The Chi­nese way

If your child has re­cently fin­ished their stud­ies and is con­sid­er­ing what to do next, teach­ing English abroad can be a fan­tas­tic ex­pe­ri­ence, both pro­fes­sion­ally and per­son­ally

Norfolk - - EDUCATION - WORDS: Tom Cas­tle PHOTO: Amelia Lane

For stu­dents keen to move to a new coun­try, to im­merse them­selves in a new cul­ture, teach­ing English abroad can of­fer an invaluable ex­pe­ri­ence. Here, Tom Cas­tle, a lan­guage grad­u­ate from the Univer­sity of East Anglia, re­veals the ups, downs and chal­lenges of what it is like to teach abroad – and why ul­ti­mately it is a great op­por­tu­nity for any young per­son to­day.

“Ican barely be­lieve it’s been four years since I grad­u­ated from UEA. July 2014 was the end of my fourth aca­demic year as a stu­dent of Mod­ern Lan­guages, specif­i­cally Span­ish, and the per­son I was then was a world away from the fresh-faced, but mostly ter­ri­fied, 18-year-old I’d been when I started.

“Dur­ing that pe­riod, I’d had my first ex­pe­ri­ence liv­ing in an­other coun­try, which was both scary and hugely trans­for­ma­tive. But now I’ve come full cir­cle on an­other four-year cy­cle which has brought me back to the UK to study once more.

“The choice to study Span­ish at univer­sity was made with­out a par­tic­u­larly clear end goal in mind. I liked the sub­ject, my A-level teacher en­cour­aged me to do it and I knew that hav­ing a lan­guages de­gree was a use­ful as­set. The UEA seemed a good fit, so the stage was set.

“I got a lot out of study­ing lan­guages in Nor­wich, and I will al­ways have a soft spot for the UEA. Un­doubt­edly though, the high­light for me was the third year, my year abroad. To be frank, it was tough. Over­seas, by my­self for the first time, in small-town Cat­alo­nia, I was so far out of my depth. De­spite all the home­sick­ness though, I’d do it again in a heart­beat.

“I chose to do my third year work place­ment as an English lan­guage as­sis­tant in a high school. I could rat­tle off an en­tire dis­ser­ta­tion about that ex­pe­ri­ence but suf­fice to say it was an invaluable time – but also a valu­able time, be­cause I had a salary. From day one, where I was told; ‘so, just go and teach some English, OK?’ to my fi­nal day nine months later when a col­league told me she walked past the class­room and thought I sounded like an ac­tual teacher, it was a rev­e­la­tion for me not only in terms of con­fi­dence, but also di­rec­tion.

“In the six months fol­low­ing my grad­u­a­tion, I en­rolled in a TEFL (Teach­ing English as a For­eign Lan­guage) course. This was an in­ten­sive week­end course of 20 hours over two days, with sub­se­quent on­line course work to bump that up to a 120-hour qual­i­fi­ca­tion.

“For this, you see, was the master plan. My part­ner Amelia and I had done some re­search (well… I helped. She did most of it) into work­ing abroad as English teach­ers. We had de­grees, we had TEFL cer­tifi­cates and that was all we needed.

“This is what took me on the most un­usual jour­ney of my life. We spent 2015 in Aus­tralia, vis­it­ing my part­ner’s fam­ily, be­fore land­ing in China on Jan­uary 1, 2016. It was quite a way to start the year.

“To get there, we’d scoured some TEFL job sites, done some re­search on good cities in China and then nar­rowed down a short­list of our top choices. A Skype in­ter­view later, and we were mov­ing to the south­east­ern city of Fuzhou, just next to the Tai­wan Strait. We hopped be­tween a few dif­fer­ent schools; kinder­gartens, ex­tracur­ric­u­lar train­ing schools and even univer­si­ties; and gained a pretty good view into the chaotic, baf­fling and vivid world of China.

“It’s an in­tense place to live and work, but I’ve come away with so much. It’s the kind of place that can teach you a lot about your­self,

“It’s an in­tense place to live and work, but I’ve come away with so much”

as a pro­fes­sional and as a per­son, even if it does so the hard way at times. I was also for­tu­nate to meet a lot of good peo­ple among those who had maybe been there too long, and those good peo­ple made it all worth it.

“So, the full-cir­cle. I’m back in Blighty now, about to un­der­take a master’s de­gree in the frozen north­ern wilds of Durham. Bit of a change from sub-trop­i­cal China.

“It’s a chance to take a break from TEFL work, which is re­ward­ing but de­mand­ing. But it comes with a plan, which is to make my­self more em­ploy­able with said master’s, be­fore re­turn­ing some­where else far-flung and pick­ing up where I left off.”

ABOVE: An English­man abroad

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