We had sat there at the orientation talk given by Jayne from ImmerQi and listened to the story of how she came across as an intern and never left. Other staff from ImmerQi concurred that they were once sitting where we were and now never wanted to leave. We laughed at the notion and then stopped suddenly: Could that ever happen to us? … Maybe!
After what seemed like the week from hell we were apprehensive about what lay in store for the rest of our time in Wuxi. However, you’ll be pleased to here (especially if you have signed up to something similar yourself) that the difficulties we faced were limited predominately to this first week of settling in and adapting to a life so unlike the one we had before. So here follows the highlights of the remainder of our first month in Wuxi which resulted in us being asked to stay on for another semester by our director, and us really giving that proposal some serious consideration.
We were of course here to teach and having already previously taught, thought that this would be the easiest part of the whole experience. However, during that first week we had been given a long list of tasks to complete and we missed the familiarity of teaching Physics back in the UK. By week two though we were on a role having negotiated that we would hand in each Friday the lesson plans for the following week and realising that we were teaching the same topics so needed only plan for one year 10 allowing us to use for both classes. Furthermore, once we were thinking positively we also came to realise that what lesson plan meant in the UK was not the same as here. No more did we need to fill in pages of boxes, in fact there was no proforma at all. Our director simply wanted an idea of what we would be covering so thus we developed a lesson plan which worked for us allowing us to suitably prepare effective and engaging lessons using the guidance from our i-to-i TEFL course. Year 11 lessons included a speaking lesson which became my favourite lesson to plan as it allowed for high levels of creativity and resembled most what we had covered on the practical course back in Beijing with James. Year 12 was a challenge as there was no guidance on what to cover at all but we began to see this in a more positive light as we had the flexibility to include any topic or skill development that we saw fit.
The weather as you may recall had been bleak when we had first arrived. We’re from the UK so for us to complain about the weather shows how bad it truly was. It wasn’t even the weather as cold, rainy conditions we are used to. It was the fact that there was nowhere to warm up except for when we were in bed at night. This meant all day long we would shiver and generally feel miserable. However, it surprising switched to Summer so that one day we had suddenly realised that the number of layers we were wearing was reducing. Then one day I turned to Anthony in complete surprise as I realised we were wearing only one layer each. I even made the mistake of complaining (on a walk over to the dining hall) that it was too warm. I say mistake as the weather then took a nose-dive back into Arctic conditions for several days. However, it didn’t matter in quite the same way as I had seen, or more appropriately, felt a glimmer of hope. It can and will get warmer.
In and around Wuxi
Homelife became much easier as we finally could use all of the appliances in our home. We still didn’t know how to read the Chinese characters BUT we knew how to use the devices for what we needed. We also found Metro which had a whole aisle of imported foods and decided to treat ourselves to a few home comforts including pasta, cheese and baked beans. This improved our mood greatly as we now knew it was there if we needed it and having some food in that we know we liked allowed us to be a little more adventurous when we did go shopping so that we could try new things too. Getting out of our apartment we explored the beautifully serene garden area opposite our apartment block which contained paths for walking/jogging, an outdoor gym area and a number of seating areas along the waterside. Venturing into downtown Wuxi in the daytime one weekend we found yet more gardens as well as the Nanchan Temple area which counts as the number one tourist attraction. As well as the temple itself, there are places to eat, drink and shop. Getting out there and stuck in to life in China was the best thing we could have done because we realised that it wasn’t so alien after all, there was plenty to do and see, plus this was the whole point of us moving to China in the first place – to experience a new culture. We were also exceptionally fortunate to work with a great group of people with the greatest thanks going to our school director. Within the first month she treated the “foreign teachers” (the name given to the American & British staff) to a Korean in the local area (our first even Korean meal) which not only was an enjoyable experience but gave us another option of where to eat. Then, she treated all the staff in our department (both foreign & Chinese staff) to a traditional Hot Pot allowing us to sample a few new dishes including brain (never again), duck’s feet (rather not again) and a range of meat and fish dishes (very tasty indeed!)
Exploring further afield
We love travelling and one reason for getting into TEFL was to allow us to apply our skills learnt and developed in the UK so that we could use them as a vehicle to see the world. That said we new we needed to start to travel further afield by using Wuxi as a base to explore the Jiangsu province and neighbouring Shanghai as a starting point. We began with a day trip to nearby Suzhou where we proudly conversed with the ticket officer to get two tickets on the high speed train (only £1.95 per person each way & only a 15 minute journey). You can read about our time there in our Suzhou post but the one really positive experience that came out of it was the discovery of the YHA China. Having previously been a member of YHA England & Wales, I was more than familiar with the international membership scheme. After a little research into locations of the various hostels we decided to become members and use it as a way to cheaply explore China booking a long weekend stay in Shanghai with planned trips to Nanjing and at least one of the water towns that makes our province famous.
It is worth noting that none of the above successes would have allowed us to truly feel at home here if it wasn’t for us trying to learn the language. A month in we are nowhere near fluent and can still barely string a sentence together especially as a response. However, making an effort to learn the language allows us to feel not quite so isolated and gives us the confidence to go out and live our lives, to explore and to make the most of this experience. Having the students deliver our lessons has been great as they know exactly what we need to know and coupled with the materials provided by ImmerQi we are starting to make some headway with the basics including: by train tickets; ordering food and drink; asking for directions; and politely explaining that we do not understand (which has got to be our number one used phrase!)
As you can see, a week can make all the difference. If you expect to come to another country and find no differences to your own then you will be very disappointed. As for China, it is what it is! Sometimes that means it can seem very alien and you may feel completely isolated. However, most the time, if you look past the differences you realise that there aren’t that many of them and life over here isn’t that much dissimilar to anywhere else. Accept it and go with the flow.