I finished university about a year ago with an honours bachelor degree in political science and English. Unlike many of my classmates, I knew that I was not ready to go right back to school and pursue a masters or law degree. All I knew was that I wanted to enjoy my 20s, to take a break from school life and explore, take risks, and have adventures. And so it was that I ended up in China.
How it came to be
It wasn’t a spontaneous decision. I had actually been thinking about going abroad to teach English for a while. It felt like something that would come naturally to me. I had been abroad before, never to Asia but I spent a number of weeks backpacking through Europe between finishing school and coming to China. I even had some teaching experience and a background in theatre and performance. But from the moment I got the job offer it never felt like it would actually happen and that I would go through with it. Talking about it months ahead of time is very different from actually boarding the plane and arriving by yourself on the other side of the world, away from everything and everyone you know and love.
Nothing can stop me now
There was however one glitch: I have type one diabetes, and I knew that coming to live abroad for a year would require consultations with my medical team at home, expensive payments up front, and somehow find a way to bring a years worth of diabetic supplies with me to China. I was determined however not to let my medical condition be the determining factor in whether or not I could pursue this.
It’s actually going to happen
I had been in touch with our Director of Studies here for the four months between accepting the position right up until I boarded the plane. I knew what I was getting myself into: it was a brand new EF school in a city called Shaoxing, open just since September. I knew that I would be one of three foreigners at the school, and the only foreign woman. The idea of it didn’t bother me, but living it is always a different experience. His emails were reassuring, and as relaxed as I felt boarding the plane, I was still a bit nervous about how things would go once I reached the other side. What if I had problems with my luggage? What if my hockey-bag (yes, I’m from Canada) full of medical supplies couldn’t pass customs? What if I couldn’t find the person who was supposed to meet me?
…and here I am
Well, needless to say, it all worked out, and I have been here three months now. Shaoxing is an authentic Chinese city, with its own cuisine, people and dialect, and enough Western amenities for comfort. I came to China with some knowledge of its political system and its history, and zero knowledge of its language. I’m still not speaking Chinese, but in a recent trip up to Shanghai, I learned that I am better off than I was three months ago, now being able to speak a few words, read some characters, and can (finally) count to 10. It’s all one big learning experience, and, like we tell our clients, you have to feel comfortable taking risks and making mistakes in order to build confidence. You will feel like a small child again in your first few weeks here. It takes time before you will be able to go out on your own and do things for yourself. But you learn, you grow, and you succeed. When you do, you can say that you did it by yourself, for yourself. And you will feel rewarded.