What were your expectations prior to starting your role? How has the experience matched your expectations?
I didn’t really know what to expect before boarding the plane to China, except for a new and exciting experience and China has certainly lived up to that expectation! I’d done some work with children before, but I had never taught English, so I was definitely nervous before my first class. After surviving my inaugural lesson, however, I’ve relaxed a bit and generally find teaching a lot of fun. At my company I work with students of all ages, so I’ve had the opportunity to try out a variety of different styles. It’s great to get to know my students and rewarding to see their improvement over time.
What do you like most about China?
There are lots of things! I especially enjoy the sense of community even within a big city like Chengdu. It’s always interesting to walk through the parks and watch the large groups gathering to play ‘mahjong’ and the larger groups still of women (with the occasional man) ‘square dancing’ in the evenings.
The availability of an endless variety of tasty street food is also a definite plus!
What has taken a bit of getting used to?
As seeing a foreigner in China, especially in more rural areas, is still quite unusual, people often seem bizarrely excited to see you walking about. Being stared at in surprise in the street was quite odd and amusing at first, as was occasionally being asked to pose for a photo with complete strangers! I still find this minor celebrity status quite funny, but it is often a useful opportunity for practicing some basic Chinese!
What’s your accommodation like?
My apartment in a nice modern building near to where I work, which I share with another foreign teacher at my training school. My school helped me find the apartment very quickly and continues to help us talk to the landlord about anything we need.
How have you got to know people socially (both Chinese and other ex-pats)?
The first people I met were my co-workers, both Chinese and other ex-pats, who are a very nice group to get together for hotpot (and possibly a trip to KTV – karaoke – is being planned). Beyond work, I’ve joined a dancing club that meets at one of the ex-pat bars in Chengdu, and a small choir, both of which are attended by both other ex-pats and Chengdu natives and has been a great way to get to know people from different parts of the city. My advice would be to get involved with as many things as possible!
What have you found to be the major cultural differences? Have you made any cultural faux-pas?
Despite thinking I knew how to use chopsticks before leaving the UK, it turns out I’d been holding them wrong for years and was speedily corrected by my Chinese friends. Although this initially resulted in my dropping more food, having learnt the proper technique, I do feel my chopsticks skills have now improved far beyond my starting level!
Spitting is also completely OK in public and my Chinese friends found it very amusing when they gave me some sugar cane to chew and I proceeded to ‘politely’ spit the remnants into the bin, while they happily spat onto the floor!
What places have you visited whilst working? How did you travel?
So far I’ve visited many of the sites in Chengdu, such as the temples, parks and the famous Giant Panda base, (where I took an indecent number of pictures of pandas being typically adorable). I’ve also travelled to the neighboring city of Mianyang and am planning a longer trip soon to Yunnan Province, taking a mix of trains and buses to get around the countryside.
What is your favourite Chinese food?
The food in Sichuan is very spicy – the first time I ate hotpot it did feel a bit like an inferno in my mouth – but I’ve got used to the spice quite quickly and now really enjoy the kick! One of my favourite foods is probably Shao Kao, Chinese barbecue, which is available on all good neighborhood corners late into the night!
Do you manage to save any money each month? If so, how much on average?
I’ve only been in China just over a month, so it’s a bit early to tell an average, but I should be able to save a fair amount each month!
What piece of advice would you offer to future applicants?
My advice would be to learn whatever Chinese you can before leaving; even a few basic survival phrases help a lot! Mastering your numbers is a very good place to start and will help you shopping, haggling for taxis and understanding bus/ train times, so it’s worth practicing!
Apart from that, bring an open mind, positive attitude and sense of adventure!
Do you have any feedback on how Opportunity China can improve its service for teachers?
Opportunity China has been a great help throughout the process of moving to China, answering any questions I had, and always keen to keep in touch with how things are going. It’s been very useful to have someone to answer both the big questions, such as looking over a contract, and the smaller ones, such as packing essentials!