My First Three Months, by Sorcha Smith

When I arrived in Beijing, I was one of the last of the teachers to arrive. We quickly delved into everything that needed to be done; bank account set up, mobile and service provider set up, visa registration, etc. Honestly, the first few weeks were all a blur.

The training was intense, which suited me as I hated things being long and drawn out. As I was so busy with training and then settling into class I thought that I’d become homesick after a while. I’m still waiting on that homesick feeling, probably because with Skype, emails and annoying friends and family to download WeChat, communication is rather simple.

There are a few things that I’ve learned in these months which I think are crucial. And I’ll list them as follows:

1.     Get lost.

Yup. Get lost. Walk around your area, get to know it. I’d suggest having a picture of somewhere near your apartment to show a taxi driver. I got lost on my second night, turns out I was just around the corner from the apartment without realising! By wandering around and just letting your feet choose the direction you end up seeing so much more than you realise.

2.    Talk.

Talk to the other teachers, both older and new. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you think it’s a stupid question, I can guarantee 99% that it has been asked before. I learned not only different ways of teaching the kids and different games just from a chat over coffee.

Also talk to your Chinese teachers, get to know them! They’re human being like the rest of us. One of my CT brought me in cough drops when I was sick, another knew that I don’t eat breakfast in the mornings and brought in dumplings and practically forced me to eat. They’re also fun to hang out with, you can practice your Chinese and they always know the best areas to travel for any mini breaks.

3.    Eat out.

Always try at least one new dish. Myself and two other teachers did that nearly every night for the first few weeks. Some of the food will look dodgy, I’m not going to lie, but I’ve only found one dish in god knows how many that I don’t like. Be brave! Thanks to another two teachers I have found my weaknesses!! Lemon tea and biangbiang noodles!

4.    Be patient.

This goes for everything. Banks are a nightmare but if you go at the right time you can be in and out in twenty minutes. Otherwise you could be there for an hour or two… And postage… Don’t get me started on the postage… Some people are not going to understand you, some won’t even try to, so take a deep breath and move on.

The greatest amount of patience can be for some of your classes. Some will be fantastic and you’ll enjoy them and look forward to them. Others… Not so much. That’s how I felt for two of my classes especially, the kids misbehaved, I’d spoken to their previous teachers to find out what worked and what didn’t, to the point where I dreaded going to class.

But then I tried looking at it from the kids’ perspective; were they bored, was I going to fast, did they need a different reward system? So I changed a few things, I now have student job roles in all my classes and my dreaded classes are now my favourite. Unless it’s teaching new words and reading, I normally have the kids help each other. Not only does it give them a confidence boost and a sense of accomplishment, but they have great fun doing it too.

So they are my words of wisdom. If you have an issue, talk to someone about it whether it’s trying to get something done or just having a problem with a particular class. Put the work in, change things around, and I promise you it makes such a difference to both you and the students.

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