There comes a time in every person's life when the thought, ‘should I move abroad?!' crosses their mind. So, you start to do your research and suddenly, every advertisement on your Instagram page is about teaching abroad or reduced price TEFL courses. Then the possibility becomes even more real when you hear that your friend's father's grandchild went to Guangzhou to teach English abroad. If they can do it, so can you! You're ecstatic and next thing you know, your bags are packed, and you are telling your family that you are moving to CHINA.
Sound familiar? Or at least parts of it? Believe me, I can relate. However, one thing I observed throughout my time abroad was that this was usually a common initial experience for most teachers, but for a few it diverged from there. For me, I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Shanghai, even through the tough times. But I also made sure that even despite the excitement of it all, I took the time to really contemplate if this was the right move for me. That doesn't mean you sit on the decision for an eternity, life is too short and there are too many adventures to be had! Nonetheless, moving abroad is no small thing so you need to ask yourself, is this the right decision for me? However, if any of these listed below applies to you, maybe don't sign your name down quite yet….
Teaching English abroad is a whirlwind of exposure to brand new experiences. A large part of those experiences is in the form of exploring different places, whether it's strolling through the plush bamboo forest in Tokyo or facing your fears as you scale the rigid peaks of Huangshan mountain.
In a recent survey, about 73% of EF teachers reported visiting more than 5 different countries within their first year. Sounds amazing, right?! Even if that is not for you, say for instance you have a fear of planes (but spoiler, you need to fly to get to China!), that's okay too. Some of my favorite adventures weren't jet setting off to a beachside resort and paddle boarding in crystal blue waters. They were getting lost in my own city as I strolled down the vibrant alleyways in Shanghai's popular neighborhood, Dapuqiao, or when I drove my scooter too far through Hongkou district and discovered my favorite noodle shop.
Throughout my life, I always thought of myself as someone who was willing to try new things and try the unknown. My first week in Shanghai certainly tested this theory. Upon arrival, I was exposed to new sights, new smells and new….toilets? Then on top of that, I was presented with an eclectic assortment of foreign meats and vegetables and I was expected to pick it up using two sticks?! Overwhelmed by it all, I found myself opting for the chicken nuggets at the breakfast buffet line.
For my first few weeks, it was one Big Mac Meal after the next. It wasn't until a conversation I had with my mom when she asked, “Have you tried the xialongbao?!” that really put things into perspective. The purpose of moving abroad was to gain new experiences and learn about a new culture, food included. It was not to eat fried chicken at a 7-eleven. I decided to start challenging myself, making it my mission to try at least one new thing in each place I went. Some of the most delicious meals were the ones I was the most afraid of. I found that the people who were the most successful abroad were the ones who remained open-minded to whatever came their way, even if it was a mysterious greasy ball that came on a stick.
One thing that sometimes gets lost in the excitement of teaching English abroad is the idea that you are, indeed, teaching! My experience as a teacher was fantastic and fulfilling, but it was not always easy for the first few months. As a new teacher, you must be willing to put in the work. Working with children takes patience, understanding, and A LOT of stickers. Which, to be frank, may not be for everyone.
In the same day, you could be dancing around and playing Baby Shark for the hundredth time, then going into your next class with your high-school aged students where you are drilling grammar structures. I'll admit, the change in energy and mental stimulation can be downright exhausting. But nothing beats the moment when your 4-year-old students rush you at the door with a big hug or when you can't stop laughing because your 13-year-old student made an incredibly witty and sarcastic joke, in English!
I'm not going to sugarcoat it; the visa process takes work. There are a lot of documents that need to be collected and deadlines that you are expected to meet. Somewhere through the process, it might be the case for people to lose sight of what it is all for, an amazing adventure teaching abroad! I found from my experience though that those who really want it, will persevere.
Looking back, I myself was completely oblivious to the complexities of the visa process. The important thing is to stay focused on the end goal and if in doubt, ask questions! That's what your recruiter is there for and mine was fantastic. After finally having my visa in hand, feelings of pride, relief, and of course, excitement, came flooding in when my plane finally touched down in Shanghai and I started my new adventure teaching English abroad.