If you've ever thought of taking a gap year it can be an exciting yet daunting experience - especially if you're starting a new job too! We caught up with Katie McCann who is currently teaching English language in China. From organising your trip, to teaching 700 students in a week and learning to love spicy food - read on to find out pretty much everything you'll need to know about this amazing experience of a lifetime!
My name is Katie McCann and I am 21 years old. I have a Bachelor of Arts (Hons) in Digital Media, Arts and Culture with Marketing from Canterbury Christ Church University, Kent. Additionally, I studied Mandarin Chinese in my first and second year at University. I also completed a TEFL (Teaching English as a foreign language) module. I have a passion for travel, languages, education and photography. Ever since I was little I have travelled all over the world. I was born in the USA, lived 4 years in Swaziland, 12 years in Ireland and studied for 3 years at University in the UK. For the past 5 months, I have been living and working in China as an English teacher.
Having finished University, I wanted to do something different. The graduate job market in the U.K. is very competitive and I applied for various jobs but I decided in the end that I wanted to work abroad. Working abroad has many benefits such as experiencing a new culture, a new language and the opportunity to meet great people and to make lifelong friends.
Alongside my degree, I successfully completed a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) module and studied Mandarin Chinese. I wanted to put these skills into practice in order to improve and develop what I have learned. Before coming to China, I had never travelled past Turkey. Asia really interested me as I was fascinated by Asian culture and their way of life. I wanted to experience it, to explore and also to capture it as I have a great interest in photography and editing. The Chinese landscape, traditional buildings and gardens are very beautiful!
I made my application through LinkedIn with a recruitment company called Buckland Educational Group (www.bucklandgroup.org). They run a cultural exchange teaching program. Buckland Education Group provides a free visa and support service as well as training, and a Chinese culture orientation. Our training included a teaching practice in a local English language school as well as instruction classes on Chinese law and etiquette. I am really impressed by the organisation as they always go out of their way to help. Thankfully, I have had no problems. Just make sure to research and apply a few months in advance so that your visa arrives on time.
The two schools where I teach are located in a city called Liuyang, which is in the Hunan province. I teach at Liuyang No.1 Middle School (11-16 year olds) and Yoyo International (3-10 year olds).
In total, I have over 700 students. At the middle school, average class size is between 60-64 students. Classes at Yoyo are much smaller as they are quite young (5-14 students per class). I have 16 (approx. 40 minutes each) classes per week (including evening and weekends).
As you can see, this is not a lot of actual classroom teaching time but there is a lot of planning involved. Standard teaching jobs in China are Monday to Friday (20 classes x 45 minutes) and this gives you the flexibility to go exploring or to take a weekend city break. Working hours vary by school. You also have the opportunity to take on other part-time work.
In comparison to school in the U.K., school days in China are longer for students. The Middle School where I teach is a boarding school. The day begins at 6.30am and ends at 10.30pm at night. The student timetable consists of classes, meal times, exercise, self-study, afternoon reading, homework time and cleaning. In China, they nap after lunch, similar to a Spanish siesta. I plan and prepare lessons mostly at my apartment and I also like to spend time in the office. I live on the school grounds so it takes me 10 minutes to walk to the classrooms. The majority of schools provide accommodation for foreign teachers on school grounds.
Yes, I have free time but I have taken on extra classes and so I have class every day. However, normally as a foreign teacher you have the whole weekend off unless you are placed at a private school. I have visited neighbouring cities such as Changsha and Zhu Zhou as well as Yangshuo and Hong Kong. Popular activities here include; K.T.V. (Karaoke), eating, drinking Chinese tea, playing cards and practising martial arts such as Wushu.
There are many markets and street BBQs. At night the streets are filled with stalls. The majority of which are pretty safe to eat from. It's cheaper than buying food from the supermarket. I like to walk around, explore and take photographs. I climb the nearby mountains and watch the fireworks as Liuyang is known as "œThe City of Fireworks". Schools here run events such as talent shows and hold feasts to mark special occasions such as New Year's Eve, which I attend as they can be great fun!
I really enjoy teaching Chinese students. It's one of the best jobs I've ever had. Teaching is very rewarding as you gain so much from the students and the other members of staff are very friendly and funny. The students are very curious and interested to learn about foreigners and travel. I have developed a good relationship with the students. I am their teacher but also their friend. The students treat me like a celebrity on campus. I get asked to sign their uniforms, pieces of paper and books.
The students here are extremely hard working. Sometimes on Sunday afternoon, we play basketball, go to K.T.V. (Karaoke) or for noodles at a local snack bar. The students gave me a Chinese name;"œBÇŽihé" (ç™¾åˆ), which means White lily. They call me Miss K, Katie, Catherine, BÇŽihé, Miss Kate and "œMei nu" (ç¾Žå¥³) pretty girl. Also, we write letters to each other as it is great practice for their grammar and spelling as well as fun. The students are very generous as they like to share their food and I receive all kinds of little presents such as flowers, drawings, sweets, balloons and glow sticks.
To be honest, I didn't find it a shock as I like languages. Every language is different. In my opinion, Gaeilge (Irish language) is more difficult than Mandarin Chinese.
Where I live in China, a lot of the people have never spoken to a foreigner or even seen a foreigner before. It's great that I get to practise every day as it's the best way to learn a language. The local people really appreciate when I make an effort. I am not fluent. My Short term aim is to speak Mandarin Chinese to an intermediate level.
I have been in China since August 2012 and I shall be here until the beginning of July. There is a possibility that I will stay for another year.
I would like to return to the UK to work in either the business or education sector. Over the past five months, I have developed a passion for education and I like working with International students as well as English students. This is why I hope to attain an International Officer role. Lots of the students here aspire to attend a university in the U.K. and I would like to make this a reality. Further study is always an option but I want to get some real experience before I decide to pursue postgraduate study. However, I am very interested in undertaking research.
I left home when I was 18 years old and so, I am used to being away for long periods of time. Yes, there are moments when you miss your friends and being with your family but the thought that you shall see them again keeps you motivated. In my view, it's all about enjoying where you are and making the most of it because you may never get the same opportunity again. I always keep myself occupied and thus, time flies. I remember before I began my adventure to China, I was slightly apprehensive as I didn't know whether I would be good at teaching or if I would really like it here but now I am glad that I have done it. It is one of the best decisions that I have ever made.
I have not faced any major problems. However, there were a few things that I had to adapt to and become accustomed with, including; travel, weather, hygiene, and food.
Travel in China is interesting. The rules of the road are not observed unless in a bigger city. In Liuyang, drivers like to beep their horns a lot. In Yangshuo, they constantly break. You get used to it. I just have to be careful when crossing the road or when taking a motorbike taxi. Taxis in China are very good and reasonable. Buses are quite efficient. Sometimes there are accidents on the road and therefore, delays. I have yet to experience any severe travel delays.
In winter, the weather is very cold both indoors and outdoors as they do not have central heating but they have heating fans. We wear coats, scarves and gloves indoors. If you wear plenty of layers and drinks lots of tea you shall stay warm.
In a lot of areas around China, privacy and hygiene are not acknowledged. When I stay in hotels or go out to eat, soap is not provided in the bathrooms and also the majority of places do not have Western toilets. However, you can buy hand sanitizer in a shop called Watsons, which stocks Western health and beauty products.
In my first week of teaching, I was ill as in Hunan they eat spicy food 3 times a day. To cope with this, I started cooking more at my apartment and now I can eat a lot more spicy food.
The Chinese landscape is filled with beautiful mountains. I have walked and climbed various mountains such as Xihu, Dawei, Yangshuo and drove to the Peak in Hong Kong. All of which, have spectacular views and I was able to take some great photos.
In China, there are temples everywhere. I have visited many temples in Liuyang, in the countryside and also in Yangshuo. The traditional Chinese architecture is very artistic and stunning to see.
Interview on local TV
During the Christmas festivities, I was interviewed by a local TV station and I also sang 2 Christmas songs. It was lots of fun! As a foreigner in China, you may get asked to do some promotional work.
Orange picking, Marjan and Green Tea
One afternoon, I went orange picking with Chinese friends in the countryside near to a big river which was surrounded by mountains. The view was beautiful and the oranges tasted good! Afterwards, we played a very popular card game known as Marjan and sipped green tea on the mountain side in the sunshine. It was a brilliant and surreal day.
One evening, a Chinese friend invited me to go dancing. I didn't know what to expect as I had never been to a dance club in China. It was in a hall with a stage, similar to Strictly Come Dancing except it was in the dark with old school flashy lights. It was great fun. We all had to dance with a partner and the dancing styles included waltz, salsa and Chinese traditional dance.
It's a tough question. I would have to say going to the Peak at night in Hong Kong, climbing Xihu Mountains in Liuyang and sightseeing in Yangshuo, Guilin. Not to mention, tasting real Chinese food as well as getting my haircut and styled for £3.
Amazing! (My adventure to China has turned out better than I ever thought it would).
My advice to anyone thinking of working abroad is to be open minded, try new things, be patient and take the time to talk to people. Also, learn about the culture and make an effort to speak the native language.
You can follow more of Katie's adventures in China at GlobalMcCann on Twitter. If you enjoyed this post please help others by sharing and tweeting it!
If this has inspired you to go travelling or teach abroad make sure you have travel insurance for your trip! Alpha offers Longstay travel insurance with cover for over 100 activities included free of charge!
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