These were the words echoed around the restaurant where I used to work. I graduated in 2017 with a BA in Irish and English. I’ll admit, Irish may have been a naïve choice for someone who was told that “she’s only fit for export” since the tender age of 13. I knew as soon as I started secondary school that Ireland wasn’t for me. I had mad notions of moving to Dubai, or working as anything in New York. I had watched my mother and father dread going to work for as long as I can remember. My mother is a nurse, and as many of you may know, working conditions for Irish nurses are horrendous. They take care of the nations sick and vulnerable and in return they get underpaid and over worked. She’ll always be the real MVP in my eyes. I knew that I wasn’t the type of person who could do that without complaining to anyone who would listen, or even those that wouldn’t. Conditions for new Irish teachers aren’t much different. Admittedly, I missed out on getting my Bachelor of Education by 5 points in my Leaving Cert, but to be honest, it was the best misfortune that could ever have happened.
During my summers in university, I worked as an au pair for the most amazing family in Cannes. Su and Si, an ex-pat couple, inspired me in ways that I didn’t think were possible, and then their kids, Oisin, Senan and Cara inspired me even more. During my time in France, I was bitten by the travel bug and I realized everyone was right. I was only fit for export. Su and Si’s generosity knew no bounds. They brought me to California, a trip which was an unforgettable experience. I began looking into ways to get to America but my BA degree let me down, as it had done in Ireland.
I eventually had to go home in order to earn some “real money.” The reality that I wasn’t Peter Pan, and had to grow up at some point hit me hard. I got a job in a local hotel back in Enniscorthy , County Wexford. Don’t get me wrong, the staff were amazing but I could feel that I was falling into the same bracket of people as my mam and dad. I needed to leave.
Like most ex-students in Ireland, I still used my student card to get discounts (they never really check the expiry date..) and sometimes I would read my college email, purely for the sense of nostalgia it gave me. Anyway, one day, I came across an email which was actually intended for ex-students. Shock, horror. It had a list of job opportunities both at home and abroad. There, nestled in amongst the 9-5 office jobs, was the opportunity to teach English in China with Aihua. Obviously, I updated my CV and sent it in. What did I have to lose? The first person I told was my father who replied with “I always told you to get your degree and then you can travel the world.” To be fair, he did.
After going through the interview process and sorting out my visa, I began to tell people my plan. “Ah Jesus, you’re mental.” “This is the last we’ll see of you so.” These were the most common responses. Closely followed by “Why China?” to which my only response was “why not?”
Turns out, everybody was right. China won me over. Working with Aihua has been the greatest experience. We work short 25 hour weeks, which means that we have plenty of time to explore locally, and we also have generous holidays which means we can travel further afield. We are also paid extremely well for the work we do, which allows us to fund these adventures. The support system that the company has is incredible. If you have a problem with anything, Summer and Tina can be contacted and it will be sorted out within 24 hours. Also, with regards to “teaching problems” your FCS and the Training Team are always available, I could swear that they are oracles and know the answer to everything. More importantly, the friends that you make while working here are second to none. Everybody is in the same boat and are always happy to talk about problems over a glass of wine. They truly are a special breed.
Needless to say, I’ve signed up for (at least) a second year here with Aihua. I think that the Chinese staff are becoming afraid that I will never leave.
Maybe being only fit for export wasn’t a bad thing.