10 months as a TEFL teacher

My time as a TEFL teacher…

Is coming to an end. It is coming up to the end of my 10-month contract working at ‘Wenzhou no.1 Private Peking Experimental School’, and gosh it has been one interesting ride – laughter, tears, stress, fun, loneliness, pride, just a few words that come to mind when I look back at my time with the school and with China. Let’s focus on my time with the school, the first few months, the make or break, the time to shine bright or fade away.

I remember my first time coming to the school – jetlagged – it was a Saturday, the morning after the night of arriving in China. Myself and the other English teachers were taken to the office of the vice principal, Curtis is his English name. There we were given our syllabus, our class timetables, our lanyards and of course, to refresh our memory, a copy of the job specifications. Then came the tour of the school, it was fascinating, I was a teacher, in a new school, in a new country, with a whole new group of friends. We walked and made small talk with our guide and with each other (we are a very different bunch of friends now that we know each other). We had our first school lunch and possibly the last time any of us enjoyed the food – I’m not fussy and will eat what is there, but some are not that easy going. Then the day was done and we all went to the local café for internet access so that we could plan our first lesson and possibly the hardest – our introduction to our students.

The first week was, in hindsight, a shocking week of lessons, where I put together a power point presentation introducing myself to the children. I tried to keep it fun, putting superheroes and cartoons in it along with my pets. At the end of this week I realised how old I actually am, but actually… no I’m not old, just from a different culture, they don’t know what they think they do. That’s my argument and I’m sticking to it.

It took me maybe two to three weeks to get into a good style of teaching, and by this time I had my first observation lesson. These are when you have several teachers from around the school come to observe, write notes, critique and give feedback. I still remember the stress from the day before, I did a practice lesson, it was shockingly bad, the kids did not learn much because I panicked and tried to do style over substance and the lesson was unfocused – this was my low point. I went into the evening with my mentor and co-teacher Lani as she helped me plan a new lesson, mixing elements from a biology lesson and incorporating them into an English lesson. I went home, got some Chow-Mein and a coffee, I spent the night making a new power point, a new game and a whole new lesson. I did it, the students were taught about animals and what they eat and then had to work in groups to complete a worksheet where they had to glue the pictures of animals into the correct food column and stick to their sentence structure: “The (animal) eats (meat, vegetables, fruit, fish, insects)”. After this everyone said they loved the lesson and would take elements of my teaching style for their classes including my reward and punishment system – nothing great just a simple star system for the class vs me, so instead of being deducted points the points would be awarded to myself and they just had to get more stars than me.

For the rest of this semester I went on with my lessons, getting positive feedback and continuing to focus on student centred lessons. As well as the students getting used to me and enjoying my lessons, I decided to continue trying to make some advancements in my position in the school. I worked with one of my co-teachers to create a weekly video series released through the schools WeChat channel. They consisted of a different topic each week, and the goal was to teach a more casual way of talking, useful for every day needs when going to an English-speaking country. We would get requests such as how to order food in restaurants vs. fast food, manners and mannerisms, candy and treats, to daily activities such as the cinema or looking for fun.

I also had my drama lessons where with a class of 20, we – I – wrote four short plays, adapted from fables centred around the big bad wolf, it was tough work and led into the

evenings with many one on one rehearsals, music cues, dance practice and stage directions. It was tough, it was fun, the children loved every second of it. We performed at the end of semester festival and the crowd LOVED it. Teachers from other schools were laughing, cheering and clapping along, it was great and I was so proud of the children… the curse of success was that we had to perform the play four more times for open days, teacher shows and visiting schools. Crazy, but fun.

 

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This was our final performance of the our play. As you can see, the child playing one of the wolves was sick… My theatre training kick ed to save the day.

I also had my drama lessons where with a class of 20, we – I – wrote four short plays, adapted from fables centred around the big bad wolf, it was tough work and led into the evenings with many one on one rehearsals, music cues, dance practice and stage directions. It was tough, it was fun, the children loved every second of it. We performed at the end of semester festival and the crowd LOVED it. Teachers from other schools were laughing, cheering and clapping along, it was great and I was so proud of the children… the curse of success was that we had to perform the play four more times for open days, teacher shows and visiting schools. Crazy, but fun.

Teaching the 2nd grade, this allowed me to give lessons in short bursts that could appeal to a wider audience. This has been a lot of fun and it also let me create some videos that I would edit, helped scratch the video maker itch.

This led into the month-long winter break in February, a whole month off, I could relax and to also try and get ahead of the game and plan some lessons. This led into the second semester, the home stretch as some of us called it. This for me flew by because at this time I had my girlfriend staying with me for three months. For the first time it felt like a comfortable job, I was going to work and coming home to her, the thought of staying for another year was in my mind but I knew that she would not want another year and deep down, neither did I. I just wanted a life with my girlfriend, a home.

SO! The second semester started off well, I went through my lessons I made them more activity and worksheet based as the students were at a good level especially for their age. We had another drama lesson where I decided to let the kids pick a song and dance and I taught them some magic tricks to perform for their show, a little Vegas show. (At this point I was obsessed with ‘The Greatest Showman’) The kids loved their magic tricks and performed them well, and their song and dance of choice was the Grant Gustin ‘Glee’ performance of ‘I want you back’, I was nervous at first thinking they could not learn the song and dance, but again the children surprised me.

I also got given a second extra-curricular class in teaching where I would be hosting a reading class for two of the top classes. Interesting, but I got into the groove of being a library teacher, the kids would read to me, do group reading. The hardest part? Being the

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The Peter and Jane vocab books. The kids loved them.

library/reading teacher without a library, it would not be finished until the next school year – way passed my time. Ordering in books would be my only resource, I came across the vocab books ‘Peter and Jane’ that increased in skill and the children loved the challenge with each lesson, always wanting to master the easier books and work their way up to a page full of words. They all passed on book 4a and some as high as 7b, again I was proud.

The lessons continued, and I created exams, listening tests, speaking exams and written papers for the children. The kids scored well above the pass rate, they’ve done well and I am proud of each of them.

Term is coming to an end now… and I am feeling in two minds. I will miss this place, miss the job, miss my colleagues and I will miss the children. Yet, I can’t stay in China I need to go home and find my career and my life, if I have made some small impact on their lives and made them enjoy their lessons with me, I think I have done well in my time here. If I could go back and change my mind and not come? No. I would always come here, rather than become an old man, filled with regret.

 

Take care,

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Just a rainy day photo.

 

Greg

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What WILL happen next!

A letter of intent. This is what’s going to happen!

I have written this kind of letter before, stating not what I want to do but, what I WILL do. Each time it has been met with varying levels of success and accomplishment, ranging from: I started, I did much less frequently to “did I even start?”. What is so different about this letter? Well simply put, I feel much more comfortable where I am and what I want to accomplish, where I want to go and more importantly knowing that I have someone who will help me through with it.

As you may know I have a girlfriend and as you may also know I am in love with her and that we are set on a life together. This is in no way a bucket list (another story for another time) but rather something that is going out there as a promise of what I want to achieve for myself, which will lead, I think to a brighter future, because you can’t just expect things to happen, and I am a list maker. Enough ranting as that is simply delaying the goals even further. Buckle up.

 

  • Be smoke free for a year – This is a hard one to even type out, but yes, I am currently an ex-smoker, I say currently because I have quit several times over the years. 1 month, 1 day, 6 months I have hit most mile stones, but I believe the 10-month mark. Both me and the Mrs. Have decided to try and get healthy as we are approaching 30 and saving up for a house so kicking that habit is nothing but beneficial on so many levels. Health, Money, focus and I also hear that smoking and drinking makes your hangover worse.
  • Get a job – Easier said than done, after returning to England I will be on the job hunt and looking for a position that I can sink my teeth into. I want what everyone else wants; Monday to Friday, 9-5, so I can spend more time with my girlfriend over the weekend. I would like to get something creative, maybe involved in writing, but I need to start somewhere, and I am ready to put in the hard work – contact me for CV (wink wink).
  • Learn an instrument – Again something I have been on and off for years, guitar, bass, ukulele. I have all three and I am not capable to play any of them fluently. This will be a goal I intend to do in my spare time as I will not be spending money on gym memberships in England, need to keep those outgoing debits tight. Mortgage and all that, am I right?
  • I want to take more risks – What do I mean by this? I need to get myself out there more if I want to get involved in a creative industry, if you want to stand out from the crowd you first must get in it. I will be posting more online and making more of an effort with my social media, see what can come from it.

The big one, now, that I want to really get sorted is, obviously, the job. It’s a difficult task to find a job, especially one you enjoy. Ask anyone, it’s hard to get a job that leads into a career and one that you can honestly say you wake up and look forward to going to. Does anyone remember those Reed.co.uk adverts a few years ago, which led to their slogan of: “love Mondays”. It did fill me with optimism, but then again it comes back to the case that a job will not come your way because a company says they can help you find it. The job hunt is completely in your hands and will only be a successful hunt if you put in the time. That’s my role for upcoming future, and I’m excited but as I get ready to go back to England I can’t help but worry about how long I will be without a job. As everyone says “I don’t want to go back to retail”, honest to the lord almighty, I don’t want to go back to retail.

SO! Four things? Seems doable, so those are my goals and I will endeavour to accomplish them, I am not setting a deadline – apart from the smoking which is a deadline, and the job would be great as soon as possible. Yet the final two will be on going and will be something to come back to in the future. Hopefully and I pray to god they all happen.

A bucket list is another task all together.

Take care.

Greg

Anticipation… The fun and the fear.

Anticipation… The fun and fear of it.

31 days (at the time of writing) until I am flying home. Cue the music.

What does it feel like? It’s a hard one to describe, I am excited, elated, overjoyed and ecstatic that I will be home, back in England, back to the manageable weather and prices that I will find extortionate after being in China for nearly a year. Yet I am also scared of the wait, maybe not for it go by but rather what will happen in that home stretch. Curse my overthinking mind, but you never know, you know? Something bad may happen, and you know what they say, think something bad will happen and it will. It sounds like a saying that is used frequently, if not I’ve just coined it.

Do we start with the good or the bad? Let’s go with the bad so that the ending is not a sad one and can give some happiness to the end of a post. It all comes down to my main fear, being alone, and because of that fear it is why I am feeling down, as I am and have been feeling alone over the last few weeks. My girlfriend knows this is my fear I have told her that since the day that all couples get to know each other better and ask a million questions and one of those questions is always: “what are you afraid of?” my answer – being alone. It’s maybe that because I was bullied a lot going into my teen years and that sense of not knowing you could really speak to anyone without being insulted or made a butt of a joke (a story for another time), but after meeting my girlfriend and us growing together into the people that we have become, it is clear that there is no one else I would want to be with, and no  one I would want to be without. We have been on holiday to Japan, lived in China, I looked after her parent’s house and family dog (Charlie) while they had a family holiday, we have helped each other through university. Maybe one of the most important things she has done for me is to be there for me when I lost my Uncle, my Grandfather and my first dog. She was there, she kept me company, she held me. All those things and more you don’t just come across every day, it as to be found, kept warm, nurtured, and I think we have done that over the years. It is ridiculous to think this, I know, yet its just the sense of this feeling continuing that is most daunting prospect of the time left.

I sit in the apartment, I go out for a bit, but I am always back in time for her to wake up and we can start chatting, start having fun, I can be there as she gets ready for her day. I like it, and I will continue to do that when I’m home, but I will be there in person as opposed to being text on a screen. Gosh, I am grateful that this did not happen like 20 years ago, where we would only be able to communicate through written letters or expensive phone calls. We go by, would I even call it fear of being when I get home? No, it is simply my head playing games and getting worried over nothing, and I hate it so much, there is nothing more that I want than to smile and get through the next 31 days and when I see her at the airport I will grab her and tell her “I’ve missed you so much.”

Not so sad and upsetting to the “sad bit of the post” but I think a fair few people can understand where I am coming from. The thing about anticipation is exactly what I ended the last paragraph on, the outcome, when you know the worrying was for nothing and you can be happy and smile. Maybe I am just upset that I am not smiling and happy now as to how I want to be in a matter of weeks.

I am eagerly awaiting the flight home, WHY? Who likes long haul flights? Well I do, because the journey leads to home. We have both discussed what will happen when I’m home, I will see her we will hug and kiss and then walk to car, go home, I will have a shower as I undoubtedly will need one after a long flight. Then we can talk, we can go and see family that I have not seen, go and see friends that I have not spoken to in months, and just get things back to normal. I get to be with her again, and that is all I want right now.

Along with Naomi there is so much more I am looking forward to doing, we have a holiday planned where we can spend some quality relaxing time together without any work or anyone to bother us. It is going to be my birthday and our anniversary a month after I come back, and she says there is a surprise in store, that she won’t tell me even when we are getting in the car to get there, so that is fun. I am also looking forward to the normal things. The food, the language, the smells, the views, you really do begin to appreciate your home country when you are away from it. Oddly enough the thing that is making me excited the most as well as nervous is the job hunt, just to get home and to look for a job that I can settle into and get a future lined up where me and Naomi can have our lives together. It’s exciting and anyone will know that feeling when you are ready to take the next step.

It is weird how a date, can come by so fast when you don’t think of it but when it is the nearest date where you know you are going to be happy can be so slow. Never clock watch, a boiling pot never boils, watching paint dry, watch the grass grow. They all seem slower when you are calendar watching. That sounds like I am trying to be cheesy and say something clever, but it I am not and even I know that sounds bad. Final words:

One of the TEFL teachers here says: “never to wish away the days, and always make the most of each day”. Although I do agree with this I also think of these days the same way I think of a hangover – They are only as good as the person you share them with. Sounds weird, why would you want a hangover? Simple, you can be hungover alone, in bed and hating yourself and try to make yourself feel better, but hangovers don’t mean anything when you wake up in pain but feel better when you can fall back asleep in the arms of the most important person in the world to you. The same goes with the days that I am told not to waste and to fly by, the days would be so much better and mean so much more if I was with Naomi.

 

Take care.

 

Greg

 

A mind is a terrible thing to waste.

A mind is a terrible thing to waste.

For a person who claims to be creative, and has such a huge passion for creating something for people to read or watch, I feel like I do procrastinate a bit, but I call it progressive procrastination. If that makes sense?

Have you ever seen any of those movies where a character is alone? Trapped on a desert island sitting on a beach and waiting for a boat to sail by, or having that end of act two break up from their best friend or partner and come up with something thoughtful, or the moment before the beaten down hero must go and save the day? Basically, every movie ever. They sit there for maybe 5 minutes of screen time then they have an epiphany – “I can’t just sit here, I have to get up and do something!”

I have been currently feeling like those characters before they get off their behinds and do something. As some may know – everyone –  have been in China since September 2017 working as a TEFL teacher, it has been fun and has for sure made me realise a few things about myself (another article for another time) but the thing that gets to me the most is the loneliness. Don’t get me wrong I have got a good eight other TEFL teachers who live in the same building as me, we all get on, some of us even have some common interests, but the issue with almost all of us is that thought we have all made public: “would we be friends if we were not in this situation?”, Sure, but maybe the kind of friends that we are now, not everyone sees everyone all the time, we don’t meet up every day and we don’t have the 100% the same interests to spend a full day together like you would with your friends back home. Again, as some of you may know – everyone – My girlfriend Naomi came over to stay with me for three months and since she left I have been feeling like a puppy dog waiting by the front door for the keys to jingle as she unlocks the door, alas that won’t be happening. So what needs to be done for me to stop acting like a love-sick home sick puppy? (I have still not figured out if I am annoyingly love sick, or adorable love sick, but Naomi wouldn’t tell me if I was annoying. Bless her.)

As the title of this suggests ‘A mind is a terrible thing to waste’ I need to keep focused, keep my mind on something, it does help with a long-distance relationship and in terms of my overthinking brain, stops me from overthinking. So! What have I found to help?

Vlogging – Before coming out here I always wanted to try vlogging, it seemed easy and a fun way to hold some memories and I could also be creative with it. I created one while I was in England as a build up and introduction to this idea. However, I found the one issue that I find with all vlogs: How do you make it interesting? I never really watch vlogs online, so this was my first mistake, I am not that interested in spending 30 minutes of my time watching some over paid and over hyped youtuber ramble on about nothing while misleading their audience with a thumbnail that seems interesting yet, has no payoff.

 

I addressed this twice in my vlogs, I created several of them over the initial months to varying levels of satisfaction. Some of them being a diary of the day, some being more comedic pieces just to have a bit of fun with, since it was the editing that ate up most of my alone time it was fun to play around with them. Yet they did not stick, mainly because I did not want to be pulling my phone out every five minutes, filling up the memory with hours of useless footage then edit it down to maybe ten minutes of something watchable. When Naomi came I said I would try it more, but, I wanted to enjoy the time with her, the spur of moments that would only be caught if a camera was kept on me all the time. I did not want to fake it and neither did she, so the vlogs stopped. To the dismay of fellow TEFL teachers who enjoyed them. I did not want to keep creating something that I was not happy with.

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My first vlog in China. It got some laughs, but also YouTube hated it because I used ‘The Climb’ by Miley Cyrus.

The problem was that most vlogs usually have something to say, people moving around, travelling, or seeing something interesting. Me living in China was good for the first half, but after a while the vlogs would have turned into me going to work and coming home, the area I live in is not that exciting and would take time and money to keep doing stuff that would be viewable for other people but for me would not be enjoyable as I would be busy seeing it through a camera instead of experiencing it. Also I am meant to be saving money.

Learn German – This is something I have been wanting to do for years. I don’t know why, but I just find the German language so fascinating, amusing and emotive that I have always wanted to learn it, over the years I have picked up a fair bit, not fluent but enough to maybe be a tourist for a weekend. Not great for a few years but when you have not focused all your time it will take longer. SO! I downloaded my duolingo app, bought a blank notebook, got my internet browser up and started to learn.

I did ten minutes of duolingo every day maybe more to keep myself on track and to beat

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‘Babylon Berlin’ on Netflix. It’s good to hear the language you’re learning.

the other people in little group. I started going on google to learn about grammar and the rules of German, I made notes, I enjoyed it. I even watched a German TV show on Netflix to try and absorb it. Again, it is a difficult thing to do, being a native English speaker, where my job is to speak English to Chinese students, while being surrounded by Chinese people, in a district where English is not common. I don’t have much to practice with outside of myself and my private studies. I will continue to learn it and see how it goes. Before you question “Greg, why don’t you learn Chinese?” it’s simple; I think of the benefits, sure I could have fun learning and speaking Chinese, but I am only in China for a year, I don’t see myself having a job that would involve speaking it fluently and also Naomi and myself want to learn Japanese together so I would rather invest my private time in German and my couple time in Japanese.

Blogging – Another venture I have dipping in and out of over the years. A similar issue to vlogging, but more direct of an issue – Who is this for? Blogs are tailored to an audience and it is difficult to generalise it and get something out of it. I tried a diary format where I would moan about work, people and hangovers when I was young, but yeah, it was not good and just a kid rambling for 1000 words. Then I tried to format it as if it was a featured article, these I enjoyed but I did not make them frequent enough, so I decided to relocate those pieces to reddit, least I can some interaction off them.

Yet while in China I have taken up blogging again, this time I feel more comfortable with it, I have an angle, I have a goal, I have ideas to write about. It was my angle that made it easier to write about, but it was fine tuning it so that again it was not just bare emotions or rambling spilling out onto the keyboard. I was aiming them, I was directing them, I was going to write them for Naomi, I write what I think she would like to read about my time. Yes, they can be personal in a way, but I think it’s better, it feels more like me on the page. This has allowed me to write more fluidly. My only issue now is the fear of putting my work out there on the internet where it can be judged or even worse, not be viewed at all, which comes down to me. I am so nervous about my work not being to a good standard that I don’t advertise it. I should, and I will, but I want to wait for the right moment, which is almost a contradiction to a blog as I don’t think they should be stored away and looked back on by readers but taken in as they come, blogs are personal and should be treated like a conversation with the person who is writing them.

My favourite thing about writing these blog pieces is because I can let my mind focus, focus on what I want to say, to word it in a way that will help clear my head and maybe, when Naomi reads them she will get a better insight to my head than what she can get from our WeChat messages and make her smile.

Journal writing – This is a simple one and to the point. A journal is somewhere for you to get the thoughts out, so they are not trapped and going around in your head. Let them out good, bad or weird, no one has to ever read them. Similar to my blogs though I am writing the entries addressed to Naomi, she said she is going to read them but is worried they will make her cry as she knows there are entries that talk about how alone I felt. I know my first entry starts with me saying: “I spent the night crying”, it’s true, it may be sad but at times nothing is more satisfying than to grab a pen and start writing whatever comes to your head.

Comic book writing – Another idea that has been bouncing around for a better part of a year. It has gone through several stories, creative partners and stages of development. While here I wrote up several scenes that came together as a first issue. I was happy but it did not feel right, something was off, it was missing some heart, it felt too strong (character wise) so I changed the gender of the characters and that changed the feel and the scenes so slightly, it made them feel more relatable. I showed the changed script to Naomi and she liked it, she liked the human moments. I am sticking with it and need to work more on it, but I am happy with it.I took the next step, I put myself out there, I went on twitter, searching for an artist to work with, not expecting much I did not check it often. I went back on it a few days later, I had someone message me. Next thing I know we are having a back and forth, getting to know each other, our shared tastes in comics, pop culture, being a geek, love for Japan. SO! The big step came I sent him a few scenes, a mood board and ideas for characters. He came back, he liked it, he had a style he wanted to work with. Now a few months down the line the art is coming together the pages are taking shape. It’s hard to describe the feeling of seeing something you’ve written become real, seeing those characters for the first time, it felt good. I was told I should put some of the work onto Instagram and build the “hype train” so that will have to be done, I do need to get into the mind set of getting myself out there. So that is my next step.

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A rough layout of my comic ‘Part-Time Heroes’. I am happy it is finally becoming real.

Moral of the story, don’t waste your mind. I will be doing more this stuff to keep myself focused over the next few weeks. Even when it is hard and you don’t feel like doing something and you just want to sit in your mind and let the worry kick in, don’t as there is always something better for you to spend your valuable time on, and although I do want my time to go by as quick as possible so that I can see Naomi again, I can’t make the time go quicker by having a bad time. Time does fly when you’re having fun? Because you’re not wasting your time and in turn wasting your mind.

If you’re caught in a similar situation to me where you want time to fly, don’t spend the day worried and upset that you are not where you want to be or who you want to be with. Just take that energy and focus.

Take care,

Greg.

 

A 9,000km long distance relationship

Long distance relationships.

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The “I love you” look, because I took a while to take the photo.

Three words that many couples fear, this I’m sure about as I was always worried about this as soon as my girlfriend and I became serious and spoke of our future. I have a friend that claimed that this ruined his relationships in the past, although that is another story, I also know several other people who are dealing with a long-distance relationship and know that it is real. I am, at the time of writing this, nearing the end of the ninth month of a ten-month contract as a TEFL teacher in China, and suddenly for the first time in a while I am feeling depressed about being here. Maybe it’s because I am nearing the end and just can’t wait to get home and see my girlfriend, or maybe it’s because I am the more emotional one of the two of us. Which brings me to why I’m writing this, and it has been something that I have been trying to write for a while now – everyone deals with relationship pain differently.

First off, there is no issue with my relationship, we are approaching our 13th anniversary and over the years we have had no yelling and no arguments. We understand each other, and we genuinely love spending time with each other, she is my best friend and the person I love most in this world. When we discussed this job of being a teacher in China, we spoke about the benefits of it – “Yes it would look good on my CV”, and “We will be able to save a nice bit of money for a mortgage”. Then the big issue came up, the elephant in the room you might say. “What about us?”, “will you wait?”, “We are strong enough for this right?” and honestly, we both said yes and agreed with each other, we have been through so much and been together for so long, of 13 years, what is 10 months right?

We went to the airport, I did not want to leave her at security and she did not want to watch me walk out of sight. Nineteen hours later I was in my apartment that I would call mine for 10 months, I got into bed and with the mixture of jet lag and the knowledge I was alone for 10 months – I cried, “what have I done?” I had to wait a few days to get everything set up and then I could call her, I never wanted the phone call to end. As time went on I was still lonely, even though I made friends with other foreign teachers, I was still lonely, the big difference between us was that I was the only one in a relationship. I had no one to talk to daily who knew what I was feeling. Until I made friends with a girl who worked at the university in Chashan, (about 20 minutes away) She told me that she was also in a relationship and had been for four years. It was nice and refreshing to speak to someone about being lonely and home sick but not for the same reasons as anyone else in the room, because you missed the person you love the most. Someone who gets you inside and out, who you can sit with for hours in silence and not feel uncomfortable or awkward. It was a good conversation.

The great thing that we spoke about was that we were approaching a month-long winter break for all Chinese schools that also covers the Chinese new year. We both had a date we could not wait for – our partners would be coming to China, Alice’s boyfriend would only be here for 3 weeks, I was smug enough to say that my girlfriend would be staying with me for 3 months! Safe to say Alice was a bit jealous, but we were both happy that after six months we were able to see our significant other again.

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Us on the balcony of the apartment.

After months of WeChat phone calls, and nights worried if she was alright, was she happy? Was she missing me too? And counting down the months and days until I flew home and could see her again, I only had to wait a few more days and she would be here, in the apartment. (Luckily with Naomi’s work she was able to work remotely from China). The days counted down and then I met her at the airport, China is a bit awkward with public signs of affection, especially with foreigners. So we sat in the taxi home, me smiling, her taking in the sights and sounds. We got home and then we began the next three months. It flew by to say the least, next thing I know I was taking her back to the airport to go home, it was an emotional fare well, but I only had to wait 60 days, then she would be meeting me at Heathrow.

So where is the long-distance struggle I was promised in the opening of this lecture? Well it’s here; It’s only as bad as you allow yourself to make it. Naomi and myself have handled it differently, she spent the last 48 hours in China with me, visibly upset, she cried, she wanted to hug and not let me go. I was feeling the emotions too but, I did not cry, at least until I saw her walk through the security of Wenzhou airport. She was crying too, and I found a window where I could see her for one last time, it hurt, I wanted nothing more than for her to turn around and see me, but at the same time I did not as it would only make it harder.

It was this, she cried before she left and now I am crying after she has left, and that is what is making me feel worse, I think we should have had that crying moment together. We still have our video calls over WeChat and over the last week I have felt more alone, so I have been overtly emotional, soppy and whiney to her, to the point where she must want to block me or tell me to man up. I asked her: “why are you never emotional when we call, and it’s always just me?” her reply was simple but made sense: “I cried before I left, and now I don’t see the point in it as it will not benefit either of us”. It’s true, I can be upset, but why spend the time being so upset that it makes me feel worse? I have got 38 days left at the time of writing until I get on my flight home. For me I can listen to all the dated emo-music of my teen years and be a sad sack to be around or smile and get through the next month and then get home and see her at the airport for a hug that I won’t forget.

I have been reading a lot on ‘how to work a long-distance relationship’ or ‘how to keep your mind busy’ and it is weird to read them as when you get to it, they either say: “We live 10 hours away, so making the time to meet on weekends is vital.” And “We have been together for 15 months.” Not to say that I feel my situation is different, but it does feel it. Naomi and myself have been together for nearly 13 years, come one more year and we will have spent more of our lives together then we spent our whole lives without each other and although we are not married and are still saving up for a mortgage and I know she does not believe in “soul mates” but – we both agree that we can not see each other not being together. For my last 38 days until I am home we have said that we are going to be sending each other a photo a day. What I am also doing that I don’t think Naomi has caught onto is that, after sending her my picture of the day, I send her a message that contains a memory from our time together. Does it make her smile? Does she save them? I don’t know but I know I am saving them along with every photo of her I get.

I saw a quote whilst doing my reading and it made me feel a lot better:

“You are going to appreciate the time you have together more than any couple who has never spent time apart.”

I believe that, and it makes the time we have left apart feel a little shorter. When I am back with her I know that we will laugh about everything that I whined about, but until them I may continue to be upset but as Naomi told me: “There is nothing we can do about it now, so there is no point being upset.

Take care.

 

5 IMPORTANT things to do before moving to China as a TEFL teacher

At the time of writing I am seven months into a ten month TEFL contract – Time flies. What can I say about living here? I am getting used to it, but what would I say to myself seven months ago about living here? Simple, do the research and don’t assume that you can get by easy without it.

These are by no means obvious or hard to find tips, however they are important things to know and will make life easier. From communicating with home to helping with your work as a teacher, these are just some points I think should be on everyone’s checklist before moving to China as a TEFL teacher.

  • WeChat – This, I did know about having friends and family who have been to Asia the most important tool for communication in China is WeChat. As the most popular app in the west being WhatsApp is blocked behind the great firewall of China. You can get friends and family to download the app (it is free) and you can speak to them just as easily as you would with any other app back home. The added benefits of this is app is that so much of China uses it as a multi function tool, you can link you credit card to it and use it as a digital wallet, send friends money, and it has a built in app that acts as a miniature Facebook or Twitter allowing you to share moments, whether that being pictures, links, or even messages. Another great reason for having WeChat is that there are numerous groups already set up for other expats and TEFL teachers who are more than helpful in answering any question you may have and give advice if asked. (Also you can see some fun drama every now and then, or even be added to a GIF group, which is always good fun).

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  • Bring a fully installed Laptop – By which, I mean make sure that you have a Microsoft office package installed. This is obvious – Yet I made a mistake to buy my laptop off my brother and did not check to have the office package installed – but instead focused on installing my video editing and script writing software. This is not a big set back but can cause a speed bump on your way to teaching. Myself, along with one other had to start paying the subscription for this and now we are laughing about how we did not install it first thing. Although it could be worse, one of the group did not bring a laptop full stop, expecting to be fully supplied, after four days, he was given a laptop that I would not wish upon my worst enemy. He later had to buy one, a bit pricey, but then again tech is a bit cheaper than back in the west, it all depends on if you want to drop that kind of cash.

 

  • Bring clothes for all weather – Easy to say, harder to pack. Most contracts would start before the start a school semester, bringing you to China either the end of August or the start of September and depending on where you are the weather can be a heck of change to what you’re used to back home. I am based in Wenzhou and from my research was told it would be ‘bloody hot’. So I brought plenty of shorts and t-shirts along with a couple of jeans and chinos, two thin jumpers and a hoodie. Leaving England and with one suitcase I had it full of these items, with Wenzhou Summers approaching 32°C to 38°C and the nights staying warm. I had to make a few trips when the temperature dropped and boy, it got cold. Apparently I came when Wenzhou had one of it’s coldest winters in years. The school thankfully supplied a winter uniform which consisted of a very warm coat. So please where ever you may go to work in China, check the year round weather. Bring gloves, a hat, scarf, coat, warm clothes and also don’t forget shorts and plenty of t-shirts – trust me, you will be sweating through maybe a two a day, if you want to stay feeling fresh.

 

  • VPN – GET THIS BEFORE YOU LEAVE! This is something I thought was not 100% needed so I left it to save a couple of quid. This was a nightmare for a first couple of days. My story on this is I left it and of course with the list of banned websites forever growing in China, it is very hard to keep yourself entertained and more importantly make your teaching as good as it can be, even the Chinese teachers say this. It is hard to download a VPN app in China that is reliable, luckily with the use of my WeChat I begged my father to help me track one down (as he is in the IT business) and thank god, by the next day he sent me a link to download a VPN that
    Image result for VPN.ac
    vpn.ac

    not only would work extremely well but I could download it whilst in China. I am using vpn.ac and it has served me well, I can Google, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and possibly the most important I can use Netflix! Which you think you can live without but I can’t, even if anxiety grows the more I struggle to find stuff to watch on the US catalogue. There are multiple VPNs out there, the best reviewed being Express VPN, however it can be a bit pricey, vpn.ac works out at $50 (around £30) for a year, and I have no serious complaints (apart from missing my UK Netflix catalogue). Do your research and make sure to get a VPN that works and has good reviews from people using them.

 

  • Bring English books – You will find it difficult to find a Waterstones in China, although some book stores do sell English books you may not find what you want. Maybe you will want a break from Netflix or you have finished with YouTube. For the sake of your entertainment I would recommend bringing a few books to read also any reference material you want to help in your teaching role. I personally brought a Stephen King’s, Neil Gaiman, a couple of graphic novels and a Lovecraft novel. With the Chinese version of Amazon – Taobao – You can order a few English comics, but my colleagues have had no luck in English novels.

I hope these help, but then again I’m sure there are a fair few people out there who are smart enough do all these things without having being told. My mistake was not knowing just how different China would be. Without all these things I would honestly say that not only would my enjoyment and morale drop as well as my comfort, but more importantly my quality as a teacher would not be as good as it is. It all helps, and simply this – don’t think every day life will be easy unless you put in the hours.

Take care.

Greg

 

 

Why did I come to China?

As one of my fellow foreign teachers (as we are called) answered this question: “I had nothing going on”. As much as a seemingly tabled response to the question as it might be, it does answer the question for my own reasons. However for a different reason than what he may have meant.

As stated in a previous entry, I was in a job I did not enjoy and had zero luck in finding a job that would lead to a steady and fulfilling career. When this opportunity came up I was hesitant yet curious about what the future would hold for me after doing it, what would it show for my character? How would it look on my CV? How would it my life change? Why am I writing a blog about it now?

I would say that I am enjoying it, I am a teacher, which in China, is extremely respected and I am feeling fulfilled and happy doing it. I get to be creative and get to show my enthusiasm, which I can then see emanating from the children I teach. Coming now to passed the midway point of my contract I am faced with the question: “are you coming back for another year?”

I would like to come back to the job, yes. To China? I don’t think so. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy being here, however I don’t see myself staying here, and this all comes back to why I took the job in the first place. I took the job as a means to save money and to prove I could hold a job and a demanding one to boot. I am not saying that I could easily stroll into being a primary school teacher back in England, yet I know I can handle a lot more than what I was in with my previous job. I feel more confident and with that I want to push myself harder and I have decided to apply for more TEFL jobs in other parts of Asia. I have always wanted to see the world and coming out here I feel like I have, even though based in one location and have not seen a lot of China in my time here I have however taken in the culture and seen how the other side of the world lives and made many new friends in the process.

“Why did I come to China?”, yes I had nothing going on, but I had a lot that I wanted to happen, and this is a good start to it.

Take care.

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Chinese Spring Festival – 2017

Read my mind, one blog post at a time.