My TEIC Experience
It’s not hard to notice that China is consistently hitting
the headlines and seemingly fighting for centre place on the international
stage. And it’s not difficult to be curious about life other
there and what it would be like to be involved with one of the world’s
most exciting countries. However, I don’t think anything can
really prepare you for the experience of being completely immersed
within the cultural side of life, living a day to day existence
with the locals, the people and the way of life.
TEIC has given me the opportunity to see beyond the media’s
perceptions of China and experience this largely untouched world
for myself. My placement within a fairly obscure and remote place:
Huaihua, Hunan (still a city of 2million, mind you) was initially
slightly irritating for me; understandably wanting to be in a larger
and more known city. However, I can now testify to this small(er)
scale experience as being an absolute one of a kind and unique opportunity.
Living in China is completely crazy but entirely worthwhile.
Most people on the programme (like me) turned up
knowing no-one, no Chinese and having no idea about what to expect.
But I found the Chinese to be very accommodating, friendly and willing
to help as much as they can. Although you are you often far from
western comforts, you’ll learn to love the Chinese ways of
entertainment, from sports and walks, to karaoke bars. There’s
always something to do. And communal life is very much alive and
exciting; from public square dance sessions to late night barbecues.
And the food is generally very good (and cheap) - in Hunan it’s
very spicy. Oh and the apartment provided for me was very big and
had all the necessary things you’d expect – very comfortable,
although poorly insulated for the winter, so take some warm clothes.
Working within the education sector naturally allows you to meet
some really nice people and make friends easily, whether it be with
teachers, students, or locals who often see it as a very respectable
profession. The programme also sets you up so that you know other
foreigners in the province and nearby cities so that you can share
your immediate experiences and never feel too lonely. Although every
one will have their own unique experience. I made many good friends
in China and more than often these friendships developed from random
street encounters. It’s that kind of place. China is also
largely a very safe place. Children seem to walk around at all times
of night without much regard. And as long as you keep you’re
wits about you, you needn’t be worried about your safety.
Just be careful about being ripped off at you’re local market!
Learning Chinese (even if it’s the basics, just to get around)
is all part of the fun, and can be surprisingly not too difficult
given the immersion you have, and it’s likely you’ll
pick up much more than you’d expect - especially if you choose
to study it properly. And most people are very friendly and accommodating
in helping you to survive on the limited knowledge you may or may
Still it is a challenging year in many ways; especially when the
Chinese’ way of doing things often stands in clear contrast
to how you’re used to things. And things can get slow or frustrating
especially when dealing with administrations. Although you always
have the programme to fall back on, if you do get into any trouble.
The teaching aspect is not something to be worried
about. I had never taught before, but some initial training courtesy
of the programme and a little bit of common sense meant that the
initial nerve-racking moments were few and far between and you’ll
find plenty of resources at your disposal. It can really be quite
fun. As is often the case, I was left to construct my own lesson
plans and syllabus which rather than being scary and intimidating,
lead to a lot of fun and creativity. As long as you put the energy
in and make it fun, you’ll find that the students are happy
to play along. What’s more, you’ll find yourself often
being asked to do things at the last minute and this somehow becomes
part of the routine - It doesn’t get boring, that’s
for sure. It will depend on how much responsibility you have from
your school to meet targets etc. but I was given a lot of freedom
and scope for what I did in the classroom. It really is what you
make of it. And outside of teaching, you’ll be amazed at the
sort of things you can get yourself involved with. I even took part
in a fashion show at one point.
The programme gives you plenty of opportunity for
travel and exploration, during and outside of term times. There’s
always something nearby to be explored and even more within easy
travel distances – as China is well linked up. You’ll
learn to love the Chinese trains that can take whole days of travelling
and the other bizarre ways often used as transport. I travelled
a fair bit and only saw a fraction of the things I wanted to. China
is full of some of the world’s most spectacular natural, historical
(and increasingly urban) sites and it’s hard not to be impressed
with what you can see. And it’s also not hard to minimise
you’re day to day living costs if you really want to focus
more on travel.
I don’t want to spoil some of the crazy surprises for you,
but I will say that China is changing at an incredible (before your
eyes) rate, and this only seeks to encourage you to experience a
world that you won’t forever have the chance. Many of my friends
stayed working in China and others have gone straight back after
spending a while looking in the current job markets. I made a lot
of great friends, had an amazing time and have every intention on
returning in the future. My advice is that if you’re feeling
adventurous and up for a sometimes challenging, yet always rewarding
experience then you should get out there as soon as possible. Go
with open eyes and I’m sure you won’t regret it.