Anna Lawrence - Reflecting on China

It’s now been two months since I returned from my year abroad teaching English in China. I still keep thinking about the amazing experiences I had and I haven’t yet run out of ‘in China…’ stories to tell my friends and family. It was certainly a life-changing time that I will never forget.

My allocated school was situated in a town called Jianghua in southern Hunan province. I taught students aged between fourteen and seventeen and lived in the school in a flat which I shared with my boyfriend who was also teaching there. With one or two exceptions, the students were lovely and very eager to learn. English makes up a large part of the final exams so it’s taken very seriously in schools! Although the Chinese education system took a little time to get used to, I found the routine easy to adjust to and was soon able to create good lesson plans.

For half the school year, my boyfriend and I were the only foreigners in our town. We soon found our way around however partly through the use of interesting ‘conversations’ involving lots of hand gestures and partly through our students who could all speak a certain amount of English. Once I got used to my new environment I really enjoyed being located in a more remote part of China. It was lovely being able to see beautiful mountainous countryside everyday and I thoroughly enjoyed having no choice but to immerse myself into the local culture. I made a lot of good friends I might not have made and learnt a lot about Chinese culture. Being the only foreigners also meant everyone was very friendly. We got invited to all sorts, sometimes to someone’s house for dinner or sometimes to judge something like the local English speaking competition.

Although it was great seeing all my friends and family again, coming home made me appreciate my experience all the more. There were certainly things I did not miss about my time away. Chinese bureaucracy for example could sometimes be incredibly frustrating, tending to either work extremely slowly or extremely quickly and we never quite knew which one it will be! There are also certain cultural habits which I could never quite accustom myself too, the most obvious one being spitting! Chinese meals also took a little time to get used to and my boyfriend and I used to have long conversations discussing our most missed foods!

It was often the case however that these experiences worked to make our trip more interesting. And strangely now I am back I really miss the Chinese food. From not being able to stand spicy food I am now addicted to it! It is also true that there were so many more good points about my trip than bad. Teaching in China definitely improved my confidence as I was quite a shy person before I went away. It gave me invaluable future job experience and most importantly gave me a brilliant opportunity to experience a completely different way of life. I learnt so much about China and a lot about myself (and not just that I actually really like spicy food). The timetable was flexible and I had plenty of spare time to do other things. Although my poor language skills meant that my Chinese was never very good, there was plenty of opportunity for me to learn. I was also able to use the holidays and my earnings to travel around a large part of China. I would definitely recommend using the holidays to travel.

If you are looking to teach in China next year I would recommend it for both the teaching experience and the life experience it gives you. Although it is a little scary the support you receive from the company is excellent. We had few problems and the ones we did have were dealt with quickly. It was very comforting to know there was someone nearby who could help us if we needed it. Although the prospect of teaching aboard is a little nerve-wracking, it is a great opportunity which, like me, I’m sure you’ll be glad you took part in.