There’s no doubt travelling is good for the soul; it’s an awesome way to see more of the world, discover new cultures and food, and have a ton of fun (I sure try to do it as often as I can!). But living and working overseas can take your experiences to a whole new level. Making a foreign country home for any period can be really challenging, and also wonderfully mind-blowing. It’s no surprise that most who live abroad for extended periods return home changed people. But just how does teaching overseas change you? Here are six ways teaching overseas will make you a better person.
I've been teaching in China for over five years, and though I don't consider myself an expert, I've definitely learned and grown immensely as an educator. I've had the opportunity to gain a lot of valuable experience teaching learners of all ages and levels, and learned a great deal about working in an international setting. To think of the strides I've made since the start of my career is astounding; when I first arrived I had no previous experience; in fact, I didn’t even know if I really wanted to teach!
Through my journey I've come to realize that teaching is an art that must be learned and perfected over time. In order to improve myself, I’ve taken note of the characteristics I feel are most vital for being an effective ESL Teacher in China.
One of the most important tools for me in my own teaching has always been to establish a personal relationship with my students. I learn their names, ask them about their family and interests, and in turn they also learn about me. I’m an open book to my students, and I find the more I share of myself, the more they are willing to share as well. Knowing your students on a personal level means that they start treating you like someone they care about, rather than just another teacher who is telling them what to do.
Teachers who genuinely care about their students have a higher impact on their learning. They can feel that you are teaching them because you want them to do well, not just because you’re performing a job. The more you inspire your students, the more apt they’ll be to complete assignments on time and participate in class activities. Generally speaking, I was able to get more out of students that I had a better relationship with. Plus, a classroom full of students who genuinely like and respect their is much more manageable. Some of the best teachers I have ever seen had a great relationship with their students—the students knew when it was time to be friendly and when it was time to be a student.
Encourage English in Daily Use
As ESL teachers we spend a lot of time and effort trying to get our students to use English in class. Sometimes it can be a daunting task, but it’s simply not enough for students to speak English for one or two hours per week. There’s a lot of vocabulary to remember, phrases to memorize, and grammar to understand. They also must practice outside class, at home, at school, and while doing activities—otherwise retention will suffer. This is directly related to building a relationship with the students. My best VIP students can do a 90-minute lesson without a word of Chinese, but they also are very comfortable with me, and we speak outside of class as well. My group class students aren’t as conversational with me, but they also each get a little less individualized attention.
Take the time and effort to talk to your students outside of class, or just before and after you teach them. Talk about something else besides class content, and use that time to get to know them better. Not only will their English improve, but so will the relationship between you, thereby accomplishing two important objectives.
Be Culturally Aware
I love it when my students are curious about my cultural background and want to know more. I feel great when they ask so many questions, and sometimes when they do it in class, we’ll speak in length about our different cultures. Sometimes it’s hard to believe most of my students are less than 13 years old—they have so many questions about the world. Just as much as I enjoy talking about my background, so do the students. And you’d be surprised at how often two students from the same class will see something in a different way. These conversations often arise organically during class, and it’s a great way to learn about the country you’re living in. Around holidays for example, it’s awesome to hear about what they’re doing, what they did last year and what traditions they follow in their family. Understanding which holidays are important to them also helps, it shows that you care and in turn they will, too.
Learning about the student’s ideas, and what they do before and after school can also help you plan for your classes better. For example, it helps to know that your student is tired not because he or she is bored—rather, it’s because they already had four hours of class this morning, and they had no time to break for lunch.
Go 100% or Go Home
Teaching English, especially to young learners, is the easiest (and strangely, the hardest) job you’ll ever have. I came to China with no experience—but I got my teaching certificate and was off to the races. Learning the very basic skills is no amazing feat, but the teachers who really stand are those who are really passionate about what they do. It’s one thing to see a teacher who’s technically good. But, a passionate teacher who knows how to handle a classroom, teach the content, and garner the respect and admiration of their students isn’t something you always see.
Those teachers are the ones who win their students’ hearts and really make an impact with their classes. Passionate teachers will prepare lessons diligently, come in early to set-up, and aim to constantly improve their skills. Believe it or not, students know very well if you’re well-prepared of if you’re just going through the motions. Unfortunately, while there are many skilled and passionate teachers in China, there are many who are just here for fun, and view teaching as a minor inconvenience between trips to the pub.
All students are different—some learn from doing, some from seeing, some from writing, and some from simply listening to you. In the classroom it’s important that you try and find out how each of your students learn, and how you can customize parts of your lesson to appeal to different types of learners. Everyone has a different background, a different skillset and a different potential. But you must make sure that during the lesson, you activate every single student’s interest in one way or another.
For example, If you have students who cannot stay in their seat, use their energy to your advantage. I always have these kids pass out papers to other students, or come up and erase the board. Have students who won’t stop talking? Organize a debate. Have a student who isn’t doing their homework? Talk to their parents, and find a suitable solution together.
Also, understanding your students better can help you understand why they act the way they do. Is it because they are bored, because they do not want to learn, or simply because they do not understand the lesson? Try and think before you’re too harsh with discipline, because you may be surprised if you discover the root of the problem they’re having in class.
All of these things are characteristics I’ve noticed in some of the best ESL teachers in China. They’re all somehow related, and if I had to sum it all up in just a single sentence it would be this: Get to know your student and his/her background. It will profoundly change the way you think, the way you teach, and it’ll enhance the performance of the students.
About the Author
Mikkel is a Chongqing based teacher, blogger, and photographer. He has lived in China since 2010, and can be found blogging here, here, and here.
Experiencing "The Real China"
Driving into town on the bus I was struck by how green and beautiful the streets were. Trees lined the wide streets and small canals ran through the town with traditional arched bridges and red lanterns hanging along the walkways. The kind of thing you would see in a tourist brochure or an old movie. On the weekends, I often take my breakfast there and watch people do their early morning exercises, tai chi or dancing, each playing their own music from their radios.
I'm currently teaching at Deqing Foreign Language School, a large public middle school consisting of grades 7-9, in the centre of town. It has boarding facilities that enables out of town students to live here during the week, and then go back home on the weekends to be with their families. Like the boarders, I also live at the school in my own apartment in the girl’s dormitory. Since I am right in the school premises it is super convenient for me to get to class, to the canteen for meals or back home in between classes if I need to. Otherwise, I also have a desk in one of the teacher’s offices and the newly built Foreign Teachers' Studio where students can come visit twice a day. This is quite a good idea since I am unable to teach all the grades myself, so it gives the other students an opportunity to meet and speak with me.
I teach all the classes in Grade 8 and these students range in age from 13-15 years old. Each class has approximately 45 students, and even though this is a lot, it's still a little less than the 50+ I was getting at my previous school. Lessons run for 45 minutes, but the advantage of having this many students is that time flies and before you know it bell rings signalling the end of the class. The basic aim is to totally immerse the students in the English so they can become familiar with the intonation, rhythm and pronunciation with the language. It gets them use to listening to a native speaker and gives them a break from the recordings they must listen to as part of their regular English classes with their Chinese teacher.
A Teacher's Take
Public schools can offer a lot of flexibility, allowing you free reign to teach any topic of interest, to be part of a community and have an abundance of free time. So they are especially great for those teachers keen to incorporate some traveling into schedules. But the best part would have to be the kids – there are some real characters out that never fail to make you smile and make this whole experience worthwhile!
About the Author
Leanne is a Tianjin based blogger, and has spent time teaching in Wenzhou, Deqing, and Tianjin. She can also be found blogging about her China teaching adventures here.
Imagine you've just arrived in Shanghai for a year of teaching English in China – sounds like an amazing adventure, right? After several weeks of exploring the city, meeting new friends, learning a few Mandarin phrases and sampling the incredible food, you notice a slight change. Anxiety comes on slow at first, but suddenly you can’t sleep at night and you start longing to return home. This is the onset of culture shock.
A country like China presents unique challenges – the exotic food and indecipherable language are enough to intimidate the most intrepid explorers. The obstacles are particularly formidable in rural areas where residents aren't accustomed to interacting with foreigners.
But fear not. Culture shock is a common feeling experienced even by those with flexible and adaptable personalities. Thus, it’s important for aspiring English teachers to learn about culture shock and prepare themselves for the times ahead – the good and the not-so-good!
Defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as: “a feeling of confusion, doubt, or nervousness caused by being in a place (such as a foreign country) that is very different from what you are used to”.
Psychologists have identified four phases: Honeymoon, Negotiation, Adjustment and Mastery. Each phase is defined by distinct characteristics and it’s not uncommon for people to experience one or more of the phases several times.
The first stage of culture shock is the Honeymoon stage. During this time, you will probably experience euphoria and an almost constant feeling of excitement. You will find out what sensory overload really feels like as you are bombarded with new sights, smells, tastes and sounds. Everything is interesting and fresh – maybe you’ll even start a journal or a photo blog! Interestingly, during this stage people often lose their ability to be critical and easily look past annoyances, delays and problems. Most issues will be overlooked and rationalized as minor inconveniences on the road to personal and professional fulfillment. As with any honeymoon period, these feelings won’t last forever.
The second stage is Negotiation – this is when the ‘shock’ begins to take hold. You may begin to reject everything about the foreign country and its cultural identity. Anxiety usually builds gradually, becoming stronger by the day. During this stage you might develop sleeping or eating problems and become less social – you will begin to miss the comforts of home and may have a profound longing for friends and family. In more serious cases, people who drink or smoke may do so more heavily to help them cope with their stress.
Your critical judgement will come rushing back, and cultural nuances such as personal hygiene, traffic safety (or lack thereof, as in China) , language barriers and inter-cultural communication gaps become much more apparent. The sudden change in your emotional state may result in feelings of alienation, increase stress, negatively affect work performance and even lead to arguments. Sometimes you may begin to question if you made the right choice in coming here. During this stage it’s important to develop a strong support network consisting of people who are experiencing what you are as well as those who have already ‘been there, done that’ and can offer sound advice.
Though all of this may sound horrifying, the good news is that it’s all perfectly normal. In fact, overcoming this hurdle is a critical component of personal growth!
Thus begins the next stage: Adjustment. Also known as “The Recovery Phase”, this is the time when you ought to be able identify and recognize your feelings with more clarity. You will develop mechanisms to cope with and overcome any negative feelings you may be experiencing. You will begin to notice the differences between your own culture and that of your host country and become accepting of both. People with high emotional intelligence will be able to recognize and manage their emotions most effectively.
But be cautious during the Adjustment phase – it’s still wise to take emotional inventory every so often – you should remain vigilant in analyzing and assessing your feelings. It’s common for people to back-slide into the Negotiation phase and then Adjust/Recover again. Although the ‘lows’ associated with Negotiation usually aren't as pronounced as they were the first time, you should continue to calibrate your emotional state.
One suggestion that might encourage the onset of ‘Adjustment’ – immersion into the host country’s culture. In China, you may begin studying Chinese, traditional ink painting or martial arts. Community involvement and volunteering are also great ways to connect with the people and feel more in touch with your new home. These types of activities can reignite your original passion, will give you a deeper sense of appreciation and will remind you why you came to begin with.
The last stage is Mastery – this simply means that you have assimilated into your host country and it begins to feel like a second home to you. You may have achieved some proficiency with the language by this point and can handle your day-to-day affairs independently. Feeling at home in a foreign country is an impressive achievement and will help you in other areas of your life. You will become more flexible, more adept at working in cross-cultural teams, develop a larger world view and will cope with change more effectively. Not to mention, you will be better equipped to deal with culture shock in the future if you find yourself in another country for work or travel.
Culture shock isn't something to fear – it’s merely something to be aware of and prepare for. As Christopher Columbus once said, “You can never cross the ocean until you have the courage to lose sight of the shore.” Overcoming the challenges of living abroad will make you stronger in mind and spirit and shouldn't deter you from making the bold move to teach a year (or two) in China.
Are you ready to find your China teaching job? Apply online or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more!
You’ve accepted a job offer, picked up your visa and booked your flight to China – now it’s time to decide what to bring. Narrowing down your list will be essential – after all, how many pairs of chunky heels (women) and popped collars (gents) does one really need to survive day-to-day life in China?
Most airlines allow for one to two bags, (23kg/50lb each) plus a carry-on and a personal item, so your packing strategy is critical. If you’ve got a friend taking you to the airport, forget about the luggage restrictions and pay the fee for an extra bag (or two depending on how many you can check for free). A little extra money upfront might save you some heartbreak in the long-run. Plus, most schools will send a driver and someone from the school to fetch you at the airport so you won’t have to worry about lugging three or four suitcases around your new city.
These items are important not because you can’t find them, but because it’s hard to find the brands you like OR the price is two or three times higher than in your home country. It’s good to stock up on at least six months worth of each – you can ask your family to send more about three months later (they can send a care package by slow mail and it likely won’t get opened or held up by customs).
Some schools have a uniform, but most just require ‘smart casual‘ attire. That said, it’s still useful to pack some formal attire – it’s not unusual to be invited to attend events such as weddings, banquets etc. And since it’s likely you’ll be adventuring a bit while you’re in Asia, it’s also a good idea to pack hiking clothes and some basic gear.
The items below are in addition to normal, everyday clothes you’ll automatically bring with you – for example, underwear isn’t listed, but you ought to bring some anyway! You’ll also note I’ve suggested a lot of shoes. Why? Because it can be very hard for westerners to find shoes here. Anything above a size 11 (men) and size 9 (women) can be difficult to find!
Packing can be a nightmare if you don’t know what to bring – with the above items in tow, you can feel confident you’ve got the basics (and then some) for your first year teaching abroad!
I’d love to hear if you have any other suggestions!
Interested in teaching ESL in China? Send us an email with your CV at: email@example.com OR visit our job board and apply online!
"The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why." –Mark Twain
A lot has been written about 'passion' - whether it's best to chase after your dreams with reckless abandon or just simply find a steady, low-risk job and learn to love it.
In his famous commencement speech to Stanford's 2005 graduating class, Steve Jobs famously weighed in on how passion shaped his career - and how it should guide yours.
Jobs said, "You've got to find what you love…. The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking, and don't settle."
Jobs message is clear but his path to success wasn't exactly a straight line. By now, most people know his story; a college dropout, Jobs drifted around Oregon, California and India before returning home where he met up with Steve Wozniak. He and Wozniak had a less than ambitious plan to assemble and sell circuit boards to local computer enthusiasts. They eventually stumbled into an opportunity to sell the fully assembled computers for $500 apiece. Apple was born seemingly out of nowhere - 40 years later, it's hard to walk 20 feet without seeing someone using one of their iconic products.
Some might call this luck - but most successful people know there's no such thing as being 'lucky' in life or business. in fact, this theory has been tested by psychologist Richard Wiseman - his studies conclude that 'lucky' people simply have a better eye for recognizing and seizing opportunity.
So, then what is the correct way to find your passion? I'd say there is no perfect answer, BUT - if you don't love what you're doing now (or even LIKE it, for that matter), then it may be time to start looking for something new.
And although the 'anti-passion' faction might disagree, there's a way to follow your passion that isn't careless or foolish. Sure, if you're 5'3", it's probably not a good idea to let your passion for the NBA prompt you into quitting your day job so you can try out for the Lakers - it's important to be realistic.
Perhaps a good start is to sit down and think about your strengths; are you a good communicator? Do you have a talent for writing? Maybe you love problem solving or have excellent attention to detail. There are great jobs out there for people who have natural talents like these. Then figure out what qualifications it takes to get that job and make a plan to achieve your goal.
This is a more pragmatic approach than Jobs took, but the principle is the same: figure out what you love (or what you're good at) and keep your eyes open for opportunities.
If you're happy with what you do for work, odds are you'll be successful. If you're successful, it's likely you'll feel passionate about it - it's a self-sustaining cycle.