, in fact, I was laughing too and I think it created a great bonding moment between the students and me.
A slightly worse experience though was when I arrived one morning, got everything set up for the movie I planned to show them (and discuss after), then as the class piled in, the school had a power cut! I had 50 students all looking at me expectantly and I didn’t have a clue what to do. The lesson I learnt there was, always have a backup option.
Can you tell us an interesting fact about the country you’re living in?
Well, China is obviously a very big place. The part I’m living in is Xinjiang Autonomous Region which shares borders with Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and India, to name a few. For this reason, there is a real mix of nationalities here. The main minority is the Uighurs, they are of the Turkic family, and they are truly wonderful people. They almost have this Latino thing going on. They have heaps of personality and character and they love to sing and dance. The guys wear ill-fitting suits and shiny black shoes with white socks, the style reminds me of the 1950’s teddy boys. The girls are all quite hippy-like with long hair and long skirts.
There was some quite serious civil unrest in this region last year, which resulted in the internet and international calls being cut off for 10 months. This was a bit of a challenge for me as I was away from home on my own, but at the same time, it allowed me to really immerse myself in the culture here and form some close bonds with new friends.
What are your plans for the next year?
I’ve managed to save up enough money to travel for 4 or 5 months down to where my dad lives in Malaysia. After that, who knows… work in the south-east somewhere? I kept trying to make solid plans but they seem to change every 5 minutes so I gave up trying. Wherever the wind takes me I guess.
Eggplant!!! Seriously, you’ve not eaten eggplant ’til you’ve tried it in China.
What do you do for fun?
I spend most of my free time on my bike. The countryside is not too far away. I go to yoga classes at the local gym, meet friends for dinner. I have a good mixture of friends, probably an equal mixture of foreign, Chinese and Uighur. At the weekends I’ll often meet up with friends and go to the big bustling Uighur market in town, to the country for a picnic, or into the mountains for a walk. I used to read a lot but I’ve run out of English books now, and since we now have the internet back I’ve replaced reading books with researching places to travel and bombarding people with novel-length emails.
How would you sum up your experience as a TEFL teacher?
In the UK, I would wake up at 6.30am every day before my 1/2 hour walk/run to the train station against the wind and rain; work a gruelling 9-hour shift before finally getting home at 7pm and raiding my copper jar so I can afford a pint at The Chemic Tavern.
Here in China, I get up at a fairly leisurely 8.15am before cycling for 5 minutes in the sunshine through the lush green campus, to be greeted by 50 smiling faces, then finishing my working day at 12.40pm. I can easily get by on 10 pounds a week, enabling me to save a pretty hefty sum.
Overall, it has been inspirational. I have been working in a very supportive environment and watching the kids improve has been incredibly rewarding. I feel like teaching has come quite naturally to me, and it has helped me make some decisions about my long term future. I hardly ever feel stressed here and I have enough time to do anything I like.
Do you have any useful pieces of advice to give to anyone wanting to travel abroad to teach English?
Just do it, don’t hold back, you won’t regret it! I’m yet to meet a single person who regrets moving abroad to teach.
Make sure you research the job first; I suggest that you contact some current employees and ask for their opinion about the school and the area. For me though, the most important thing is to be positive. I know it sounds kind of cheesy but I believe that positive things happen to positive people… whatever happens, bad or good, just make the most of it.