Teach English in China - Rachel Goodwin

Chinese impressions, by Rachel Goodwin

The biggest piece of advice I could give someone coming to china is to come with no expectations. While I’ve been here I’ve learned that people watch too much tv and expect to come to this fictional place because that’s what they’ve seen. It’s safe to say if that’s the reason you’re coming you will be disappointed. However if you’re coming for a change of lifestyle and a very different culture then you’re coming to the right place.

China is full of weird and wonderful quirks. The traffic was the first thing that caught my attention upon arrival. Not the sheer amount but just the chaos of it. It wasn’t until a while later that I understood that it was organized chaos. I have never seen something so seemingly crazy work so well! It’s quite poetic really!

The language is something else that takes a lot of getting used to. You can’t understand anything or even read a road sign but ultimately it is wonderful. At first it sounds like people are just screaming around you but if you listen carefully it seems almost song like with all of the different tones they use. It’s quite an experience trying to get around at first as you will likely know no Chinese and the Chinese have very little to no English so it’s a lot of gestures. It almost looks like you’re playing charades so be prepared to laugh at yourself. The translation apps can also be a bit off sometimes, I was once told to go somewhere called princesses grave for something. It’s safe to say I found this odd but hilarious.

One of the best things I noticed is how friendly the Chinese are. People just want to stop and say hello, take your picture (granted I found this very strange at first but it kind of grows on you) and just be in your presence.

Not being able to use certain apps and websites is a concern for some people. It does take a bit of getting used to but after a week or so it’s really nice. It’s a very big change after most people live their lives on social media but the restricted access makes you really appreciate where you are and what you’re doing. It helps you to live your own life and not live through the lives of others on Facebook.

China is a very big and thriving place. Its constantly busy but there are the few hidden gems around that are full of nature and beauty. Some of the nicest temples blend in amongst a flurry of trees and flowers. These places are amazing to go to with friends or even alone. The old Summer Palace is a good example of this. This place was buzzing with tourists but the land is that big you would barely see any as you were walking around. It is the perfect place to relax!

China has been a great adventure for me so far, I have learned a lot about a culture that is so different from my own.

Teach English in China - Andrew Cooper

Ordering coffee, by Andrew Cooper

When I first arrived in Beijing, the very first place I went (and the very first thing I bought) was Starbucks, for a coffee. Not exactly immersing myself in the local culture, I know, but sometimes you just need that reassuring cup of warm, caffeinated sludge to remind you that familiar comforts are available even on the other side of the world. They are used to foreigners at the airport, so buying that first coffee was an easy experience: smooth as a Teflon waterslide. Trying to order in Shijingshan was a slightly different experience and I eventually resorted to the tried and tested method of pointing and grunting like a chimp in an experiment. Effective, but slightly undignified.

After a week I had picked up the art of saying “zhe ge” (this one) and “dui” (correct). As with ordering food, I’d point at the picture and say zhe ge. Any subsequent questions I would just nod my head and repeat dui, dui, dui as if I had a clue what was being said. Then I’d sit down to enjoy my gallon of coffee with 32 extra shots and a sandwich floating in it.

These days I’m proud to announce that I can order my own coffee. The staff down at Starbucks were so impressed that they even wrote my Chinese name on the cup like they do back home! Hang on, I’m pretty sure my name isn’t wai guo ren…

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Lesson planning, by Henriëtta Koortzen

It is 1:00am. You have a full day of teaching tomorrow and you are still up. Why? Is it all the excitement of knowing that you will be living in one of the greatest cities in the world for the next year? Or is it nervousness keeping you up because it is your first time teaching English as a foreign language? You could still be up because you are working on lesson plans, making sure every game and activity is perfect for your first couple of classes. In my experience as an English teacher at Aihua, it can be a combination of these keeping you up at night. During the first couple of weeks, however, lesson planning is definitely to blame for your lack of sleep.

During training, example lesson plans and lists upon lists of games and activities are given to you to use as a guideline. Not only does it help a lot with lesson planning, it ensures a fun time for both you and the students. In the beginning, you rely heavily on these materials and always have it by your side when lesson planning. You look through it constantly to make sure you are on the right track and that the games chosen are fit for each section. You spend almost twice as much, or, if you are like me, three times as much time planning a lesson than you spend actually teaching it. Days go by and when people ask you what you have been up to, ‘lesson planning’ is usually the first thing that comes to mind.

However, with the passing of time, you get more and more familiar with the games and the layout of a lesson plan. You feel more confident and you try new things in class because you know what your kids like. You know what works and what does not for every class. You will soon come to find that all the game lists and notes on lesson planning you had once relied so heavily on, is somewhere in a box or file you haven’t look at in ages. Planning a lesson takes a third of the time it used to and you find yourself having time for so many other things. Things you used to miss because you had to lesson plan.

The truth is, when you start teaching, it will feel like lesson planning is the only thing you will be doing for the entire year in China. You will feel down at times, as I am sure most new teachers feel like when they just start teaching. Experienced teachers will all say the same thing though: It does get better. So chin up because when you finally get to that stage, you will be the experienced teacher reassuring new teachers that everything does get better eventually.

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Teaching young kids in Beijing, by Francis Dorfling

When I think of these words “Teaching young kids in Beijing” it brings one word to mind JOY. This is something you need to experience for yourself to fully understand.

I’ve been teaching young kids in Beijing for one year now and it has been the best year of my life. For some young learners, you will be the first Foreigner they ever meet. They will be shy or the most energetic kid you have ever seen, but they will crawl their way into your heart. I have had my bad days in Beijing, but just hearing them call your name when they walk in the door makes it all fade away. These kids will love you in their own way and they will show it.

Come prepared with a list of English names that you like, but not too difficult. Why? In some classes, you will have new kids that do not have an English name, so parents will ask you to name them. You will also find a few strange names like “Starwars, Demo, Yoyo, Coco, Kitty, Tiger and different FRUIT.

It has been a challenge too don’t get me wrong. Most will have a low level of English so you will start from the basics…Hello. My name is ____, but when you get to the point where they can remember what they’ve learned and say it with so much confidence and the biggest smile on those little faces. You will feel that joy.

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Ordering food in Beijing, by Anne Kleimenhagen

Upon arrival in Beijing, there were many things that seemed daunting; calling a cab, buying clothes, and even teaching. The one thing that did not register as being overly difficult was something I had taken for granted up until this point in my life: ordering food. Usually, eating out consisted of grabbing the same menu from the same place down the street. I knew them, they knew me, and the entire process from start to finish was easy. Enter: Beijing dining. The first couple of times out, especially on your own, can be worrisome. The waiters hover while you order food and often times, people are looking at you from the minute you walk through the door. At first, what seems scary and even rude, slowly morphs into curiosity and acceptance. The looks become smiles and the hovering turns into broken, but joyful conversations in Chi-English: something that you will learn not to take for granted. Ordering food can be difficult, but it’s the most difficult times that end up being the most fun and memorable. So explore, try new places and get your pointer finger ready for the most exciting restaurant experiences you’ll probably ever have.

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Chatting with Chinese people, by John Mulligan

Prior to moving to China it is safe to say I had very little interaction with Chinese people. Coming from a small rural town in the west of Ireland I had little idea of what to expect from the culture and the people itself. A quick Google search before setting out for pastures new left me with more questions than answers. With the ‘rules’ I had learnt on the internet for etiquette and conversation with Chinese people swimming around in my head I set off.

My first conversations with Chinese people tended to consist of a lot of blank stares and pointing on my part. Things taken for granted back home became quite the struggle such as ordering food or trying to tell a taxi driver where you want to go. In the majority of these situations however I found the locals to be very patient with me. A few months later and my broken attempts at conversing in Chinese have not improved a whole lot! Despite this I am more often than not greeted with warm smiles and bucket loads of patience, many natives are more than happy to wait for me to try and remember the word for ‘take away’ or ‘bill’. By simply making an effort to learn a few words and key phrases my life is made easier on a daily basis.

My Chinese co-workers are some of the most helpful people I have ever encountered. From helping me to find a way to watch my favourite sports, giving directions, tips on things to see in this vast city and translating I honestly don’t believe my experience would have been as enjoyable without their much appreciated input. They also poses the amazing ability to speak confidently in more than one language (something I fear is a skill beyond my grasp). A group of people every bit as kind as they are clever, I had not meet before. My advice to anyone worrying about how they will talk to people from such a different culture, don’t be! Don’t make my mistake, don’t Google it.

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The Beauty of Beijing, by Carol Whelen

“How will you cope living in such a crowded city?” “Are you going to be ok in the smog?” “How are you going to cope living day to day without knowing the language?” These were the main concerns from my family and friends when I said I was moving to Beijing for a year. Having travelled before, moving to China was going to be a huge challenge due to the language barrier and cultural differences. However four months later I have seen the beauty of Beijing and found I have settled in quite well. I have taken advantage of the lovely summer days in August to go explore the city and even though it is difficult to so in the winter, I’m trying to make the effort.

I love to go explore on my days off, bringing with me nothing more than my travel card and my camera. The amazing Yuan Ming Yuan Park is a fantastic place to visit when you have a spare day. The park is massive and there is a mixture of busy trails and quiet ones. I spent a majority of my day here and it’s easily accessible by subway with the park being located directly opposite the station entrance.

One of my favourite places I have visited has to be the Summer Palace. We went late August and there was a lot of smog around the city. Some of my favourite photos were taken when I was there. The smog added a different atmosphere to the area, it seemed more fairy-tale like and now I find I will go out and explore more often on those smoggy days. The Summer Palace has a lot to offer and is a great starting point for your list while you are in Beijing. Not as expansive as Yuan Ming Yuan but still just as stunning. It is a lot busier though and going on a weekend day you may have to battle your way through the crowds. It is undeniably worth a visit.

Lastly I have to say living in the Shijingshan area is remarkable. You are close to the city, and far enough away to find some peace and quiet. There are many little parks and recreation areas dotted around. Laoshan Park is great to take a break away from the hustle and bustle of the area. It’s a small park located near the Bajiao subway station. It has an old Olympic mountain bike track which you can walk around and some fantastic viewpoints of the Shijingshan area.

It really is the case of don’t judge a book by its cover. All we hear about is the smog, the crowds, our differences etc. When you actually arrive here in Beijing, it is really astonishing how quickly it feels like home. Take advantage of days off and where your located, there are many wonderful sights in Beijing and I’m looking forward to exploring the rest of what this incredible city has to offer.

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Hiking in Beijing, by Matthew Harhai

I never dreamed that I would visit a wonder of the world three times in one month. I did just this in October. It’s quite easy to catch a bus out of Beijing to many of the different sections of the Great Wall. There are several tour companies that cater to those without cars. If you don’t feel like leaving the city district entirely, but want to escape the hustle, catching a bus to the west hills is a breeze. Shijingshan, the district where most Aihua schools are and where first year teachers live, borders the west hills with many gorgeous temples among them. Popular hiking spots in the west hills are Badachu and the Fragrant Hills. Hiking in these areas is not so much of a rustic dirt trail endeavor as it is a cultural exploration. What a nice departure from most western hiking to be able to appreciate intricately designed temples, practicing Buddhist monks engaging in their chants and prayers, beautifully manicured gardens, and the smells of many varieties of incense.

The Fragrant Hills is a huge park of several different historic and holy sites. It served as a military stronghold of Mao and his army during the early days of the Communist Party. Badachu translates to eight great sites, of which it contains eight temples and nunneries throughout the west hills. Badachu also features some 600 year old trees. If your feet are hurting from a day of walking around Beijing, or if you’re lazy, you can pay to take a cable-car to the top, afterwards you can ride a toboggan down. Go to the west hills during September and October to enjoy fantastic fall colors! As far as my Great Wall expeditions go, the highlight was visiting one of the oldest sections at Gubeikou also known as Crouching Tiger. The oldest portions were built 1400 years ago and feature construction from 5 different periods including the Liao, Jin, Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties.

It’s easy to find a Great Wall tour with as little as six people through a company like China Hiking (at chinahiking.cn). Others like Cultural Exchange Trips run large bus tours splitting the seating between 25 Chinese and 25 foreigners. For less than $200 USD you can join an overnight Great Wall trek and camp tour, with food and camping gear provided. For less that $30 USD it’s possible to take a day trip to one of the many Great Wall sites. There are several Great Wall sites in the Beijing area, all within two hours or less of city center. Whatever you do, don’t go to Badaling: it was built by the Mao regime to boost national pride. I hear it’s a tourist trap these days. Instead, go to one of the many historic spots. Come to Beijing and experience great hiking mixed with amazing culture!

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How to love China, by Juliene Terblanche

When you come to China, it’s not just a matter of simply arriving in a new country, it’s more like entering a whole new world; a fascinating, inspiring and mesmerizing new world. I would advise anyone and everyone to experience China for themselves and I am confident most people will love it. I say this so often that people always ask me why I love China so much?

The answer is simple. Like I’ve already said, China is so much more than just another country. It’s like nothing you’ve experienced before. In the event, however, that you get to China and you find yourself unsure about it, here are a few tips on how to love China.

1. Straight face
Learn to shop like a local and you will learn more about the people than you thought possible and also save a ton of money in the process. Shopping like a local entails going to the various markets and buying everything from fruit and vegetables to furniture. In order to get the best deal, however, you should never look excited about your purchase, at least not until you’ve more than halved the price and paid for the item and you have it in your hand and you’re walking away with it. If you show your real emotions about your prospective item you will always pay more because the seller will clearly see how badly you want it. But if you simply just go to the markets and look around you will always learn something about the culture and the people of China in the process. Without even realizing it, you will find yourself falling a little more in love with China as a whole.

2. Zero expectations
When you come to China, it is best not to have any pre-conceived notions or ideas about the country because it doesn’t matter how many books, blog posts or articles you read, nothing will prepare you for what you will experience once you arrive. It’s really best to arrive with a blank slate and form your own opinions about the people and the country. China is very different and you will be disappointed if you try and put it in a box before you’ve visited. Best to let the people and the country make their own first impression than you trying to create one out of thin air. I personally didn’t read anything before coming to China besides living cost comparisons and I am so grateful for that because I honestly didn’t know what to expect and it allowed me create my own opinions based on my own experiences and now I absolutely love the city of Beijing and China as a whole.

3. See the city not the sights
The best way to see a city for yourself is to go off the beaten path, explore by foot and definitely take the road less travelled. Beijing has incredible tourist spots and great sights, but the best way to see and experience the city is definitely not by restricting yourself to those. The side streets next to and behind the major sights are some of the most marvelous to see. I once got lost somewhere in the middle of the city and as I was walking through the streets I stumbled across a beautiful, traditional Church. Something I didn’t even know existed in the city. It was such a beautiful building, it reminded me so much of home but it being surrounded by traditional Chinese buildings made it even more special.

4. There’s always more
The number one way to fall head over heels in love with the majestic country that is China is to go travelling across its enormous spaces. China is a country of extraordinary size and the different landscapes found in this one country are impressive. When you get the chance go to different cities and towns you should try the local cuisine. You will also get to meet more of the local people and get a better window into Chinese culture. You will never be able to see all of China in one lifetime but you can have an amazing time trying. The nature this country has to offer is incredible and you can’t help but fall in love with China when you’re surrounded by mountains.

I have no doubt that anyone can fall in love with this country and this city as much as I have if you simply open your mind, shop like a local person, forget about your preconceived notions, go off the beaten path and explore the natural beauty of the country. Try it for yourself, you just might love it as well.

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A scooter for Beijing, by Nicholas Flesch

There are few adventures that match riding an electric scooter through Beijing. Best of all, this adventure can be had every day. The electric scooter has replaced the bicycle as Beijingers’ transportation of choice, and as such they are everywhere. Little dealerships are located on almost every street corner, and you can pick one up for less than $500 new or $200 used. They’re great for getting around, too, so long as you can develop a Zen attitude when it comes to traffic.

Traffic rules are fluid here; people do what’s convenient when it’s convenient. For every person going along with the flow of traffic there is another person going against it, and for all those people there’s going to be someone coming at you from the side. I don’t know how it all works out, but somehow between the slaloming between oncoming traffic and slow moving grandpas no one gets hurt and everyone makes it to where they’re going more or less on time.

Although in the first month or two a scooter, new or used, feels like a big investment it’s worth it. The freedom it gives is great. It makes getting around so much easier. I don’t have to figure out the bus schedules or wait for the buses. I just walk out my door, hop on my scooter, and take off to wherever I want to go (within about a 20 kilometer range).

The only word of advice I have for buying a scooter is to expect nothing, and that way you will expect everything.