An Interview with George Morrall at Careergo Beijing
GS: Can you tell us a bit about how you first got into English teaching?
GM: I was applying for jobs in London to work alongside a Masters course I was hoping to do when I saw the advertisement for my current job on LinkedIn. I had thought about taking time out to work before continuing with higher education and this was an opportunity to work and travel. Moving into teaching English was not planned but I am glad that I took a chance and applied.
GS: What advice do you have for people about the recruitment and interview process when looking for jobs teaching in China?
GM: Don’t rush the process. Make sure you take your time getting everything sorted out. There are a lot more opportunities out there than you think and the process is not as difficult as you might expect but moving to China to teach is an investment that costs in the short term. It is worth it and it pays in so many ways in the medium to long term but taking your time is essential.
GS: You are teaching in Beijing at the moment, can you tell us about your impressions of the city? What do you like most about living there?
GM: I love living in Beijing. Whilst it is a modern city it has maintained many aspects of the traditional Chinese way of life and as someone who loves history that’s something that I find really attractive. Beijing carries its history with it and it doesn’t pretend to be what it isn’t. Living here is a much more authentic Chinese experience than Shanghai or other more westernized places, and that’s something I really enjoy. Beijingers are also very friendly people unafraid of trying to strike up a conversation with you to practice the little English they know or to try and help you if you look lost.
GS: Talk us through a typical day teaching English in your city
GM: My lessons only take up a small portion of my working day. Most of the time I am just spending time playing with the kids in the classroom or in the playground attempting to create something of an English environment for them that enables them to use and better understand the language we cover in the classes.
On a typical day I arrive at the kindergarten around 7:30 in time to greet the children and do morning exercises with them, after this they have breakfast and an hour long free play period where I will play with the toys or do crafts with them. This is one of the nicest parts of the day and lets me gage how well they’ve picked up the language we cover in the lessons and how confident they feel in using it.
After the free play period I have my first lesson with my class and this usually lasts between 20 and 25 minutes. I always start my lessons by asking them questions that revises the practical language we’ve learned and gets them in the right frame of mind before moving on to learn new language. I always include songs and try and incorporate games that make them think about the phrases and words were covering.
After the first lesson we have an outdoor period followed by a snack before I teach the second group of kids. My second lesson is almost always the same as my first unless something I planned to do hasn’t worked in which case I’ll modify the lesson to reflect the experience of the first.
Once the second lesson is over its time for their lunch which is another good opportunity to interact with them and see how well they have remembered the language we have learned about food and eating. My lunch break lasts from 11:30 until 2:00 and effectively marks the end of my active interaction with the kids for that day because my afternoon is taken up with preparing resources, planning my lessons and writing my student reports. I finish work at 3:30 usually feeling tired but reasonably fulfilled. The kids make sure that no two days are the same
GS: Tell us about the living cost / apartment in your city
GM: I live in a nice area in the 3rd ring road of Beijing in an apartment with two Chinese housemates. The apartment is furnished to a really good standard and has amazing views of the Central Business District and its skyscrapers. I have been living here for just over a month and really love it. It doesn’t really have much of a communal space and the kitchen is small but it is typical of Chinese shared apartments and has everything I need. I could have found a cheaper place to stay and did move to it from an apartment that did cost less, but my current apartment is still very affordable and is worth what I pay. Even with bills not included in the rent, my cost of living is far below what I could expect in a similar location in the UK.
GS: What are the teaching resources like there?
GM: The classroom is well stocked with teaching equipment and resources to make whatever I need for my lessons. It is very easy to incorporate areas and items in my room into the classes. The school also has printers and laminators that are available whenever we need them. The staff and assistants have always been really helpful when it comes to teaching resources.
GS: Tell us about the restaurants and local food in your city
GM: I was apprehensive about the food before I arrived but I didn’t need to worry. It is very easy to find the kinds of western food I enjoy and I realized that I really enjoy a lot of local Chinese dishes. China is so massive that its cuisine is as diverse as what you find in Europe. No matter what your taste you will be able to find something that you like. My personal favorite is food from Nanjing which can be sweet and isn’t impossibly spicy like food from Sichuan.
I’ve cooked a lot recently and have been able to get most of the ingredients I want. There are plenty of international markets and many of the larger supermarkets have international sections that are normally well stocked. The only products that are always hard to find are basic dairy items like cheeses and cream. China just doesn’t have its own industry for those items and there’s not a big enough call for them.
One of the biggest differences between home and China is how often people eat out or order in food. Both options are so cheap that its easy to spend more money cooking for myself than it is to go to a local restaurant or order food. This culture of eating out also means that there are many many more eateries than you would find in a city in the west which makes finding food really convenient.
GS: Tell us about traveling in your city. China is full of surprises and unexpected adventures, tell us about one you have had recently.
GM: There is a lot to see in Beijing but travel in and round China is so cheap that regular getaways are feasible. I have been on multiple trips that I just would not have been able to afford to do in Europe, trips to places like Datong to see the Hanging Temple and Inner-Mongolia where I slept in a yurt and fulfilled a long-term ambition to go horse riding. China is an incredibly vast and beautiful country and I’m planning to go even further afield in the coming months to see more of it.
Traveling during the holidays can cost if you’re not careful but you can do weekend trips and you do get unexpected chances to travel. The other week a large government summit meant I had a few days off work so I took the chance to tick another item off my list and booked a three day trip to Xi’an with just one day’s notice.
It was a short stay but I was able see the Terracotta Army, explore the Muslim market, buy some art, walk the city walls and watch the fountain show at the 1,300 year old Wilde Goose Pagoda before heading back. In Europe, travelling the distances involved a lot of time & money and booking so close to the trip would have broken the bank, but in China, it was completely affordable and not at all difficult to arrange.
GS: Tell us about transportation in your city
GM: Travelling around Beijing is very cheap and normally pretty easy. The city is well covered by the subway system and bus routes, bikes are easy to find and rent and taxi services are cheap enough to be a viable option for commutes.
Getting a metro card for the subway and bus is easy and the machines to top it up have a very easy to understand English option, as do all the card machines I have ever used. Transfer stations are not well laid out on the subway and it is extremely crowded during rush hour but other than that Beijing’s public transport system is very user friendly and convenient for commuting, shopping and sightseeing.
The stereotype of Chinese cities being full of bikes is completely true despite recent government regulations limiting the number for renting bikes on the street. Previously there would literally be mountains of bikes outside subways and on street corners and whilst this is no longer the case you don’t have to walk far to find a bike. Cycling on Chinese roads can be hazardous because of traffic laws and bad drivers but there is a culture of cycling here that you won’t find anywhere else and every road has a bike lane but so it’s safe enough so long as you keep your whits.
In terms of taxis there are the yellow city taxis and the private hire service ‘Didi’ which apparently deals with 30 million trips daily and out competed Uber. The taxis can be difficult to use if you don’t speak Chinese and have the address of your destination written down but they’re cheap and easy to find. Didi is really popular and I use them to get to and from work on an almost daily basis. It is cheap and most importantly the app has an English language version and in built translator that makes it really convenient to talk to drivers. Either option is going to get you from A to B at any time of the day without too much hassle.
In short Beijing is cheap and easy to get around and there are multiple ways you can do it.
GS: What do you like most about teaching English?
GM: I enjoy being surprised by the kids. No two days are the same and it is entirely down to them. They make the job worthwhile by being so unpredictable. One moment you will be tearing your hair out over a lesson that has gone badly and then somebody will run to you after hurting themselves or someone will demand to dance and play and you immediately forget what you were annoyed about. Children have an amazing capacity for love and fun which gives them the power to change the dynamic of your day like nothing else does.