While approaching graduation from university, pressures were felt from all angles to follow the narrow path of corporate employment. Sentiments from many around me included encouragements to jump into a 9 to 5 entry-level position with a climbable, hierarchical structure and a stacked benefits package. What I wasn’t hearing enough of was the ‘benefits package’ of going off the beaten path… of choosing to move abroad. I realize now that even while signing my first EF teaching contract I didn’t understand the momentum that was about to take place. Taking the leap of accepting a teaching job in China came with benefits incomparable to any job I was applying for nationally, and I’d like to share some of these with you!
Watching global news, dining at international restaurants, or even studying abroad for a semester can’t compare to the perspectives gained while working full-time in a foreign country. Upon arrival in China everything feels foreign to you, yet the new reality is that you are the foreigner. Simple tasks that you’ve been doing all your life are suddenly backwards, and in order to keep moving forward you must adapt. You’ve made a choice to immerse yourself in a life and set of standards that are different from what you’re used to.
Sure, planning to have Chinese take-out for tonight’s dinner is also a choice you’re making! A choice to treat your taste buds with flavors unique from your everyday cuisine. However, this is a fleeting moment and transitory choice. Imagine you arrive in China and one of the first ways you must adapt is using two sticks as a vehicle for eating food for all three meals a day. Imagine further, waking up two months into this experience and questioning why you ever used a fork! Besides the use of chopsticks and their benefits, your mind will open to a multitude of new ideas and solutions. A new mindset that catalyzes your critical thinking abilities in all areas of your life. Talk about a resume highlight.
My first week living in the Xiejiawan neighborhood of Chongqing, I became friends with a family who lived in my building. While sharing smiles and awkward laughs with grandma in the elevator it became clear that she wanted to communicate with me yet had no English, and me on the receiving end with no Chinese ability other than ‘Ni hao’ couldn’t reciprocate except for giggles and head nods. I walked into my apartment with my heart bursting at the cute interaction and hoping I would run into her again. Moments later I heard a knock on my door. Grandma had sent her daughter and grandson downstairs to meet me, as the two of them could speak a little bit of English. Throughout my two years residing in China this is just one story among many of a lifelong connection I made. I became friends with people who would drop everything to take me to the doctor, colleagues who would be an advocate or translator for me in moments of need, and even gained professional connections that not only impacted my next career move but will continue to flourish in the future.
Making the decision to move to China is a massive move of independence itself. However, what you might not realize before your arrival is that this initial large leap out of your comfort zone is only the first domino in a fall of confronting and taking multiple risks along the way. Visiting the grocery store for the first time, navigating the brand-new food options and figuring out how you can make a meal out of them. Flagging down a taxicab, showing the address in Chinese, only to get close to the destination and realize you’re not even sure what to look for (or how to communicate it to your driver who doesn’t speak English). Getting lost in a public transportation labyrinth with signs in pinyin that you haven’t been able to recognize yet. Planning your first trip to explore another part of China or country in Asia. All these experiences come with choices you otherwise wouldn’t be confronted with in the comfort of your home country. Your decision-making skills are challenged and, as a result, fine-tuned during your daily life as an expatriate.v
It’s simple: adventure is inspiring. Although the flight over might be long, very few things can beat the invigorating feeling of finally touching down in a nation you have never explored before. Heart-filling moments of inspiration followed me throughout many instances during my two years in China. Not only was I feeling motivated to travel, but I was also encouraged to think outside of the box at my job and bring my own ideas and perspectives to our company in the city. Creating a volunteer program to get our teachers involved in the local communities, helping initiate a women’s group to celebrate equality and promote a healthy culture of networking, and implementing a ‘Green Team’ to bring more environmentally sustainable practices into our schools were a few of the projects I felt moved to instigate. All while taking weekend trips to exotic countries and corners of China that I never imagined seeing with my own eyes.
Teaching English in China isn’t only an opportunity to spice up the next step of your career and personal journey, but an experience that will impact you far into the future. For anyone considering making the move, I encourage you to reflect on how this opportunity could enhance the next chapter of your life!