An Interview with James Ferguson-Hannah at EF Zhengzhou, China
GS: So, can you tell us a bit about how you first got into English teaching?
JFH: Back in 2013 I decided that I wanted a change in my life, I had found the trade I was in a little monotonous and really wanted to try something new. The decision was made to step down and go back to University to study Computing Science and gain an Honours Degree that would help me to travel around the world. I graduated in 2017 and decided to take a year travelling around Australia. It was while in Australia that many friends suggested I should try English teaching, something that I had briefly thought about while in the UK but never really took seriously. After a little research, I was hooked on the possibility of living and working in other countries around the world, helping children and young adults develop their communication skills within the English language and really getting a sense of achievement seeing these students grow in language production.
GS: What advice do you have for people about the recruitment and interview process when looking for jobs teaching in China?
JFH: It’s like any interview really, make sure you’re prepared for open-ended questions but at the same time have some good questions of your own to ask at the end, also dress appropriately even if it’s a video interview and make sure you are in a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted with a good internet connection. Andrew interviewed me initially, he was based at EF Shanghai, I found him to be very friendly and helpful throughout the whole process and always replied promptly if I had any questions.
Try and be as organised as possible as there can be a lot of information regarding documentation needed when applying for work. If you can sort that process quickly then you can be on your way to a new life within a few months quite easily. Have original copies like your degree and police records authenticated as soon as possible as these can take up to a few weeks to process, here in China they are essential when applying for a job.
Above all else, do your research on life in China, there have been many people who have gone through the process and can give some great advice. I can guarantee you that the first question you will be asked is “Why do you want to come to China?”
GS: You are teaching in Zhengzhou at the moment, can you tell us about your impressions of the city? What do you like most about living there?
JFH: My first impression was “WOW, so many people!”. I’m from Scotland where the population of the entire country is a mere 5 million, here in the city of Zhengzhou it’s 10 million! The buildings are tall with bright neon lights that can light up these 28 storey buildings like a fireworks display, it’s quite impressive!
Small independent restaurants are everywhere, plus many options for western food like BK, KFC, Starbucks and Subway if you find you’re not too keen on the local food, but I love it!
My apartment is five floors above my school that’s situated in a mall, everything is very convenient for me and within a few minutes walk. I love the fact I can go to Starbucks for my morning coffee then go to the gym by just crossing the street, then have some Chinese food and finally end up going to the Cinema with friends all in the same building. Everything I need is a stone’s throw away. Although everything I need is close by, sometimes it’s nice to go further afield, here in Zhengzhou public transport is convenient and cheap, so exploring the city is very easy.
GS: What do you like most about teaching English?
JFH: It has to be the students, they’re like little sponges waiting to soak up information. When a three-year-old speaks their first English sentence it can be a really proud moment and you can happily say to yourself “I helped with that!”.
GS: Can you tell us about your favourite class at the moment?
JFH: I have a class of 5-year-olds at the moment on a Monday evening. To be honest I struggled a little to begin with as they were very passionate about learning so calming them took a lot of energy. But now we understand each other and have made classroom rules which they all stick too. Teaching them English is the main objective, however, classroom management is also very important. They now listen, sit properly and refrain from speaking Chinese. Because of this we can now have lots of fun learning English and play plenty of games which we all love!
GS: Talk us through a typical day teaching English in China.
JFH: I have 16 classes, 10 of those classes are on a Saturday and Sunday so during the week there is plenty of time to lesson plan. Monday to Friday I usually wake up at 7 am and get a coffee, sometimes at Starbucks but also at a local coffee shop called Lucky Cup (it’s very cheap there for a coffee). After that, I go to the gym for an hour then grab some food at one of the many local Chinese restaurants available. I can then relax and watch a movie or TV series, or maybe go exploring around the city on my e-bike until 4 pm when I start work. From 4 pm – 6 pm I do office hours where I can lesson plan for the week or if I’m organised, annoy co-workers with stories and jokes. From 6 pm – 8 pm I teach classes. Once classes are finished some of the co-workers and I may go for dinner and a few drinks.
GS: What are the teaching resources like there?
JFH: Teaching resources are great, teachers have a desktop computer which contains all the information needed to help you lesson plan for your classes. Each class has a specific set of aims so it’s up to you to decide how to teach those aims. My school provides me with many resources like, coloured pens, paint, clay, paper, toys that will help create fun games for the students to do. But if you find yourself being really creative then buying some of your own resources is ok too.
GS: China is full of surprises and unexpected adventures, tell us about one you have had recently.
JFH: It was actually the 2nd day I had arrived in Zhengzhou. Twice a year EF takes the foreign staff away on a day trip somewhere, so it was really good timing on my part. It so happened that this day was booked to go to the Shaolin Temple a short journey from Zhengzhou. Here I got to see many Kung Fu students do their daily practice routines amongst many other Kung Fu performances. It was also a good chance to meet many of the international teachers that work at EF Zhengzhou.
After watching some shows we all had a walk around the Shaolin Temple taking in the ancient Chinese culture and generally getting to know each other, it was a great experience. What made it so memorable was the fact that the day landed on my birthday, one I doubt I’ll ever forget!