Archive for December, 2011

So you were thinking of teaching overseas…how do I start?!

December 29, 2011

So you’ve decided you want to try your hand at teaching English in another country, and well if you’re reading this, you’ve likely chosen China. The question is where the HELL do you start??! Read on, I’ll show you how to turn fantasy into reality!

Lake Tai, Wuxi

The first thing you will need is a TESOL (Teaching English as a Second Language) certificate. If you do not possess a degree, having a TESOL cert is enough to secure yourself a good position – just not in a university (but then again, in China, pretty much anything is possible so I wouldn’t count that out either).  The good news is they’re easily obtainable, are quick to complete (taking approximately three evenings and two full week-end days – though this will depend on where you study it), and will arm you with all of the skills necessary to undertake conversational English teaching with no prior experience. The bad news is it will set you back approximately $1900.00. But do not despair! This fee can also be an excellent way of committing yourself to the task. Some people (aka me) need a solid commitment to ensure they actually follow through with their plans, and once you’ve dropped that money, you’re not likely to then back out.

The other unexpectedly good side of having a TESOL certificate is that, while they carry no real weight back home, they do look superb on your resume. There are many skills you will pick whilst teaching which can be applied to a whole myriad of roles back home. Having this certification and teaching experience is an excellent talking point in job interviews, and will show your potential employers that you have some amazingly broad qualities.

I obtained my TESOL through the Australasian Training Academy  who I do recommend, if you are in Australia. While their training for the cert was really good, their follow-up service and support (one of the prime features they advertise) was almost non-existent – so don’t count on that. They say they will assist with looking over contracts and answering questions and the like but for my wife and I, we had no response to our questions – though this may have been just us.

Once you have obtained your TESOL, you then need to find a job. China is fairly unique in that you do not actually have to hunt down a job, but simply put up an advertisement and wait for one to come to you. There is such massive demand to learn English that you can literally pick and choose; with so many offers coming in that you’ll need to fend them off with a stick! This will likely change in the future, so I wouldn’t wait too long to take advantage of this.

A website I would recommend is Dave’s ESL Café. Dave’s is a fantastic resource for all things ESL teaching, from lesson planning and ideas, to discussion issues with fellow teachers. There are also very active forums full of other ESL teachers, where you can begin researching the many Chinese employers and locations. It’s also one of the best places to actually find a job, with many Chinese employers using the site to look for tutors.

Before you begin, create yourself a new email address just for ESL job hunting. When you put your advertisement online, you’ll likely receive a lot of spam back to the address – usually all job offers but you’ll find yourself unwittingly put onto various newsletters and the like. I still get them some three years after I put my application up.

You will then want to put together a resume detailing all of your relevant work experience and contact details (Only name, email address etc – don’t include phone number, address– it’s unnecessary at this point). Do NOT be as detailed as a normal resume as you have to remember, the people reading it will likely have very poor English. Include a summary about why you want to teach English overseas (ie your passion for exploring another culture etc), some details about your own style of English – clear, concise talker, patient personality etc etc. List what you currently do for a job, hobbies etc, but keep it simple.  Note down things such as whether you have run any training sessions in your current job too. The other thing I would recommend you do is attach a photograph. As I have posted previously, the fact you look foreign really does make you more appealing.

And then it’s time to actually create a free account on Dave’s and submit your application. Within a few days you should start to see a steady stream of job offers coming in – which means it’s time to start researching them!  Once you’ve thoroughly researched and selected a job, you’re one step closer to your overseas teaching adventure.

Before you actually select a job and enter discussions with the employer there are a range of things you need to consider – far too many for me to cover in this post. Next up I will detail the things you need to look out for, such as contract specifics, locational factors and perks. You really do NOT want to accept a role without knowing as many of these things as possible, so check back soon 🙂


December 11, 2011

Over the past couple of days, it’s been really quite hot in Melbourne. During my lunch break, I had a sudden hankering for one of my guilty pleasures…a Starbucks mocha Frappuccino. Yes yes, the name sounds incredibly wanky, and I feel like a bit of a douche anytime I say it out loud, but these things are freakin’ delicious! (Minus the whipped cream on top incidentally as that’s just…excessive)

So as I was standing in Starbucks; along with several Asian customers, a thought occurred to me; are these other customers locals, or are they drawn here because its familiar to them? In our own countries, fast-food chain restaurants are generally looked upon as nothing more than junk food outlets. You dont expect a fine dining experience, and usually, walk away feeling somewhat sick in the guts. Despite the lengths that McDonalds have gone to create a better image for themselves, there’s nothing prestigious about their restaurants. When overseas; particularly in a super foreign country, these junk food outlets take on a completely different appearance – they suddenly become bastions of the familiar and in particular, a reliable location to go to the toilet!

In a country such as China, the toilet situation can go from bad to worse. While in many cities it’s not particularly hard to find them, as you go further out, the humble squatter is the least of your problems. The worst scenarios I found, were toilets either lacking doors – or worse again – not even any dividing walls around you! Toilet tangent aside – there’s an unspoken yet always known rule; if you need to go, go find a McDonald’s. Western food chains are immediately familiar as no matter where you go on the planet, they are the same design.

There is an incredible number of western food chains on the Chinese mainland. In any sizable city (aka – every city), you’ll find at least 5-10 McDonalds and KFCs. You’ll find more Starbucks in China than practically anywhere else on the planet – excepting maybe the USA itself. Places such as Starbucks; which often has a name for its poor coffee, are thriving in China; the Chinese not knowing any better. Melbourne went from having many Starbucks to just a handful; the coffee culture simply not accepting the ‘fast food’ style of coffee. Another formerly numerous food chain in Australia; Pizza Hut, is likewise all over China, with several American chains also joining them, such as Papa Johns (who we don’t have in Australia incidentally).

Now, that all being said  – these places are so commonplace now, it had me starting to think – do the Chinese; when traveling overseas, now find a McDonalds, TGI Friday, Pizza Hut, KFC or Starbucks as familiar and comforting as we do? Do the Chinese see a McDonald’s as a reliable port of call if they need to go to the loo – or perhaps, a way to get familiar food in what to them, could be a very foreign environment? Has the humble food chain – which in many countries has a somewhat low opinion; certainly on the health front – transcended it’s traditional roots and become some form of cultural comfort zone?

My answer would have to be yes.  If I see someone from a foreign country in one of these city fast food outlets; particularly if they’re speaking another language to each other, I can’t not think about whether they have come to this place because like us when we travel, it’s familiar – thus, comforting in its own way. While I haven’t yet spoken to any travelers regarding this, I would be highly interested to actually find out.

So you were thinking about teaching overseas…

December 7, 2011

If you have ever considered teaching overseas, there’s one piece of advice I would give to you, and as clichéd as it sounds, don’t just think about it, DO it! I cannot emphasize enough how rewarding this experience can be for you – as it was for me. It may feel like an unachievable mountain of a task at first, but the reality is, it really isn’t. With a little commitment and a desire to try something new, you’re on your way to what can be a life changing experience.

You don’t need to be fully qualified to teach overseas, at least, not in China. As long as you are fluent in English and can speak clearly, you’re employable. To the Chinese, the quality of teacher actually plays second fiddle to their appearance. It can bring prestige (face) to a school to play host to foreign teachers, so if you look non-Asian (or more accurately, non-Chinese), you’ve got a big advantage before you even begin. While the above sounds racist; and on some levels it probably is, it’s also the reality.  We are talking about China, and in China, you will learn to expect the unexpected.

Living and working in another country will allow you to explore a culture in a way that is impossible as a holidaying tourist. A country like China will be in many ways, incredibly different to what you are used to back home. Yes you could go work in bars in England, living in a first-world country, speaking English with little to no difficulty, or you could really turn your life upside down in a good way, and live in a place that is absolutely different from your own. The sheer randomness of day to day life, from not knowing what’s around the next corner, to deciphering unknown food packets in a supermarket; it all has addictive qualities!

I was unhappy in my job of six years, and craving change. I didn’t simply want to change jobs, I needed more than that; I felt like I was stuck in a rut. I needed to not only to get out of my comfort zone and be challenged, but a sizable bump to get me out of that rut I had somehow fallen into. My would-be wife was in precisely the same predicament, working in a job she hated; unchallenged and unmotivated. The decision to mix it all up, to go and teach English in China was actually made in the pool of humid Port Douglas, North Queensland. As we floated around in absolute bliss, the suggestion came out of the blue; a suggestion that excited us. We made a commitment that day, and the amazing part for us, was that we actually followed through. We remained focused on the goal, setting mini-milestones, and one year later, we moved to China.

Several years later, I still look back on my time in China as one of the best experiences of my life. Without doubt, it opened my eyes to a different culture, and unknowingly at the time, formed an invisible bond between myself and China. Both of us feel this way, and since returning, our interest in China has been a constant theme in our relationship. This theme has been so dominant that it led us to move to the town of Box Hill; whose population is predominantly Chinese. We have enjoyed being surrounded by what is now a familiar culture, seeking out many of the food discoveries we made while in China.

The other positive to come from our time-out, was definitive career change. Both Courtney and I are now in roles which are not only completely different from what we did before, but much closer to where we want to be. The entire experience was about change, and to that end, we achieved our goal.

Over the coming weeks, I hope to write a whole series of posts regarding teaching in China; from finding a job and day to day living, to what’s just required to get over there.  It is a question I am asked on a semi-regular basis, and it is a topic I always feel passionate about. Ultimately, if by reading these posts I motivate just one person to take the plunge, then that’s good enough for me. And while a return trip is not on my immediate agenda, I absolutely cannot wait to go back.


December 3, 2011

If there’s one thing the Chinese absolutely excel at, it’s dawdling – or more accurately, the art of walking slowly. I cannot count the number of times I have been frustratingly stuck behind a Chinese family as they spread into a horizontal line before me, stopping me from getting around them. It cracks me up every time this happens to my wife as she gets so ragey. It happens mostly in shopping centres and narrow sidewalks, usually with a mother, father and child. Together, they drift aimlessly along before you, spreading into an impassable line then drifting to the sides as they go, taking interest in everything from shopfronts to rubbish bins. It is infuriating!!

So I couldn’t help but laugh when I came across this video, demonstrating a Japanese solution to dealing with slow walkers. I am seriously considering taping my own version of this in Box Hill – which has to be capital of this particular activity.

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