‘We’re moving to Thailand to teach English!’
Those were the words of my best friend and her boyfriend over two years ago. I was excited for them, but I also wanted to jump in their suitcases and never look back!I’ve always wanted to visit Asia but Kev and I weren’t in a position to even think about leaving the country – we had jobs and rent to pay and only crazy wild people did that sort of thing!
Jealousy isn’t an attractive trait but I cannot tell you how much I envied Kelsey and Dan teaching abroad. Hearing their stories of the cute Thai children, easy hours and constant beautiful weather was amazing! They seemed to live the life most of us only dream of, and it played on my mind A LOT.
Fast forward to August 2015 and we were packing up our own bags to move to Beijing. We decided that we weren’t really tied down to anything and that mortgages and careers and council tax didn’t have to be our focus so early on in our lives.
Teaching abroad seemed liked the perfect opportunity to travel but in the days and weeks leading up to our departure, I had so many sleepless nights worrying about our move – no one goes to China! What were we thinking!?
Had we done the right thing? Are we going to waste a massive part of our lives in this strange country where we know absolutely zero words of the language? Is it just that we got bored with our lives in England?
Maybe not, probably and definitely, but it was also the best decision we’ve ever made!
I read countless articles about what it’s really like teaching abroad before we left, but none really seemed to fit our experiences. It’s mad, it’s fun, it’s scary, it’s boring.
It’s not every day that we’re exploring our new city or planning exciting trips to nearby exotic destinations. We stick to a budget in Beijing like we did back home, and we often just flop out on the sofa all weekend. It’s also not every day that we’re meticulously planning lessons or getting stressed at a kid who relentlessly talks in Chinese and crawls around on the floor at the back of your classroom (I’d just like you to picture this for a moment and feel for me).
We expected the children to cling onto our every word and be desperate to learn English in order to secure a better future for themselves. In reality, that’s an arrogant way to think. A lot of kids here actively hate learning the language and just cannot be bothered to get involved.
I used to get frustrated at this, but then I remembered the days of Spanish and French in Year 7 where I would refuse to write in anything but colourful, smelly gel pens because I didn’t value the subject as much as the others. And the hundreds of crude, albeit anatomically incorrect, pictures drawn in the textbooks!
So I try now to give the kids a bit of slack and use the textbook we’re given as loosely as I can get away with. It has to be games games games otherwise they’re not interested.
Don’t get me wrong, there are days when I bounce out of school beaming because the shy kid said a new word. Sometimes I have a hilarious completely off-topic conversation with the grade 5s. One time I got a round of applause because I practised my Chinese (actually, all I said was nǐhǎo and they all just exploded with excitement).
When you move to another country, whether it’s teaching abroad or working in a pub in Australia, the most important thing is to be adaptable. We arrived here with so many misconceptions and judgemental views.
We thought it was dirty in China because they spit and there are only holes in the ground for toilets. And everyone speaks English, people are very poor…the list goes on.
Really, it’s more hygienic to squat when doing your business because you’re not touching anyone else’s downstairs germs. The bathroom areas get quite grotty but I challenge you to find me a clean public toilet anywhere in the world!
Not everyone speaks English because English is not actually the be-all and end-all. And you should see some of the shopping centres in Beijing! I wouldn’t dare go in half of the shops because my Primark leggings would probably set off some sort of cheapskate alarm.
Accepting the culture of somewhere new can be quite daunting and at times, difficult, but it’s also refreshing. You’ll hate it some days, and defend your new country to the death on others.
I’ve found that moving to China has made me appreciate England a lot too and although I’m enjoying my time here, I get a little bit excited when I think about a below-par British summer and the moaning that comes with it.
If you’re thinking of moving to another country to teach English, be prepared for the not-so-perfect days. But also count yourself lucky that you’re about to be challenged in such ways that you develop a new sense of child-like enthusiasm when you have a good lesson.
Sometimes I think back to working a fifty or sixty hour week, and although I did enjoy those jobs you can’t beat coming home at 3 and binge watching Made in Chelsea so much that you actually begin to like Spencer Matthews.*
*Literally for only about ten minutes though, I promise.
Have you taught or moved abroad before? What was your experience like? Let us know!