Two and a bit weeks in and I’ve experienced the full emotional spectrum, witnessing two alarmingly contrasting sides to my character in the process. First, shamefully, was the despairing shambles of a guy blatantly out of his depth, forsaking the mistake of ever having came to China in the first place. ‘I could be at home right now, where life was so easy…’. On the other hand, I’ve also experienced what I like to think of as ‘Michael Palin’ moments – the intrepid explorer striding confident and curious into the unknown.
Firstly, I should probably get it out the way and explain the cause of my general pathetic-ness. Embarrassingly enough, the root of my problem was in fact the reason I am here – teaching. I was totally unprepared for how unprepared I would actually be. Arriving at my school in Suzhou armed with nothing more than a vague memory of doing some multiple choice questions online, I was thrust straight in at the deep end. With a dry mouth and a film of perspiration permanently on my forehead, I attempted to teach classes of 30 students English for 4 hours per day. In retrospect the lessons weren’t that bad…at the time it felt like I had to die a slow painful death 4 times a day.
I have since slowly managed to overcome my irrational fears, with a bit of decent planning and a conscious effort to remember there’s no need for nerves. Teaching as an enjoyable endeavour is now thankfully within sight for me.
The second indulgence of self-pity comes with the difficulty of communication, and the sense of helplessness that can come with this. The best representation of this I can offer would be to share the anecdote that I , as was the case with a fellow teacher on this site, happened to get a terrible case of the shits last week. For one day, I simply couldn’t have afforded to be in the classroom (distance from toilet). Now expressing this fact to the teacher at my school who deals foreign teachers was immensely difficult, where do you go failing rubbing your stomach combined with a knowing grimace ? And this is the teacher who is supposed to have the best English skills. Safe to say I now accept that everyday situations will be an eternal struggle for me, that is unless I get my arse in gear and learn some mandarin…
On that note, incidentally there is one other foreign teacher at my school – an American called Jack. Jack, bless him, is undoubtedly a nice guy. He also happened to spend a couple of years growing up in Shanghai and as a result speaks passable mandarin. Therefore, in Jack there is a constant and visible reminder of my inadequacy, both to my Chinese colleagues and to myself. Not that I’m jealous
On to the positives. First and foremost Suzhou is a lovely place to explore. Quintessentially Chinese in a touristy way in the sense that Cambridge or York are quintessentially English. Just swap the cobbled streets, traditional pubs and confectionary shops for traditional waterways, silk shops, tea houses and walled gardens. Here’s a few pictures to show what I mean.
The second major positive for me is without doubt the food. Everywhere you go you are bombarded with the look and smells of tantalising treats, from the humble street stalls to the more sophisticated restaurants – and all at ridiculously cheap prices. I would be putting on some serious weight if I wasn’t on the new-fangled ‘chopsticks’ diet. You can’t eat what you can’t pick up!
Another positive for me has been finding a couple of decent expat bars, perhaps really as a coping mechanism and a bit of a safety valve. I have enjoyed being out of my comfort zone in the city, but I appreciate and take heart from the knowledge I can dip my toe back in if I need to. I can have arguments about football, have a shitty pint of Carlsberg, even go for a club sandwich if I want to – surrounded by people speaking my own language. This was an important realisation for me. The closest thing I had had to a shared experience before this was when a mother introduced her 8 month old baby to her ‘first foreigner’. I couldn’t help but admit a shared affinity as we both gaped, wide eyed and wondrous at the new world around us.
In short, I am much happier now than I was a week ago. This then bodes well for the future. As I learn to cope and adjust to the difficulties I will continue to face, I can then focus on savouring and pursuing those experiences I enjoy. This, I gather, is pretty much the main reason why we all came to China in the first place and I’d do well to not lose sight of it.
Interested in working in China and want to find out more? Our UK agency ensures that schools are up to top standard and provides an additional layer of protection and reassurance when negotiating issues with your Chinese school. To find out the latest vetted and quality assessed top providers in China check out nooneliterecruitment.com/teach-english-in-china.