My name is Georgia, I’m the founder and CEO of Jinyo (英有尽有), and I’m also a Teach English In China alumna. This blog piece is an experience share, and it’s for anyone who might be interested in going to teach English in China. This is a bit of a spoiler but: I highly recommend it!
I was about to finish my bachelors at the University of Birmingham in 2011 when I got an email through from Teach English In China telling me to “Teach English in China!”, and since I wanted to have a paid gap year somewhere far flung, I thought this fit the bill pretty well. There was no other deep and meaningful reason than that really; I’d never had an innate interest in China before.
I got sent out to Wuhan to teach in Yucai Primary School as Grade 1 English teacher. It was a really challenging experience because I didn’t have teaching experience on this scale before – each class had over 50 kids and I had a total of 10 classes! The children were aged 6-7 and it was their first year of formal education. As a result they could be pretty crazy at times, but fortunately I had a great co-teacher, Stella, who helped me with communication and discipline. The best part of the first term was being given the freedom to create my own syllabus and teaching materials from scratch, and because a lot of the kids hadn’t learnt any English at all, it was a real blank slate to work with.
The year went by quite quickly, and aside from teaching I also made a few good friends, travelled around China for a month during Chinese New Year, ate all sorts of amazing food, and picked up a little bit of spoken Mandarin. I thought I wanted to go into teaching properly, so I came back to the UK and worked in a British primary school for a year. During that time I figured out that it really wasn’t the best career path for me, and didn’t seem to fit at the time. So I wracked my brains as to what else I could do, and inevitably, I ended up deciding to go back to China. But this time, the main goal was to learn Mandarin to a really high level.
I did a load of research, because this time round I didn’t have the comfort blanket of Teach English In China telling me where to go and setting everything up for me! In the end, I chose to go to Xiamen, a place where I knew absolutely no one. I went onto Couch Surfing and found a really nice Kiwi girl living there who agreed to let me stay with her after I arrived, so at least I kind of knew one person before setting off. I then found myself a language training school, flatmates and our own flat.
Long story short, I had an absolutely amazing time. I met so many amazing friends, and after a few months when my Mandarin started to improve, I was able to also start making friends with Chinese people who didn’t necessarily have the best English, and I also became a lot more independent. After 18 months there, I managed to pass the HSK 6 and decided I would take this new skill back to London to find work.
China provided me with some ridiculous, crazy, once in a lifetime experiences that I would never have had in the UK. I did hair modelling, I was the face of a Chinese mattress company campaign, spent a Chinese New Year with a family in the depths of a tiny mountain village in Sichuan province, got driven to the birth place of Mulan in a red Mustang where we had a family’s chicken slaughtered for us on arrival…yeah that one was a bit random. So many weird things happen in China that all expats just have a saying: “Only in China…”.
If you learn Mandarin, there are some amazing development opportunities both in China, but also in any country that does business with China. After I came back to London, I worked in property and investment consultancy for the Chinese market for about two years, which was a really good experience. But the culmination of all these experiences was starting my own business last year. Jinyo is an expat platform for Chinese people in the UK. We offer life and culture information about the UK, event recommendations, our own in-house events to help people make more friends and get into British culture, and a student concierge service.
The idea for this business came from my time in China, because it’s the type of platform and service I wish I’d had then. It took me a long time to make a lot of friends and to figure out basic essentials, such as how to navigate a Chinese hospital, and where to go to buy certain things.
So I suppose the point of this blog is that, essentially, without taking this seemingly random opportunity to go to teach English in China, I wouldn’t have had all of these life-changing opportunities, and I wouldn’t be in the position that I am in now. And as clichéd as it sounds, it really did change my life.
If you are off to China soon, or thinking about it, I definitely recommend trying to learn some basic Mandarin before you go (this will reduce your constant confusion a bit!) and trying to keep an open mind. You’d also be more than welcome to come and join our Culture Club events. Jinyo hosts a monthly social networking and culture & language exchange party (the next is on 24th April at Mahiki). You’ll have the chance to meet young Chinese people living in the UK, and others interested in Chinese language and culture.
If you’re interested in Chinese culture and language and meeting Chinese friends, visit the Jinyo Facebook page to hear about their latest news and events.