had told me 18 months ago, that I would not be on a cozy graduate scheme in
London and would, in fact, be living in a run-down area of Hong Kong, teaching,
I may have laid down and cried. The most
hated question of any English Literature student has to be, ‘Sooo… what are
you gonna do with your degree? Teach?’ Society’s lack of imagination when it comes to the career paths of arts graduates is something that has frustrated me since day one.
Publishing? Marketing? Sure.
Nope. No way. Not over my dead body. NU-FREAKING-UGH.
to say, standing at the front of a classroom, clapping my hands and yelling ‘NOW,
CLASS…’ is perhaps the last place I envisioned myself. Ever.
my fierce desire to excel academically, I was by no means a model student. I
made no attempts to hide my burning hatred for standardised tests, was possibly
responsible for my maths teacher’s premature balding, and refused to go to
prom. And yet
here I am, getting ready to jet off to Bali for Christmas, having completed my
first semester teaching in a Youth College in the New Territories, Hong Kong. And wow,
have I learnt a lot.
arrived in Hong Kong with little besides 7kg of luggage after backpacking
Thailand and a great deal of reluctance to commit to this whole thing. Even
when I was training for 6 hours a day and flat-hunting in Kowloon for the other
6, it didn’t feel real that I was actually going to spend the next year of my
life as far away from Western life that
I had ever been.
with the realities of handing over a third of my wage for a sub-standard flat in a place that doesn’t come equipped with real kitchens, or shower cubicles, left
me with an irrevocable sense of nausea and dread. Honestly,
if it wasn’t for my boyfriend snapping me out of it, I think I could’ve easily
jacked it all in and gone home.
abroad really lays bare everything that you don’t know about yourself and about
how the world works in general. But what
I did know about myself, for sure, was that moving to a city in the UK and
getting a “real job” just wasn’t for me. Even if the realities of it made me uncomfortable, and terrified, this was something I knew I had to do.
know about you, but I didn’t take a gap-year, or a year abroad, and spent every
waking moment regretting it. I never really felt fulfilled from University and was aching for something bigger from life. I needed
some time to grow, to really discover myself, and to do the things that I so far hadn’t taken advantage of. Basically,
I just wanted to fill my life with as many wild, crazy and wonderful
experiences as physically possible. Also, I wanted long
enough holidays to tick off as many countries as my paycheck could allow.
So what better
way to do that, than to sign a contract with your eyes half closed and move to
course, there have been a lot of challenges. Homesickness is only the tip of
the iceberg. The thing is, moving to a new place and learning how to adult as a
graduate is freakin’ hard, never mind doing all of that with the added stress
of not being able to speak the language of your estate agents and moving van
guys. Thankfully, we had the help of our company to navigate us through the
hard stuff and if they hadn’t sent someone to translate at our flat contract
signings, we may well have signed over our souls and first born child.
the craziness all calmed down and we got settled in our apartment, I found
myself falling in love with Hong Kong. Beyond
the grime is a vivacious city where lights constantly blare in a whirlwind of pungent
tea stalls, bustling markets, and rolling mountains. One
moment you can be surrounded by the towering structures of Kowloon, then on
a hike to a beach at Lamma island, or wandering through the exorbitant
financial distract that positions Hong Kong as a hub of wealth and commerce. Riding
the star ferry with the sky-line glittering or exploring the multitude of green
spaces before spending the evening in another new restaurant reminds you of the
limitless possibilities and opportunities that this place has to offer.
All of these experiences, however, are punctuated by a
tonal language that, at times, can make you feel so far away from home. Sometimes
you will find yourself intoxicated by the magic of it all, then you may be sat
in Marks & Spencer, aching to go home.
my bouts of homesickness, what I have come to realise is that despite the barriers
of language, culture and history, our innate desire as human beings to
communicate surpasses everything that distinguishes us as “separate”.
this in the student who comes to me weekly, stammering, sweating, and shaking,
as he desperately tries to twist his tongue around the alien sounds of English pronunciation.
this in the little boy who often gets my bus, who yesterday reached in his bag
to give me a Christmas bauble he made at school, thrilled at the
opportunity to practice his English.
this in the security lady who smiles at me every morning as we make a series of
exaggerated body movements and try to communicate things about the weather or
how much the elevator being out of service sucks.
experiences I have found “home” and an unexpected sense of belonging.
perhaps most importantly, I have come to understand being
an English speaker as an unsolicited power that simultaneously humbles and conflicts
speakers of a language that remains, throughout the world, the marker of
colonialism, power, and status; we are granted a privilege that we perhaps
never recognised before.
English teacher comes with a real sense of responsibility. It’s your job to
bring the monotony of text book learning to life, to make it fun, and enable
these students to experience the wealth of opportunities that speaking English
(rightly or wrongly) can offer them. Often
times you will have an entire room of kids glued to their phones, or fast
asleep (yes, this regularly happens in HK), disengaged from the relevance of
learning this difficult and tiresome language.
in a Youth College, where students have often failed high-school and dropped
out of the system, at times can be exhausting, but the rewards are endless. Turning
a class’s attitude from disinterested to laughing and smiling has become my new
mission. Nothing beats the grin on a student’s face when they start to get
something right, or realise that actually, they are much better and more capable
than they initially thought.
forget what the phrase “awkward silence” means when your questions are met with
a sea of 30 blank faces.
forget about the fear of public speaking as it all just starts to feel natural.
Kinda like sleeping. Or burping.
also lose any inhibitions about making a fool of yourself, because this will
comprise about 3/4 of your day.
move abroad to teach English, not only will you be able to earn money to
finance your travels in the holidays, but you will become a better
communicator, and all around a better person. I’m only 5 months into my experience here, and already I have learnt more about myself, and about life, than ever before. I’ve found an inner-resilience that I never knew I was capable of.
need to be super brave, independent or even particularly smart to do something like
You just need to be crazy enough to say “Yes“.
If I can do it, anyone can do it. Trust
me, it’s a decision that you won’t regret.
Is moving abroad something you would ever consider?
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