It occurred to me yesterday that it’s been a year since I handed in my notice to my old boss in London. Although I then had to work out a very long 3 month notice period, I can still remember how much of a relief it was to finally quit and not have to keep the whole moving-to-China thing a huge secret anymore. It was also at this time, as my colleagues asked lots of questions about where I would be living, what I would be doing, how I would make money, that I began to get exceedingly nervous that I was never going to be in receipt of an actual paycheque ever again.
Fast forward 12 months and lo’ and behold I am back working at a university but this time in a very different capacity – rather than organising lunches and receptions, I am now delivering 14 classes a week to a total of around 600 undergraduate students! My new job title is Oral English Lecturer or Oral English Teacher, depending on which piece of documentation you refer to, and 5 weeks in, it’s safe to say I am enjoying it a million times more than teaching kindergarten kids.
Having been offered the position way back in May, and subsequently spending all summer in various stages of visa-related angst, actually starting to teach seemed like a distant, and at times impossible, task way off in the future. As September loomed closer I began to get pretty bloody nervous about swapping my one-to-one classes with kids for standing up in front of up to 60 young adults at a time. In classic Chinese style it didn’t help that literally no information was provided by the university – all I knew was that I was starting sometime in September so should probably be prepared to down tools and get myself off to work with minimal notice. Which is basically exactly what happened.
Possessing an intense hatred of public speaking, I felt physically sick on that first day as I loaded up my Powerpoint and prepared to spend the next 45 minutes introducing myself and playing ice-breaker games with my students. Thankfully it turns out that Chinese students are a whole lot more enthusiastic and generally supportive of their teachers than their counterparts in the UK – I say this as someone who spent roughly 80% of my first year lectures asleep, hungover or playing hangman with my pal.
It’s not just their general enthusiasm for learning which contrasts with my university experience back in the UK. Having expected to feel like I was lecturing adults, it actually still very much feels like I am teaching kids. The students here seem so much more sheltered and possess an immaturity that makes them seem so much younger than first year students in the UK. This is not surprising considering they have spent the majority of their lives so far in an education system which largely quashes free-thinking and instead teaches them to memorise everything by rote. Their teenage years are spent focused on learning, leaving them little to no time to be independent and build their own hobbies, interests and social activities. Even after they come to university they are not granted anything like the freedom I was when I first flew the nest back at 18 years old. Far from spending all night in the student union, the first and second year students here have strict curfews and power is cut off to their dorms at night so they can’t even while away the midnight hours online.
Of course, it wouldn’t be fair of me to apply this ‘sheltered and young’ description to everyone I teach but it can certainly be applied to the bulk of the students I see. Whilst it can be hugely frustrating to ask a question to students still so shy that they become mute or find that their off-the-cuff presentations are actually memorised from online sources word-for-word, this relative innocence makes for a lovely bunch of young people who largely lack any sort of ‘too cool for school’ attitude and instead try as hard as they can to be great students. A prime example of this was when I asked for volunteers to be my class monitors. Those who stepped up have since been brightening up my days with emails stating how honoured they are to help me and regular offers to clean my board or help me pack up my bags at the end of their classes. Can I imagine an 18 year old in the UK doing this? No.
Another huge perk of the job is the creativity it allows me when it comes to lesson planning. Having spent the last 8 months mainly teaching a well worn loop of lessons about colours, shapes and animals it is amazing to move beyond the realm of picture flashcards and embarrassing songs to think up of engaging and fun lesson ideas. So far we’ve had World Leader Elections – an experience which completely shot down my preconceptions about young people’s thinking in China as they championed gay rights and equality for women – and roleplays about fake girlfriends and the art of lying, with future weeks holding Oscars acceptance speeches and a Dragon’s Den competition.
And the absolute best part of the new job – holidays! All 2, fully paid, glorious months of them next January and February! So whenever I might get a little bored of delivering the same lesson for the 14th time that week I just need to remind myself of the 2 week trip to Yunnan I have coming up next January, followed by a 3 week homecoming next February and I am reminded that I am unlikely to ever get such excellent working benefits again!