One of our newest Teach in China teachers, Lucia Appelquist, has been living in Shenyang for about two months. Although she had previously lived and studied abroad in India for 4 months her junior year in college, she felt the desire again to be immersed in a new and different culture and decided to move to Northern China for 15 months. Read on for her reflections as a Westerner who has just settled in a new country!
Q: What inspired you to want to teach English in China? Had you lived abroad before?
It was after living for four months in India that I decided I needed to travel the world. The food! The people! The culture! I was an English major in college, so I meshed those two together to create my perfect job: teaching English abroad. China is fantastic for new English teachers. Jobs are rampant, there are many opportunities to travel, the cost of living is low, and the pay is enough to live very comfortably while still saving and paying off those pesky student loans.
Q: China can be an intimidating destination – how have you adjusted to the cultural differences?
China is an intimidating destination. Do you speak Mandarin? Eat with chopsticks? Like finding chicken feet in your soup? No? Then China may be a bit unusual to you. But, it’s all about attitude and perspective. Of course it’s going to be different, it’s on the other side of the world with a completely different history. I find that the best way to adjust is to find the positive and humorous side of the differences, and try to make your life in China as familiar as possible. I like to go on runs and exercise at the gym. I speak with friends and family members over Skype as often as I can. I read books and keep a journal. I treat myself to Western food whenever I feel like it (read: lots of pizza). I’m immersed in Chinese culture, but I’ve still kept my own culture close and precious.
Q: Tell us what a typical day is like for you!
On a typical workday, I wake up around six or seven (I know, I know, I’m a morning person), and make breakfast and coffee. On Wednesdays and Fridays I have Chinese class from 10:30-12 with a private tutor. Every other day, I’ll go to the gym around 10 and have lunch in town around 12. There is a dumpling place close to where I work that is so good I want to cry. I’ll get ready for work, and leave around 1:45 to get there at 2:00pm. Work goes from 2-9pm with a 40-minute break. On Saturdays and Sundays, I work from 8am-6:30pm and will go out to dinner after. Some days, my coworkers and other foreign friends I’ve met here will go out. There are so many options: open mic, KTV (karaoke), trivia, and Western, Chinese, Thai, Indian, Korean, and Japanese restaurants. In China, it’s never a typical day, but it’s always an interesting one.
Q: What’s your favorite thing about Shenyang?
There were places that I knew of in China: Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, etc. And then there were places that I knew nothing about, like Shenyang. Shenyang is an industrious Northern city, the capital of the Liaoning province, and is home to about eight million people. I still get to experience China in all of its glory, with tasty restaurants, beautiful parks, night markets and historical monuments. But I never experience gigantic crowds, tourists, high cost of living, and being scammed. Shenyang is still a big bustling city, but it has none of the downsides of being a major tourist destination. It also is the perfect mix of Chinese and Western culture. I can go some places and feel like I’m in the heart of China. Then, a bus ride away, I can be taken to a bar that serves pizza and is filled with foreigners, and I don’t feel so out of place. It’s become a weird, cozy little home to me.
Q: What is the school like that you work at?
The school is in the Rich Gate Mall located in the financial district of Shenyang. We have around eight to ten foreign teachers and ten to twelve Chinese teachers. Since contracts are only 15 months, people come and go. Each foreign teacher will get a Chinese teacher to help them during class, and some become friends. I went out to dinner with my CT (co-teacher) to a fantastic Brazilian restaurant yesterday. We teach children ages 3-12, and sometimes multiple age groups at once. It’s a fun, lively, and very friendly atmosphere. I feel lucky to call hanging out with adorable Chinese children and super-cool foreigners my job.
Q: What would you say to someone who is thinking about teaching abroad but may be on the fence about the decision?
If anyone is on the fence about coming to China or teaching abroad in general, the first thing they should know is… Everyone is! Who in their right mind would travel to a place unfamiliar and intimidating? No one, that’s who, which is why it takes the right amount of crazy and the blazing fire of inspiration under their rear to get them here. And that’s what you’ll find while you’re abroad: Amazing people who’ve traversed across seas all in the name of adventure. That’s a pretty special group to meet, and an even better group to be a part of.
Also…as unlikely as it sounds, your new life will start to get normal. You’ll still be you, eating, sleeping, and socializing. I spent the weekend in bed, eating ice cream and watching movies. Can you do that at home? You bet. But is the Great Wall of China an hour train-ride away? I’m guessing not.