Everyone tells you that teaching in China will be an incredible experience and my case was certainly no exception. The experiences I had will stay with me long past the point where my friends and family are bored of me beginning every second sentence with “when I was in China…” I wanted to do something that would allow me to go somewhere interesting, develop myself and build my CV. I had no problem finding all of these in China.
I taught in the relatively small city of Cixi (tsuh-schee) not far from Shanghai. The population is around 1 million, but in fact there are 50 such cities in China as it is such a populous country. Despite its proximity Cixi is not nearly as cosmopolitan as Shanghai; outside of the school I taught in I only ever saw 2 other foreigners which meant that I had celebrity status in Cixi! The ‘Cixinese’ were very interested in watching foreigners, if a little cautious about approaching them.
The school I taught in was a private school with two types of pupils; summer or regular. The pupils varied in age from teenagers to middle aged company employees. They provided me with a desk and taught me the system of lesson plans; all pupils at the school took one of eight courses and there were detailed lesson plans for each course. All I needed to do was go through the lesson plans and check I had the resources and understood the plan.
After practice lessons and then supervised lessons I was away and teaching the pupils. This definitely taught me a few lessons in communication and management. Due to initial nerves I ploughed through the lesson plans far too quickly and without focus on correcting the students’ spoken English. I quickly learnt to slow the lessons down, get the pupils to talk to each other and always to report back on what they had said to the class. Inevitably there were highs and lows of teaching but it is fantastic to be able to look back on lessons and see the improvement made. I was teaching for 8 weeks but found both the challenges and satisfaction never diminished.
Of course, being in China presented a learning experience in itself. The culture is highly food-based and dinner is a social occasion. The first lesson, which I learnt fast, was that there are many plates of food in a meal. You aren’t expected to eat everything! In fact I would recommend not eating everything on a plate, but be very open minded about what constitutes food! You will have no problem surviving though. Even in the more conservative region I was in there were plenty of western restaurants and all food is very cheap. Think 80p for a good lunch. Food was the most polar of all the cultural aspects. I could describe hundreds of other smaller cultural differences which all combine to give a fascinating insight into a country that was closed for thousands of years.
My advice would be to approach everything with an open mind and be prepared to see things from a very different point of view. Chinese people are very friendly and characterised by their eagerness to be of help to you. You will have an awesome time!