By Nicolle Chenjera, (State School Teacher in Shanghai, 2015-ongoing)

3 years ago! I simply typed in, ‘TEACH ENGLISH IN CHINA’. That was my single step to an unforeseen thousand mile journey!

2015 was the year of change for me; the previous 3 years had been very difficult mentally and emotionally draining and having been in my final year of University I knew I had to make some big changes one way or the other. Nonetheless that very year I made a decision and took a step that has influenced my life till this date!

‘A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step’
During my final year of University one person gave me a quote which had an impact on me till this day. It was by Lao Zi a Chinese philosopher who once said, ‘A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step’.

I was in my final year of university (2015) just like any other student, I was now wondering what I was going do with my life once this milestone was over. I remember applying for jobs from the start of the year. This was a big step for me as I was the BIGGEST procrastinator when it came to getting things done, however this time I knew I had to push myself and put at least one foot in and hope that my mind and every part of me will follow.

No ways turned to YES ways!
In my final year at University I felt hopeless after applying for jobs, going for interviews but not finding anything suitable. I then remembered travelling to China in 2014 through my university programme and meeting a lot of ex-pats who all happened to be teaching in China. This was fascinating to me as I wondered why they taught so far from home and for such a long time, I couldn’t do that! Little did I know that these were conversations I never thought would later shape or influence my future decisions.

Teaching was something that generations of my family had a profession in but I never thought I was able to follow in their foot steps. However having had a degree in Psychology made me want a career where I was able to be facilitator to other people in some way. I just wanted to be able to work with people and be around people not stuck in a office in front of the PC. At that point teaching did not seem like such a bad idea. After all I grew up in a family of teachers and have the passion to work and help others.

Sat in my room I simply typed in, ‘TEACH ENGLISH IN CHINA’ and clicked on the first link. Literally that was my single step to an unforeseen thousand mile journey! At this point I thought to myself ‘oh well probably won’t get it’ but I still when for it.

Within the week I was invited for a phone interview which I passed, and suddenly I was preparing for my big move! Prior to all this did have a couple of hard years and I knew this was the time I needed to introspect within my self and get away from everything, like a fresh start.

I’m definitely staying JUST 1 year !
I received an email informing me which city I was to be based in for my one year experience. There were barley any pictures of the place (Tongling) except old satellite pictures and I couldn’t even find on on maps. Not only that, Google kept correcting my spelling to TINGLING from the actual name TONGLING. I started to worry that I was going to based somewhere rural. Things were not looking up.

Arriving in Beijing first impressions was that it was amazing, embracing every moment and trying to maintain optimism about my soon to be home in Tongling. After my week in Beijing my school came to pick me up and we got on a high speed train. I started asking the teacher about Tongling, like how far it was and any foreigners live there. With a smile she replied ‘5 and half hours by train, and another 2 hour drive from the train station to Tongling as no high speed trains passed through, saw one foreigner one time’. Well lets just say I smiled back and said a prayer in my heart. And true to my imagination the journey transitioned from high rise buildings to lots of trees and mountains. I remained calm and thought I’m DEFINITELY staying just 1 year in this country.

Not at all as imagined
We got picked up in a NICE car, which was the principles private car sent by the school. It had white seats and the air con! Never felt so AMAZING given the heat outside. For a moment I felt presidential as the driver gave me some water and we made our way to the ‘rural area’. Driving through what I would call a city in China a town it was not rural at all. There were tall buildings, a lot of people (still no foreigner), KFC, PIZZA HUT and most some things familiar to home. It was not at all as I had imagined, it was a beautiful Chinese town.

We drove up suspicious street with small shops and a little dirty, to my new home, the street was small and it was like driving through what I would call ‘real China’. The houses did not look western rather old and not so clean from the outside. Fear entered again. We took my bags and arrived in front of this private gated double story house with a beautiful garden and balcony. With a smile and raised eyebrows I asked ‘is this where I will be staying’ and it was so. We walked in and it was a renovated house with 2 apartments both en suite, the upstairs one had a balcony and I was the first to arrive so I got first pick– I was so happy. The teacher showed me around my new ‘TOWN’ relatively speaking, but to me it was a CITY it was very big. It was beautiful.

However there were still no sight of foreigners around and everywhere I went heads were turned, people smiling and being friendly and nice. No one spoke English I knew I had to learn to get by. Today I can say this was definitely beneficial for me as I was put in a situation where I had to learn- otherwise I would procrastinate and not bother. Though attention was nice it was too overwhelming. When time came when I was left alone and started talking to friends who were based in other cities like Shanghai, Nanjing, Suzhou etc I was a little sad as there weren’t any foreign faces nor anyone I could go out with. I feared loneliness.

Where I needed to be
I got into my routine of teaching and living my life abroad and it was AMAZING. The students and the friends definitely made my experience and welcomed me so much. It all helped with my transition. As time came when I got familiar with my surroundings I stared exploring my town. I also visited my friends on weekends in their cities and having my time filled with new adventures and learning experiences.

I started to really appreciate the fact that I wasn’t in a big city. Tongling was the BEST place for me to have been for my first year in China I truly believe it was where I needed to be. I had just finished 3 years stressful year of university and also life stress beyond university. I just needed to be away from any form of distraction to reflect and appreciate life more. Having visited my friends in big popular cities with the hustling and bustling I wouldn’t have been able to get my head straight nor learn the true living and culture of China, especially the language.

In Tongling I made a lot of friends I couldn’t have ever imagined I could have, they helped me learn their language, try traditional food, invited me to places and took me to many famous places that most foreigners did not know. I learnt how to enjoy night life the Chinese way not the western way. Honestly I was fully restored and at peace with everything and everyone around me. Though I visited other cities I found myself missing my little town Tongling and going back was always a breathe of fresh air, literally the air was much fresher. I couldn’t wait to go back to my teaching and my students as well.

With my teaching job and new found life style I even had a month to travel to a country/countries of my choice especially in Southeast Asia. I was even able fly back home to the UK and still go on holiday in other countries in Europe. This was and IS the life that most people dream of! Having a job they love and being able to afford to travel wherever you want. I thought to myself, why should feel I have no life while I am young, why should I work long hours in a job I do not have passion for? Why should I work and be scared to spend the money I work for?

My time in China has helped be break this chain that most young people have in the West. I found myself again after 3 years of stress, I found a self rewarding and job I have passion for, I can spend my money wisely, pay my bills and still have the world as my oyster. In 2015 I said to myself ‘I’m definitely staying for another year!’

The year was coming to an end I received an email from my boss, asking me to remain for another year and I agreed. Since I had found myself I asked to moved to Shanghai for my second so I was able to experience the modern side of China. I got the job in Shanghai with an even better contract for staying on with the company for another year.

2015- 2017
This year I have signed another even better contract still in Shanghai. I am loving my life in China. I can speak Chinese and of course still learning. I have leant the importance of networking and meeting new people from all areas of profession as way to learn more. I now have gained a lot more experience and that’s just before getting my masters. I have expanded my horizon, travelled to many countries in the space of 3 years with my teaching job.

3 years later my 1000 mile journey started with a single step after many ups and downs it is still going. I don’t want this journey to stop, I am more motivated than I was when I took my first step. I am not ready for it to end.

How much longer will I stay in China? 3 years ago I would have said 1 more year. Today I do not know- I guess time will tell!