By Shawn Wright, Teacher in Nanjing 2019 – 2020
A couple of months have passed now since I arrived in Nanjing and I’ve managed to settle in pretty well. My teaching schedule has worked out pretty great. I teach a total of 14 oral English classes every week, all grades 4 or 5, and I see each class once per week. In each class there is around 40 students with different levels of English. We are free to teach whatever topics we choose to the students and always have a bilingual Chinese teacher in the classroom with us to help with classroom control and to translate any difficult instructions. The kids for the most part are very well behaved and are very engaged in the lessons. Like everywhere you do get the occasional chatterbox but the Chinese teachers are very good at keeping them on task. I probably have around 600 students that I see every week in total so getting to know them all can be quite challenging, however some of the kids love talking to me before class starts and asking me random questions (their favourite ones are ‘Teacher, how tall are you?’ and ‘How old are you?’). By grades 4 & 5 they have already chosen their own English names and I have to share some of my favourites with you. I teach a Little Fish, Tank, Jerry One (there’s no Jerry Two), Bob Bob and Apple.
I also have no classes on a Friday which means 3-day weekends all year! We are pretty lucky at my school in that we have no office hours, so when we aren’t teaching we are free to do whatever we want. In my spare time I’ve decided to take up some Chinese lessons. There are quite a lot of different ways you can learn Chinese here. There are a few language exchange events where you meet up with a Chinese person and teach them English and in exchange they teach you Chinese. This can be a great way to learn since it’s free and it’s a good way to meet new people and to make some native friends. You can also pay for a private tutor, which is what I’m doing. The prices are pretty reasonable and the class sizes are very small which is nice since you get to practice conversational skills with other people but at the same time you can get enough attention from the tutor. Some places also offer 1-on-1 private tutoring. And finally, if you’re very dedicated, you can sign up for a short course in Chinese at some universities. This a good option if you are really committed to learning Chinese and have the spare time available, although the only downside is it’s usually a bit more expensive but nothing too steep. Whilst you could probably get by without knowing any Chinese it will definitely improve your experience here and help to make everyday life easier (plus it’s pretty cool to say that you can speak Chinese). It’s especially useful for eating out at restaurants. A lot of the restaurants in my city don’t have any pictures of the food so sometimes it’s just a guessing game of what I’ve ordered for dinner, kind of like food roulette.
Speaking of restaurants, hot pot restaurants are very popular here in China and the food can be delicious if you manage to order the right thing. At a hot pot restaurant each table gets given a massive pot which is full of boiling broth/soup.
You then have to order the food that you want, just like at a regular restaurant. There is usually a wide variety of meats, seafood, vegetables, mushrooms and noodles on offer. The part which makes hot pot unique is that the food is actually served to you raw and you get to cook it yourself by boiling it in the broth. Most of the food is super quick and easy to cook and takes around 30 seconds to a minute until it is ready to eat. If you decide to come to China, I would definitely recommend trying out a few hot pot restaurants as they can be great places to eat with friends. Just don’t do what I done and order duck feet instead of duck breast, unless you like duck feet.
During my downtime I’ve also managed to visit some of the sites around Nanjing. The first weekend me and a couple of other teachers visited the 1912 District which is a very popular area among Chinese tourists here. It is littered with various bars and shops and has a little bit of a more Western feel to it. This is a great place to just relax and have a few drinks with friends. Most of the bars and restaurants here have English speaking staff which can be a nice change because you can ask for recommendations on what to order. I tried some sort of eel dish and I have to say, it was actually very good. The following weekend we were off to a place called Purple Mountain. Purple Mountain was essentially a big mountain area surrounded by a park and has over 200 heritage sites and scenic routes. It is also conveniently located right in the middle of Nanjing. There we just wondered around and tried to explore most of the park during the day. They even have an aquarium, an outdoor music venue and a few museums. Safe to say we didn’t manage to get around it all so I will definitely be planning a few return trips there in the future. During the Mid-Autumn festival (which is similar to a bank holiday in the UK) I planned a solo trip to Mochuo Lake. The scenery here was amazing and the place was so quiet and peaceful. It’s nice to find such a relaxing place in the middle of a city the size of London. Here you can walk around and explore the gardens or you can take a pedal boat out to a small island that sits in the middle of the lake.
Overall my first couple of months here have been very positive, and I am very happy with my city and the work-life balance that comes with being an ESL teacher. I am very much looking forward to getting out and exploring China and seeing what the rest of the year has in store for me.
Shawn will be sharing his experience teaching in China with us on the blog. To follow his journey, head to our Teacher Blogs section.