By James Prescott-Kerr
When you’re abroad and know you have limited time in your new destination, you may feel pressured to make the most of every second. It’s only natural to feel the need to visit as many places as possible and squeeze in every experience you can afford in an attempt to maximise your borrowed time. By all means, life is meant to be enjoyed as much as possible. Opportunities to broaden your horizons and make memories should be seized.
However, on the Teach English In China programme, you’ll be in China for a significant period of time while having a job to do, making it near-impossible for you to live at a constant fast-pace without burning yourself out. Consequently, I want to emphasise the importance of allowing yourself to have some much-needed downtime. You may feel like you’re wasting precious moments while slowing down, but your mind and body will thank you for allowing yourself to recharge. You will be more energetic, enthusiastic and mentally present to enjoy your time if you’re not going too far beyond your limits.
Everyone will have different methods of winding down. I shared some examples of how I spent my downtime below:
As you may have guessed from the fact you’re reading my blog post, I’m a writer and I thoroughly enjoy doing so. As well as write fortnightly blogs for Teach English In China during my journey, I also wrote more personal memoirs, most of which made it into my book, in addition to some lyrics here and there. I found it extremely cathartic unloading my experiences through my words. So much was happening to me in a short space of time. Writing gave me a chance to slow down, reflect and make sense of everything.
This was huge for me. I was lucky enough to befriend a kung-fu master during my time in China. He taught me that meditation was the most important part of kung-fu and the mastery of self was more important than any flashy punching and kicking combinations. This resulted in me starting every one of our sessions with meditation. He taught me techniques that were extremely successful in clearing the mind, de-stressing, and in his words “realigning my chi.” It became a daily habit. The more I did it, the longer I could do it, and when I had extended moments of downtime I would spend up to 40 minutes at a time meditating. Not everyone will have the fortune of meeting a kung-fu master to show them the ropes but I would definitely look into meditation techniques yourself and practising them if possible. If you feel a little sceptical about trying meditation, google the positive impact it can have. I can tell you first hand. It works.
I know it may sound counter-intuitive as in my downtime I wanted to avoid any exaggerated interactions with the locals, but the immediate area around the school I lived in was pretty quiet. If I wanted some quiet time and fresh air I would stay away from main roads or high streets and clear my head with a leisurely stroll. I was fortunate enough to find a rare patch of greenery and a small lake down the road from my school. It was situated by a complex of homes that had nearly finished being built. When the coast was clear, I used to sneak in and steal a moment of peace there. It made a great writing spot too.
I didn’t read as much as you would think a writer would. Don’t get me wrong I did try, but the majority of the time I set time aside to open a book I couldn’t focus on for the life of me. My experience in China was so fast-paced and left me with so much to process, and I think it caught up with me every time I tried to slow my mind down enough for me to read. The only book I successfully finished that year was Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club. The whole point of reading a book (especially fiction) is to immerse yourself in a new world while experiencing it through the eyes of the protagonist. In China, I was already immersed in a new, unfamiliar world. I was the protagonist in my own story. I decided to experience it to the fullest and let my mind catch up with the journey. I had enough to digest in my own life without adding the trials and tribulations of another through reading. I would still say bring a book or 5 if you’re a reader. You might be better at settling the mind for a reading marathon than I was.
My mind was too overwhelmed to settle into a book, so I decided to engage in a simpler form of escapism. I did not plan on spending a single minute of my time in China playing video games but in times where I felt overwhelmed, it was so calming and fun. I packed my old GameBoy Advance SP to keep me entertained for my 20+ hour connecting flights to and from China. However, I committed my fair share of hours training my Charizard to become a formidable force on Pokemon. The nostalgic feel and simplicity of the game were therapeutic, to say the least. I even returned to the game during the first stint of lockdown in 2020 as it was a tried and tested method for my escapism.
Additionally, I purchased Football Manager for the first time in my adult life. Once my GameBoy Charger broke I needed a new escape, so I turned to my favourite game to play in my teenage years. I was completely disconnected from English football in China. Due to the time difference and my busy weekends, I missed the majority of Leicester’s title-winning season. Playing Football Manager allowed me to feel part of the footballing universe again, but in a way that fit my schedule.
Listening to music was a great way for me to feel like I was home. 2015/2016 was the beginning of Rap/Grime becoming a real mainstream force in UK culture. As a young, Black South-East London native, I could not have been any further from my familiar surroundings in China. Watching videos such as Stormzy – Shut Up and listening to Kano’s Made in the Manor played a huge part in bridging the gap. They captured the very essence of where I came from. The sound, slang and mannerisms made me feel like I was back home with my boys when I tuned in. If you don’t have any playlists that remind you of home, memories with your loved ones or your culture in general, I would advise you to make one.
Netflix and Chill
I know this saying has preconceived notions but in this case, I mean literally. Moreso in the winter, I had times where I was wrapped up in bed, eating junk food, binge-watching TV shows, movies, YouTube videos and whatever else could half-maintain my attention for a few hours. With a trusty VPN, the streaming world is your oyster. A wealth of entertainment with minimal effort and thinking power. Just what the doctor ordered.
Moving abroad will almost certainly be an emotional rollercoaster. It definitely was for me. Even when you visit a theme park on a day trip, you need a break from your equilibrium being compromised by the thrills at your disposal. This was no different to me. I needed moments where I just did absolutely nothing. Sometimes it resulted in me laying down and staring at the ceiling for periods of time, others it resulted in impromptu naps. Either way, it helped me feel more centred and recharged, ready for the unpredictability and new experiences that await.
You may have completely different ways of relaxing and letting yourself recharge, and that’s completely fine. It doesn’t really matter how you do it, as long as you switch off every now and then, especially at times where you feel physically or mentally exhausted. Whether you try all of my examples or none of them, make sure you take the advice in this post’s title, which was inspired by the title of a Stormzy song. Don’t forget to breathe.
James recently published a book about his time in China, titled ‘Teacher Black: My Year in China’. You can purchase it from Amazon for Kindle or in paperback.