One of the things that scared me the most about moving to China was not travelling or teaching related at all. It is a common fear that most of us share. It rears it’s ugly head when we start university, move house or begin a new job. It may sound silly but by far my biggest anxiety about moving to China was making friends.
Luckily for me, my colleagues were welcoming from the minute I stepped off the plane. After my foreign liaison Candy dropped me off at the apartment on my first night, she told me that she would be back to collect me the next morning. This was so she could give me a tour of the local area and show me the way to school. Before we set off for my new workplace, Candy showed me the location of the grocery store, market, local bus stop and the best eateries nearby. Having a local introduce me to the neighbourhood and show me what I would need to adapt to life in China was not only super helpful but also very reassuring.
After we completed the twenty-minute walk to school, I was presented with a welcome card by the Centre Manager which all of the staff had signed. It was a small touch but one that meant a huge amount to me when I was feeling most vulnerable. There were ten Foreign Teachers when I arrived and they were all from various different countries around the world. Everyone was really friendly and welcoming and by the close of the first school day, I had already been invited out to a local bar with the other teachers that evening.
My school always tried to place teachers working at the same centre in the same apartment complex. This was something that was very helpful when it comes to socialising outside of work. It is easy to get ready at a friend’s flat and also great for coordinating transport if you are travelling somewhere together. As private school teachers are recruited all year round and often have the option to extend their contracts, there is usually a good mix of newer teachers and more long-standing ones. This means there are people with varying levels of both teaching and cultural experience so there is always someone to ask for guidance if you need to.
Living with another teacher really helped me to settle into my school family. My housemate introduced me to other expats and helped me find my way around the local area. When you live with someone you quickly get to know them very well. It is good to have someone around to share your ups and down with. Living away from all of your family and friends means that the expat community is really important and you soon become part of a tight-knit support network. Sharing your China experience (which in itself is quite an unusual life event) with like-minded people is a great way of bonding and many people stay in touch even after leaving China.
Working for a private school meant teaching classes on weekends and initially, this was something that had concerned me. However, I had been worrying for nothing. Working weekends made no difference to my social life as all of the staff at my school and it’s associated branches got the same days off. My days off (Mondays and Tuesdays) were usually spent in the company of my colleagues, however, as school often brought all of the Wuhan branches together, I got to know the other Foreign Teachers well and we regularly socialised together outside of work hours.
We mostly spent our free time eating out in local restaurants and checking out local bars but also visiting the cinema (Wuhan had one that often showed films with English subs), shopping down Han Street (which had an M&S) and just generally socialising in each other’s apartments. Living in Wuhan was great because there was always something going on. Many of the Foreign Teachers enjoyed football and our school even had their own team. We were also provided with free Chinese language lessons and there was a local pool to go swimming.
My time spent teaching in China is something I will always cherish and has been the catalyst for everything that has happened since in my life. The experience gave me confidence and enhanced my skills and abilities but perhaps the most important thing for me was the people I met. Many of my friends in Wuhan have remained in China and chose to further their careers teaching, so when I do return to the country I will definitely be stopping off to see a few familiar faces. Despite only being in China for a year, it was a hugely transformative time for me and the friends I made I consider to be lifelong.