When I made the decision to come to China six years ago, I was excited but also anxious, I was moving to a country with a completely different culture and language. Most of my teaching experience was teaching adults, so I was also going to have to adapt to teaching children. Among those fears was leaving the familiarity of home and friends and making new ones. However, I arrived and faced the challenges that were thrown at me, whether that was work, language barriers and making new friends.
One of the aspects of being an ESL teacher that can be challenging is not necessarily meeting people (particularly if you are in a relatively large city with other expats, or if you work in a company with other foreigners) but it is the ability to deal with the very transitory nature or the “new friends” you make. The nature of ESL teaching is that it is a quite a flexible career, some people see it as a gap stop before they do something else, others see it as a way to travel the world, or some just want to dip their toes into teaching to see what it’s like. This often means that within one year many people will cross your path who you could potentially connect with. We are social animals and it is inevitable that there will be people you meet with whom you will make genuine connections or friendships.
As mentioned earlier, the ESL industry attracts many transitory people, who choose not to make ESL teaching their career, and decide to leave after a year or six months – who knows whether you will remain in contact with them? If you have managed to feel settled where you are, the constant revolving door of teachers can take its toll, sometimes it can be emotionally upsetting. People do not always leave the new country they have chosen to live in temporarily with positivity, or they get disgruntled with their ESL teaching job, all the while you may not have any immediate plans to leave and may be relatively happy where you are.
Dealing with Fleeting Friends
It is always important to reflect on why you are where you are, and if it is still relevant to your goals and if you think you are making progress in your current situation. When you are focused on remembering why you are doing what you are doing, and if you are comfortable with that, it can make it somewhat easier to deal with yet another person you have just got to know leaving. When there is a constant flow of teachers in your midst about to leave, it can be easy to get sucked into their reasons for leaving, and you may even think you need to convince them to stay.
I remember lamenting to an older colleague once about my anxiety about so many teachers deciding they wanted to leave, and whether it was a sign that I needed to leave, and he reminded me that I did not come to China for anybody else but myself. Another friend said, “These are the people you meet along the journey.” And, in my opinion that is the philosophical attitude you need to harness as the life as an expat teacher, because people will always be coming and going, and it can be unsettling at times, but learning to be comfortable with this fact has been my lesson and continues to be. As long as you are keenly aware about your reasons for staying or leaving, what other people do with their future is quite frankly none of your business!
It could sound a little harsh to take this attitude, but it is the one that may keep you sane while away from friends and family in a foreign land, to which you may still be trying to adapt.
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Post by Yolande Deane, EF English First Harbin
I arrived in China from London in 2012 and I have been working at EF Harbin for more than two years. Harbin is in the most north-eastern province in China, and despite the long cold winters I enjoy living in this part of China. I love learning Chinese, doing yoga, going to the gym, eating out, playing the guitar and blogging about my observations and experiences.
Click here to learn more about Yolande