Over Summer I spent 6 wonderful weeks in central China teaching English. In classic Humanities student style, I have no idea what I intend on doing once I finish my degree. This dilemma, mixed with my desire to explore a new place for the duration of my summer led me to consider something to which I had never given any previous thought – teaching.
As an English student, it is common for people to assume that I want to become a teacher, and this is something which I grew to resent, as teaching was never a career path I saw myself following. However, teaching English abroad is an incredible opportunity to earn some money whilst really integrating yourself into another culture. I applied through the university’s AIESEC organisation, and before I knew it, I had boarded my third flight after travelling for 20 hours and arriving in Wuhan; the city where I stayed and worked during my trip, which has a population of over 8 million people. It is also known as being one of the hottest cities in the country, so a few days were definitely required after I had arrived to adjust to the change in climate, food and culture.
I was working in a summer camp for teenagers who wanted to improve their English skills. I was one of two foreign teachers working at the camp, the rest of the workers where all locals, and so inevitably we were kind of a big deal. Six weeks of selfies, autographs and compliments certainly can have an impact on your ego. I am really grateful that I had the opportunity to engage not only with local students, but also the staff at the camp, as these relationships played a huge part in my experience in China. It allowed me to not feel quite so daunted being inundated in a totally foreign environment, and so I was able to enjoy all of the new experiences that were being constantly thrown at me so much more.
Walking into the classroom for the first time without any previous English teaching experience can be nerve-wracking, but the excitement on all of the students’ faces and the round of applause upon your entrance make things a lot less intimidating. I was teaching students around the age of 15/16, who had a few years of English learning under their belt, so my focus during class was building up their spoken confidence, as well as cultural education. All of the students I taught aspired to travel to the UK or America, but most of them had never been outside of China before and knew little about life outside of it. I found it such a privilege to be able to introduce to them aspects of Western culture, and fascinating finding out that more people had heard of the Backstreet Boys than Beyoncé. Teaching was challenging, but it was awesome being able to develop relationships with the students who were all initially too shy to put up their hand. It’s definitely a really rewarding experience to have in a country so different to where I am from.
China was the most bizarre place I could have imagined in the best way possible. Everyone was so excited by the presence of a Westerner, while also a little reserved and unsure how to approach us at first. After 6 weeks together, however, I built incredibly close relationships with my colleagues and this allowed me to experience this new country in such a way that would be impossible as a tourist. One day at lunch, a local restaurant, which was a favourite of one of my fellow camp workers, opened especially for us foreign teachers because our friend was determined to have us dine there. And yes, the food was unreal.
Despite being stationed in Wuhan, the high-speed railway system makes travelling around the country very easy. I would highly recommend not going on an overnight train, as that was one of the most uncomfortable 12 hours of my life. You can buy standing tickets, so not only is every seat taken, very bit of space on the train is taken. It is, however, a funny memory in hindsight. The high-speed train meant that I was also able to travel to places like Xi’an and Beijing – two of my favourite cities that I have ever visited. Xi’an is utterly beautiful and the hospitality of the locals there consistentlyblew me away. Don’t know where the bus stop is? No problem; someone will stop what they are doing to show you the way. A highlight of my trip however was without a doubt the Great Wall. No picture or video can ever do it justice – it is 5,500 miles of unbelievable and absolutely breathtaking surroundings. China was never on my bucket list of places to go, but I am so glad that I made the decision to visit. Despite being such a growing global presence, China is an extremely closed country and this opportunity over summer allowed me to find out so much about this whole other world that exists pretty much separately from the rest of the globe. Teaching English there was a truly unique experience, and one that has inspired my travel plans for the future!