CNY – Day 13 – Settling In

The last leg of this trip is being spent in Langkawi; an island in North Western peninsular Malaysia. We chose this island because the rainy season isn’t as bad here as it is on the east coast.

We’ve visited 4 destinations in this trip. Langkawi (top left) is our final stop

When we planned out this holiday, we were going to be staying in Langkawi from January 30th to February 6th. Of course, all of that has changed with the virus. Schools are now closed until the 17th (originally we went back to work on the 10th) and we don’t want to go back to China until we need to, for obvious reasons. So, we decided to stick around Langkawi until around the 14th instead.

Our setting during this stressful time…

All jokes aside, we have no idea how long we’re going to be here. A lot of different factors are at play. On one hand, our cats are being looked after and we can get pretty much everything we need here in Langkawi. The virus is still spreading in China, and doesn’t look like it’s going to relent very soon. Solid reasons to stay away.

And I mean… This is our back yard at the moment…

On the other hand, I don’t want to leave our cats for too long (I miss them so much!!!). My teaching responsibilities are resuming on time, although the school is staying closed until the 17th. I’ll be teaching online, which is a bit of a problem because my laptop is back in Suzhou.

Oliver misses me almost as much as I miss him!!

At this point, we’re just playing it all by ear. I think 5 weeks is the maximum I want to be away from the cats (that’s the longest we’ve ever been away from them), plus, life sort of needs to go on. Suzhou is quite safe and the virus hasn’t caused any deaths there. There are 54 cases total, and the virus hasn’t spread as quickly in Suzhou as in other places. We’ll be ok when we go back… The question is simply: “when?”

Suzhou is still a ghost town. Normally, you would see cars on the streets and people walking around. Right now though, people are staying indoors. (My friend Li took this photo. She’s still in Suzhou, waiting out the virus)

So, until Feb 15th at least, we are staying put. We can do laundry here and the guesthouse where we’re staying is owned by some really nice people. We have a pool and we rented a motorbike so we can get around easily enough. Food in the area is cheap and Malaysia hasn’t been hit hard by the virus. Malaysia has only actually had 8 cases so far, and all of them were Chinese nationals. We’ve chosen a very good place to ride this out.

Dave doing laundry in a very old machine. Still, it’s free and we can do our own laundry, which is nice. Plus, the Malaysian Sun dries our clothes in about 2 hours!

As far as relaxing here goes… We’re about as chill as we can be. Dave is still working and studying, and I’m getting ready to start making the video lessons that my students will watch from the safety of their homes. There are lots of beautiful birds in Langkawi and we’ve seen plenty of lizards too. We even saved one from drowning in the pool the other day!!

Poor little guy was startled when we came out of our room and ran straight into the pool! He couldn’t swim very well and couldn’t grab onto the side to get out so Dave basically splashed him out with a big handful of water. He just sat there in the sun for a few minutes, catching his breath. Poor little dude!

Between work, school and keeping up with the news, we’re making the most of our time here! I’ve got plenty more to write about so check back soon!

Dave, busy at work

Day 9: Winter in Danang

We knew before we booked that Danang wasn’t going to be a bit cooler than it had been in southern Vietnam. Still, it was an affordable holiday destination with great food and coffee!

Delicious Banh Mi!!

Our first few days here were actually lovely. We had Sun and relaxed on the beach. It was nice and warm, without being too hot to do things. Perfect weather.

Our first Hotel had a rooftop pool. It was a bit cool but perfectly comfortable in the sun

Then winter hit, the sun disappeared and we wished we’d packed more than 1 sweater each.

Our hotel in Hoi’an had a lovely pool but it was much too cold for us to swim in

Still, we aren’t ones to let weather dictate the quality of our holiday, so yesterday we head down to the hot springs near Danang to get some swimming in!

It was beautiful and up in the mountains, which was lovely!

On our drive there and then again on our drive back, we got drenched in little mini rain downpours, still it was worth the trip!

It was a beautiful drive either way!!

After drying off, we decided to do another bbq dinner at the night market. After we’d enjoyed yet another delicious meal there, we decided to do a bit if shopping, and had into the sales market. That’s when the skies REALLY decided to open!

They had to cover up all the merch and a lot of vendors started packing up after the rain hadn’t stopped 15 minutes later

The tarps covering each shop began collecting water quickly, as shop keepers pushed on the bulges to move the water in a direction away from their valuables! It was a bit like a game of wack’a’mole, trying to stop water from collecting in any particular area

Still, people kept shopping

We hung around until the weather cleared, and then walked a few streets down for the new year countdown. Why let a little rain ruin our fun??

We also got shirts made with our cats on them

My favorite picture of Oliver. This was the first time he climbed up on to of the cat scratch and he liked very pleased with himself!!

A perfectly comical depiction of Hugo

Poe either absorbs all the light in her photos, or she looks angry. There are no other photos of her haha!!!

Happy New Year to all my readers!!!!

The Life of an Expat

Being an English teacher has its challenges, but one of the biggest perks I have as a language teacher is that I can teach my lessons through a variety of lenses.  If I’m teaching about conditional voice, for example, I can have the students talk about which super powers they wish they had, or about regrets they have from the past.

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The super power I always wish for is teleportation.  That way I could see these cuties any time I want!

This year, I chose to teach my grade 9 students English through a lens I think everyone should consider: “Critical Thinking in Social Media”.  I introduced them to Snopes, discussed the power (and danger) of memes and we talked about subjects ranging from  gun control in the United States to South Korean fan superstitions.  My hope was that I’d teach them how to be considerate and intelligent Netizens, but I probably learned nearly as much as they did.

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Each week, I put students into groups and gave them an outrageous news article. I asked them to guess whether or not the information was true based on some ‘fact checking’ skills I’d taught them.  Then, I handed out the Snopes articles that verified the information.  Finally, they presented their findings (along with any new words they learned through the process) to their classmates.  It was a VERY worthwhile way to spend a few classes!

Our class discussions about the dangers of Social Media really got me thinking.  We discussed the idea that people rarely write about bad things that are happening in their lives, but instead tend to focus on the positive, making their lives look more glamorous and perfect that they really are.  In of itself, this isn’t a problem, but when others see those happy posts, they start to compare their own lives with the (perfect) lives that others present to the cyber world.

I try not to do this, but, of course, it can be difficult.  I haven’t been feeling particularly positive lately, so I thought this would be a good time to write about the negative aspects of living as an expat.  *Spoiler…it’s awesome…but like everything, it has its downsides*

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For example, I rarely post about all the food poisoning I’ve had in the last 4 years!

June is a hard month for a lot of reasons.  It’s the end of the school year, which is stressful for all teachers.  Between grading, report cards and final tests, teachers across the planet are barely holding it together every June.  When you’re an expat teacher, you have to also consider the stress of booking flights home, finding cat sitters, and spending 6 weeks living out of suitcases.  It’s stressful.

That’s not to say that I’d give up my trip home to avoid these stresses…but it is something a lot of people don’t think about when they think of what it’s like teaching abroad.  Other things include…

Saying Goodbye to Students

One event was particularly emotional for me this month.  My grade 9 students have been with me since my very first day at SFLS, and in September, they will be moving onto high school. Many of them will be moving abroad as well, so it’s not as though I’ll be seeing many of them again.   Their graduation was last Friday and although I promised myself I wasn’t going to cry (I even refused to bring tissue in an attempt to not even give myself the option), I ended up red in the face and tearier than I would like to admit.  When you love teaching…it’s easy to become attached to the kids you see every day for 3 years.

Still, I wish them all the best, and although it sucks to see them go, I have new students coming in next September, and they will provide new challenges and rewards for me and all their other teachers.

Expat Friendships

The friendships you form while living abroad are also a very important part of the expat life. I’ve made friends from all over the world, and although we’re all very different people with very different backgrounds, there is one thing we all have in common: we don’t really belong anywhere.

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Pictured here: 2 Canadians, a Chinese-Australian, an Argentinian and an American.  Some of my best friends in the world

When you’re away from home, having a good group of friends becomes increasingly important.  They’re who you spend Christmas with and they’re who help you through troubled times.  Most importantly, they’re the ones who understand you, because as much as people back home can try and empathize, they only really see the really good and really bad parts of being an expat…none of the ‘in-between-everday-stuff’.

Dave and I are far more outgoing and far more adventurous abroad than we ever were back home, and our social life is pretty awesome.  We spend lots of time going out for dinner, going to KTV, going to Salsa parties, and of course, I have my band.  All these things are done with friends…and 99% of my friends are currently expats, or people who were previously expats, but have moved back home to China.

Of course…when you are a nomad and surround yourself with other nomads…people enter and leave your life regularly.  It’s difficult because I understand it…but I hate it.  I also hate that soon I’ll be the one leaving people behind.  Already, I find myself wondering if I’ll ever find friends as good as the ones I have in Suzhou…

The ‘Home Dilemma’

Home becomes a really weird concept when you live abroad.  I like to say that ‘Home is where my cats are’, but in reality, I spend 3 months away from them every year.  I’d like to say that ‘Home is where you grew up’, but nobody in my family even lives in that tiny Manitoba town, so how can that really be home?  Steinbach never really felt like home for me, because I was too different from the local people.  Oddly enough, in some ways, Suzhou has been feeling more like home than anywhere I’ve ever been.  I’ve become a part of the community, through music, foodie groups and through school.

I think that living abroad changes you in that way.  Home isn’t as easily defined when you don’t ever quite fit in.  In China, I’m a minority.  I’m only one of a few thousand expats in a city of 8 million people.  Back home, it’s the same.  I’ve had such a different 4 years than most of my friends and family.  It’s difficult to explain your feelings about things when the people in your life see the world differently than you do.  It’s especially noticeable when talking about world politics or world events with people back in Canada.  It’s easy to talk about India’s poverty or an earthquake in Indonesia when you see it as some far off place, separate from you.  But when you can picture the smells and sounds of a place….when you’ve been there and it’s personal…you see those events very differently.

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This week a ferry capsized and sank in Northern Sumatra. Several people have been confirmed dead and more than 120 people are still missing. We took a ferry on that same route to Samosir Island back in February. It affects us differently than it will have affected people back home (who probably haven’t even heard about the accident)

What makes it especially hard is that we’ve never had any family or friends visit us here in China.  I know that it isn’t in everyone’s budget, and there are a thousand reasons why people can’t just hop on a plane and visit, but regardless of those reasons…it makes ‘home’ a difficult subject.  At the end of the day, China is currently our home, but the people we know and love back in Canada have no idea what our life is like in the place we call home.

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When family and friends do come visit, everyone gets excited. When Kim’s parents visited last year, we all went out for dinner together.

And that’s why I hound my family save up and come visit us…it’s not because I want to show them the sites or because I think China is the most beautiful place on earth….it’s because I want them to understand me.  I people back home to understand what life is like in the city I currently call home.

Always Missing Somewhere or Someone

And of course there’s the obvious reason it’s hard being an expat is all the stuff you leave behind at the end of the summer.  It’s great having stories to tell your family and friends…but I really do wish I had the power of teleportation.  Then, I wouldn’t need to miss everyone so much.

It isn’t All Bad

Of course, it isn’t nearly all bad.  June is probably my least favourite month of the year.  It’s difficult saying goodbye to students.  It’s difficult saying goodbye to friends.  Add that to the fact that it’s exam season and end of term…and I can’t believe it’s taken me 4 years to write this post.

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I can barely complain about my own stresslevels in June. Students in China write the Gaokao, which is the test that will get them into a good (or less than good) university. When the tests are done, kids choose a classroom, tear up their books and dump them all in a pile. This was this year’s classroom….

Still, there are a thousand things that being an expat allows us to do.  It sucks saying goodbye to friends…but it’s great meeting so many new people all the time.  It sucks only seeing our family and Canadian friends once a year, but we always have so many stories to tell them!  And being an Expat gives us so many opportunities that we’d never have back in Canada.  My band wouldn’t get nearly as many gigs if we weren’t ‘interesting foreigners’.  Of course, we could never afford to travel this much if we didn’t live in China.  And with Dave working from home, we were able to foster little Oscar.  Here are some pictures of Oscar to remind you of all the reasons I love being an expat!

Stay tuned!  I’ve got half a dozen more posts coming in the next month or so!!

November 17th

This is the hallway outside my office at school. As you can see, the hallway is mostly open to the outdoors. Many schools in China are designed this way.

On a warm sunny day, this doesn’t really affect me, but on days like today, when it’s cold and rainy…. My office is also cold and rainy.

Kids come in and out all day and usually leave the door open. Even after we (the expat staff) installed an automatic door closer, several of the teachers have taken to propping the door open with a magnet to “let the fresh air in”. The results are discomfort, damp homework and grouchiness.

I don’t know why schools are designed this way. It’s often quite dangerous. The floors were wet with rainwater all day today and I nearly slipped twice. Students routinely go running down these halls and I’m constantly worried someone is going to get hurt.

November 16th

This is my desk at work.  I like to keep it organised because I hate forgetting to do things and I REALLY hate not being able to find things.

I also love being able to remind the kids how organized I am when they claim I’ve been lost their work.  That’s fun.  

At home, I’m nowhere near as neat.  That probably has a lot to do with the amount of time I actually spend at my desk at home.  Working in my home office is a bit painful because it’s really hard to grade when you have a black cat batting all your markers to the floor and a 3 legged cat trying to jump into your lap.  

As a result, my desk at home acts as storage space more than it does a work space.

November 15th

Today we held our first Writing Center session.

A few weeks ago, one of the home room teachers approached me with an idea to launch a writing mentor program for some of the IG1 students.

These grade 7 students come to me with strong oral English, but their writing skills haven’t really been developed. They’ve learned basic grammar, of course, but don’t have much practice using it in written form until they reach middle school. This means I have a year and a half to teach them how to pass a Cambridge exam.

What makes my department unique is that we have students in grade 8, writing an exam meant for grade 10 students. It’s a tall order for a bunch of 13 and 14 year olds, but we make it work. I am actually very proud to say that my grade 8 class last year actually beat the grade 10 students in another department who wrote the exact same exam.

So when Tracy asked me if I’d help set up a tutoring program and pair up her grade 7 students with my strongest grade 8&9 students… I jumped on the opportunity.

Today was our first class. I chose 7 students from IG1 who I knew needed some help, and paired them with some volunteers. The results were fantastic. They worked together for the entire 40 minute lunch period and several students made arrangements to meet again outside of the Writing Center because they had run out of time but wanted to finish helping their mentees.

I teach the coolest kids.

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November 7th

A Typical Tuesday

  • I start my day at 7:30am, so I can be at work for around 9:30
  • From 9:30 – 12:00, I work on the IG English curriculum. This way, when I leave Suzhou, the work I’ve put into building the English program won’t go to waste.
  • Lunch is from 12:00 – 1:20. It’s a long lunch break and most of my Chinese peers spend the time napping or resting. I use the time to prep my afternoon classes.
  • 1:20 – 4:35 is spent teaching. I don’t have any morning classes on Tuesday, which is really nice. It makes for a busy afternoon, but that’s when I’m at my best… So I’m glad my classes are scheduled for then.
  • From 4:35 – 7:00, I spend my time tidying up my desk, traveling back to SIP and eating dinner with Dave.
  • From 7:00 – 9:30, I try and catch up on grading. This week alone, I have roughly 100 summaries to check for grammar, spelling, vocabulary, content and format. Each summary takes between 4-8 minutes to grade.
  • 9:30 -10:30 is excercise time. On weeks when I’m really busy I like to walk after I’m done grading. Sometimes I do yoga instead, or calisthenics if I happen to have energy left from the rest of the day.
  • 10:30 – 11:30 is time to wind down. Lately I’ve been watching Criminal Minds and Scrubs. Been going old-school.
  • 11:30 is time for bed.

That’s a Typical Tuesday for this Teacher.

November 2nd

Today’s photo may not look like much…

On the right, there is a student named Michael. He’s 15 years old and in my grade 9 class. He is inquisitive, hardworking and has a great attitude. I’ve been his teacher since 2015.

On the left is Tim. He’s new to IGCSE. He’s in grade 7, and his English skills are a fair bit lower than the rest of his class. Still, he has a positive attitude and a very encouraging home room teacher, so instead of giving up on his writing assignment, he asked for help.

Michael obliged.

These two students chose to spend their lunch hour today working together. I’d like to say it’s a happy coincidence, but so much has gone into this.

  • Encouragement from homeroom teachers and parents. Without their support, neither of these students would have been where they were today at lunch time.
  • A department that fosters a willingness to help. In IGCSE, students learn that helping others is both rewarding, and their responsibility.
  • An English teacher that believes that collaboration is the most effective way to learn language.

Being a teacher is about so much more than ‘reading, writing and arithmatic’. It’s my responsibility to teach these kids to be caring and compassionate people. It’s my job to teach them about responsibility and expectations. It’s my job to give them the confidence to reach out for help and to offer it to those in need.

This picture might not look like much, but today….I felt like a superstar.

November 2b

An Eventful End to Summer

It’s hard to believe that Dave and I have nearly been back in China for a month already! The past 3+ weeks have flown by possibly even faster than our time in Canada did! I sat down today with the intention of writing about Vancouver and realized that until I updated all the things that have been going on out here, I couldn’t focus on another topic. So here we go!!

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Here’s a picture of Suzhou’s iconic ‘Pants Building’ being cleaned. Just because…

I’ve Been Performing as a Lead Vocalist!

Until recently, I was working back up or in duets with The Chairmen. It’s been great fun playing with those guys, but when Kit (our fearless leader) approached me and asked if I’d do a duet show with our guitarist, Mark, I jumped on the opportunity. We’ve only done one show so far, but it was pretty cool singing all 3 sets by myself. Best of all, Mark is super flexible about what play, so I’ve been able to do a bunch of new stuff. It was a nice switch up after all the Adele and Stevie Nicks I’ve been doing since May!!


I’m Competing in the Suzhou Expat Talent Show!

This one came about in a bit of a crazy way…Back in July, one of the HR staff at my school contacted me about representing the school at some kind of school district party. I agreed because I knew I’d already be back in Suzhou by that point and all was good. They knew I cover Adele, so they recommended I do “Rolling in the Deep”. I was cool with it.

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We ran into our friend, Nick, at the show. He was there on behalf of his new school, Eaton House. (Also, my face looks like that because he was photobombing us)

Fast forward to the day of the ‘government party’…it turns out that this was less of a school district party and more of a ‘government beer party’. There was a full band there waiting for me along with about 100 government officials and 200 teachers (etc) from schools in the area.

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I had a tough act to follow…this (rather tone-deaf) district big wig sang some traditional Chinese songs before my performance

The real kicker was when HR Frank told me…about an hour before I went on…that if it went well, I would be representing Suzhou Foreign Language School in this year’s Expat Talent Show. Notice that he didn’t ask…

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Oh yeah, and that talent show will be televised and recorded in front of a huge audience. And it’s in 4 days…

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This band didn’t like me very much…They wouldn’t believe me when I said I did the song in A Minor (I don’t have a terribly high voice) and they refused to play it in my key. I had to sing it high, and I wasn’t as strong as I could have been, but it was alright…I guess…

It went well. Fast forward to 4 DAYS LATER (!!!!) and it was talent show time! There was a mix up with the band (mainly, there wasn’t one) but I lucked out when I learned that The Chairmen (my band) were also going to be performing (the rest of them all work for the same school). They ended up backing me for my song too, and the performance went pretty well! Here, you can see it yourself!!!

To my credit, I don’t feel like I looked as unprepared as I felt! I was very relieved to have Kit and Mark there! I also had a student come to see me perform, which was pretty awesome. I have awesome students. Have I mentioned that?

I have no idea what the results were for this show. From what I understand, they are going to be watching video auditions for the next month, and choosing people to go onto the second round from there. I just hope I find out with more than 4 days to prepare this time!!!
I Am Writing for a News APP and a Newspaper!!

The night of the talent show, I received a text message from an editor at Nihao Suzhou, an APP designed to help foreigners in China (it’s actually a branch of Nihao China…every city has their own, I believe). They had been for writers earlier in the week, and I’d inquired along with a link to my blog. The editor liked my work and asked me to write an 800 word piece about anything I wanted. A week later, I was published!

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The article was pretty successful and received over 2000 views in the first day. Carrie, my editor, told me to go ahead and write another article if I wanted, and I submitted that one today! Also, she was so happy with the article that she recommended it for publication in the Suzhou Daily Newspaper! So there’s that, too!
I Lost the Olympics

Dave and I decided that we wanted to be more social this year, so we’ve been busy trying ot get involved in the expat community. Dave’s joined a gaelic football team, I’ve been doing gigs (and everything else above)…and we subscribed to this really cool website called InterNations.

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The Olympic Athletes

InterNations plans all sorts of events across the city. The one we attended last weekend was held at the Kempinski Hotel, where there is a Paulaner Brewery. We got to learn about the ancient German art of beer making and we spent the afternoon playing games with a few friends we’d dragged along, and a LOT of new friends that we met at the event.

I did not win. Not by a long shot. But it WAS a blast! And I feel like we met some really cool people. It was definitely a good time and we’ll be attending another InterNations event next Friday.


School Started

September 1st was our first day of classes. I am transitioned into a full-time English teacher (no more cooking classes) and am getting to know my 2 new grade 7 classes! So far, my new coworkers are upbeat and awesome, and I’m having a great time!

So that’s been our last 3 and a half weeks! Pretty wild! Now I need to catch up on some sleep…

Teaching in China

Suzhou Foreign Language school’s Autumn semester begins on September 1st. As I prepare for my classes and plan out my term, I thought it might be a good idea to write a little bit about what it’s like teaching in China!

(Spoiler…it’s awesome!!)

I’m not going to lie…living abroad isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. When we arrived in Shanghai last week, after a sleepless 11 hour flight, I was not prepared to deal with the bus depot’s toilets or the long ride back to Suzhou. I wanted to get right back into the plane and return to Canada. But as I sat there, fighting back tears of exhaustion in the bus terminal, Dave reminded me that soon I’d be back at work, and that calmed me right down. I thought of all my students and all the plans I had for them this year, and I knew that everything would be okay. Teaching is what I was always meant to do and I can’t express enough how rewarding it can be. I’ve taught children as young as 3 years old, 50 year old business men and everything in between, and I’ve gotta say…it doesn’t matter what age or level you are teaching…being an educator is a blast!

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So pumped to see these guys again! Can’t believe they’re going to be in Grade 8 this year!!

No matter how awesome the job is, though, the beginning of the semester offers some rather large challenges. If you know about them ahead of time, it can help a lot, here’s a list of tips I have for teachers at the beginning of the term.
1.) Be Prepared!!!

I once had an interviewer ask me what my ‘super power’ is. I replied, without hesitation, that it is organization. My ability to stay on top of my chaotic life all goes back to my day planner. Without it…I am lost. I am the master of lists and checking off items is sometimes all that gets me through hectic days. But that’s the key…it DOES get me through!

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I started rubbing off on my students…at the beginning of the term, in food and nutrition, many of my students just left all their vegetables all over the counters…by the end of the 1st term, they were neatly putting things in bowls. They agreed that it made it much easier cooking this way!

I recommend check lists to everyone and everyone because they allow you to stay on top of everything (and not forget about important events or tasks!) but also because they can give you a real sense of accomplishment. I recently had a coworker tease me for having ‘start grade 7 ppt’ as one of my check-list items. He thought it was silly that I had only ‘part’ of a task listed as an item on my list.

So, I asked him: “What’s the hardest part of making your weekly Power Point?” He answered “getting it started…” Boom! Item #1 is done and once you start, it’s not nearly as daunting of a task.

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Literally, my day planner RIGHT NOW…I leave little boxes in front of the tasks so I can fill them in when I’m done! Also…notice the colour coding??? It’s an ongoing joke in the middle school that when a student asks if I have finished grading their work or if I know where something is, my response is ‘Of course! I am VERY organized!’

I also firmly believe in the power of lesson plans. I know countless teachers who go into their classes with an idea of what they’re doing…but with no physical plan. I honestly have no idea how they do it…I lose track of time, I miss items and I let the class get carried away in discussions when I don’t have a proper plan. Don’t get me wrong…discussions are great in an ESL classroom! It’s what you WANT!! But in your 8:30am writing class, it isn’t always good when little Tom asks me ‘what I like about Suzhou’ to try and distract me from teaching about Present Perfect tense…

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I am trying a new way of doing lesson planning this year. Last year I was doing much more detailed plans, but then I realized that my Power Points were pretty much all I needed. Now, I’m focusing on the big items I want to cover every week. I leave space for notes to comment on things that went well (or badly) and for information students who really excelled or may need extra help.

And going Macro…Term plans can also be an excellent idea, especially when you don’t have a book to teach from! Last year, none of my classes had actual textbooks, so it became very important for me to plan ahead to make sure I was covering all the material they’d need to know for their IGCSE exams. Even when I DID have a book to teach from, when I was teaching Elementary and Kindergarten, my term plans were crucial to making sure all content was covered. It was a simple outline for the term, but an outline nonetheless. I recommend these tools to anyone! (And if you have any questions about layouts or things you should have in any of these plans, shoot me a question in the comments section! I’m always happy to help a fellow teacher!)

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2.) But not too prepared…

This may seems silly…but in China, you need to expect things to change. Your classes might get moved around or cancelled at the last second. I’ve often walked into my classroom to find no students there…when I track down their homeroom teacher it’s usually because some other activity was planned and they forgot to tell me. This is normal in China. You have to roll with the punches because like it or not…these things are CONSTANT!

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Leading up to the Drama Festival I was losing my mind because each class was so important for rehearsal, and my classes kept getting cancelled so the students could go horseback riding…or because they had a dance rehearsal to go to instead…it was Maddening!!

These types of things used to drive me CRAZY until I had someone tell me the reasoning behind it. China is what is known as a ‘Shame Culture’. I’ve written about ‘saving face’ in previous posts, and that’s what’s coming into play here. Things are often planned at the last second in here because it reduces the chance of having to cancel events. Cancelling an event is very bad in Chinese culture and knowing that actually made me feel a lot better about the ways it affects me. People here aren’t stupid or disorganized…the cultural norms are just different. That is something VERY important to remember when living here!
3.) Be Prepared for all the September/October Holiday Mayhem

The beginning of term always takes it out of me… Whether you are in a Training Center, a Foreign Language School or an International school (the 3 basic types of schools in China). the beginning of term has many challenges to overcome.

First, you need to get back into the groove of things and find your flow in the classroom. Then, you have to get all of your ‘beginning of term admin stuff’ out of the way…then you have to deal with 2 holidays within the first month of teaching!!!

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“Teacher’s Day” is also a mini holiday (no time off) in September. Students bring you all sorts of little goodies and the school makes you feel very appreciated!!

Mid-Autumn Festival is a lovely holiday (one of my favourites!) celebrated by getting together with family and eating Moon Cakes. It takes place in the beginning of September and it usually means a 3 day holiday for teachers.

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Delicious, Delicious moon cakes!!!

Then, there is China’s “National Day”, which actually lasts a week. It’s known in the tourism industry as “The Golden Mess” because there are literally over 1 billion people all on holiday at the same time in China! The regular tourist sights are PACKED and even the lesser known sights are still teaming with people. We traveled to Xiamen our first year in China during the holiday and it was uncomfortable trying to get anywhere, because you were shoulder to shoulder with tourists…

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Beijing…literally, shoulder to shoulder….

And then there’s the other problem with all these days off…Holidays are great, but they REALLY mess with your schedule! In China, if you are given 3 days off, it doesn’t necessary mean that you don’t owe some of them back. For example, this year, Mid-Autumn festival falls on September 15,16 and 17 (a Thursday, Friday and Saturday). In order to make up for that time off, schools open on Sunday and the week following the holiday becomes a 6 day week, with 2 Tuesdays in it. My first year, I had to have someone sit me down and draw a chart so I understood what was actually happening and when I had to work!!

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4.) Form a Good Relationship with your Co-Teachers/Homeroom Teachers

I cannot stress enough how important this is! It seems like common sense…who doesn’t want to get along with the people they work with? But too often I see people treat their Chinese counterparts in the education system poorly (and vice versa). There seems to be a mentality at some schools (and even in some departments at my own school) that it’s US vs THEM!!! This is SO counterproductive!

I’ve always tried my very best to be kind to the people I work with…to me that’s just common decency. When I was at the training center, I became good friends with Talia and Kayla. They weren’t teachers, but they were the people who helped me translate for parents and made sure that parents got important information about homework and students’ progress. Now, I work at a Foreign Language school where I’m co-teaching with Chinese teachers. We may not always see eye to eye on the way some things should be handled (education systems vary greatly from country to country!), but I always try to find a reasonable compromise.

I also do my best to never to create more work for my co-teachers. I’ve worked with teachers that wait until the last minute to do their progress reports or who don’t grade their papers until they’re told they HAVE to, even when they know that their Chinese counterpart needs them to finish up before they themselves can begin. Once more, I feel like this should be common sense, but I’ve seen it happen SO many times!!!

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Too often, Expats won’t even invite their Chinese coworkers out to dinners and things. I always make sure to invite anyone and everyone in my office and a lot of the time, they come out! Ivy (in the middle) has been such a good friend to me over the past year…I can’t imagine how I could have gotten through some things without her (like when I went to the ‘acupuncturist’ and when we got Hugo and Poe.) I don’t understand why people don’t put in more effort with one another!

This doesn’t only extend to the classroom either. Staff rooms can be tricky when you have a mixture of different cultures together. For example, the Chinese staff typically don’t want to have the air conditioners on in the summer or the heaters on in the winter. It’s a belief in China that they both blow dirty air, so they prefer to open the window. I run hot, so this has always been an issue for me in summer, but I compromised and bought myself a fan. On days where it’s particularly humid, I ask if I can turn on the AC for 15 minutes or so, to dry out the air. Then, when the room is cool, I turn it off again! There’s no need to be demanding…you’re in THEIR country! And it’s amazing, because 9 times out of 10, when you are respectful, so are they!!! I didn’t even have to ask by the end of the year…my dear friend Ivy would go and switch on the AC when it started to get uncomfortable.

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One of my Grade 5 classes at Interlingua. Notice they’re all in parkas? Parents frequently requested that we turn off the heaters so that their kids wouldn’t ‘get sick’.

5. Extra Work = Extra Awesome!

I’ve found in China (and pretty much everywhere else in the world too) that the better you are at your job, the more you are asked to do. It can be a bit much sometimes when you’re an overachiever (I may fit that description…), but I always remind myself that I am asked to do things because I’m doing well. The bright side of those extra projects is that you expand yourself SO MUCH when you take them on! Last year I organized the school’s first yearbook and hosted the annual Drama Festival, both in the second term.

Both events were SO fantastic!!! Not only did the students work hard, but they also saw ME working hard…that does wonders for your relationship with them. When they know that a teacher actually cares about them…it’s like the game changes a little bit. There are so many foreigners teaching China that are only here for the visa and so they can live abroad….and that’s okay! That’s how I started out too…but then I fell in love with the job and now, I take that job very seriously! And students can always tell when they have a teacher who is present and putting in effort vs the teachers that show up and do what they have to do.

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The Yearbook was such a worthwhile project as well…not only was it a lot of fun to put together, but it really expressed what it’s like being in the IGCSE department at Suzhou Foreign Language School

Being a positive influence is SO important. As an educator, I know that my students are learning more from me than just what is coming out of a text book. My boss, Nathan, is a prime example of teaching through doing…As I’ve mentioned before, he does a lot of work with Migrant schools and other charities around the city, and this year, our grade 8 class organized a big fundraiser for the migrant schools Nathan works with! It was so awesome watching them find ways to raise money and they really did a great job! Students are watching you ALL the time! Be an inspiration!!

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I encourage Michael to be more positive all the time (he tends to mope a lot…). I was surprised when I saw this on one of his worksheets. He aspires to be more optimistic (a word I taught him!) because I’m optimistic. That’s the biggest reward I could ask for as a teacher!

6.) Have Fun with It!!!

Lastly, make sure to have fun teaching!! It’s an AWESOME job and at most schools you are given plenty of opportunities to let your own skills shine. I mentioned earlier that I didn’t have textbooks for any of my classes last year. That may have intimidated some teachers (which is why my boss offered me a few textbooks I could follow along with if I needed), but for me…it meant I got to be creative.

In Food and Nutrition, I decided to teach my students about culture and how it relates to food. I did focuses on Mexico, Brazil, Jamaica, Italy, France, India and then I also taught them about December Holidays around the world (and the foods people eat during those holidays). It ended up being a tonne of fun! Because I’m so interested in both travel and cooking, I was able to shape this class around my own interests and talents. It worked out well for everyone, I think!

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At Easter, I taught my Grade 7 girls to dye their deviled eggs. When I taught them about Jamaica, we made Jerk Seasoning and had topped some deviled eggs with it (SOOO good!). They liked the dish so much they asked if we could do it again!

For Drama, I used my writing skills and training to have the students write their own plays for the drama festival! I’m also very competitive and I turn everything into competitions within my classroom. The students ended up LOVING the way we chose which play we’d perform in each class.

The Drama Festival was a huge success because I used the skills I had to make it happen. Best of all, I learned a lot along the way! I’d never been given an opportunity to direct before, nor had I ever coordinated an event like that. I developed new skills while using skills I already had. It was a perfect combo 🙂

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One of the groups in my Grade 8 Boys class presenting their play to the other students. They were actually the winners and the whole class had a great time learning their parts

So that’s the beauty of my job! I decided to try and keep my posts shorter this year, but as I was writing, I just couldn’t stop! I’m far too in love with my job and have so much advice to give!! I do hope that you’ve found this informative and if you’re teaching in an ESL classroom yourself, and if you are just reading to know what it’s like to be a teacher, I hope you got a good idea of how awesome my job is 🙂

If you have any comments or questions about anything I do…feel free to as in the comments section below! Thanks for checking in!