"Are you crazy?!"
That's the reaction of a lot of my friends when I told them I was going to quit my super-cool job as an editor for a newspaper to go back to teaching English to adults.
Actually, I forced myself to quit, as weird as that sounds. My boss offered to renew my contract, my colleagues were interesting people from all over the world, and I was doing work that I was good at and interested in. What was the problem?
While my job paid well, I really wanted free time more than I wanted money at this point. I wanted a job where I could have a year to study Chinese, spend more time with friends and travel. If I wanted to work myself into a nervous breakdown, why even go overseas? I could be doing that in the U.S. and saving a lot more. I needed to get back in touch with why I chose to travel.
Part of me didn't want to go through the torment of looking for another job and deal with the hassle of getting a visa again. It's such a pain in the ass. Moving from Shanghai to Taipei last year almost burned me out. Although that wasn't as hard as when I went to work abroad for the first time in China, now that was a nightmare. See my September 2005 blog entries for the grim details.
So I plunged into it and tried to find a teaching job. Of course I faced the racist bosses, the saturated market for adult-teaching and navigating the labyrinthine bureaucratic rules for changing my visa. In the end, I got a decent job in an unbelievably convenient location and managed to renew my visa for another year. Woo hoo!
My new boss is named Andrew, a guy from England who'd previously taught English in Japan. I was struck by a sense of deja vu, since I'd known a school director in Shanghai with the same name and background. Living abroad can be really weird sometimes.
A lot of English teachers in Asia have sweet schedules that would make an office worker in the West weep with envy. I've never been one of that lucky bunch, however. I worked 40 hours a week in China (30 hours of teaching + 10 hours of office time) and 50 hours a week in Taiwan (40 hours of editing + 10 hours of overtime).
After I got hired, Andrew told me my schedule: "You'll have 3 hours of class, on evenings from Monday to Thursday. Along with some private tutoring, that'll be about 18 hours a week. A very busy schedule!"
18 hours a week?! I hadn't worked that little since college! With that schedule, work would be something that I'd squeeze in between studying Chinese and hanging out with friends.
But I didn't reckon on how much time I'd spend on preparing for classes. In China, I'd just open the textbook and start lecturing. My classes here are much more structured and my company provides me with detailed lesson plans. There's activities and games to get students talking to teach other, and it's focused on the students doing most of the speaking, rather than the teacher.
This is due to the class conditions, though. My Shanghai classes were 90 minutes long and capped at 5 students, so they were much more casual. In contrast, my Taipei classes are 3 hours long and have up to 20 students. When you're dealing with that many people for that long, you have to be much more organized.
I was also unused to getting so much training and support. In China, someone handed me a textbook and pointed to my classroom. In Taiwan, I observed a bunch of classes, taught demo lessons and got constant feedback on my performance.
There was actually a period of culture shock. I guess I was just used to the China working environment, where it's chaotic and you're never sure of what's going on. Here, the students come on fixed days and the lesson plans dictate what lessons I'll be teaching. When I was in China, any student could come in at any time, so making up a set curriculum was impossible, because I'd have different students at different levels in the same class. I had to be ready to improvise and teach from any chapter in the book. Melissa, one of my friends who's taught English in Japan and China, said that she likes China because it "toughens you up."
I do take pride in that I'm one of the few expats I know who's lived in China before coming to Taiwan. The majority are recent college graduates doing a year of teaching English, who've never lived in Asia before. Most of the China veterans I know have done time in Beijing, although I know one who was in Qingdao and one who was in Kunming. I'm the lone representative of Shanghai. It's all about the SH, baby!