Wednesday, 4 February 2015

A GapBreak in China? Go for it!

PROJECT: Teaching

A good Chinese phrase to learn is 'Nǐ fēngle ma?' Translation: 'Are you crazy?'. This may have gone though my head a fair few times.

At 18 years old, having decided I'd had enough of going through the motions in Geelong, and knew I wasn't quite ready to for university, I decided it was time to get out and do something different. So I headed to Beijing with Antipodeans to undertake a month of teacher training with another 40 young people from all over the world. I had applied to my course at Charles Sturt University before I left and deferred. This gave me the comfort of knowing that when I came home I was coming back to something that was already waiting for me.

When I arrived in Beijing it was hot and sticky, I couldn't understand much, I had never learnt Mandarin in my life and only had 'Hello, my name is Amy, nice to meet you' as something to say. Luckily I soon leant this wasn't too much of a hurdle in Beijing. I was feeling pretty drained from traveling so far as well as emotionally tired after really contemplating for the first time what I had gotten myself into.

The month in Beijing consisted of class everyday, tours on the weekends to sites around Beijing such as the Birds Nest, the Great Wall of China, acrobatic displays and multiple food experiences that were beyond amazing. I also made close friendships with the people I met in Beijing. They were from all over the globe: Norway, America, Denmark, Germany, Poland etc. Living in China and experiencing it for the first time together allowed us to become closer must faster than under regular circumstances.

We would go out drinking and dancing on weekends and even had our own local place called 'Lakers'. The owners loved us and we could sit comfortably without being ogled by locals. The nightlife in Beijing was a fantastic experience, and all with no entry charge.

At the end of August I was given my placement. I was going to a town called Foshan in the Guangdong province. Foshan is a 3-hour bus ride west of Hong Kong. Just as it was in Beijing, the arrival in Foshan was hot and sticky and I was tired and emotionally drained.

I was assigned to the first and second grade as well as taking a few kindergarten classes with kids ranging from 2- 4 years old. I was given a desk and a room to board in and was to begin teaching the next week. As exciting and thrilling the entire venture was, I was nervous and scared. I had doubts about whether I could handle the workload. Was I even a good teacher? And what would I teach?

My 5 months at the International School involved incredibly fun times out with friends who taught at another school nearby. We would go shopping in the Mall, get our nails done, hit up the KTV (Karaoke TV) as well as head to the splendidly cheap bars. The teaching became easier and my Beijing training kicked in. I was given textbooks to teach from and made wonderful PowerPoint presentations and taught songs such as 'Hello, Goodbye 'by the Beatles. There were days where I did just play 'Magic School Bus' but the kids were happy just listening to the aural English. All this excitement was also met with some challenges and self-doubt. Naturally there were one or two ‘homesick days’. Two days stand out as particularly difficult but a simple Kath and Kim DVD and a family size tin of Milo gave me the ability to overcome them.

I began to miss the simple things such a garden, a couch, a vacuum cleaner and a bathroom that was separate from the kitchen sink and laundry. Clean air was a luxury and blending in was something I could only dream of - even though I did buy panda face gloves, hipster glasses (which they adore) and got myself a front fringe, I was still considered a spectacle on the street.

When the time came to pack up my room, book a flight home and leave, I didn’t want to. I had become accustomed to this life of simplicity and everything being so cheap. It took me a good two months at home before I could stomach buying anything in Australia, knowing it was a third of the price back in Foshan.

Antipodeans Abroad's 6 months program in China really did have an effect on me. I'm not a wildly different person, but living and working in China has given me a real perspective on life and shown me how little one really needs to be happy. I would suggest this trip to anybody: shy, extroverted, wanting to be a teacher or not, I cannot stress enough how completely wonderful the experience was and encourage any young person to give it a go. You never know, you may love it- it could be your calling. Or, it could just be an exceptional 6 months of your life. You'll never know unless you try.

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