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My first day teaching in Hong Kong

Exciting but Nerve Wrecking First Day at Work

Like any new job, the first day can meet you with a mixed bag of emotions.  It can be a little daunting and nerve wrecking but exciting at the same time. My first day at my school in Hong Kong was no different. I was looking forward to starting this new journey as an English teacher in Hong Kong but there were so many things to digest and people to meet, I had no idea what to expect.

Let me tell you about my first day teaching English in Hong Kong. When I first arrived at the center, I was greeted by my warm and friendly manager (known as the Head Teacher). He had a kind smile and after introducing himself, he asked me a few questions about myself. Once we were acquainted, he gave me a tour of the center and introduced me to my fellow teacher colleagues. I felt lucky to be placed at such a big and well-furnished center. From the painting to the furniture, everything looked modern and spacious and every classroom had big windows.

I felt comforted that there were many expats at the center especially because I was new and didn’t know anyone well enough at this point. All Teachers and admin staff were friendly and I would soon learn that I would find some really good friends to share memories with amongst them. At our center, there were Teachers from the Philippines, the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, South Africa and New Zealand. There were also some Teachers from Hong Kong and who were very fluent in English so getting to know my peers was easy.

Teach English in Hong Kong

Observation is Important

On my first day teaching English in Hong Kong, I didn’t have to teach much but rather observe and co-teach with the other teachers. It involved more training and getting familiar with the shared drive and how to access teaching material. Trust me, getting all of this information can make you feel like a sponge where no amount of information is enough. I wondered if I would remember everything. How would I remember how to access the books, the worksheets, the audio and videos for the various levels? How would I remember my student’s names and what the different classes mean? How would I remember the structure of all the different classes with their very own course codes? Every organization has their own structure and way of doing things and it’s important to respect their way even if you’re used to another.  My notebook became my best friend at this point.

I decided to just focus on the classes that I would be teaching and master what I needed to know for those. Once I got familiar with that, I realized that figuring out what was needed for classes you had to cover for other Teachers for example, would be easier. Through my career trajectory I have learned that it is also best to ask as many questions as needed and not be afraid to mention if there is something you need to be clarified. I wasn’t too hard on myself because I knew it would take a couple of weeks to get familiar with all the course content, class structure and students of course!

It Takes Time but It Will Be Worth It

My students are very young and it would take at least a full week before they got comfortable and adjusted to their new Teacher. I took my time with them and tried to create a fun, safe and comfortable environment for them. We also decided to re-decorate our classroom and I got them involved which allowed us to bond and create some classroom rules together. Now, we look forward to seeing each other and I get a warm welcome back whenever I return from my short vacations. My students know all the rules, what’s expected in terms of their class performance and behavior and together we enjoy fun classes.

With 3 hour breaks within our work day (1 hour lunch break and 2 hour planning time that run consecutively), there was enough time and opportunity to get to know my colleagues-turned-friends and familiarize myself with whatever I needed to ensure that the classes that followed were planned and ran smoothly.

I would have to say that my first day was very smooth with the most challenging part being getting acquainted with the kids and figuring the best way to communicate with them and actually garner a response. Kids can be intimidating because they are so innocent and honest. They want to know that they can trust you and will test you so give them and yourself time to adjust. Navigating my way through the lessons, follow the lesson plan and manage a classroom with kids who could not sit still was overwhelming at first; But there were other elements that ran smoothly and I feel grateful to be at a big Center with friendly and helpful colleagues. Any new job will have its moments where you need to adjust and it can certainly feel overwhelming at the beginning. It is important to give ourselves time to get acquainted with everything, to give our students time to get comfortable with us and vice versa and it’s up to us to create an environment that works for us. I am also enjoying learning many lessons and how to enjoy simple pleasures from my little students!

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Places to visit in Hong Kong

Have a quality experience in Hong Kong: Knowledge is Power!

The great thing about Hong Kong is that it is one of those places that has the hustle and bustle of big city life and if you need to escape it, a short ferry ride can take care of that for you. From a breathtaking view of Hong Kong’s skyline at Victoria Peak to a tranquil experience when visiting the Big Buddha, you will be spoilt for choice for things to do in Hong Kong. These places are known to many but there are others like the Tai O fishing village and the beautiful beaches of Lamma Island and Sai Kung Town that I enjoyed exploring while teaching English in Hong Long.

Tourist hot spots – get these ticked off ASAP

When you first arrive you will need to have a list of things to tick off your tourist bucket list in Hong Kong. You cannot stay in Hong Kong for longer than a month without having visited the Big Buddha on Lantau Island which you can get to by taking the MTR and a bus or the MTR, a bus and a cable car. I went twice and tried both ways and would suggest taking the cable car because they only seat around 6 people and it’s surrounded by class so the views are spectacular. Everything is easy to access and you will find ticket points at all these places. You will use your octopus card for the MTR, your card or cash for the bus and cash for the cable cars. You can also pre-book tickets online.

After a day visit to see the Big Buddha which also has a temple that you can visit at the same place, you could make your way back to the island and travel vertically on the peak tram to enjoy the stunning views at Victoria Peak. Try to go just before it gets dark so that you get to see the contrasting views of day and night. You may want to carry a selfie stick and a jacket!
Madame Tussauds is also situated in this area so you could try to get a special offer if you buy a ticket combo. The Hong Kong Peak tram experience is also quite cool so make a day of it!
Getting around to all these places will allow you to experience the MTR, buses, the tram, a cable car and if you manage your route well, you could also enjoy the Star Ferry! This is definitely a Hong Kong experience to be had.

Expat social life – so many options and so much time

There are many hotspots to go to for you to enjoy the nightlife in Hong Kong while teach English in Hong Kong and it will vary based on your personality and preference. Lan Kwai Fung is a popular spot for tourists who want to party hard. You will find everything from restaurants creating delicacies from around the world to bars and nightclubs. Don’t be surprised to see students on a budget grab a few beers from 7/11 and enjoy them while jiving to music on the streets.
If being surrounded by tourists is not your thing and you prefer more upmarket spots, you could try walking down the streets in Soho and you will be spoilt for choice with places to settle in for that cheeky cocktail. I recommend Varga Lounge!

Island Life – nobody regrets visiting an Island, right?

Getting rid of that hangover or just a busy work week can be done in the comfort of your apartment yes, but doesn’t it sound so much better to do it on an island, on the beach, while getting your dose of Vitamin D? You can hop on a ferry and make your way over to Lamma Island or Sai Kung and enjoy lunch at an array of restaurants boasting the freshest sea food, a swim in water with the perfect temperature or a snooze on the soft sand. My visits to the beach were so enjoyable and not at all crowded.

Hiking Trails – Enjoy the views and see where the path leads

You will be surrounded by tall buildings and large crowds every day and this can be overwhelming. If you need to recharge and reconnect with nature OR just want to be active and enjoy hikes then there are so many to enjoy in Hong Kong. Some hikes take you to beautiful waterfalls that you can dunk yourself in, viewpoints, or the beach. One of the hikes that I enjoyed was called “Dragons Back”. Once again to get to the starting point, we had to take the MTR and then a bus. Along the hike, there were many beautiful spots to stop at and take in the views of Shek O and Big Wave beaches. We hiked all the way to Big Wave beach and as the hike ended we entered a beautiful little village that had a selection of little shops leading to the beach. One of my friends ran out of water on the hike and all she could think of was holding a Coconut drink in hand…The first shop was well placed as it offered a variety of drinks including a drink in a Coconut or a Coconut drink – mission accomplished! We were parched so we had 2 each…one at the store itself and one at the beach, not before enjoying a well-deserved swim!

These are just a few suggestions of things to do in Hong Kong to balance city life, social life and taking in the beauty that is to be enjoyed all over Hong Kong! As an expat, there will always be little things to miss about home but Hong Kong is so dynamic that you are bound to find a place that fills or comes close to filling those voids. Have fun exploring!

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Winning an Award for Having Fun?

For most expats teaching English in Asia or any other part of the world that has a demand for it, has been a way to travel the world,  explore new cultures and have fun while getting a consistent secure income to fund ones desired lifestyle. I am no different. However, unlike some I chose to do it later on in life after building a fairly successful career in broadcasting back in my home country (South Africa). Many people ask me, why would you leave the radio and TV industry to teach English in Asia? And I always say, that’s a good question but I just felt the need to do it and so before I settled down and had any really big commitments. Here I am, teaching English in Hong Kong. Here a glimpse of Avashnee’s old work

Avashnee Vandiar

I Won an Award!

As you can imagine, for me, teaching English in a foreign language has been  more of a life experience I wanted to tick off for a specific period of time before I eventually went back to the career I have years of experience in and settle down. Setting this background is important to understand why when I was given an award at our annual company awards and year end function, I was surprises; pleasantly surprised. Although I consider my passion to be a storyteller as a former Journalist, Producer and Presenter, teaching is something I do enjoy and when I am in my classes with my students I do strive to give off my best as an Educator because I understand the responsibility that comes with it. I did not know that this effort and enjoyment was noticed and translated to the point that I will be recognized as one of the employees of high performance value.

Like every other Teacher, I always make sure my classes are planned and executed well, my students learning objectives are met, my reporting and assessments are done on time and make the effort to find solutions or alternatives if situations warrant them. So I wondered why I was getting the award if I truly believed I did nothing different to my friends and colleagues. I also knew that I was not looking for a vertical progression within the company because this was a temporary career move for me.

English teaching jobs in Hong Kong

Going Extra Miles

I asked my Manager why I was nominated and then selected by upper Management to be a recipient for the award for our key learning program and his reply was interesting and taught me a lesson too. He gave me a few motivations and reasons but this was the one that stood out to me. He said that aside from performing highly in terms of meeting the key performance indicators, I always looked for different approaches to students who struggled academically, or some who may have needed special attention due to behavior issues and implemented suggestions.

By going the extra mile with classes and students, they saw the improvement in students and it was noted in their assessments over the 1 year period. The reason this impacted me was because I remembered how frustrating it used to be in the beginning with certain troubled students. I tried to be compassionate and empathetic but sometimes it can be difficult. In spite of it though, I remember giving myself a pep talk and telling myself that I need to challenge myself to do whatever I could within my ability to help these kids or at least manage them in class so that it doesn’t negatively impact others. By not just allowing the situation to get to me but rather being consistent in showing up as a good Teacher, it not only helped the student but garnered me, as an Educator, an unwanted but humbly appreciated recognition and accolade!

We Have the Power and Influence to Impact Lives

It also made me realize that just because my current job is not the one I plan on doing forever or my “dream” job, it doesn’t mean it needs to be performed with any less enthusiasm and passion because while teaching English as a foreign language does allow us the fun exciting life of travel and adventure; we do have the power and influence to impact some lives. After all, we are connecting the world; one English word at a time!

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What Are the Expectations When Teaching Kids in Hong Kong

It is said that “the creative adult, is the child who survived”. Whatever the status of your inner child, working with kids will certainly nourish that. It is a great privilege and even greater responsibility to be able to work with children and making sure you’re doing it right or at least try to is important. In order to get your working visa in Hong Kong as a teacher for young kids, it is a prerequisite to have prior teaching experience with kids. Although I did have that, a very new experience awaited me.

Working with kids of various ages from 3 to 11 may sound easy but it’s not. It’s not difficult in a stressful way by any means, it just require lots of preparation, energy and understanding.

Preparation is Key

In my current role I teach specific classes and have the same kids for every class. I have my own classroom and that’s great because it becomes your space and home away from home. You get to decorate it and make it suitable for your students and yourself. Preparing ahead of your lessons is a must. There are some ESL Teachers at our center who wing it but in time this catches up with you and is not the best approach. I find that preparing and mapping out how I will achieve the objectives for that semester at the beginning is so helpful and makes my life much easier. I go into my classes knowing exactly what will be covered, have all the materials ready and try to cover everything a few weeks ahead of schedule so that I have time in case there are any glitches. This is especially important when working with really young kids because they need your constant attention so preparing anything in class can be a nightmare.

Children can also be extremely unpredictable and finish tasks fairly quickly, however badly or wonderfully they do it…to them, it’s done and they wait for what’s next. As a Teacher, it’s best to anticipate this and already have other tasks and activities lined up so that they are not left to their own devices. Preparation also helps when dealing with Admin or parents because if there are any questions or concerns, you are ahead of the game and are able to provide suitable responses.

A side note, Hong Kong does have many T3’s (typhoon warnings) and this will cancel kindergarten classes (hooray! for a free class) but not so much when you lose countless days and can’t catch up when their portfolios for international school applications are due – this is where preparation and working ahead of schedule can save you!

Personality: Keep it Light

When teaching kids you have to constantly possess high energy in the class, be full of expression, fun and playful. Children are eager for stories and if you can make your instructions fun and animated, you will be a winner with them. We are adults and sometimes life happens and you cannot always be full of enthusiasm but if you can at least start your class on a high, it sets the tone and pace for the kids and gets them excited for the rest of it. Being stern may be a must to ensure discipline and rules are adhered to but this needs to be done in moderation.

Children are extremely sensitive and if they fear you, they won’t like coming to class and eventually won’t. This affects business and ultimately you. Aside from affecting your professional role, it just isn’t kind to be too stern with kids to a point that they don’t want to attend class. We have to remember, they are kids and we have no idea why some of them act out the way they do. Best thing to do here is, breathe, count to ten, wear that smile and try again…softly.

Life as an Expat in Hong Kong

An overview of what to expect as an Expat in Hong Kong

Ahead of moving to Hong Kong, I must admit I experienced a kaleidoscope of emotions. Having spent a year in Beijing, which was a great experience, I was not sure that I wanted my next venture to be back in Asia. I honestly thought that while it was everything I hoped for and more – I was pretty much done living in Asia but I would soon find out that you can never truly have enough of Asia…and China. I did know that I wanted a blend of an international experience and the experience of living in a new place immersed with a new culture.

Hong Kong provides exactly that. You will meet people from all around the world and sometimes these short term meetings will be the most exciting ones.

Life as an Expat in Hong Kong

People: What are people like and how do I make friends?

When I first moved to Hong Kong, I had no idea what to expect but thanks to very high rental costs and small living spaces, I had to move into a shared living space. This is where I met my first set of amazing friends a day after I arrived. I moved into a shared living space which consisted of 7 tiny rooms which was a bunk bed on the top and your living and storage area at the bottom. You had to share the kitchen and bathrooms.

This is very common in Hong Kong. Whilst that was not ideal, it allowed us to enjoy the shared spaces together (not the bathrooms of course 🙂 but we enjoyed making dinners together and sharing our experiences of the day and taking our wine glasses up to the rooftop and having some treasured laughs until the sun came up again. It was here in Hong Kong that I met my very good friends from Latvia, Spain, Albania, Russia and Austria. We are currently making plans to do a Euro-trip together.

Another great place to make friends will be at work. I was lucky to be placed at a big Center with many different people and made another good group of friends. Of course, meeting people and forging friendships will be a personal and different experience for every individual. My advice is to be yourself, have no expectations, be open minded as you will be meeting people from different cultures with their own perspectives based on their life experiences and the best way to leave a good impression would be to be open minded and acknowledge this.

Encounters with strangers and locals may be a bit different. Hong Kong is notorious for being an “unfriendly” place and I have certainly had unfriendly encounters with people you will meet at a store for example. You can walk in with the biggest smile and be greeted with well, a blank stare. At first, it can get to you but eventually you learn that it is such a busy place that customer service is not their priority…getting through dealing with a large number of customers and a long work day is what matters so don’t expect the friendliest service at stores or restaurants.

Making friends in Hong Kong

Accommodation: What should I expect when looking for my apartment?

Finding accommodation in Hong Kong can be really difficult at first and you will find that the price of an apartment is shockingly high compared to the space you will get. Hong Kong is densely populated and space is scarce as the numerous vertically growing buildings will attest to. I did eventually get my own cosy apartment on the Hong Kong island which is the area most people would want to stay on as it is close to the social scene and if you work on the island then its just convenient.

My rent is high, my space is very limited but it works for me, for now. It helps that my friend lives in the building next to mine and we have a shared rooftop! There is a mixture of locals and expats in the buildings and also another way to meet people and make new friends. If you’re prepared to pay from 18 000 HKD + for your own 1 bedroom apartment on the island, then you can find a decent place. Anything less than that will mean you are opting for a studio or shared apartment.

If you are willing to stay on other islands like Sai Kung, Lamma or the New Territories then you can get a beautiful place often times with sea views for a low price. This works if you don’t mind a longer commute of taking a ferry to the island and then the MTR. Many expats prefer this and enjoy the beach life on a daily basis but have to compromise on that extra 1 or 2 hours of sleep that some of us enjoy 🙂 Be expected to pay 2 months deposit and 1 month rent upfront as well as an agency fee which varies (most times it is half of the rental amount).

Always double check your rental invoices as there can be discrepancies with the electrical amounts (I was charged 1100 HKD for my electricity for the first month and after querying it, it was corrected to 200 HKD) I was also lucky enough to only pay 1 month’s deposit and no agency fee. My advice would be to get a few agents and compare the offers, ask for what you want and what works for and ALWAYS negotiate and haggle the prices for rent.

Language: Will I survive without knowing Cantonese?

I have been in Hong Kong for 7 months now and whilst learning the local language of Cantonese would be advantageous, it is not a prerequisite or necessary to live a comfortable life here. If you do plan on learning the language, then its a great place to be to practice it or find suitable tutors and if you aren’t keen on it like many of us, then it’s a great place to live an easy life without it as well.

Spending: Can I save in one of the biggest financial hubs?

If saving is one of your goals, you will need to think very carefully about coming to Hong Kong and this will of course depend on your lifestyle and salary package. The factors to consider are:

Rent – it is expensive but utilities are not.

Food – is generally expensive especially if you plan to eat out often. There are cheaper options if you are not a fussy eater and you can also budget by buying and preparing your own food.

Social life – There is always something to do in Hong Kong so if you aren’t buying tickets to attend something, there will be invites for dinners and drinks and night outs are extremely expensive.

Transport – The ferry, trams and MTR in Hong Kong make transport very efficient and cheap. This is not a cost to worry about, however on a night out when you plan on getting home after the MTR closes, taxi fees are generally higher than other Asian countries.

In a nutshell, you can save if that’s your goal…you would just need to have be disciplined with sticking to your own budget. Hong Kong is a great place to meet people but you will soon realize that most people here are passing through and although you will meet people who have decided to build lives here, that is not very often. It is also one of the best places to be located if you are keen on traveling and seeing other parts of Asia and the world. Flying from Hong Kong is really easy, cheap and a must if you plan on working here. I am thoroughly enjoying my experience here and if you are planning on coming soon, do say HI!

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My First Day Teaching in Hong Kong

My Journey Teaching in Hong Kong

After spending a semester in Thailand teaching English, I knew I wanted to live and work  in other countries in Asia and of course, Hong Kong was at the top of my list. Trying to find a job in Hong Kong was more difficult than I first anticipated and I was relieved to find On The Mark Education who assisted in finding me potential jobs and then setting up interviews with potential employers.

Hong Kong VisaI decided to accept a job from a school in Hong Kong that have language centres throughout the country. They were extremely helpful from the get go and were able to answer any questions I had about the company itself, the students and what I was going to be teaching. Before I left the UK they assisted me in the processing of my visa, including help with all the documents and paperwork.

Visa Process

I was in contact with staff from the school throughout my wait for me visa (which turned out to be a long 4 weeks wait) and then also upon my arrival into Hong Kong. I started work four days after I landed and I was instructed to attend their North Point centre. As I had arrived during the summer, the centre was running their summer programme of classes which are based around more fun and creative aspects of education. This was the perfect time for me to start as I was given the opportunity to observe a variety of different types of classes and interact with the full range of ages that the school currently caters for. It also gave me to opportunity to meet my co-workers and start getting to know everyone’s names and classrooms. My first day was a bit of a whirlwind and before I knew it, it was 6:30pm and time for me to finish up and to go home.

my classroom in Hong KongI woke up the next day to a message telling me that I was needed at another centre in Tai Koo to cover a class. It was not something I expected to be doing on my second day with the company but I got ready and headed out to find the centre. I was met at the MTR station by the head teacher of the centre who was surprised to find out I’d only been in the country less than a week. Nevertheless, I was taken to my classroom and given the lesson plan, materials and worksheet I needed for my cover lesson. So for my first lesson in Hong Kong I was going to be teaching about… ‘Africa and African Tribes’, not exactly the first topic that comes to mind when you thinking about teaching in a language centre. My first class had 5 students, 1 girl and 4 boys and throughout I was utterly entertained by the chit chat. I was surprised by how high their level of English was and how interested they were to learn about Africa. The whole lesson was going to plan until it came to the craft section and then the lesson hit a bump, the craft required was an African Tribal Necklace, the last thing the 4 boys in my class wanted to make. However, with a little bit of persuasion and the promise of playing a game (educational of course) the boys reluctantly attempted to make the necklace. All in all my first solo lesson was successful and although it happened a lot quicker than I expected, I was happy that it was done and I had survived.

My first two days as an English Teacher in Hong Kong was full of new experiences and challenges and went by in the blink of an eye. If the next 12 months go by a quickly I might have to renew my contract and stay a little bit longer.

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