So you were thinking about teaching overseas…

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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.

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5 Responses to “So you were thinking about teaching overseas…”

  1. Footprints Recruiting Says:

    Love the story. I have been out of teaching now for about 5 years but I still reflect on the experience almost daily. I now work for a teacher placement company called Footprints Recruiting who helps people get jobs in China, Korea, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Japan and a number of other countries. Footprints offers our services for free to teachers and we are run by ex-teachers so you know you are in good capable hands and you know that the people working with you are working FOR you. Thanks for sharing your story. If you motivate anyone to “take the plunge”, I hope we can help them get where they need to go.

  2. Marcus Says:

    Hey nice one. How do you find that work? That sounds like a really interesting job. Are you based in any of those countries? Or just wishful thinking? 🙂

    It’s funny but since returning, I have a great interest in dealing with foreign students (and actually work in education), namely due to my ties to China.

  3. Lue Devey Says:

    I really enjoyed the article. Keep posting nuggets like this please.

  4. trustingisnteasy Says:

    So what kind of career opportunities opened up to you guys that were closed before?

    Amie

  5. Marcus Says:

    Hey Amie,

    There were basically two sides to it. Firstly, by going to live in China we effectively got ourselves out of a rut. Both myself and my would be wife were in jobs we detested. I was at a company for six and a half years, she had been at hers for around nine years. We hated what we did, had seen things like careers councillors and the like, and just couldn’t work out what we wanted to do. By going to China, we completely and utterly turned everything normal and familiar to us on its head. While this may sound like a negative, it’s actually a super big positive. I fully believe that everyone needs to get out of their comfort zone on a regular basis. If you’re too comfortable, you’re not challenged and you’re likely not moving forward.
    The teaching itself taught us a lot about ourselves. Not only the physical teaching side, but living in what can be difficult country due to its cultural differences. On a daily basis we had to step out of our comfort zones, dealing with limited language ability, constant adapting to change, dealing with issues that arose – the list goes on. Ultimately, we were challenged by so many unexpected things and came out the other end better for it. It was a highly rewarding experience.

    On our return to Australia, all of these qualities looked superb on our resumes. Trust me, when you attend job interviews and mention you taught English in China for a year or what not – it looks superb and is a terrific talking point. It already tells your employer a lot about who you are. It shows them that you have initiative, adaptability, can cope under pressure, are autonomous etc etc.

    The other side to it was education. I have always been interested in education but have never really don’t anything about it. While my wife went on to find her way into her chosen career path (which was completely different from what she was doing originally), I found my way into education. I considered going back to study to become a properly accredited teacher as I still maintain a solid interest in ESL and in particular international students. While I do not teach, I work for a provider of adult education where components of this are ESL and I am dealing with teachers and students on a daily basis. I still wish to go further into the international side of things, and I would even consider going back overseas to work in a college or similar should the opportunity arise.

    Long story short, I cannot recommend this kind of experience enough. It is a big decision, and it WILL be difficult – even just the initial culture shock, but if you stick to your plan, you can come home with an almost addictive interest in Chinese culture, and a bond to that same country that just wont go away.

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