Cat Kirton

I came to China because I wanted an adventure. It was a spontaneous, spur of the moment decision, perhaps for the best, because maybe if you spend a lot of time thinking about moving to another continent, you can talk yourself out of it.

Nine months in, and I’m not regretting a thing. Teaching at Beihang Flying College has been a fantastic experience. There have been the inevitable ups and downs, as you would expect when you move to a country so utterly different from your own, to do a job that is so different from any job you’ve done before. But for me, that was the whole point – stepping out of my comfort zone, to learn about a new culture and different way of life.

Initially, I saw teaching as a way and a means of surviving in China, a chance to earn some money so I could travel in the holidays. But actually, teaching has been the best part of this trip for me. The students, all teenage boys who are training to be pilots, are fun to teach. We focus on oral English, covering a range of topics and practising a whole variety of English speaking exercises – role plays, conversations, debates, presentations, group work. Anything to get them to speak up! The key to a good lesson is to find a subject the students are interested in, and challenge them to find new ways of expressing themselves. Always keep it fresh, if the students are bored they can be unresponsive, and lessons drag.

That said, the students are usually bright, friendly and curious, and it is not unusual for me to come away from a lesson smiling. However, they can be lazy, and rogue sleepers/texters/PSP players are not uncommon. Don’t be afraid to crack the whip!

There have been a few communication problems with the foreign teacher department at Beihang, usually based on misunderstandings and cultural differences. I would say to prepare for this you should communicate your needs carefully, and handle every situation with patience and good humour. On the whole though, the situation has been good and we have been happy and comfortable here.

I’m also very glad that I ended up in Beijing – for me, the centre of China! The Chinese are extremely proud of their culture, their nation and their capital, and it shows. Beijing has a rich and varied history, and a promising future. Living here in the run up to the 2008 Olympics has been fascinating. Beijing is changing and developing at an incredibly fast-pace. Everyday you see workers building, renovating, and improving. I very much hope to come back to Beijing within the next few years, to see how our little corner at Beihang has changed.

Another aspect of this experience that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed has been learning Mandarin. Difficult, tongue-twisting and confusing, yes - but its not as bad as you may imagine. A good way to start is one-on-one tuition, either with a school or language partner. Neither is hard to find. Chinese people can be very friendly and you will constantly find yourself inundated with offers of language help. I’ve had one-on-one tuition at a nearby language school. I also have lots of Chinese friends, including two language partners, all of whom I meet regularly. I love being able to converse with the locals, and even a little basic Mandarin can make all the difference.

And the travel? The Spring Festival break was fantastic, as it gave my fellow teachers and myself the opportunity to explore China. And we did, from North to south, or more precisely, from the freezing cold Ice and Snow Festival in Harbin, to the comparatively balmy climate of Hong Kong. Along the way, we visited Buddhist monasteries, ancient archaeological sites, world-famous museums, and cosmopolitan cities. We had a brilliant time; I have so many interesting, amusing and downright strange stories to tell. There’s nothing quite like a 15 hour trip on a Chinese sleeper train!

My time in China is nearly over; I will fly back to the UK next month. I know I will miss my life at Beihang, and all the quirks and ‘only in China’ stories that have made it so much fun. I feel that I have developed a special affinity with China and Chinese people. This has been an amazing year.