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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.

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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.

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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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My First Few Months As A Cover Teacher in Hong Kong

Dream Came True as an English Teacher in Hong Kong

I finally arrived in Hong Kong from Thailand and was eagerly ready to start a new adventure as an English teacher in Hong Kong. I had a few days to settle in before starting and I booked into the hotel in Sai Ying Pun for the first few days as I did not know much about the areas around Hong Kong. I then went into head office for all the necessary admin. Everyone was extremely helpful.

Firstly, they tried to help me look for an apartment or studio, everything was way too expensive, really tiny or not available for the next few months. I went exploring for a bit around the area and went to purchase a Octopus card that would help me get around Hong Kong transport.  The next day I then met the general manager, and was told the centre I was going to be based in was in the Kowloon area so we took a ferry across from the island side, which was only 6 minutes across.

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Being a Cover Teacher in Hong Kong

I was going to be a cover teacher for the first few months before being assigned my own classes. I would go through training and co- teach or assist other teachers so as to learn the different methods and the way everything operated.

Even though I had taught before, this was a big eye opener, I came to know how different countries education worked, things were different here in Hong Kong compared to Thailand and back in my home country. The different systems and the level of English was higher and it was easier to communicate with everyone. More seemed to want to learn and were interested in English. We had an admin team that helped in dealing with parents and assisting you where needed.

Being a cover teacher meant that I would cover teachers that were on sick leave or annual leave and co- teach or assist the main teacher when needed. In turn I ended up being able to see other parts of Hong Kong whilst going to the other schools to teach.

Whilst covering I got to meet the other teachers, from all over the world. Learn from the more experienced teachers in how they run their classes. Whilst doing this I attended training over a few days which covered everything from phonics, classroom management, and general teaching tips. These were a great help as the extra knowledge definitely helped me run a class. I gained experience within a range of different ages from 1.5 years old to about 12, 13 years old and a few classes in high school as well.

Buses in Hong Kong

Being a cover teacher also meant you had to be ready if they needed you in another school in the morning or during the school day if another teacher called in sick, you would sometimes only get the lesson plan as you walked into the class as you had to take into account travel time. I learnt to be able to navigate the different transport systems as well, the subway, the red buses and the green mini-buses.

This taught me to be able to teach on the spot which at first I was very nervous to do but now with some practice I am able to walk into a classroom and pick up the books, and carry on where the class teacher left off and engage with the students.  I now have my own classroom, ready to be decorated and filled with eager students waiting to be taught!

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Finding an Apartment in Hong Kong

Moving to a new country can be as stressful as it can be exciting and one of the main stress factors includes finding your ideal home away from home. For many expats who move to Hong Kong, their home is the place to escape the overwhelming amount of people bumping and dodging them on the streets. However, you soon learn that any hopes of having your own, spacious, ideal located haven can be dashed if your budget is not high enough. Read on for tips on preparing yourself ahead of your move to Hong Kong with regards to your accommodation.

Securing Accommodation before You Arrive

It is always best to secure some sort of temporary accommodation before you arrive in Hong Kong to make your transition easy. The best option here is to look out on websites for shared, short term (month to month perhaps?) accommodation. If it’s your first time in Hong Kong, my advice is to find a shared short term place so that you get to:

  • Meet people and don’t feel terribly lonely, they can also be helpful in sharing their experience and helping you out.
  • Familiarize yourself with the transportation, route to work, different areas.
  • It gives you time to search and view apartments before settling for one.
  • If you decide to get your own lease then they will request proof of employment, bank details etc. so it gives you time to get your admin in order

There are many websites to secure accommodation and try to only pay when you arrive in Hong Kong. Some useful sites: geoexpat.com, easyroommate.com etc.

Finding an Apartment

There are many platforms to search for apartments to rent in Hong Kong such as online sites. A useful tip is to join Facebook groups as agents post available rentals here and usually provide all the important details including pictures. It is also easy to engage with them and set up appointments to view. There is always a demand for apartments in Hong Kong so if you like a place, there will be pressure secure it immediately. Once you decide on your ideal location and budget, you start the research process. Try to schedule a few viewings with an agent. They often have more places than the one advertised. Always check what their requirement is and if you can afford it. The norm is 2 months deposit, 1 months’ rent and in some cases, they will also request an agency fee which may be half of the rental amount. There are places that are month to month, only request 1 months deposit and no agency fee. Try to look for the best option for you. 

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What Happens after You Find a Place You Like?

Once you find a place you like, you will be required to provide paperwork which includes copies of your passport, Hong Kong ID card, and proof of employment, bank details and your deposit and rental amount. It really is quite easy to secure the apartment once you find it. Make sure to ask questions about the utility bill amounts for water and electricity, Wi-Fi and so on. Always negotiate the initial price they give you because in most cases, they do lower the rent amount. I have not heard of any unpleasant experiences with rent or deposits in Hong Kong and people are generally fair here so all should go as well as possible!

If having a spacious place on Hong Kong Island is very important to you, do not despair because it can be achieved with sharing and being prepared to pay extra for it. And as mentioned prior, if you don’t mind the commute, you can secure beautiful spacious homes on other islands. Apartments generally have a modern finish, a western toilet system and separate showers and toilets, which were a few key deciding factors for me but you have to look out for them and not just settle. Once you find out what your deciding factors are, finding your ideal place in Hong Kong will be possible. Good luck!

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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.