Ivan Costantino

Ivan CostantinoWith a long-standing interest in the Far East and its fast-changing cities, I jumped at the opportunity of teaching in Chongqing, allegedly the fastest-growing urban centre on earth. And yet the district where we were based was far from cosmopolitan; finding ourselves to be the only 'foreigners' there made for a challenging experience that taught me a lot about life in contemporary China.

What I enjoyed the most about my experience teaching at university in Chongqing was the opportunity to meet so many young Chinese. Some turned out to be extremely active, enthusiastic, and curious about life in the West, while others were initially a bit shy or intimidated. Some of them had never met a 'foreigner in the flesh' before. In time, though, we warmed up to each other and I ended up spending a lot of my spare time with students, some of them only a couple of years younger than myself, making friends that I'm already starting to miss. Over countless spicy meals and endless games of mahjong, my friends taught me a lot about their language and culture, making me experience what life is like for young people in China today.

But being in China does not only teach you a lot about Chinese people. As the only 'authorities' on Western culture, the pressure was on us to think carefully and either confirm or set straight generally held views about the West. This made me question my own identity in a very healthy way, teaching me to be wary of generalizations about people of any ethnic background. I would recommend the experience of teaching English in China to people of all ages with an open mind and an interest in experiencing life in a different country among generally very welcoming and hospitable people.