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How I Stayed Sane While Experiencing Culture Shock in China. Part 5: The Adjustment

When the depression finally hit me in China, I made a conscious choice that I wasn’t going to let it ruin my time here. I decided not to give in to the homesickness, focus on my work and try to learn about the things I didn’t understand, instead of just complaining about them. I also knew that my time in Changsha was going to be limited. Once I would finish my internship, I would likely move somewhere else, and I’d have a chance to start over fresh.

This method isn’t necessarily the magic cure, just bite down and focus on work, but for me, it helped. Focusing myself on working and learning as much as I could about my surroundings, meant that I kept myself busy (too busy to think about other things), and I also accumulated a lot of knowledge about the local culture, customs and their way of life. For some, they’ll need to focus more on physical activities, or do sports or go to the gym like they’d do in their home country to feel more at home. We are all different, and we will need different ways of dealing with the depression phase, if and when it sets in.

Doing observation classes with teachers and the school principal at my school in Changsha.

After a while, things started to get better. Once you start to accept your new surroundings and how different everything is, you can focus on learning more about it, understanding it and take it in to make it part of your new life. You won’t be able to live in the same way as you did back home. Luckily for me, I didn’t want to. I moved to China to explore something different, to live differently and more independently than I had ever done before. But when I first arrived, I still had blinders on, expecting the Chinese people to behave like Danish people. It doesn’t work like that, and you have to embrace it, learn from it and make it part of your new life.

It isn’t quite as easy as it sounds, and it takes a bit of work finding a suitable compromise between being who you are and changing just enough to fit into your new surroundings. You learn to appreciate the 2-hour lunch break, the energy of the people around you, the funny little things you see every day that you’d never see back home. You also learn to be flexible. Danish people tend to love schedules and to have plans for weeks ahead. In China, things are sometimes more fluid, and you have to adjust your plans a lot. That used to bother me a lot at first, but now, it is just a way of life.

I have learned to embrace and love the life I live now. I still miss Denmark, and how quiet and calm everything is. As I am writing this, I am back in Denmark on holiday for three weeks, and I love everything about being back home. Being home makes me realize how much I am missing all the things I took for granted when I lived here more than seven years ago now. Which brings me to my next article, about Reverse Culture shock, which is what you experience when you have been away from home for a while and come back to what your life used to be, which is typically quite different from your life in China. It can sometimes feel like Culture Shock all over again, but in your own country and in your own home.

The Nasty Truth About Teaching ESL in China

Anyone who spends ten minutes reading online reviews of schools in China knows this: teaching English in China is a horrible, miserable experience you wouldn’t wish on anyone.

But why is it when people come here and actually speak to expats who have been teaching for a while, they hear a different story? Their friends say: it’s fun, they love their school, and they plan on staying two or three more years.

The reason is simple: selection bias. Wikipedia says selection bias occurs when, “…groups or data for analysis in such a way that proper randomization is not achieved, thereby ensuring that the sample obtained is not representative of the population intended to be analyzed.”

So what is it about the people who write these horrid reviews of ESL schools that skews the sample? Generally speaking, those who gather on ESL threads to bash their school are negative people who’ve developed a herd mentality. They say “misery loves company,” and what better way to increase your feeling of self-worth than to join into a frenzied mob of disgruntled teachers with an ax to grind?

Their posts often start like this: “I worked at Blah Blah Blah English School for three years and boy they were a bunch of….”.

Riiiiight. So, this place was so incredibly terrible you stayed for how many years?

Many people forget an important fact: You’ll have problems at your job in China….just like you did at your job at home! There’s no such thing as a “perfect job,” and being able to cope with difficulties in your workplace is a part of life. Learning how to deal with these problems means you’re not lying when you write, “Works effectively in cross-cultural settings.” on your CV.

There’s also a subset of people in China who “can’t hack it” in their home country, and are forced to stay in a foreign country for much longer than they’d like. They’ll tell you how much they hate the food, the people, their school, etc. If you talk to this person long enough, you’ll probably also discover they think their home country is rubbish, too. These people have no business teaching, especially teaching children!

 
Okay, okay – I’ll get off my soapbox now! Do you want to know the truth about teaching ESL in China?

  1. You’ll be surrounded by the laughter of happy children every day
  2. You’ll work with a diverse group of really interesting people
  3. You’re doing something bold and growing as a person
  4. You’ll see sights, eat foods, hear sounds, and smell smells you never imagined
  5. You’ll earn good money while doing work that’s challenging and rewarding

I know it can be pretty shocking to hear, but that’s the nasty truth! The people who teach overseas (and stay because they love it) generally don’t spend their hours trolling ESL message boards. Ya’ know, because they’re outside…enjoying their life. Maybe eating dumplings, or climbing a mountain, or writing in their journal.

 

Have you spent a year or more teaching overseas? We’d love to hear your thoughts and stories! If you have incredible travel photos, please send them our way!

Also, if you’d like to learn more about how to become a guest blogger, write us at info@eslsuite.com with the phrase “Guest Blogger” in the SUBJECT LINE.

Written by Christopher Ribeiro | Managing Director at ESL Suite

roundedChristopher came to Tianjin via Buffalo, New York, and Los Angeles. He’s lived in China since 2009, and has traveled to over 20 countries on six continents. Christopher has been in teaching and recruiting for over five years – he’s the co-founder of ESL Suite, a husband, and father to two strapping little boys. If he’s not at work, you’ll find him in the gym, or narrowly dodging oncoming traffic on his fixed-gear bicycle.

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4 Things I Wish I Knew When I Started Teaching

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Having been in the ESL industry in China for many years I’ve seen the ins and outs, ups and downs, and trials and tribulations of the ESL teacher.

The joy of getting through to that first child – the frustration of encouraging a challenging student, week after week, in the hope that you’ll help them achieve the potential you know they’re capable of.  I’ve been there.  I’ve done that.  I’ve spilt paint on the shirt during the craft stage of the lesson.

Having been through the trenches of teaching under pressure, when sick, or when missing home – there are a few nuggets of truth and wisdom I  have to offer – if you’re open to hearing them.

YOUR KIDS WILL PULL YOU THROUGH.

When you first arrive in China, as with any country you’re settling into for a year, we’re exposed to new bugs and “nasties” – colds we’ve never been exposed to, food that’s playing havoc on our tummies.   Trust me, it happens to all of us: you’re in your new job wanting to make a good impression, but all you want is Mom.  You dread the idea of a dozen excitable kids waiting for you on the other side of that door.

The funny thing is – it’s the kids that are going to pull you through that class.  Remember, you can’t fool kids – they’re a notoriously honest audience – you can’t fake it.  Level with them.  Tell them you’re not feeling great and you want them to treat you with a little tenderness today.  You’d be surprised how the most rambunctious boisterous boys will be offering to bring you a tissue or pick up the pen you just fumbled to the floor for the 40th time today.

DON’T SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF.

The pursuit of perfection is enough to drive any teacher of young learners ’round the bend.   There’s only SO PREPARED you can be for a class.  You’ll eventually come to terms that KIDS WILL BE KIDS – and we should celebrate them for it.   You’re likely to encounter the repeated audio onslaught of a box of pencils being dropped from the desk to the ground and rolling everywhere.  First time, okay.  Second time, really?  Third time, now you’re doing it on purpose.  Fact is kids will be kids, they’re clumsy and energetic and their arms and legs are longer than they were last week.   Learn to enjoy them for what they are and use their energy and silliness to keep you young in the classroom.

LAUGH AT YOURSELF WITH YOUR STUDENTS, BUT NEVER AT THEM.

Don’t learn this one the hard way like I did.   Students will happily spend an hour drawing ridiculous clothes on a print-out of you, and they’re likely to give some weird names too – especially when they’re learning new vocabulary. How often have you had a 5-year-old say “Teacher is a pencil.”  Not funny at all right?  But you laugh anyway cause we’re teachers and we’re approachable and we have a connection with the funny guy.   Allowing the kids to feel safe in your company – safe to express themselves and try out new things with the language will result in hours of giggles and chuckles – but there’s a big difference between laughing AT a mistake and laughing WITH someone who made a mistake.  Kids are emotional creatures still figuring out how to react and build a thicker skin – feeling laughed AT is going to shut them up faster than a clam in low-tide.   Learn to find the moments of humor in the lesson, don’t take what your kids say personally (no, you don’t really look like a monkey), know when to laugh and when to empathize and encourage.

AND FINALLY….

HAVE PASSION FOR WHAT YOU DO.

Think back to your favorite teacher from kindergarten or primary school.  If you’re as old as I am (that was a good few rotations round the sun ago), I honestly don’t remember WHY Mrs. Urry was my favorite teacher.  I remember getting in trouble, being told to stand at my desk, not earning the gold star because I was talking to my desk-buddy…I was that challenging kid!  So how could it be that she would be my favorite teacher?  Because, she always gave me another chance.   She helped me get that gold star, she reminded me that talking during reading time is rude to the others who want to read, and that when there are 20+ kids in a class – sometimes you got to give a lady a break.   The point is I remember her forgiving smile and encouraging aura.  I don’t remember the words she used to encourage me but I remember the feeling.  Wouldn’t it be nice to be that teacher to someone?

 

Teaching is a work of passion – and the kids are going to teach you as much, if not more, about whom you are as a teacher and as a person.  It taps into that sense of nurturing even the most macho men would try denying.   Whether you’re asking hyperactive Emma to sit down back in her chair for the 1,000th time, or giving Leo a high-five for finally nailing his spelling test this week – enjoy your kids – enjoy the chance you’ve been given to make a difference in someone’s life.  We’re educators – we were born to make a difference.

Written by Matt Zweig | Recruitment Associate & Blogger at ESL Suite

644372_829753400381070_7018025203776288672_n Matt is a born and bred Capetonian from South Africa and has been living and working in China since 2010. He’s worked in many different departments of the ESL industry, and won the SINA GOLDEN TEACHER OF THE YEAR award in 2014. Matt became a recruiter so he could share his love of teaching in China with the rest of the world. Matt’s favorite China moment was a shopping trip to Hong Kong in 2013.

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Teach English in Tianjin: NOW HIRING at Public Schools & Universities

Great news for job seekers in China: There are still plenty of jobs at public schools and universities in Tianjin. Interested parties may apply to the link, or with the email address listed at the bottom of the post. You may apply yourself or refer a friend. I hope to hear from you soon!

Overview:

We’re seeking teachers for public school and universities across Tianjin Municipality. Public schools and university positions have the benefit of a regular work schedule, and the schools offer fully comprehensive curriculum with lesson plans and teaching materials provided, plus induction training upon arrival.

About Tianjin:

Tianjin is best known as the main port of entry for China’s northeastern manufacturing corridor. It’s the largest coastal city in the north and is just a stone’s throw from the capital – going to Beijing is a 30-minute ride by high-speed rail.

Tianjin has a rich history and has many examples of old British and Italian architecture. The famous Italian Concession Area has the largest cluster of Old Italian architecture outside of Italy. Other local attractions are the Huanyaguang section of the Great Wall, the Tianjin Eye and Tianjin’s Ancient Culture Street. Outside the city centre is Binhai, which includes Tanggu and TEDA (Tianjin Economic Development Zone). These areas are home to much of Tianjin’s commercial activity and is one of the engines driving the city’s rapid economic growth.

Job Title:

English Teacher in Tianjin, Tianjin Municipality | Public Primary/Secondary Schools and Universities

Contract Duration:

1 September 2015 – 30 June 2016

Responsibilities:

  • Teach classes of 25-45 students
  • Up to 25 classes weekly; full-time position (40 total hours)
  • Teaching oral English, preparing class activities
  • Monday – Friday schedule (weekends off)

Requirements:

  • Native English speaker from United States, Canada, UK, Australia, South Africa, Ireland, or New Zealand
  • 24-60 years old (to meet work visa age restrictions)
  • Bachelor’s degree or higher from an accredited university
  • Teaching experience is preferred
  • TEFL/TESOL certification
  • A clean criminal record
  • Excellent physical and mental health
  • Must be able to commit to a one-year contract

PLUS:

  • Sociable, positive and hard-working
  • Culturally inquisitive
  • Looking for a challenge

Remuneration:

  • Salary CNY 8,000 – 15,000/per month (commensurate with the teacher’s qualifications and experience)
  • Overtime paid at CNY 100/hour
  • Apartment allowance CNY 2,000/month OR a fully furnished single apartment (inquire during the interview for details)
  • Flight allowance CNY 5,000
  • Contract completion bonus CNY 3,000
  • Z-visa and residence permit
  • Health insurance
  • Paid Chinese holiday (11 days)
  • 7-days unpaid annual leave
  • Additional unpaid leave is negotiable with adequate prior notice
  • Unpaid holiday during summer and winter break (with the OPTION to work at private schools, international kindergartens, etc.)
  • Comprehensive cirriculum, lesson plans, and teaching materials provided
  • Teaching assistants for classes with young students *Induction training after arrival
  • Arrival support (airport pickup, arrange local bank account, phone, etc.)

How to apply:

If you are interested in applying for this position, we kindly request you prepare the following materials:

  • Your resume/CV
  • A recent photograph
  • Scan copy of your passport information page
  • Scan copies of your degree and TEFL/TESOL certificates
  • Your current location and preferred start date

Option 1: Apply through the link.

Option 2: Apply through email (jobs@eslsuite.com) and write “Tianjin Public School – WP” in the Subject Line of the email.

Due to the volume of applications received, please understand it may not be possible for the company to contact each candidate individually. A recruitment professional will be in contact with you if we are interested in pursuing your candidacy further.

Thank you again for your interest in this position, and for choosing ESL Suite to assist you with your job search in China!

Sincerely,

Christopher Ribeiro

Managing Director at ESL Suite in Tianjin

Why Study TESOL?

Thinking about teaching ESL overseas?
Thinking about teaching ESL overseas?

A TESOL certificate is your passport into the thrilling field of Teaching English overseas. There are over 300 million people studying English in China alone, so your job prospects after completing the course are fantastic.

But, this question should really be: why do you want our TESOL Certificate Course over all others? We provide a comprehensive course, which includes practicum here in Tianjin, an online specialization, and lifetime career support. We prepare our students for all aspects of life overseas.

What is TESOL? Teaching English overseas is a word full of acronyms. Here’s an overview: TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language), TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language), and TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) all teach English to non-native English speakers. The difference is: TESL is for teaching in an English speaking country while TEFL is for teaching English abroad. TESOL encapsulates them both. CELTA (Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) is the British equivalent to the TESOL, but the 80-hours a TESOL student completes at their own pace is done in a classroom setting.

Why would I want a TESOL Certificate instead of a TESL, TEFL, or CELTA certificate? A teaching certificate is an investment, so it’s important to think about the upfront costs, and the return on investment. CELTA is very well-known, but a TESOL can be completed in less time, and at a fraction of the cost. The last part is important, because unless the job you’re applying for specifically calls for a CELTA, you’ll probably be able to get the same job with a TESOL.

Which study options does ESL Suite offer? We have two different methods of study. The first is our In-class course which is offered in Tianjin, China. This is the preferred method of completion. Classes are fun, lively, and full of like-minded people. Students learn from each other, as well as the instructor. If you cannot find the time or cannot attend the course in China, you can take the course online. There is no difference in the materials covered, regardless of the method of study. So, it’s simply a matter of deciding which learning style is best for you, while taking into account your budget and schedule.

What kind of job can I get after I complete the course? When teaching abroad, you may teach students of all ages. Children as young as three go to English kindergartens, while senior citizens study English as a hobby. You might teach primary or secondary students, businessmen, housewives, other teachers, or people who study English to improve their job prospects. Most schools focus on one or two age groups, so if you have a very strong preference for a specific age, make sure you’re placed accordingly. English teachers are in high demand in China, South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey, and the Middle East, so it’s also a good idea to start thinking about which location fits your broader personal/professional goals.

How can I get started? We have weekly information seminars in Tianjin, but for those who don’t live nearby, we’re happy to answer questions by phone,email, or schedule a consultation via Skype. The course dates are listed below, and you may register for one of our sessions here.

2015 Courses

  • October 14-18
  • November 4-8
  • December 2-6
2016 Courses

  • January 20-24
  • February 24-28
  • March – Dec: TBD

“Friends of the Firm” Referrals: Don’t forget to tell a friend! We believe there’s no better source for teachers than from a trusted friend! That’s where you come in. We offer generous bonuses for referrals to our TESOL courses, or for successful teacher referrals. Here’s how it works:

  • Online TESOL referral: $50
  • In-Class TESOL referral: $100
  • Teacher referral: $100

***Bonuses are paid for TESOL referrals after the student has paid in-full; for teacher referrals 3-months after the teacher arrives in China. 

There’s no better motivation to launch your overseas teaching career than to enroll in a TESOL course. I did it seven years ago, and it completely changed my life. I came to Tianjin in 2009 and haven’t looked back. In the meantime, I’ve traveled to Japan, Korea, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, India, Indonesia, and at least a dozen other countries! And, I’m not alone – for many people, teaching English and traveling the world becomes a preferred lifestyle choice.

The Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago; the second best time is now.” Your dreams also may be waiting for you just around the corner – get started today!

http://www.eslsuite.com

Establish Yourself as a (Likable) Authoritative Teacher

When I was in primary school, I had enormous respect for my teachers. I didn’t always behave well, but I was a good student and hardly ever got into trouble. I knew my teachers well, and I had a good idea of how much fun I could have in class before my teachers would get angry with me. I was attentive, did my homework, and behaved. However, when we had a substitute teacher, things were different. It was like it was a lesson without consequence. Substitute teachers rarely got mad, wouldn’t call your parents, and if you forgot your homework they wouldn’t care. They were always nice and played games, so we liked them but didn’t respect them. At least not as much as we respected our regular teachers.

In China, I feel there’s a similar comparison between Chinese and Foreign teachers. I’ve seen it in all three schools I’ve worked for. The local Chinese teachers command a lot of respect in the classroom, the students seem very disciplined, and the classes run smoothly. But, as soon as the Foreign teacher starts, the students flip a switch and go into “play mode”. They test your limits, act up, and if you scold them in English they don’t understand. I’ve seen many examples, including myself, of foreign teachers being treated like a “play uncle” in the classroom. Although our teaching style is often more interactive than Chinese teachers, it’s not how the students should be perceiving us. We should command the same respect from the students as their Chinese teachers do.

When you first start teaching a class, it’s important that you show yourself as an authority figure early on. It’s easy to be too sweet at first because we want the students to like us. However, if you’re too much fun at first, they’ll always think you’re playing around and not being serious. It’s easier to start strict, then gradually ease into a friendlier version of yourself. But, it also means being patient with the students because they won’t fall in love with you as fast as they otherwise would. In the long run though, they’ll respect you more, and will treat you more like an authority figure.

As with anything new, you should start any new class with setting clear rules and boundaries. Let the students know what they can and can’t do, what you expect of them, and ask them what they expect of you. Getting the students involved in the rule-making process is also a good idea, because it gives them ownership. With older students, you can simply take the first class to discuss class rules and expectations. With younger students, it’ll take longer, but it can mostly be done through games and activities. Teach them words like “stand up,” “sit down,” and other vocabulary related to classroom instructions and rules.  Practice with the students, and be strict at first so they know your boundaries.

In my opinion, it’s important to find a balance between being strict and nice. A good teacher never needs to yell at students, but always has clear rules, and consistent methods for punishing bad behavior. In my classes, I have a scoreboard for each student. When they do well they earn points, represented by checks; when they do something they’re not supposed to, I erase their checks. Students quickly learn what earns and costs checks, and they behave accordingly. I have taught my current students for about two years; now they know me well enough to know how much they can play around, and when to sit down and listen.

There’s a maxim for teachers to establish discipline early on in their classes: “Don’t smile until Christmas.” This may be an exaggeration, but it’s true that establishing clear rules and discipline is easier if you start early. Kids feel more safe in a classroom with clear rules; this leads to better academic performance from the students, and less stress for the teacher!

By: Mikkel Larsen

Mikkel Larson

Mikkel is a Chongqing based teacher, blogger, and photographer. He’s lived in China since 2010, and can be found blogging here, here, and here

How to Survive Your First Three Months in China

Moving abroad can be an exciting time – it can also be really scary! There’s a lot to think about and take in, with a new culture, new food, a new language, and new people. Whether it’s your first time or your 50th time (lucky you!) moving abroad, it doesn’t hurt to have a helping hand. So, I’ve put together a short guide on how to survive your first three months in China.

Street food – One of the first things I wanted to do when I landed in China was sample the delicious street food. I love trying new foods from around the world, and street food is some of the best food out there. BUT, when you’re trying street food in China (and most other places for that matter), the key is to go easy at first. Your body (most importantly your stomach) is still adjusting to a new environment, and going hard on the street food early on will likely mean a few extra trips to the bathroom than you bargained for.

Spitting – If you’ve done a bit of research ahead of time, you’ll have found that spitting in China is very common. Most foreigners find this difficult to adjust to when they first arrive. To be honest, I didn’t find it that hard to get used to. For me, it’s just another sound you hear when walking the streets. If you find it bothers you, try to tune it out and focus your other senses on something much more pleasant (like the amazing smells of street food!).

Air Pollution – It’s no secret that China has some of the worst air pollution in the world. Some days can be quite shocking – you can’t see the sun and people back home comment on the ‘fog’ in your photos. There are also days that are just gorgeous, with blue skies and fluffy white clouds (particularly after rains), so as they say, you take the good with the bad. You’ll definitely learn to really appreciate the crisp, clear days when living in China. Also don’t be afraid to wear a mask on days of high pollution, as most people do, and there are even apps you can download which show the pollution levels in your area each day.

Health – Most expats you talk to in China will tell you that at around three months in, you’ll get sick. At about my two month mark, I thought this was just something people said to sound ‘seasoned’. But sure enough, three months after I’d arrived in China, I came down with a pretty bad cold where I lost my voice and had to stay in bed for several days (not a great situation for a teacher to be in). To try to avoid this, or at least lessen the symptoms, I recommend a multi-pronged attack! Try eating plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables (the local markets are great for these), getting regular exercise, taking multivitamins, and wearing a mask on days with high pollution levels (and during peak cold and flu seasons).

Driving – For me, roads in China really are the definition of ‘organized chaos’. There are so many crazy turns, varied speeds and traffic jams that wouldn’t work back home, but here seem like a natural part of the flow. You’ll see people stop randomly in the middle of the road, drive the wrong way down the street (sometimes in reverse), drive on the sidewalk – and this includes cars, trucks, bicycles, electric bikes, and motorbikes. The best way to deal with this is to stay alert if you’re driving or walking – make sure you look both ways even when you don’t think you need to – and simply marvel in the wonder that is driving in China.

Staring – No matter what you look like, how you dress and what you say, as an expat in China, you’re going to attract attention. This attention will vary from passers-by yelling ‘hello’, to people trying to strike up a conversation with you (in Chinese, even if it’s clear you don’t understand), to prolonged staring. Whilst you’ve most likely been taught that staring isn’t polite, here it’s just part of the culture. You’ll see Chinese people staring at each other all the time, it’s just that you’ll get more of the stares, and for longer. It’s best just to embrace this part of the culture in a light-hearted way and smile, wave or say ‘hello’ or ‘ni hao’ (or all three!).

Hopefully, this short guide on how to survive your first three months in China will help you prepare for your move, or maybe even help you cope with some of your feelings of culture shock.

What are your tips for surviving your first 3 months in China? Tell us below.

DSCN6110  Penny de Vine is a thirty-something Australian freelance writer with a love for travel and trying anything new! You can follow her on Twitter or Facebook.

Make your students laugh (at you)!

Fun with students
Mikkel having a laugh with primary students.

The use of humor—especially self-deprecating humor—is a fantastic skill to have as an ESL teacher. Making sure your students have a blast while learning English is important, but you shouldn’t make “having fun” the most important goal of your lesson. Having fun is….fun—it can inspire students to work hard for you—but you also need to make sure they learn something. The novelty of being a foreign teacher eventually fades, so it’s important to balance fun and laughs with enriching content. If you learn to do this, you’ll have a captive audience every class.

Foreign ESL teachers teach English in a different way than most Chinese teachers do, and at first I didn’t understand the difference. Chinese teachers at public schools often teach students with rote memorization, while ESL style teaching is more interactive and engaging. This might be why the students were always thrilled to see me and the other foreign teachers—they see us as a breath of fresh air from an otherwise dreary day at school.

My first long-term employment was at a kids’ school in Luoyang. I worked there for about two years, and I taught two kinds of classes. For primary aged children I would visit 16-18 different classes per week, and I usually returned to the same classes once every two weeks. Total it was around 33 classes—each with 12 students—and I had about 400 students who saw me regularly. Walking into a classroom once every two weeks for 50 minutes was great. The students would expect my arrival, so it was easy to keep them interested.

Later I started teaching older students; every weekend I taught three classes of Middle School students for two hours each.

As I gained more experience my teaching style started to evolve; I became more of an entertainer while teaching. Since I was a child I always had this weird talent for making sounds and noises; this proved to be a useful skill in the classroom. I wanted to be an actor when I was a child, and as a teacher I have the opportunity to bring that dream to life.

Being animated in the classroom is useful when teaching kids. For example, when I teach vocabulary I act out every word into an elaborate scenario. Luckily, I’m not afraid to make a complete fool out myself, so I entertain the children with drama, sound-effects, and exaggerated movements. A class with me usually keeps my students laughing, smiling, and definitely learning. If I acted like this on the street I might be thrown in a mental hospital! But, for the students it’s a refreshing change, and they’re appreciative if a teacher can make learning English exciting.

Small kids will laugh at almost anything, but older students are more discerning. Entertaining teens with games and activities was more difficult because they’re at a self-conscious age—they’re more cautious than small children about making a fool of themselves. Plus, I saw them more often and for a longer time than my younger kids, so the well of games and activities ran dry faster than with the little ones. It takes a certain kind of funny, and sometimes you need let go of your pride and just lose it. Still, aside from the goofiness it’s key to create an environment of mutual respect. Older students benefit from knowing you’re never laughing at them, you’re laughing with them. As a teacher it’s important to never make fun of students, and don’t let them harass each other, either. Teenage kids in China have the same anxiety and fears as kids in the west; you should have fun, but mustn’t let students suffer or get hurt. It’s possible to be a teacher who commands respect, but is also someone they look forward to seeing.

I’ve been teaching in China for the past five years, so occasionally I have lapses of motivation. But, when I make my students smile I feel re-energized. When everyone’s happy and having a good time learning is fun for the students and the teacher. Sometimes when my students are struggling with the lesson I shift into comedy mode. Adding a bit of levity can break the tension, and if I’m lucky the joke will actually help them understand what I’m doing. So in that way I’ve found self-deprivation doesn’t only lift the spirit, but it also can be an effective teaching tool.

By: Mikkel Larsen

Mikkel Larson

Mikkel is a Chongqing based teacher, blogger, and photographer. He has lived in China since 2010, and can be found blogging here, here, and here

City Profile: Chongqing, Chongqing Municipality

Chongqing (重庆) is regarded as the industrial capital of Southwest China. With a population of just under 30 million people, Chongqing Municipality is the most populous of the four direct-controlled municipalities in China. An ancient regional trade center, Chongqing today is still a major manufacturing and transportation hub. But, don’t let that scare you off—despite being known as an industrial city, Chongqing is extremely pleasant and livable, with parks and green areas all over the city.

Chongqing has a long standing historical background—the city dates back to the Spring and Autumn Period—around 316 BC. At the time the city was known as Jiangzhou; its current name was given to the city in 1189 with the crowning of Prince Zhao Dun, who described his crowning as a “double celebration”, the literal meaning of “Chongqing”.

Regarded as one of the “Four Furnaces” of China, Chongqing has an incredibly hot and humid summer. Temperatures reach the high 30’s and the humidity is often more than 80%. At other times of the year, however, the climate is characterized by mild winters, and warm spring and fall seasons.

Unlike most big cities in China, Chongqing is considered to be a sprawling countryside, rather than a city. The lifestyle isn’t as hectic and stressful as coastal mega-cities like Beijing and Shanghai. Unlike many of the Tier I cities, Chongqing has remained affordable to live in. Eating local Chinese food is inexpensive, and a good meal will cost as little as CNY 7 (just over $1). Taxis are also affordable for getting around downtown, and the city’s thirteen districts are well connected by four major subway lines. Access to long distance buses, train stations and the airport are all convenient and cheap. A trip across the city on the subway, will set you back less than CNY 10.

The people in Chongqing don’t usually speak Mandarin, but rather a distinct dialect called 重庆话 (Chongqing hua) or Chongqing Language. It’s a local dialect similar to that spoken in Chengdu and across Sichuan province, also called “Sichuanese”. It’s common for Chinese who speak Mandarin to not fully understand people in Chongqing, and vice versa.

Chongqing is also home to the famous “hot pot” or 火锅 (huǒguō), a selection of sliced meats, fish, and vegetables, typically served in a very spicy (hot) broth. The name hot pot (literally: fire pan) comes from the spicy peppers. While hotpot is the most famous cuisine in Chongqing, you’ll find a lot of interesting and varied food in this mountain city. Their love for spicy food is apparent, but restaurants are nice enough to ask foreigners if they can handle the heat—they’ll prepare a toned-down version of the dish for those who aren’t fond of spice. In Chongqing you’ll also find 小面 “xiǎo miàn or small noodles” and other delicious and spicy foods such as 串串 ” chuàn chuàn” and 干锅 “gān guō or Dry Pot”.

Being a modern city, you’ll also find plenty of western-style restaurants and coffee shops, along with a variety of western supermarkets where you can buy imported food. If you buy a lot of food at once you can go to Metro; plus, one of the biggest IKEA’s in China opened just last year. You can buy Scandinavian furniture for your apartment, or enjoy traditional Swedish meatballs! For shopping and nightlife, most people find their way to Jie Fang Bei or Guan Yin Qiao where you’ll find a myriad of western restaurants, bars and places to kick back and relax.

Chongqing is the kind of city that mixes a little bit of everything. There’s a great mix of business and pleasure within each district, and though some parts feel a bit like a concrete jungle, you can also find quiet parks that overlook the rivers and give you amazing views at night. Chongqing has an eclectic blend of lifestyles—old and new China living side-by-side. It’s common to see business people wearing crisp suits on their morning commute walking alongside the street vendors and 老百姓 “laobaixing, or common people”. It’s a “big, small city”—it has everything without having too much of anything. Chongqing has a friendly spirit and strikes a perfect balance of old and new, making it an amazing city to live, work, and play.

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By: Mikkel Larsen

Mikkel Larson

Mikkel is a Chongqing based teacher, blogger, and photographer. He has lived in China since 2010, and can be found blogging here, here, and here

How to Run a Fun and Efficient ESL Activity

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One of the biggest challenges faced by an ESL teacher in China is trying to re-invent yourself to your students. As you spend more time with the same students, your methods will have a shorter lifespan. You want your students to learn, but no one learns well if they aren’t engaged with the lesson materials and activities.

Over the course of my four years teaching in China, I’ve used numerous activities, warmers and games. Some are instant hits, others don’t quite fit the energy or English level of the students. It’s unrealistic to think every activity will be a “home run”, so it’s important to accept that some activities will fail. Good teachers learn from those experiences as well. A successful TEFL activity takes preparation, planning, and sometimes a little luck.

Running an activity can be divided into Five Steps. Each step has a specific purpose, and following this guideline will ensure your activities are effective and run efficiently.

  1. Lead in

Before starting an activity, it’s a good idea to get the students focused on what they’ll be doing. For example, if I’m teaching new vocabulary and the words are mostly verbs, I might start by having the students brainstorm all the verbs they already know. Since kinesthetic learning is so important for children, I’ll also tell them to act out the words as they say them. This way I’m getting the students engaged, and previewing what’s next. Now they’re already thinking about verbs, so I’ve given them context when I present the new vocabulary.

  1. Set Up

Naturally, the students will not be able to do the activity without clear instructions, so demonstrate the activity first. If the activity is simple, you can give instructions for the whole thing at once. If it’s long or complex, do it in stages and have the students follow you. Never hand out papers, tools or toys before you’re finished explaining. Students will be more interested in what you just gave them, rather than listening to your instructions. To be sure your students understand what you want them to do, ask concept check questions, or ask a student to explain the activity back to you.

  1. Run

Once all your students understand what you want them to do, the activity should be able to run itself. The teacher must monitor, make sure students use the target language, and make corrections as necessary (try not to interrupt unless you have to!). Some corrections can be made after the activity, because every time you stop the students it disrupts the flow of the activity.

  1. Close

Closing an activity can be difficult. Try to sense when the students are ready to stop. It is better to stop an activity before the students get tired or bored, but make sure you give them enough time to be productive. Time warnings are a good way to inform the students the activity is about to end without suddenly stopping. Sometimes you stop when one team has finished, or when the majority of the students are done. You can’t always wait for everyone to finish your activities. Try and set a time-limit or a clear goal for when the activity will end, and make sure the students understand when the activity is finished.

  1. Post-Activity

When your activity has finished, it’s a good idea to ask the students what they learned. You can also correct some of the errors you observed while the students were doing their activity. And don’t forget to praise your students for doing a good job!

Remember, regardless of the age or level of your students, they will feed off your energy. If you’re presenting an activity with no enthusiasm, your students won’t get excited, either. Make your activity fun and interesting, and use big gestures when you’re demonstrating what to do; even if you look or feel foolish! Your students want to have fun, and sometimes you need to show them they’re allowed to have fun while learning!

By: Mikkel Larsen

Mikkel Larson

Mikkel is a Chongqing based teacher, blogger, and photographer. He has lived in China since 2010, and can be found blogging here, here, and here

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