What were your expectations prior to starting your role? How has the experience matched your expectations?
I don’t think I had many expectations when I left the UK. I think the main thing I wanted was difference – and where better to go for something different than China! However, not so much is different here; I still wake up late, I still go to work, I still buy my groceries. The main difference is the way I do things. And so I think the experience has both matched my expectation and not matched it. Maybe my expectation was a little unrealistic :)
What do you like most about China?
My favourite things about China (because I can’t narrow it to one) are 1) the people and 2) the scenery. The people are so curious, and kind, and are likely to talk to you on the street. Even with the language barrier they are happy to help you and sometimes will go out of their way to make sure you are happy with what you’re getting. One stranger has even clocked off early from work to give me a lift to the train station! The scenery is also amazing. From my street I can see mountains, and my walk to work crosses a wonderful jade-coloured river. If I go out of town I can see the beautiful cityscape from atop one of these said mountains – its great. A half hour train journey and I can visit a county-sized national park complete with hot springs and mountains.
What’s your accommodation like?
The flat I have been provided with is pretty standard – white plaster walls, western toilet, a couple of hobs. I have no problems with it. It has taken a couple of months for me to get things how I like them; introducing home comforts like a blanket on the sofa, and an oven, but otherwise its great. Its in a quiet area of the city and although I can sometimes hear the people upstairs, my neighbours are friendly and always say hello.
How have you got to know people socially (both Chinese and other ex-pats)?
I have mostly got to know the people in my office at work. I go out with the other teachers on a weekly basis (or more so) to the local bar and we often go to each others houses for barbecues and house parties. The Chinese people are harder to get to know (because of the language barrier) but once you learn a few niceties it is easy to get to know people in the local shops and people that you see on your way to work. With the Chinese staff at work I play badminton every week – they’re very good!
What have you found to be the major cultural differences?
The major difference for me is the culture around manners. The Chinese can come across as very rude; they push in line, they will stand very close to you, they will shout and rarely say please or thank you (which is difficult when you are trying to teach children “please” and “thank you” as they don’t see the importance of it). However, once you understand that that is their way, then it doesn’t offend you so much. Like I said previously, they are very kind, but they are also very blunt with their kindness, they will help you directly with the problem at hand instead of having ten minutes of fluffy conversation first!
What places have you visited whilst working? Any highlights?
I haven’t been on any school trips yet, although I have been informed that some may be running later in the year. Outside of school I have been to Shanghai twice, Hong Kong once, and to a place with glorious mountains, waterfalls, and hot springs called Yong Tai. I loved Yong Tai (it is in Fujian Province and so is close to me) and I fully recommend that any teachers close by go. I intend to, in the coming months, explore Fujian Province more, and then go further afield.
What is your favourite Chinese food?
All Chinese food is wonderful, but I definitely prefer noodles to rice. Why? I don’t know. I enjoy how different their food is to English food, however sometimes it can be a little greasy and sometimes you can find unwanted visitors lurking in your tupperware, so watch out!
Do you manage to save any money each month? If so, how much on average?
So far I haven’t because I have only been here a short while. In your first months you may have a lot of out goings – to buy an oven, transport like a bicycle – but for me it’s mainly been travel. I have only been here three months and I have already been on four long weekends away, so I haven’t been able to save much! Its not impossible though, and I have started to put away a little each month..
What piece of advice would you offer to future applicants?
Try to be as open minded as you can. It is easier to understand their culture and little things that might irk you at first (like constantly being stared at in the street) if you remain with an open mind. Also, if there is anything you enjoy doing (knitting, puzzling, sudoku, computer games, etc) bring something with you. Until you know your area and have the ability to order things off the internet, specific things may be hard to come by (like English books). So bring something with you so you don’t get too frustrated!
Do you have any feedback on how Opportunity China can improve its service for teachers?
I don’t think I do. Opportunity China worked very quickly and were amazing at helping us get to China at such short notice! Maybe provide applicants with more information on the visa process (as that is where I struggled and stressed) but otherwise, Opportunity China have been excellent! Thanks guys!