Teaching Primary School in China – An Interview with Kristine
ESL Authority: Kristine, thanks for joining us.
Kristine: Yeah, my pleasure.
ESL Authority: I just want to talk a little bit about your experience in China. How long have you been here?
Kristine: I have been in China for 2 ½ years now.
ESL Authority: Okay. Where are you from originally?
Kristine: I’m originally from Indiana, in the States.
ESL Authority: Okay. Have you been in Shenzhen the entire time?
Kristine: Yeah, I have been in Shenzhen. I’ve been placed in a couple of different public primary schools in Shenzhen. I’ve lived in three districts in the city.
ESL Authority: If it’s possible to sum up your experience so far, just a little bit about how you’ve enjoyed it or haven’t enjoyed it. I would love to hear.
Kristine: I think my experience has been really great so far. I originally came to China to teach English for a year, and just really enjoy the experience. I like the quality of life that teaching here has offered me. I’ve been able to travel a lot. I’ve found teaching to be a very rewarding profession.
ESL Authority: Okay. What about some of the challenges that maybe people might not anticipate coming here? Let’s start from, anything from the application process to the hiring process to the visa process, and then to actual living in China.
Kristine: The application process was not too difficult for me because I was working with a company based in the States. They help streamline a lot of the process, like getting my visa, getting placed in a school in the city, as well as any immunizations that I needed or to get my medical report passed through China.
ESL Authority: Okay, that’s nice.
Kristine: Yeah, it was really, really easy. I applied in, I think May and I found out that I could go two weeks later. That’s all there really was to it.
ESL Authority: How long from your application until you actually got to China? Do you remember how long that was?
Kristine: Probably three months. I applied in May and then was leaving for China early August.
ESL Authority: The program handled everything?
ESL Authority: What about since arriving in China? I know it’s probably not as unfamiliar now 2 ½ years later. What were some of the initial challenges that you found?
Kristine: The first challenge I had was I was placed a little bit outside of the central part of the city. Being able to get around without knowing Chinese was really difficult. Being able to maneuver through the buses, because I didn’t have a metro, they got all the way out to me. Everything is in Chinese characters. That was definitely me relying on other people who have lived in China longer than I have, to figure out what buses to take, how to get around because I was – I’m from a small town in Indiana. We don’t have metros. We don’t have public transportation. It was a big learning curve for me.
ESL Authority: How did you end up out there? Was that assigned randomly or did you want to be somewhere a bit more remote?
Kristine: No, I didn’t choose it. It was assigned randomly. I knew I would be placed within Shenzhen, but I wasn’t sure where. That was kind of the gamble that I was taking, but I like having a program help structure everything for me.
ESL Authority: What about the teaching in general? I guess your day-to-day life in the classroom. Did you have a teaching background before you came?
Kristine: I did not. I came from a marketing background in university, and then I was working in sales for a year. Coming to teach in China, I definitely think being able to think on your feet is probably the biggest skill that you could have to become a pretty good teacher in China.
ESL Authority: Kind of like flexibility and adapting…
Kristine: Yeah flexibility, being able to – when I first came to China, we had a month of TEFL training. I arrived in Zhuhai which is a city in southern China. The second day I got to China, I was in front of a class of students teaching them. That was how we got learning by doing.
ESL Authority: As part of your training, right?
Kristine: As part of our training, yeah. It was an interesting training program because we were teaching a summer camp of students as part of us getting our hours for TEFL teaching, and the students getting a little bit of kind of free English experience. I was really nervous the first class I officially taught at my primary school.
ESL Authority: What was it like? Do you remember it?
Kristine: I remember talking to people, being like what do I talk about, what do I introduce to the students about myself. Luckily, I had a friend who – he had a PowerPoint of what his first class was when he taught here. I kind of just based my lesson around that. Definitely, my heart was beating – I was nervous. Even though they are fourth-graders, you’re managing 50 fourth-graders for the first time. I don’t think…
ESL Authority: That’s typical for primary schools…?
Kristine: That’s typical here, yeah. You have 50 kids. I don’t even think being a teacher in the States could 100% prepare you to be a teacher here.
ESL Authority: Okay, interesting. What would be for teachers that are considering coming to China or teaching abroad in any capacity, what would you give them as advice either before they or to help prepare, or something to help their first few classes go smoothly? What would it be?
Kristine: I would definitely tell them to over prepare for classes, have a lot of different activities to do in case. You never know when an activity is going to flop. Sometimes the students just aren’t feeling whatever you want to do. It could be awesome. You could have spent hours preparing a lesson and it just like falls to dead ears. I think definitely over prepare, have a backup game…
ESL Authority: Something you know that they are going to love?
ESL Authority: Okay. What about your life in China outside of teaching? What have you done – have you seen any of the country? What are some things that you do outside of the classroom?
Kristine: One of my favorite things about teaching in China is you get plenty of holidays. The Chinese are very generous with their holidays. I think I’ve gotten – I have about six paid weeks of vacation here at the public school. They definitely have a lot of opportunities for you to travel around either the country or travel abroad. I found that over a lot of the big holidays, I will travel conventionally just because you have about 1 billion people who are traveling at the same time. It’s really chaotic in China. I’ve been to probably like – every year I’m traveling to maybe four different countries, and then weekends, traveling around China.
ESL Authority: So, it’s easy – you find it easy to get around, assuming there is public transportation and easier ways to navigate?
Kristine: Yeah, getting around isn’t a problem when you’re traveling to other Chinese cities. I assume you’re going to a place where tourists go to as well. Very few places you travel to in China are so off the beaten path that you can’t find someone who can’t speak English or some kind of guide or online reference.
ESL Authority: Somewhere where your phone will work or something like that.
Kristine: Yeah. You get a VPN and you can go anywhere.
ESL Authority: I guess in winding down, you obviously seem like you’ve enjoyed your experience here. You’re still here. You stayed longer than you originally thought. Would you recommend this for everybody? Like if somebody is on the fence about teaching, what would you say to them? Is it for everybody? What does your personality need to be like in order to have a – even if it’s not a career choice to have a good time, to enjoy the experience?
Kristine: I think you definitely need to be flexible. Like I said, being flexible teaching is one thing, but being flexible in a country where things aren’t always going to go your way. Unless you speak fluent Chinese, you’re going to have miscommunications. China itself is not the most foreigner friendly. I would say being able to roll with the punches, being able to, if things aren’t going your way, you have to be a little bit optimistic and you have to have a sense of humor, and you have to be able to…
ESL Authority: Take it all in stride.
Kristine: Take it all in stride, yeah build on it. If you are flexible, there’s so much adventure and every day is so different. You can use that as an experience to learn more about yourself and just travel more. Yeah, I would say if you like adventure and you like traveling or think you may like traveling, this is a great option for you. If you stay a year, great. If you don’t stay the whole year – I know people who had to go back after a few months here, and there was no problem. We all understand if this is not your cup of tea. It’s not for everybody. I think if you are interested in teaching abroad or traveling a little bit more, there is no harm in taking a year off to try it. Your jobs are always going to be back in the States if you want to go back, or maybe you like living abroad and you decide to stay here or decide to continue on outside of teaching.
ESL Authority: Alright, good stuff. I appreciate your time and good luck with the rest of your time in China.
Kristine: Yeah, I appreciate it. Thanks Quincy!
Kristine Thorndyke now works for Test Prep Nerds, a site aimed at making test prep just a little bit easier. From the MCAT to the SAT (and everything in-between), we offer expert tips on purchasing materials, information on your test, and helpful cheat sheets.