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Teach English in China with Aihua
Working with Chinese Children, by Sinead Hegarty

Having never worked with very young children before it was certainly daunting walking into my first classroom. I expected chaos: children climbing the walls, tearing each other to pieces. They were, after all, only four years old. What greeted me instead was a group of well-behaved children, albeit a little scared and teary. I could see them looking up at me and looking back at their parents – a definite question of ‘why are you leaving me with this strange foreign looking person?’ in their minds. Once I realized, however, that we were both scared of each other I was able to calm down and focus on teaching them English. That was the real challenge: how to encourage and educate Chinese children who rarely have any knowledge of the English language outside a classroom. Whilst Chinese children start learning English in school from a young age they hardly every have a chance to practice it, particularly their speaking and listening skills. Consequently they are usually extremely shy and anxious when it comes to communicating in English. This is why you have to make it fun through games and music and, essentially making a prat of yourself!

There is huge pressure on children to do well in school and succeed academically here in China. From a very young age they have a lot of homework and monthly exams, culminating in the terrifying Gaokao exam when they are eighteen. Therefore by creating a relaxed atmosphere in the classroom, playing games and removing their desks you are able to give them the freedom to play and learn through play. It’s such a joy to see a child’s confidence increase and to see that happiness on their face when they finally get an answer right or correctly pronounce that difficult word. As the term has progressed both mine and my students inhibitions have disappeared and, whilst their behavior may not be always perfect, their enthusiasm and enjoyment rarely wanes.

Teach English in China - Rachel Goodwin

Teach English in China with Aihua
My year in China, by Rachel Goodwin

I have been in China at Aihua for a year now and I am staying even longer. China was never on the top of my bucket list so I don’t know exactly what made me decide to come. But I am so thankful I did.

Throughout my year here I have learned so much about Chinese culture. Some aspects I find incredibly strange just as they must find some things strange with us. But some things are really interesting and amazing. Things like what a caring culture they are. They always want to talk to you and help. The language is so interesting! I love attempting it. There are so many places to visit here; the great wall, the summer palaces, the forbidden city, the Ming tombs, the list is endless.

Getting around is easy, public transport is extremely efficient. Although I will never get used to trying to get off with a flood of people getting on at the same time!

I really enjoy working here too. The kids are so much fun to work with. The classes are exciting. But not only that, the Chinese staff are fantastic to work with. They are all so kind and helpful. The other foreign teachers are also brilliant. When I first came out I was pretty worried about coming with such a small group of people because let’s be realistic, 50 people isn’t a lot in the grand scheme of things. But I literally spend every waking moment with at least one of these 50 people and I absolutely love it!

I love living in the China bubble. It feels like you are disconnected from the rest of the world. Obviously not completely cut off that you can’t speak to friends and family back home but just enough that it makes your world feel very peaceful.

Overall I am so happy with my China experience so far and I am excited for the time to come!

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My year in China, by Lucille Van Niekerk

A month into my Chinese adventure I wrote a piece about my experiences at the time. I am coming to the end of my year contract and guess what, I am staying. It would generally be a safe assumption to make that for most people when they start something new and like it they experience the ‘honeymoon’ phase and everything is just beautiful and great. A year later, my relationship with China has progressed and I am more in love with the place than when I started. I am more surprised than anybody that this has happened. I have lived in many countries and I seriously would not have put China on my bucket list but this place and it’s people have seriously cast a spell on me.

I truly feel after a year I am only just beginning my adventure as there is so much to do and experience. The affinity and affection I felt for the people I arrived with still exists and has grown exponentially. The group I started with turned out to be the nicest bunch of people I have had the privilege to meet and work with. The older foreign teachers also fall into this category.

I have worked at the same center for a year now out of choice. My work days consist of working with people I genuinely like, laughing so much my insides jiggle. The Chinese staff are wonderful people who are so kind and thoughtful who randomly buy you gifts and do little things because they know you like it. I have taught the same kids for a year and really love them. They have become so accustomed to my hugs that they have just resigned themselves to the fact that I am strange that way.

I have progressed with my Chinese from pointing to saying words now. Okay, so the pronunciation still leaves a lot to be desired but I can write in Chinese and feel like a real little artist. This is huge for me I am not at all gifted artistically. My English has experienced a wonderful fusion of different accents. I speak with a South African accent fused with Yorkshire and Irish and I attempt the Southern drawl. I have been asked to desist with this as I have caused my American colleagues to develop Angina as a result. An example of the Yorkshire, Irish is the following, You have nought (nothing) to worry about. It will be good ‘craic ‘for ye – loads of fun for you.

If you are considering coming to China I truly would wish for you that you have as wonderful adventure as I have. If you have never travelled or lived in a foreign country before I’d like you to keep the following in mind.

Most people don’t like hearing this but a lot depends on you as a person. How willing you are to go out and experience the place and embrace it’s people and culture. You could go to the most beautiful place on planet earth but if your mind set is rigid and you look for things to complain about and moan you will miss the beauty of the place and deny yourself the wonderful adventure.

It’s easy to get into the negative mind set when you faced with something so different but I dare you to laugh and find something humorous in it instead of negative. My relationship with squat toilets is still not a good one and I never think it will ever progress to a loving one but I’ve accepted it’s a way of life here.

Just pack your bag and come. Have no fear, be open minded and watch China weave it’s magic on you.

Teach English in China - Tayla Collins

Getting Lost in Beijing, by Tayla Collins

While touring Beijing it’s very easy to find the tourist attractions, but once you get inside it can be a bit difficult to find your way around because you don’t know which exact building you’re looking for, or the English signs are directly translated so they aren’t helpful. This can be a terrific way to get to see the entire site as you explore every nook and cranny. I have seen some amazing things that I would have never seen if I had known where I was going.

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Ba Da Chu is a great place to hike that is only a twenty-minute subway trip away. It has eight temples scattered throughout the grounds, which are still in use. You can’t get to all eight temples in one day so it is definitely a place that requires repeat trips. We were looking for the path to hike to get to the top of the mountain without using the cable car and we came across this cemetery that had amazing stonework and engraving.

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The Lama Temple actually contains a series of temples, one behind the other. If you don’t keep looking you would miss the best bit which is in the last temple. It is a gigantic statue that is about 4/5 stories high that was carved out of a single tree. It is an incredible sight to see, though it does make you curious to see what the tree looked like.

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While exploring the Confucius Temple, I thought I was exploring the music hall, then music started playing so I took a seat to listen for a bit. All of a sudden, I found myself watching a dance concert with music and commentary (that I obviously couldn’t understand). It made my week!

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Exploring Beijing made me realise that sometimes it’s a good thing to not know where you are going or what a sing says because it makes life so much more interesting. The best way to see and explore is always to get lost.

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Learning Chinese, by Nicholas Flesch

Many people come to China because they’re interested in learning the language. Chinese, to a foreigner, is a mysterious but fascinating thing. Are characters words, letters, or neither? How do you know what sound is associated with a given character? What’s the deal with ‘tones’?

Whilst detailed answers to these questions can be found on Chinese language learning websites, I will give my personal opinion on perhaps one of the most pressing issues: how difficult is it? The answer is simple: it depends.

In some ways, Chinese is an easy language to learn.

Whilst some of the sounds in Chinese are different to English, there are far fewer: it has roughly 1,300 different syllables, whilst English has 10-15,000! Of course, this runs both ways: it makes speaking easier (once you get used to tones), but listening more difficult, since many words can (or do) sound the same, with meaning determined by context.

Another interesting thing about Chinese is how ruthlessly logical some of its words are, which makes them much easier to remember. Consider the word ‘computer’ in English. How could you convey this idea using only two basic words? How about ‘electricity brain’? That’s how they say it in Chinese: 电脑. ‘Taxi’? Go out rent car: 出租车. ‘Lighter’? Hit fire machine: 打火机.

In other ways, however, it’s an extremely challenging language for the learner. Needless to say, learning to write characters is a time-consuming process. You need to be very consistent and organized and, in my experience, practice writing the characters by rote – every day.

But what if you don’t want to write by hand, but only read – or even write on a phone or computer? Then you’re in luck.

Reading characters is much easier than you think. In English, we don’t read words letter-by-letter, but view the word as a whole, and I believe something similar happens with characters: you can read and understand it without necessarily being able to write it.

Similarly, writing characters using technology is much easier than you think, because there are some very intelligent predictive keyboards available. When I wrote the word for ‘taxi’ above, I typed ‘chu zu che’ into my computer and it knew what I meant. I didn’t even need to remember the tones.

So, how difficult is Chinese? It depends on your objectives. I’m not going to pretend it’s easy – no language is easy to learn – but I certainly don’t believe it’s as impossible as you might be led to believe. With consistent study, a good attitude, and the right reasons for learning the language, you can succeed. Good luck!

Teach English in China - Andrew Cooper

Street BBQs in Beijing, by Andrew Cooper

Honey glazed chicken on a stick! Cumin spiced lamb on a stick! Bread. On a stick! These are some of the delights available to you at one of Beijing’s millions of street food carts that occupy pavements and block cycle lanes at this time of year. Whether it’s a backstreet or a major junction, anywhere is liable to become a hotbed of bustling bodies and incredible smells: traffic flow be damned!

Some hardy species of street food can be found out and about at all times of the year. The humble jian bing (an egg pancake fried with sesame seeds, coriander and spring onion, artistically painted with a smear of thick soy sauce) is an ever-present even during the depths of winter. Lettuce and a crispy cracker (called bao cui) add bulk to this delicious, decadent wrap. You can also add one of the alarmingly sweet sausages that are unaccountably popular here if your taste buds are beyond saving.
Baked sweet potatoes are also a year-round feature of the Beijing streetscape. There are few things more comforting than struggling through a bitingly cold morning and getting a noseful of the warm, earthy smell of a wood stoked brazier stacked with a dozen sweet, sweet potatoes.

As for the summer arrivals, those fair-weather BBQs that can’t offer the reassuring stodge required in winter, the most common type of fare offered is chuan. These are like a typical shish kebab: skewered pieces of generously flavoured meat flame grilled to perfection. Vegetarian options are available too in the form of sweetcorn and, less interestingly, bread. Chuan are extremely addictive. It’s dangerously easy to stop for just one or two and end up requiring a taxi to take you home, weighed down by the 2kg of grilled meat sitting in your stomach and the crushing weight of your food shame. I’m an optimist though, and I always reason that this extra weight must be partially offset by my lack of self-control.

As with all street food it is wise to indulge in moderation, although I tend to do so twice in one sitting.

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Making Chinese friends, by Peter Campion

As an immigrant in China, it is often easier to gravitate towards peers who find themselves equally new to this land. The immigrant community in Beijing is vast and vibrant, and there are frequently events allowing you to meet new people. However, there is one significant issue with this network – it’s transient. The immigrant community is in constant flux and if you are looking at spending longer than a year in China, it is wise to make some Chinese friends.

Prior to coming to China, I had a number of Chinese friends from when I studied abroad. I am lucky that some of these are based in Beijing and we meet frequently. Through this network, I have met some new people, who have helped me to settle into life here.

Chinese people are in general very warm and friendly towards outsiders. While some pessimists will say they are merely interested in either improving their English or having a “token” foreign friend for those all important WeChat moments, you will face this dilemma wherever you meet new people.

Food and conversation
Food is key. The Chinese love nothing better than to sit around a hot pot and complain about the cost of living in Beijing. Cost of living, food and sport are safe topics of conversation. The sharing of political or economic views is best avoided.

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While this is something that I tend to avoid, the Chinese have a great affinity for singing and giving their best rendition of “小苹果”. You will inevitably be forced to perform a cheesy 2000s song by some artist who should have long been forgotten.

Basketball
Chinese guys love everything basketball. I had little interest in basketball before coming to China, and while I still don’t care too much for it, I have to acknowledge its existence and importance. An affinity for basketball will go a long way towards making local friends.

While it is certainly easier to gravitate towards the immigrant community, I would encourage anyone who is hoping to spend longer than a year in China to challenge yourself to make Chinese friends. I promise you, you will be glad of it in the long term.

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Parks in Beijing, by Haley Muth

It’s early in the morning and already the park next to my apartment is filled with old folks practicing Tai Chi and stretching. There are tens of them, all moving in time with each other, as I am making my short commute to the area where I take Chinese classes.

Around lunchtime I go to sit and work at my favorite coffee shop, and through the window there’s another larger park and the people in it are now dancing. The songs they dance to range from old Chinese folk songs to upbeat western pop music. I once saw a group of old folks dancing to a remix of Fergie’s ‘My Humps’. They know all the moves to all the songs. There are also young children playing on bikes, scooters or with jump ropes. Some people are playing Chinese Hacky-Sack, including workers on their lunch break, even a woman wearing a tight skirt and high heels.

Later, after work when it’s already dark, I go to sit in the park by my apartment. People are still dancing, but the mood has changed and now they are in pairs, waltzing or swinging or tangoing to the music. Some of them are quite good and some of them not at all, but no one is bothered to care- they are just enjoying themselves. I walk to the far side of the park where a woman is singing sweetly in Chinese, accompanied by a man playing a classical Chinese instrument. This is my favorite time of the day.

To me, parks are the heartbeat of Beijing life, and park culture is my favorite thing about China. By going to parks and watching the people there you can see the values of the Chinese people- community, family and harmony with one another. These people will welcome you if want to join them (and have the courage to dance), but if you prefer, simply take a Chinese textbook to the park and begin studying and in no time you will meet many people excited to share their language and culture with you.

This is the China that I’ve fallen in love with.

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How big is Beijing?, by Patrick Watters

Before I moved to Beijing eight months ago, I was told that you could live in this city for many years without experiencing or seeing all that the city has to offer. After living here for some time now I firmly believe this to be true. When friends and family ask me what Beijing is like, the first word that comes to mind is big. Any synonym of that I can think of follows thereafter. This city is massive! However, it isn’t that difficult to navigate once you give yourself some time to settle in and get your bearings. I am a big fan of the subway system that crisscrosses its way all over Beijing. It is convenient, cheap and gets you anywhere in this bustling city. Here’s a fact for you: Beijing is ten times bigger than London. I have been to London and New York City but Beijing surely trumps both in size. You will definitely feel the intensity here when you experience the amount of people, cars, bikes, and scooters that are ever present around you. It can be quite daunting at first to venture around the city because of its size but what I would like to tell newcomers who are trying to find their way is to locate landmarks such as the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, Summer Palace and Sanlitun district so you can get an idea of how far your apartment is from places and for those times you get completely lost. This way you can justify if it is worth it to travel to that pizza joint, but trust me most of the time the craving will outweigh the travel time. A game I played in the beginning was to hop on the subway and get off at a random spot to explore and navigate my way around. It was fun and challenging and yet somehow I’d find my way home feeling accomplished. By now I personally feel that if I can live in one of the largest cities in the world, I can live anywhere!

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Easter in China, by Sorcha M. Smith

I’m not a very religious person and in the last few years (especially living in China) my sweet tooth has dwindled. At home, religious holidays were used more of an excuse to cook at dish and bring it to the rotating household that we used as a little family gathering. Our family has members worldwide so this is more precious to me than anything else. And as this is my second Easter in China, it was sorely missed.

Thankfully this year my parents and little sister were able to visit and were here for the Easter weekend. This made work a lot more fun as I brought my sister into the centre with me, she’s twelve, and basically used her as a prop in classes. Chinese people can be shocked and awed by seeing just a normal white westerner, just imagine their reactions to a mini white westerner… Priceless! A few girls in one particular class became extremely fond of her and she was dragged from one thing to another while they all practiced speaking English with her. The odd Chinese word was used as my sister had just done a Chinese language class with my tutor and wanted to do some practicing of her own!

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The remainder of the next two days were about the Easter activities and as most of my younger family members had grown out of playing games such as The Easter Egg Hunt, or the notorious Egg and Spoon Race, thankfully these guys hadn’t! Watching four year olds destroy each other to find the most eggs shouldn’t be as funny as it actually is and watching nine year olds try to outsmart their Chinese Teacher to win the egg and spoon race? Genius!

But there’s nothing quite as good as after days of exploring Beijing to areas such as: The Botanical Gardens, Badachu, 798 Art district, Summer Palace, Beijing Zoo, Forbidden City, the Great Wall, etc. to simply come home, put your feet up and be surprised with an Easter Bunny that your parents had wrapped in bubble wrap and brought across the world so that on Easter Day, you would have a little bit of home.

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