Teaching in Hong Kong

It’s Time for Class

“Miiiiiiiiister Miiiiiiiiiiiiiiiickyyyyyy…..!”  This is the familiar greeting I hear every morning when I walk into school and I’m greeted by a sea of chubby, smiley faces eager to sink their teeth into some new English vocabulary.  Despite being female, and not a Disney character, I find it amazing that these children want to impress me with their new language skills!

At my school, we teach a range of classes.  Younger students who just want to be exposed to an English learning environment start with Chatroom, they then progress to Phonics classes, which run alongside Grammar and Writing, Reading and Speaking, Trinity and Cambridge courses.  A typical day for us teachers consists of mainly Phonics and Chatroom with a few other classes sprinkled in between.  Each child is given a workbook at the beginning of the course, and the Teacher’s Room is stacked with Teacher’s guides and resources.  Each class has suggested lessons plans but I love that in this job I can be as flexible with the structure as I choose.

What My Classrom in Hong Kong Like

My Classroom in Hong Kong

Personally, I adore teaching the Chatroom classes.  There will be 4-8 students aged 2-5 years in each Chatroom and the class is aimed at children speaking their first English words and learning to introduce themselves.   Chatroom is very fun and interactive and each month there is a new topic to cover.  Every Chatroom class we sing songs together, focus on 6-10 key vocabulary words, play games and complete a written task.  One of my favourite classes was taking the children on an imaginary tour of ‘My Town’.  We pretended to take the bus, chatted to the lollipop lady, went shopping, visited the library and checked out books, ordered food at a restaurant and even went to the police station with the policeman!  At this age children are so inquisitive and in awe of the world around them that you can be totally immersive in your teaching and they respond so well.

My Classroom in Hong Kong

We also teach Beginners, Intermediate and Advanced Phonics classes.  Students begin by learning their ABCs, followed by blending and eventually triple blends and long vowels sounds.  Phonics classes are so rewarding for teachers as each week you track their progress in listening, reading and spelling.  Students tend to finish Advanced Phonics around the age of 8 or 9, and knowing that you’ve given them a solid foundation of the English language for the rest of their lives is such a rewarding experience.  I love to vary the classes by adding silly games and techniques.  The favourite game for my Beginners is to use different body parts to write letters in the air – noses, toes, belly buttons, tongues, hair!  The sillier the better! One of my favourite Intermediate Phonics classes was inventing the most ridiculous blended words and we laughed so hard that I fell off my chair.  The children obviously thought this was hilarious and all copied, throwing themselves on the floor in a fit of giggles!  It’s moments like that that I will remember for the rest of my life!

Every day is a real adventure and I feel so honored to be a part of these children’s lives.  Teaching in Hong Kong has definitely enriched me.  I finish every class by reminding each student of the amazing progress they have made that lesson, then it’s time for a sticker and a high five!  I couldn’t imagine a more rewarding day!

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Living the Dream

How teaching in Thailand was the key to an authentic travel experience

 When I first arrived in Thailand, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was having a really long, vivid dream.  Every day I was doing so many things that were completely out of my comfort zone it was as if my brain could not process all the new things I was experiencing.

Eventually after about a month, Thai life settled into a routine, and it became the new normal. It’s amazing how quickly we as humans can adapt to change.

I had a lot of spare time after school and on the weekends. The workload was manageable enough that I could get all my lesson planning done during school hours. This meant the weekends were my own and I could explore to my hearts content. Myself and one of the other teachers who lived in the same accommodation would often spend one day relaxing and unwinding at home and then the other day exploring our town or travelling to the nearest city to find a new restaurant or visit some temples.

Getting My Feet on the Ground

touring in Thailand

Our first visit to the city was a lot of fun. We caught one of the local vans and struggled our way through giving directions to the taxi driver on the other end as our Thai was as limited as his English. We made it through with the help of Google maps.  Then after we had gorged ourselves on pizza (a treat after eating only Thai food for almost a month) we made our way down a dusty street to a beautiful golden temple. We had never seen such an elaborate structure in our lives! The outside was white with gold trimmings and the inside was almost completely gold.

Other weekends were spent exploring the town we lived in, marvelling at the temples, and sitting down by the river, having long, elaborate conversations about everything under the sun.  One weekend I went for a solo scooter adventure down some farm lanes and discovered a beautiful lake. Another road lead me to a line of large golden Buddha’s peacefully existing in the middle of a paddy field.

Curious, I drove a bit closer, until I discovered a series of farm buildings each containing more Buddha’s. There were a few buffaloes and piglets wandering around and not another person in sight.  Another road took me past some quaint farmhouses which all had chickens and dogs roaming around outside and sometimes even boasted a well tended vegetable garden. Life here looked tough but also kind of idyllic.

Rural Area is the Gem

This rural lifestyle was my first impression of Thailand. When I finished my contract I spent a couple of weeks exploring the more well worn tourist route and discovered an entirely new side of Thailand. The Thailand on all the tourism posters.

I was very grateful to have had the opportunity to see both sides of Thailand.  I would recommend anyone looking for a genuine taste of Thai life to give teaching a go. It is a wonderful way to be fully immersed in a new culture and to explore parts of this beautiful country that not many travelers get to see.

That’s an experience you just can’t put a price on.

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24 Hours in Hong Kong

How My Day Begins With

It’s 7AM and drifting through my window is the clinking of metal poles as the market is set up for another busy day and Mong Kok comes to life.  I walk through the park and see the locals practicing their morning Tai Chi and school children perfecting their mandolin recital piece before class. 

As I take the MTR away from the city and through the mountains I watch the hustle and bustle of rush hour.   A good topic of conversation among expats in Hong Kong is ‘What did you see on the MTR today?.  From Grandpas cutting their toenails to young girls using their commute to take a selfie from every possible angle – whilst bored boyfriends use their phone as a backup light –  (This is something I have personally seen!)  The MTR is a real microcosm of Hong Kong life.

My day starts with an early morning swim at the local pool.  My leisure center back home was musty, old and smelt very suspicious.  The pool here is open air on a rooftop and heated, looking over the river in Sha Tin. The views are stunning and it’s a great way to start the day before work.  The locals here are very committed to whatever they set their heart on, and I often find myself being lapped by an old man in his 70s in full Speedo attire.  Yesterday morning I swam alongside a lady in a snorkel set.  The mind boggles.

I teach for a few hours and then have a 90 minute lunch break.  As my school is right in the heart of town there is so much to do.  My colleagues and I take bike rides to neighboring towns, visit temples, have picnics in the park, visit the Bruce Lee museum, or simply get McDonalds and go looking for monkeys.  There is so much to do we never get bored.

Biking on the street in Hong Kong

We rush back to school for another few hours of teaching and with many tea breaks to keep us perky, school is over for another day.  It is time to explore Hong Kong at night!  A typical evening would consist of racing to Sheung Wan for an art exhibition after work, Thai or Korean food with friends at a local wet market, happy hour cocktails on a beautiful rooftop in Soho, and dancing into the early hours in the party district of LKF.  Hong Kong has so much to offer your feet never really touch the floor.  I live on the 15th floor, work on the 6th, the MTR takes you from mall to mall.  It’s like living in a futuristic rabbit warren!  With so many options tomorrow I could be at the races, doing a moonlight hike, boot camp in the city park, taking a boat across the Harbor, or browsing the many many markets of Mong Kok.

Each night I head home in a taxi, my feet aching, jaw hurting from smiling so much and my head full of another day of memories -I’m grateful to crawl into bed for some much needed recharge.  I hear the familiar clinking of the poles as the market comes down again, and the city gets ready to do it all over again tomorrow.

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Manage and Overcome the Challenges in a Foreign Land

The Journey Begins

While moving to a new country is very exciting and liberating; it can also be daunting after the initial honeymoon phase is over. How do you deal with it and what can you do to make sure this doesn’t scare you back home?

For many experienced TEFL Teachers/Trainers who have been doing this for a while, dealing with the difficulties of adapting and settling in a new country is more of a breeze than many new TEFL Educators. At the same time, for some experienced Teachers who have lived in more Western or modern societies, moving to a country that has a very different culture and a few more barriers can be enough to throw in the towel and opt to leave for an easier way of life. For example, a Teacher who is from a Western country may have lived in Thailand for a few years and loved it but when they move to China and live in places like Beijing or even smaller cities; they may find adapting much more difficult. There are no exotic beaches to escape to for the weekend and it may be just a little more difficult to find that favorite bar to frequent in the beginning.  For new Teachers; this could make you rethink teaching abroad altogether. It all boils down to your experience, your capacity to take on new challenges and your threshold to be able to stick out the rough, challenging times until things get better, which they most certainly will.

I start with highlighting this, because in my experience I did meet a few seasoned TEFL Teachers who started working in China (Beijing) and left a few months later because they couldn’t adapt and knew an easier way of life in other foreign countries and there were some new Teachers who couldn’t wait for their contract to be over. It was very interesting for me to meet individuals who I could identify with in terms of the challenges that all expats face and also learn and understand their different mindsets and watch their ultimate decisions…to stay or leave. I chose to stay and don’t regret my decision one bit.

The truth is teaching English in China is favorable for many reasons and the most popular one is that the package is quite high compared to other countries. Why is this the case? Well, if its isn’t fairly obvious then here are some reasons why the unfavorable living conditions lead to a favorable package:

  • finding the right apartment can be difficult without help
  • the language barrier – this affects a variety of things like transport, restaurant experiences, shopping
  • banking and general admin can be difficult to do on your own
  • access to social media

Despite some of the unfavorable conditions; many believe that the package is worth it. This is a personal opinion so it really depends on what your objectives are. With the background set; here is my experience and advice on why I chose Beijing, China and how I made it work for me. If you are considering moving and working in a new country, then it is very important to do your research and know the pros and cons for expats. Once you do, you can equip yourself better, ahead of your move, to make life easier for you. Information is key and knowledge is power so once you are well informed, you will be able to be well equipped to manage the challenges, quickly overcome them, settle in and enjoy a great quality of life. Here are some steps to manage your move and the challenges you may face with some ease.

Language barrier

  • Get an app on your phone and start practicing some basic Mandarin. Learn how to greet, say please and thank you and make a list of questions you may ask when you are just finding your way and get them translated in Chinese even if its just on a piece of paper so that you can show it to people/taxi drivers. (E.g.: Take me to ……; How much is this? Where is the subway station?) When you first arrive, you will need this mainly for directions and with taxi drivers and if you need to buy food. Once you get settled at work, your colleagues will be able to help you

Social Media and other apps (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Skype, G-mail, Google etc)

  • Most of these apps are inaccessible in China so make sure to install a VPN on your phone ahead of your move as it can be more challenging to do it when you are already there (that was my issue). Once you pay for and install a VPN; you can access these social media apps and stay in touch with the rest of the world.

Transport

  • Get an app like Uber – there are different ones in China and again your colleagues can assist with setting this up. You can get them to save your home and work address so that you can use it on your own and this makes getting around much
  • If you take the yellow cabs, then learn how to say the following in Chinese – “I know where I am going”; Left; Right; Stop; and your destination of course – get the pronunciation right because saying it with an accent may make it difficult for your driver to understand you.
  • The subway is very efficient and popular and once you learn how to use this system; getting around will be a breeze.

Banking

  • If you intend to send money back to your home country; the process can be really frustrating. In my time there; there was a daily limit set at 500 USD (you could only send maximum 500 USD a day) so if you wanted to send more then you would need to do this a few times and with bank charges and the time it takes, it makes it very
  • Another option to send larger amounts involve getting your HR department to give you documents and this needs to get stamped at the Police station in your area and so on and just getting the right documents can also be a time waster.
  • You can Western Union the money – You would need to go to your bank first and change the money from RMB to US Dollars and then go to a Western Union office and send it. Make sure to call the Western Union office first to make sure they are actually in service. Buildings and departments change frequently and you don’t want to waste time traveling to a place only to find it no longer exists.
  • The option that I used was having a Chinese friend help If you have a friend you can trust, this works out much easier because they can send large amounts of money. You would need your banking details which includes the Swift code (this may be different based on your country/bank); If you and your friend bank with the same bank then all you have to do is an inner-bank transfer at an ATM and transfer the amount you want sent to your friend. You may add an extra amount for bank charges. (For me this was an additional 200 RMB) Your friend would have to go to the bank and transfer the money for you. If you can trust your friend, they can do it on their own or you can accompany them.

Choosing an apartment

  • This varies for everyone and if you are lucky then you will get a great landlord and all will be well. Usually the landlords take 3 months rent and the deposit upfront so make sure you have enough money for this. Ahead of your relocation; ask your employers if they are able to assist with helping you find an apartment or linking you with a reliable agent who has helped other
  • When you do go looking for an apartment and find one that you fancy then here are some tips to make sure that you are happy with it long term
  • Find out about the electricity and water payments; how this works and who will be your point of contact if you need help with this

Your package

  • Aside from your salary; you need to be very clear about your other payments (Pension; Medical Insurance) and
  • For example: After asking questions and following up; I received my medical insurance card (6 months later) and had no idea what to do with it – I later found out that if I didn’t use it then I could actually draw that money and get the cash (This amounted to an additional 4,000 RMB for me) and none of my colleagues knew about it. Now they are all aware and able to either use the card for medical reasons or get the cash.
  • At my former company, your pension is usually paid within 6 months after you leave which means you will have to draw the money in the next country you will be in. As a result; find out which bank allows you to use your Chinese bank card and you will need to have your account open and active so keep at least 10 RMB in your account.

If you prepare yourself and equip yourself with some of these suggestions then your transition can be smoother. Once you settle into your work life, secure your apartment, know how to get around and make some friends then life will get easier. You will find your favorite hangouts and restaurants (and there are so many!), you will find that the cost of living VS your salary works in your favor and traveling to other countries and their exotic beaches is not far fetched. There will be other cultural adaptations to be made and there will be things you may miss but if you can get through the first one to three months and overcome the challenges; you will begin to enjoy all the differences and the rich food and culture that China has to offer. If you are friendly and genuine; you will find that people in China are very generous and extremely helpful. I was lucky to have so much assistance and guidance and no matter what challenge presented itself; there was always someone to assist and help me get through it. Aside from the external fascinations and fun that can be had in China; you will grow immensely as an individual and can adapt many good qualities and traits from the new people you will meet.

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