Traditionally the nature of working in the field of teaching English as a Second Language is transient as people sign up for one years' experience. Possibly a ‘gap year' for the early 20-somethings taking a break between the bachelor's degree and their masters or even before getting the 'real' job. The ‘gap year' for others, those 30 somethings, it's that time of transition between ‘things' that change career or relationship, a time to search and find ‘something' more meaningful in life.
In the west, we take this option for granted or never really think about it being a privilege; this choice to take a break along the way somewhere, a gap year, to find ourselves or to recharge, get grounded. Here in China it is not that easy, and it is interestingly different. Interesting because the desire is the same, the need is the same, but mostly Chinese people, students, people in the first third of their life, don't have this choice on their list of options.
Still, I am finding that human nature is the same. The feeling of the need for a break, or the feelings of a need for more time to decide on something, remain the same no matter if you are from the west or the east. What seems to be different is the drive to do it, and the commitment to others. In the west we can be, are allowed to be, have the gift of being, more self-focused. This drive to figure it out, to be allowed the time, or just to take time for oneself is a western ideal and I'd say, even a gift. Those of us from the west allow ourselves the time and the opportunity without any judgment of ourselves or others, to breath and to take this gap year. Not so much in the east as this choice of a gap year is just virtually non-existent here.
In the east, there are different factors that influence such a decision. Here, the number of graduating high school seniors is huge, and a lifetime of potential success, the ability to care for family, their acceptance into university (and a good one at that) is paramount. College entrance exams and acceptance is deeply convoluted in China with everything based on numbers - test scores, which province and city you come from and the population numbers, the available number of open slots at any given university are based on where you are from and your test scores. It's crazy full of pressure for these kids and families. Honestly, if anyone needed a gap year, it is probably a Chinese high school student, and her parents too - for the pressure they have all endured during school years!
Chinese students work hard, really, really hard to earn their way into a very good university and then they work even harder to earn the good marks and to possibly continue on for a masters' degree, or on to marriage. The end goal is to earn a good education that will enable you to take care of elderly family, and to have and care for your own family. There is no dreaming or contemplating, there is simply doing and being the best you can be for the future of your family.
How does this relate to being an ESL teacher abroad for us westerners? Well, if you're considering a gap year, all of this - no matter your reason or the timing in your life, learning about other cultures and peoples, really experiencing how other people do ‘it', this life thing, this everyday living, does a couple of things. First, it teaches us empathy in recognizing that bottom line, we are all the same in most ways; human nature is what it is no matter where we are from. Another thing is that in experiencing the way other cultures and other people live, we can't help but have a broader world view, and a bigger appreciation for all the goodness we have in life. We also learn that there is goodness in doing the same things well and for different reasons and in different ways, too. Mostly the experience of teaching abroad will change you forever. Surface wise you will be more experienced with travel, figuring out logistics, hanging with people from round the world, enjoying different food, and you'll have great memories.
Deeply you will become a broader thinker, more open-hearted, and certainly for the moment you will have some clarity on just what this life thing is all about. That seems to boil down to seeking to understand ourselves and others through experience and sharing, recognizing that we are all very much the same - east or west doesn't matter. Recognizing the choices, we have in life are of our making, we can also leave a little bit of ourselves with all the people we meet and in all the places we go. So, wondering what's next for you in life? At a crossroads for whatever reason? Here's an exciting option for you, becoming an English Second Language teacher, seeing the world and discovering more of yourself in the process!