There I sat on a crowded, stuffy plane flying over Dubai and I thought to myself “What am I doing flying to Beijing” “Will I enjoy it?”, What if something goes wrong? What do I do then? Blah blah blah blah.
Naturally, these are some of the questions you`ll find yourself mulling over during your long journey to parts unknown. There`s no question about it, it`s a big step to pack up your life and move to a country where you don`t speak the language, have never been to and are expected to work, live and survive. Let me assure you that Aihua has your back, allow me to explain.
Once I stepped off the plane and arrived in the intimidatingly huge Beijing airport, I was greeted with a smile by the foreign headmaster Fredrik who immediately made me feel at peace once the nerves had subsided. From there, I met a handful of newly arrived English teachers who were experiencing the same jittery nerves as I so naturally, we all got on like a house on fire. After meeting the other new foreign teachers, I knew that my China experience would one to remember. Each of them came from different backgrounds with varied reasons for coming to China so it was fascinating to listen to their stories. We were all then escorted back to our apartments where we would be staying for the year. After being dropped off and given a welcome package, we were given a guide to our living area and a timetable for the next few weeks, it was packed with things to do so we were advised to get some rest and prepare for the next 2 weeks.
The following morning, the sun rose and I heard a knock on my apartment door, I was greeted by the school’s foreign affairs officers, Luke and Summer. Words cannot describe how giving these two were during the first two weeks and still are incredibly helpful. Any issue I had, a quick message to Luke or Summer and the problem would be sorted within minutes. If I was to think of a buzzword to describe Aihua, it would have to be “support”. A word I shall keep reiterating throughout this post. Over the next few days, we sorted out all of the necessary tasks with incredible efficiency and speed, setting up a bank account, purchasing a phone, finding out how to pay for utilities, getting a medical etc etc. Already, I was starting to feel comfortable, a testament to Aihuas work ethic and commitment to ensuring the newly arrived teachers are at ease with the new surroundings and are ready to work hard. During this frantic period, we still had time to explore, have meals together and discuss the experiences so far. What followed next was extensive training, receiving our work timetable and voila… go make us proud!!
During our first two weeks, the newly arrived teachers undergo an extensive, detailed training course with the school’s Training Managers, Aoife, Andrew and Francis. Although I had a small bit of teaching experience back in Ireland, I found this to be incredibly useful and necessary in order to deliver good lessons. My advice for this period would be to get plenty of rest and stay focused as it`s a lot of information being thrust onto you. That being said, help is ALWAYS there which brings me back to my buzzword, “support”, not only with Luke and Summer, the FCSs (Foreign Centre Supervisors) are there to help you if you need anything at all, that`s what they are they for so don`t be shy to send a message now and then if something is bothering you, be it with lesson planning, classroom issues etc.
During this training, we were given example lesson plans, demo lessons and plenty of tips and advice on how to better manage your classroom and your hyper students. To finish the training off, we had classes to plan our first lessons at Aihua which was greatly appreciated.
The Chinese staff and teachers known as CT’s were very hospitable and kind. They work incredibly hard so showing respect and friendliness is welcome, some of the CTs will become your very good friends as you work so close with them which is great. It will make your life so much easier to work well with them and take comments constructively, you’re in this together so it`s a team effort. Additionally, the CTs will help with lots of extra issues you may have such as the where the fun bars and restaurants are located, useful apps for your phone and figuring out the subway system (Once figured out, you can go ANYWHERE in Beijing, it`s very simple and easy to use). I`ve had great fun with my CTs thus far and may it continue.
“But I don`t speak Chinese”
A very common phrase I`ve uttered and have heard from many FTs(Foreign teachers), this is not a problem at all. I was incredibly uncomfortable walking into a local coffee shop pondering the prospect that I would have to actually ask for a coffee from the Chinese staff….with NO Chinese. But it was needless worrying, simple gestures can take you a long way here and if you keep hear ears open, you`ll begin to pick up commonly used phrases as you make your way to work. Another great “support” factor is that you get free Chinese lessons provided by Aihua. These are taught by April, a very experienced teacher who will go out of her way to help her students.
Allure of Beijing
As I gazed out over the high rising buildings from my apartment window, I couldn’t help but be excited about the prospect of exploring this beautiful city. Getting lost in any foreign country I find is an adventure. I have had many great (and funny) experiences whilst wandering the populated streets of Beijing….and it`s only been one month! Something as simple as walking home after work and seeing 20 + old men and women dancing in sequence together to old traditional Chinese music in a local park is lovely experience. I have visited serene temples, beautiful gardens, eaten at delicious restaurants, haggled at lots of markets and meandered my way through the amazing Hutongs. All of this in such a short space of time and still so much more to see and do. You`ll never complain of boredom here.
The city is drenched in History and culture so for all the History buffs out there, you`ve come to the right place. If you`re into sports and fitness, there`s plenty of clubs to join from the Beijing G.A.A club, Beijing Celtics soccer team and the Beijing Aardvarks Rugby team, all within reasonable distances from your living area. The gyms are well priced too, ranging from 700 Yuan to 2000 yuan for a yearly membership.
Bumps along the way
You`re in a completely different than back home so admittedly, you`re going to run into a few hardships along the way. If you come in with an open mind and are willing for change then your time here will be unforgettable.
The traffic and cars on the roads are very unpredictable so be wary when crossing a road, the rules of a green light and a red light don`t seem to register with the Chinese so if you want to survive the year, keep your eyes and ears open!!
Be prepared to haggle at the markets and some street shops, some sellers may notice your pale, white complexion and charge a ridiculous price so be wary of prices, learn the numbers and be reasonable whilst haggling. (It`s great fun haggling, you`ll have plenty of laughs)
Yes, yes, most of the toilets here are Eastern style squatting toilets but it`s not a big issue, well at least for me it isn’t. That being said, when you find a Western style toilet, you can`t help but smile.
In my view, if you decide to come to China, you`re an open minded person so you’re already willing to experience and try new things such as food, using chopsticks etc BUT if you`re not that type of person, you`ll be fine here, there are plenty of western style shops and restaurants such as KFC, McDonalds and Carrefour so nothing to worry about.
I heard so many negatives about the pollution here but I`ve yet to experience a really bad day, some days the visibility will low but nothing that causes a sore throat etc.
Beijing is an exciting, beautiful city. There`s so much to do and see, it`s dizzying. I could keep on writing about the first month and things I`ve experienced and seen but that would be pointless. I feel as though you have to come here first to experience it, you can watch videos and read articles online all day, you have to really be here to understand the work culture, the way of life and general quirkiness of the place. I already feel at home in a country where I don`t speak the language which boggles my mind. Truthfully, I think that`s a testament to Aihuas support network they provide for the new teachers and the people I`m surrounded by, from my housemate to all of the Aihua teachers. So take the leap, come on over and have an experience you will never forget.