Education, Education, Education
Updated: May 27, 2019
It has been approximately 9 months since I signed up to work for Education First in Shanghai, China. It's odd to finally be here, having spent most of a year imagining what this city would look, smell, and feel like. The journey from then to now back in the U.K. has been riddled with a series of (...interesting) challenges. Let's just say that I'm glad the visa process is over and that I'm here in one piece.
Moving to Shanghai has been perhaps the most drastic life change I have undergone in my life so far. It's certainly a case of re-educating myself. I had prepared myself for a culture shock in terms of language, manners, social media usage, and a number of other things, but there are always aspects of migration that are hard to anticipate.
As much as the Brits are to some extent right when they comment that Chinese tourists in London are very brand-focused, loud, and take a hell of a lot of pictures, there are also a lot of stereotypes about the country that we Westerners get very wrong. The one cultural aspect that really surprised me was just how friendly and helpful people are out here. All it takes is a simple “hello” and “thank you” in Chinese and you are soon welcomed as family. Strangers are often so ready to help you, learn your story, find out where you are from, and practice the few words in English that they speak. I am told that English is a source of great pride for Chinese people, so my communication with people in little shops or food stalls is often a mixture of broken Mandarin and English.
One thing that is true is that Chinese people are unafraid to spit on the street or elbow their way onto the metro. As soon as you enter the underground, it's a fight for survival. Many Westerners who arrive here mistake these behaviours as a sign of disrespect or 'bad manners', but in my mind, it's simply a different way of living. Unlike the repressed British, many of the Chinese people I have spoken to seem to lack reservation, preferring instead to communicate directly and get straight to the point. Obviously this observation is more of an impression than a strict rule. This leads me to another myth buster - there is a (*cough* *cough* somewhat racist) tendency to lump all Chinese people in to one category by assuming that they all think in the same way, look very similar, and behave almost identically. Needless to say, China is as ethnically and culturally diverse place as anywhere in the world, perhaps even more so given its sheer size.
At the EF English centre where I work, I am lucky enough to be working with both Chinese nationals and foreign teachers, which means I am exposed to Chinese culture every minute that I am outside my apartment. It's a really friendly team and they have all made me feel very welcome. I am so glad that I am on the other side of the world, working for a company that expands and educates the minds of young children, rather than sitting in a grey office in London. Every day brings a new exciting adventure. On the first day that I visited the centre, I ate at a restaurant with two local teachers where I tried chicken feet for the first time! It was a surprisingly tasty dish.
Tomorrow I start 'team teaching', which is essentially observation followed by a short period of teaching. I'm very excited to get to grips with everything and try out all the techniques I've learned from last week's training. I am ashamed to say that, coming here as a relatively experienced teacher for my age, I hadn't expected to learn as much as I did during my first two weeks. There are so many new teaching methods I hadn't encountered before and a great deal of behaviour management tools that seem fairly guaranteed to work. Having spent much of my life in state schools in classes where kids lacked motivation and teachers lacked passion, it's very exciting to be starting at a company that guarantees at least the latter, if not the former.
I suppose my move to Shanghai can be summarised as the following: an education in the Chinese language, a re-education in Chinese culture, and a training in education itself.