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Working with Young Chinese Kids, by Jenny Dewhirst

Before working at Aihua I didn’t have any real teaching experience with young kids. I’d taught adults and teenagers, but young kids were never really my area of expertise. At Aihua, foreign teachers can have classes of kids ranging from 3-13 years old, and I’ll admit when getting my schedule, I was silently praying to the teaching gods for some older kids. However, as luck would have it, as I glanced down at that ever-important piece of paper, I found four Big Fun classes (the youngest that Aihua offers). This would be fine, I told myself, I have three younger cousins I half baby-sit at home, how different could it really be? During my first week of teaching I soon came to the realisation that this would, in fact, be very different.

The thing with young Chinese kids is that they don’t have an awful lot of English to work with. This frustrated me to no end at the beginning, kids would come up to me and clearly be excited to tell me something and I’d have no idea what they were saying. However, one joy of this lack of English is the total nonsense ‘banter’ the kids like to come up with. At the start of the lesson they’ll introduce themselves saying ‘Hello, my name is Jenny, I’m 22 years old’ and the whole class would erupt into the silliest giggles. Sometimes kids will change their names to ‘cat pizza’ or purposefully say the wrong vocab word and think this is the height of comedy. I have one six-year-old kid who has permanently changed his name to ‘Gooliga’ and often pretends to fly around the classroom chanting ‘I am bat!’. Honestly, I’ve gotten to the point where I genuinely think this stuff is hilarious.

Another big challenge for me was discipline, how can you get eight sugar-filled 4-year olds to listen to you if they can’t even understand what you’re saying? I soon realised that my Chinese co-teacher Nicole was going to become my complete partner in crime. We spent a few weeks fumbling over each other, words were lost over shouts of ‘lǎo shī!!shén me yì si??’ which translates to ‘teacher what does it mean?’ (a phrase permanently etched into my brain). However, after a few months we became almost extensions of each other, I’d be demonstrating a game and Nicole would be zipping over to Ivan, who, once again was aiming the sticky ball at Angel’s head. During CT time (where she’d translate the lesson for the kids in Chinese) I’d be rallying a rogue Joshua, who had decided to go for a light stroll around the classroom, promising him a star if he sat down with me. These days we barely have to look at each other to know when to step in and help each other out.

Overall, I think my favourite part of teaching small kids is how much fun everything suddenly becomes. Something as simple as writing the letter ‘b’ can become more competitive than the Olympic 100m sprint. Any activity big or small is somehow the most exciting thing in the world and will invite a chorus of ‘teacher teacher let me try!’. Big Fun classes have been simultaneously the hardest and most rewarding classes I’ve taught this year, and frankly I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world.

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How to enjoy Nature in Beijing, by Beate Brunner

Beijing, the Capital of the People’s Republic of China. The world’s third most populated city, a city that never sleeps. The home to parts of one of the world’s greatest wonders, The Great Wall of China. A city that is famous for The Forbidden City, The Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven and many more. One may ask where nature can be found in a busy, world know city such as Beijing…

Not to worry, locals make an extreme effort to ensure that the concrete jungle is filled with the most beautiful trees, bushes and extraordinary flowers. Beijing is the place to be if you want to experience every season to their greatest extent. I’ve never had the privilege to enjoy the beauty of all the seasons. In Summer you’ll find that Beijing is a jungle full of grass green trees and bushes. Autumn is a masterpiece of yellow, orange and red leaves dancing in the wind. During Winter your heart is warmed by bare trees and snowflakes sparkling in the sunlight. Come Spring time and your favorite color will be pink. The rush and desire to see the cherry blossoms in Beijing is definitely an experience you’ll cherish forever.

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All this sounds like a dream, but how does one know where to go to enjoy this… All apartment buildings have parks and gardens surrounding them. So, it’s literally walking out of your door, opening your eyes and enjoying the pleasures that only nature can provide. Other than that, Beijing is filled with hundreds of parks and gardens. Our friends, such as TimeOutBeijing & theBeijinger (Free subscriptions accounts you can follow on WeChat) provide regular information on the best places to visit for all seasons and then of course season specific nature events.

Thirdly you can use your good old friend, Google. Or when you’re here, in China, you’ll find that Bing will be your new best friend. Simply type in what you’re looking for, and the internet will provide you with endless ideas and suggestions on what you can do. Reviews and directions can be found on several websites to guide your quest.

Lastly, you can ask the locals, your co-workers or experienced foreigners. We’re all happy to help. Chinese people in general are more than happy to help and give advice. Well and maybe they can even join you on your expedition to enjoy nature in Beijing. They do know all the local insides, that could possibly include good food and a free tour guide – what a deal. And then you’ll have someone to take pictures of you. And trust me, Chinese people take this job seriously. You’ll have your own photoshoot in front of the cherry blossoms. And of course, you’ll be the focus of the shoot, and not the natural wonder. But, let’s be honest we are wonders (especially in China). Being foreign is a super power. This just means that, there will be more memories of you captured and documented (from every angle, of course) – score!

So, don’t let the big city statistics fool you. Beijing is the place to experience nature. But sure, don’t take my word for, come and see for yourself. I bet you, you’ll have an endless list of outdoor activities to do. Game on!

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Making Friends with Chinese People, by Gregory McLaughlin

Making friends with the locals in China is a whole different creature than it is back home. You have to approach someone, open your mouth and have words come out. Ok, so that may seem to be a gross oversimplification but it isn’t. Making friends in China might even be easier than you will find it is to make new friends back in the West. The simple truth is; here in China, you are the exotic one. The local people here WANT to know more about you. You don’t have to wow them with a great opener. Not being Chinese IS your opener. You really couldn’t have to do less work. You might even find the locals approach you. Sometimes this is for free English lessons but even then a deeper relationship is entirely possible.

All right, so making friends is easy. What are the benefits of being friends with a Chinese person? Aside from the fact that almost all of your coworkers, neighbors and people you interact with on a daily basis will be Chinese it is always a good idea to expand your circle of friends, especially when far from everything that is familiar to you. A Chinese friend is a direct link to help you navigate and understand the world in which you are now living. They are a direct conduit into learning about the culture and can help you with all the subtly different day to day issues that arise. Sure, we have a stellar support team at Aihua but you don’t want to bother them with every little issue. You want someone to help you find a good hairdresser? Ask your new friend to take you out for a makeover. Want to buy a gift for a special someone? Trick them into helping you by buying them lunch at the mega-mall and then say “oh, while we’re here…” (I actually just asked flat out but some people might prefer the sneaky route). Maybe you are just tired of dealing with your fellow teachers day in and day out.

It’s easy enough to find people too. Start with your coworkers. Talk with the guy that sits at the gate to your complex. Chat with the lady that works at the grocery store you always go to after work. Start up a conversation with someone at the coffee shop you like. It really is that simple. Don’t let the language barrier block you from an amazing relationship. One of my friends and I use conversation mode on Google translate to have long and meaningful discussions. She is even helping me sail the uncertain waters of dating a local. At the worst, you might just get some Chinese practice in, at the best you have someone to invite to your wedding one day. Making Chinese friends will just enrich the already incredible experience that is living in China. Don’t just take my word for it; go see for yourself.

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Making Chinese Friends, by India Basigni

So, you’ve finally made it to China after months of preparation. You’ve moved into your new apartment, started to settle into your new routine, but you feel like something is missing. You imagined you’d be completely immersed in Chinese culture, struggling to make sense of the language and traditions; yet you continuously find yourself in an English-speaking environment. You speak English at work, your housemate speaks English and it’s easy to become friends with the other foreign teachers. You are living and working in China, but you are still on the outside looking in. The easiest way to overcome this barrier is to make Chinese friends.

Making Chinese friends is actually very similar to making new friends who are not Chinese. In fact, it might actually be easier to make Chinese friends as Chinese people are just as interested in learning about your country and culture as you are about theirs. Strangers will come up to you in the most unusual locations asking to add you on WeChat or for a quick selfie and you’ll find that everyone is extremely friendly, welcoming and patient to your many blunders as you adjust to a new way of life.

So, here are some tips on how to make Chinese friends:

1. Approach a Chinese person and say hello.
2. Be prepared for them not to respond in English.
3. If so, bring out your acting skills.
4. Add them on WeChat.
5. Invite them out for food or for another social activity.
6. Accept their invitation for food or any other activities.
7. Keep repeating no.5 and 6.
8. Congratulations you have made a Chinese friend.

You’ll find that Chinese people are not so different from you after all. Just be yourself and you’ll soon make lots of Chinese friends who you have lots in common with. You’ll be eating out together, going to the cinema together, going on holiday together etc. The sky’s the limit!

So, what are you waiting for? Go make a Chinese friend today.

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Finding Mexican food in China, by Laura Einerson

Moving to China requires a huge leap of faith, for many reasons. You’ll be far away from home, there’s a significant language barrier, and you may lack initial social support. Everyone has questions about life in China, but if you’re anything like me, there was one esspecially important question: where am I supposed to get Mexican food?!

As an American, I’m used to almost always having Mexican food in close proximity. Don’t get me wrong, I was excited at the possibility of eating Chinese food every day, but I also knew that I would inevitably crave my fix of tacos, burritos, enchiladas, and the like. Thankfully, a large city like Beijing is chock-full of wonderful Mexican restaurants, you just need to know where to go.

Arguably, the favorite Beijing Mexican restaurant amongst the Aihua team is Q Mex. You can find it in the Sanlitun area by the Bookworm and the Local. It’s a prime location for a good meal before a night out. Head in there for some delicious nachos, burritos, and mixed drinks. Just make sure to get there early and reserve your seat, as it gets very busy.

Just around the corner from Q Mex you can also find the Taco Bar. You’ll know you’ve found the right place when you see the waitstaff with taco dog shirts and a poop emoji above the restrooms. The Taco Bar is much smaller than Q Mex but has some delicious guacamole and fish tacos.

Other great restaurants in Sanlitun include El Barrio and the new Moji location at Topwin Center. However, if you’re looking to get out of the (very far) Sanlitun area, head towards the Lama Temple and you’ll find Pebbles Courtyard in a hutong. The Pebbles menu has been praised as authentic, and the owner as very dedicated to his craft. If the bustle of Q Mex and the Taco Bar is too much, Pebbles is a delicious alternative.

Finally, if you’re craving Mexican food and don’t want to go so far out of the way, the Wudaokou area offers some options as well. The Steps Bar has classic Western bar food, including some Mexican eats and next to that is Mojar, a small Mexican restaurant with sombreros on the wall and a pool table. While in a lot of ways China is a completely different world from the ones we’re used to, the scale and diversity of the city allows everyone to find small pockets of home. Whenever I’m feeling homesick, a well-made burrito is enough to give me comfort.

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Foreign Teacher Interviews!

Shane McCormack (Ireland)
Brittany Joubert (South Africa)

Rory Spittle (Australia)

Rochelle Beiersdorfer (U.S.)
Antoinette Schoeman (South Africa)
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Taking the plunge, by Jack Carter

Taking the plunge is an expression that can mean different things to people throughout their lives.

When I was young, it meant jumping 5 feet into a cold lake with my friends. When I got a bit older, it meant driving 70 miles from my quiet English home to a busy student campus in Cardiff. After graduating from university, however, it meant flying over 5,000 miles to one of the largest cities in the world, Beijing.

But taking the plunge doesn’t just mean moving further and further away from home. It also means doing something you’re actively afraid of. I was afraid of getting cold in that lake, I was afraid of having to make new friends in Cardiff and I was afraid of starting a new life in China’s massive capital.

Yet settling in Beijing didn’t scare me because I’d have to make new friends, learn a foreign language or get used to a vastly different culture. Don’t get me wrong, these are sizable challenges. But rather because it meant signing over a whole year of my life. I’d never even committed to a free loyalty card at Subway.

Not to mention I’d always felt as though this wasn’t what I was ‘meant to do’ after university. As recent graduates, we’re often expected to take advantage of our degree to get a relevant job in ‘the city’. My family certainly wanted me to secure a finance related position in London.

But as university came to an end, a small voice inside me quietly whispered this isn’t enough. I needed something more than just a dreary office job for the next 50 years. I needed a chance to meet interesting new people from all over the world. To learn a challenging new language. To experience a vastly different culture. To have an adventure.

The problem was signing away a whole year of my life. How could I be sure I’d enjoy teaching? What if I didn’t like China? Shouldn’t I start my long-term career right away if I didn’t want to fall behind?

In the end, after much deliberation, I took the plunge. I moved over 5,000 miles to Beijing, and I can honestly say I’m so glad I did. Like jumping into that cold lake and moving to Cardiff for university, I had a lot of fun.

Teaching children is amazing. The sense of satisfaction you get from seeing kids enjoy themselves while learning is genuinely unbeatable.

Living in Beijing is also a great bonus. The problem here is not getting bored, but rather having enough time to see the countless cultural and historical things that the capital and the rest of the country has to offer. In just 3 months, I’ve already tried everything from street dancing to exploring ancient water towns.

Not starting your long-term career straight away also has its advantages. I’m now meeting a wider range of people, learning a globally important language and gaining new world perspectives. This life experience is vital in creating the kind of flexible, open-minded global citizen that’s more likely to achieve meaningful career advancement long-term, whatever the industry.

So yes, moving to China for a year is a big decision. And like jumping into a cold lake, it’s one that you’ll understandably be a bit nervous about. You’ll need to adjust to a new friendship group, a different language and a distinct culture.

But these are also the things that make it so great. You’ll meet interesting new people from all over the world. You’ll go places and do things you never thought you would. You’ll learn about a country that’s only going to become more important in the future. You’ll enhance your long-term personal development. You’ll create lasting friendships and memories you couldn’t possibly have made in a dreary office back home. And you’ll have a lot of fun while doing it.

So hold your breath and take the plunge into that cold lake, you might just have a great time. If that’s not a good enough reason to move to China for a year, then I don’t know what is.

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Contribute to the Art Scene in Beijing, by Daniel Ritchey

“Get out and be a part of the creative life here in Beijing,” one of the voices in my head thundered. It was easy to find someplace to have my voice heard. I grabbed my guitar and my guts and took Paddy O’Shea’s open mic night by storm. Okay, maybe that is a tad too-strong description for the nerve-wracked performance I gave, but I am going back again with a vengeance. I have since been invited to no less than three open mics in different parts of this vast city on different nights. It is a thrill to get up and play anywhere, but there is something special about doing it here, so far from home and amidst so many people from far different places.

There are galleries, publications and websites hungry for creative content, films and television shows needing the voices of native English speakers for dubbing. There are writers and artists of all stripes gallivanting around Beijing looking for others for inspiration and collaboration. Working at Aihua English introduced me to some of these other artists, who happen to be colleagues, within days of arriving in Beijing. Getting out in the city to the art district and seeing Chinese art and attending a stunning theater performance opened up my eyes and ears to the fierce beauty of Chinese history and expression. My schedule at Aihua allows me the time to experience and contribute to the rich arts scene here, and that freedom is one of the many things I love about my job.

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Speaking Chinese…, By John Iuga

There is a reason why a common expression in English is to tell someone they’re speaking Chinese when you can’t understand them: because there is absolutely no way to understand Chinese. It is so vastly different from any western language that the only thing you can do when a Chinese person speaks to you is to look at them blankly.

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To add to your woes you can’t guess what they’re saying because Chinese does not have the same Latin base as a lot of western languages have (French, Italian etc.). Also, you most likely didn’t learn Chinese in school and therefore you can’t use any of the five phrases you learned in school: “¿Dónde está la biblioteca?”

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However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel: you can just learn it! I’ve been living in China for 14 months now, and after the first four months of studying I was able to talk platitudes with the taxi drivers and ask McDonald’s employees for the chef’s special of the day. I started learning because I wanted to make my life easier for myself instead of relying on Google translate and ridiculous hand gestures and I am quite proud of how far I’ve come considering I only knew three words when I landed in Beijing. Reading and writing Chinese characters is still the hardest thing for me to get my head around, but all that takes is daily practice. I’m not saying you have to immerse yourself to the point where you find squatting a more viable sitting position that sitting on a chair….

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…but if you can get over the initial fear or just asking people or just sparking up a conversation with your colleagues in their native tongue, you will find people won’t be as judgmental as you think, you’ll be able to laugh together about how bad you are at speaking, and you might actually pick up a thing or two along the way. Thankfully, Aihua provides a very good Chinese teacher who can help you regardless of your level of proficiency. There are also many Chinese learning apps such as HelloChinese and Duolingo which can help you along the way (they did for me!).

Life is what you make of it and if you keep telling yourself you will never learn such a difficult language then that is all you will achieve. Put your head right and just try! You will find it was worth it for the fun!

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The Chinese Comedy Scene, by Rochelle Beiersdorfer

Laughter is a universal language, a great equalizer and the best type of medicine. I mean, come on, who doesn’t love to laugh!? We all love to laugh! The endorphin rush feels great and it can transcend differences and bring people together, regardless of language or cultural barriers. In China, Xiang Sheng (Crosstalk) is the traditional method to elicit laughter. Xiang Sheng is a type of comedic, interview-style banter that’s usually between two individuals. In a Xiang Sheng performance, one performer “interrogates” the other performer with questions ranging in topics from, but not limited to, everyday life, differences in Chinese dialects and politics. Starting centuries ago, Xiang Sheng is very well-loved in China’s popular culture and, until recently, was the only form of comedic performance in China. But, like with the rise of craft beer, western styles of comedy are becoming more prevalent and very accessible, especially in Shanghai and Beijing.

From international, household names performing at posh theatres to local celebrities doing a quick 5-minutes set at a dive bar’s open mic, there are many opportunities in Beijing to go watch and even try your hand at stand-up comedy and improv. Both in English and Chinese, you can see shows at the Bookworm and The Local in Sanlitun or at Paddy’s in Dongzhimen. If you’re itching for a more Chinese experience with your dose of western humor, you can go venture to the USCCC (US-China Comedy Center)’s hutong headquarters or to a few of the hutongs’ eclectic bars, such as The Great Outdoors. So, when you’re feeling stressed, blue or just fed up and need a good dosage of laughter, there are plenty of opportunities in Beijing to get what the doctor prescribes. Laughter truly is the best medicine.

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