At the age of 49, I found myself in a middle management position in a job I used to likebut was not all that passionate about anymore. It was time for a change so I thought about switching careers, and at 50, I moved to China to start a new life. What happened?!
This is not a chicken-soup-for-the-soul motivational story. I just want to share my experience in the hope that it can give some ideas or some motivation to undecided and unfulfilled soulmates out there.
I was living in Cape Town, working as publicity manager for South Africa's biggest book publisher. This job used to excite me no end: it was demanding to promote books in a country with not much of a reading culture. It was a challenge, and we embraced it and did ground-breaking work. But after nine years in the job, with no prospect of promotion in a struggling industry, I knew it was time to move on. I quit my job and used my savings to travel for six months: Korea, New York, Singapore, Bangkok, Hong Kong. I realised that I preferred living in a city rather than simply visiting it.
On the night of my 50th birthday party I rashly announced to my friends that I am moving to China, I was switching careers, and I was going to start a new job as a teacher. This was an idea I had been toying with, but I had never before enunciated. They were surprised and supportive. “Why not?' was the general feeling.
Why not indeed. I spent the next six weeks doing an intense online ESL course, got a basic qualification, and started applying for jobs. At this stage I was not picky: not knowing much about Mainland China, I was ready to accept the first offer. Which came from a high school in Shenzhen. They needed an international teacher urgently. I got the offer on 30 October 2013, and two weeks later I flew from Cape Town to Hong Kong, where the school collected me at the airport. My tourist visa was - eventually - changed to a working visa.
The job at the high school was undemanding: they essentially needed a foreign teacher as window-dressing. The students were spectacularly uninterested in learning Conversation English, my remit. The school was unsupportive but paid my salary on time. My emotions oscillated wildly between despondence and hope. I started applying for other positions and found a job with EF in Shanghai through a wonderfully supportive agency and EF recruiter.
I moved to Shanghai eight months later in August 2014, where I am still happily teaching at an adults school in Xin Zhuang to the south of the city.
Why I can recommend this experience:
Yes, this may sound trite and predictable. But I really feel, on a daily basis, that my life is different and more colourful and more challenging and more rewarding than before. Three years later I am still amazed by the new experience, full of wonder and awe and respect and happiness. Sure, there are moments of alienation and loneliness, but they are all part of the deal. And I can truly say: I am never bored.
China is a big country with many people. It is open to the world and welcomes qualified foreigners. Young Chinese people (and not-so-young people too) want to learn and develop. We have transferable skills that they are eager to acquire.
There are many opportunities and possibilities available at EF. You can arrive with a degree and a basic ESL qualification, and continue your learning here, on the job and more formally through in-centre training and online courses. Get that certificate or diploma that can make a difference in your future. Volunteer to be involved in company activities. There are many things you can do, suitable for a wide range of skill-sets and personalities.
Whether you love life in the hectic big city or prefer a smaller city with a more laid-back atmosphere, there is a job waiting for you. And if you find that your first position may not be entirely suitable, you can make a change. Teachers change from Kids to Adults, from First Tier to Second Tier cities, and from schools to head office all the time. It is a dynamic company and a fast-changing industry.
If you have the slightest suspicion that your life has stalled, or that you have arrived at a crossroad, make the change. Moving to a different country and culture and (possibly) career will open your eyes and your mind. Settling into the new job will take some time, but the infrastructure and support systems are in place to make this as easy as possible. Which will later leave you with time to develop your talents, learn new skills, and practice your hobbies.
Does my story sound familiar? If it does, what are you waiting for? Make the change - today!