Tuesday, 30 January 2018

I Quit My Job And Became a TEFL Teacher... Here's My First 24 Hours in China!

Welcome to my blog. Here I post all my braindumps about being an ESL English teacher.

If you've thought about doing the same, then I hope my experiences will help you through your own quest to go overseas and teach English. And if you haven't, well I hope you like my weird and wonderful travel adventures.

In this post I'll log my first 24 hours in China.

Well my first hour in China did not go according to plan. I flew from London to Beijing. It was a pretty easy flight to be honest. But it was an overnight flight, so I arrived in Beijing somewhat lacking in sleep. My body thought it was 7am, but in Beijing it was actually 2pm.

When I booked the flight I thought I was cutting it fine having a 1hr 45min connection to get at Beijing. But I have been there twice before, and last time I made a very tight connection.

This time I was out of luck. I was so late that not only had the gate closed for my connecting flight, it had actually taken off!

Thankfully the Air China counter staff did a good job of getting me booked onto another flight, and at no extra cost. It did take me a while to find out where my suitcase had gone though. I hate getting connecting flights, as I'm never too sure when I will be reunited with my suitcase. And to make matters worse, it's not always consistent. Sometimes it's at Beijing, sometimes it gets sent through to the final destination.

While in Beijing I was fortunate that the airport had wifi and I also got my home mobile roaming to work. I had to hastily rearrange the airport pickup at my final destination. If you're intending to work in China, then make sure you get WeChat installed on your smartphone! It's an absolute essential.

Thankfully the connecting flight eventually took off and I was on my way again. It was so late when I got to my final destination of Ningbo!

I was met in the arrival halls by two of my future students - a girl and a boy. They had a sign with my name. They called me Professor. I felt so honoured! They tried carrying my suitcase but I was so ashamed it was so heavy!

We got in the school's limousine and headed to the campus.

It was 11pm and totally dark but I could make out the usual tall apartment buildings that all Chinese cities have. One thing immediately became apparent - Ningbo was freaking big. Even for a tier 2 city, it was a fair size. It took something like an hour to arrive at my future school, even with barely any traffic on the road.

Eventually we drove through the school's grounds and came to the building that would be my home for the next 10 months.

It took us a way to find a door that would let us in.

We found the right floor, and then the right room.

I was in my new home from home!

First impressions were of how big my room was. This is no estimation to say that my teacher's accommodation bathroom is actually bigger than the micro-flat I lived in back in London.

What else did I have?

I had a small kitchenette, with a big fridge-freezer and a microwave oven. I had a desk for working on. And the bed was a big double. There was plenty of storage space - way too much for a guy with just a 21Kg suitcase of stuff.

The bathroom was nice as well. Unlike my last apartment in China this one came with a Western toilet, and it was clean!

The shower looked good as well.

Finally there was a washing machine. Another thing ticked off my box of "where do I...." list.

By this time it was pretty late so after getting the wifi password I thanked the students and remembered to give them the small box of chocolates I had brought with me for precisely that purpose.

I tried to get to sleep but jetlag made that pretty darned difficult.

After an hour of two of sleep I got up again and decided to start unpacking.

By this time I had realised the shortcomings of coming to my new home in the middle of the night. I had no towel, and not that much food. Thankfully I had the foresight to buy a couple of bottles of water in the Beijing airport departure lounge.

As I started unpacking my suitcase I had discovered that the packet of Longjing green tea I had brought to China with me had literally exploded. Green tea leaves were in absolutely every part of my suitcase. Very soon they would be all over my apartment floor as well.

God knows why I brought tea to China but it seemed a pity to waste it.

I managed to get a little more sleep before dawn. I was woken up to music and a lot of shouting. Well that's not unusual if you live in China. If you take one tip from this blog then it's this - always pack earplugs if you're going to Asia, especially China.

I looked out of the window and found that the freshmen students were doing military drills outside of my apartment building.

At 06:30.

Could you imagine American or British students doing this at their university?

Ha ha.

The good thing about university military service for freshmen as far as being a teacher is concerned is that while your students are marching up and down for several days you don't have to go to any classes. How many freshmen classes you get is up to the school administrators. Sophomore students don't do military training. However, their end of terms typically finish earlier due to important exams. So you'll get a break from teaching them at the end of the semester.

Later that morning I got a WeChat message from the admin lady who deals with recruiting and looking after foreign teachers. I was told to report to her office. I managed to find it OK and at least I could start the ball rolling on the long process of getting the work permit documentation together.

She then took me to meet the two different departmental representatives who would be responsible for my teaching commitments.

I scribbled down a few notes and came away with armfuls of course textbooks.

They took me to lunch in the school canteen. I had no idea how the ordering system worked. I ended up with some bony fish, some vegetables and of course some rice. Oh, and a cucumber. Cucumbers are tiny in China, whereas they're really big back in the UK. Just one of the many everyday differences you'll encounter if you also decide to go and teach English in China.

After lunch I had a sleep, then ventured out on my own for a look round the campus.

Eventually I found the so-called business street. It had a few restaurants and - most valuable of all as far as I was concerned - a supermarket.

I always like looking around supermarkets in or near Chinese universities. They stock exactly what students need in their day to day lives. Sadly since most most students have little money the food tends to be on the cheap and low quality side. Also because Chinese students aren't allowed to cook in their dormitories, the only food tends to be of the instant variety, or non healthy snacks.

Some schools have more of a choice of stores in and around the local neighbourhood. But as I would subsequently find out, our school doesn't have a lot in the local vicinity that would interest a foreign teacher, apart from a Starbucks.

A student also took me to get a SIM card for my mobile phone. This is a real essential when you're living in China! Needless to say this took quite a while to organise and involved showing my passport and of course having over money.

So that was a look at my first 24 hours as a foreign teacher in China. If you have any questions about going to China to teach English, then leave comments below.

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