‘I’m moving to China to teach English’. I have found this statement tends to confound the intended recipient and is often answered with a mix of one of three questions: ‘why’, ‘what’, and ‘are you mad?’ The latter two are simple enough to answer (you can decide for yourself on the last one) but the former is a little trickier. At first it was obvious. Adventure, food, to ‘get away from it all’ were answers I would often give. The real answer is a little more complex deeper and took 5000 miles, seven terrible airport meals and six like minded strangers to realise. But I’ll get to that later.
Five months prior to leaving I had been contacted by a company called Teach TEFL in China who saw my CV online claiming I had all the skills they were looking for. Seeing as I couldn’t even teach my dog to sit at this point I was a little dubious. But I replied anyway and they asked me if I would be willing to have an interview. Having just finished university, my days at that point consisted of endless job searching, not getting dressed and Netflix. So of course I said yes. The interview process was fairly simple. The first few questions were focused on basic grammar which weren’t particularly taxing, though I would suggest doing a quick Google search if you’re feeling rusty! The second half of the interview was designed to test my classroom management as I was asked how I would control an unruly class and reprimand any students who misbehave. The interview was relaxed and informal and I received an offer of employment two days later.
Leaving was tough. It’s hard to grapple with the ecstasy of your forthcoming travels and the inevitable sadness from your loved ones when it’s time to depart. Saying goodbye at the airport was bittersweet. I made sure the goodbyes were brief – dragging it out is a painful experience for all. And that was it. I had yet to complete my TEFL course (I’m sorry to say procrastination is my home nation) so this kept me preoccupied. For those of you who don’t know (though I’m sure I’m preaching to the converted here) TEFL stands for teaching English as a foreign language and for a hundred and fifty pounds and a couple of weeks training you can buy your ticket to the world. It’s also a great way for those who maybe don’t have a rich Aunt Mavis to fund their wanderlust to see the world.
Two other teachers were travelling from Heathrow airport that day and absolute terror shared is absolute terror halved so we decided to meet up. I found myself at ease as we chatted and I realised I was about to begin my huge adventure with two outstandingly lovely human beings. I couldn’t believe my luck.
For the flights we were allocated separate seats. The prospect of a nine hour flight without a soul to talk to filled me with dread somewhat, but my fears were not to be realised. Arriving at 24a I found my neighbour to be a charming little old Indian lady named Ada. Ada become my first encounter with foreign customs to embarrass my British sensibilities – particularly those involving physical contact with strangers. Halfway through the flight, after struggling to sleep in the economy flight chairs, Ada pulled me head first into her lap demanding I sleep. Undoubtedly believing this was exactly what I wanted, she then proceeded to pat my head and coo me to sleep. I remained there for 2 hours, wide awake until enough time had passed that I could rise and feign refreshment. But I was happy for the company and the nine hour flight felt a little less laborious.
Meeting the other teachers on the other side at Shenzhen airport felt incredible. Jet- lagged, exhilarated and in desperate need of shower, we had made it. And the adventure’s only just begun.
So then, the answer to why I came here and how six strangers guided me to that realization.
A few days after arriving a group of us went out for drinks in the bar just around the corner from the hotel. After a while the conversation turned to the inevitable: why are we here. It was then that one of the teachers gave the answer I should have given six months ago to my perplexed friends and family. “I just didn’t want to be ordinary”. As everyone in the group nodded and smiled I knew. Of course. Everything that had lead us to that little bar in the middle of Shenzhen was the desire to find the extraordinary. To challenge ourselves in a way that many couldn’t understand. The desire for self-discovery – the sentimentally squeamish can go vomit now – and the opportunity to experience the beauty of the world. We are propelled by our desire to be a little less ordinary. And so my journey begins…