Contracts on our long-term paid teaching programme are for 10-12 months. After that you are free to extend the contract, which many of our teachers do; one third of the 2014/2015 group decided to stay in China. Anna-Maria Linhard is one of them, and below she discusses her decision to stay on at her school in Shanghai, and how the second year is going.
The second year in China: getting my feet wet
Half of year two in China is already over and I’m finally sitting down to write about it. Why am I still here? “Here” has three parts: 1) China, 2) Shanghai, 3) the same school as last year. Before I decided to stay a second year I thought about it a lot. I weighed pros and cons, wrote lists, and although there were many good and reasonable arguments for renewing my contract, in the end I followed my gut feeling. I just didn’t want to leave.
China. I felt that I wasn’t finished with China yet. There is still so much I want to do and see in Asia and even two years is not nearly enough time to explore when I work five, often six days a week. If one year in China is like dipping your toes in the water, two years is like wading in up to your ankles.
Shanghai. I love living in Shanghai. It’s the biggest city I’ve ever been to and there are endless things to do here. Random highlights: This year I saw the very first Irish tap dance performance and the biggest fireworks of my life. Other Chinese cities might be cheaper, better for sight-seeing or have cleaner air, but all things considered Shanghai is a good place to live if you like cities. For details see my article, “11 things I love about Shanghai”.
My school. My school is not just my workplace. I live on campus and my best friend, a Japanese colleague, lives right next door. In the past four years I’ve lived in four different countries and I just wasn’t ready to pack up my life and start over some place new yet again. I know my colleagues; I know the students; I know my place in the school and I know that I can do my job well. That is worth a lot, even if the initial excitement and the novelty have worn off. Not having to say goodbye was the best thing about staying another year.
I remember how nerve-wrecking it was to get a taxi to the hotel when I arrived the very first time for the training in Beijing. I tried to take a normal taxi but the driver didn’t know the street where the hotel was and didn’t speak any English. The hotel reception wouldn’t pick up the phone. So I let myself get ripped off by a private taxi because the guy had GPS and spoke some English.
Getting off the plane the second time was like coming home. My friend met me at the airport. I explained the address to the taxi driver in broken but comprehensible Chinese. I opened the door to my small flat and everything was just as I left it. I unpacked and then we went for lunch at the tiny sushi restaurant in our street like many times before.
Things are the same as before. I guess that is both a blessing and a curse. I expected everything to be easier the second year. In some ways it is and in some ways it’s not. I already have friends here, although some have left China. I know my way around the city. I have my choir that I joined last year. I have more experience teaching, and I’m less nervous going into the class room. I have my favourite milk tea shop, my favourite cinema, my favourite dumpling restaurant. I know where to get affordable clothes, buy concert tickets online and find German bread and Dutch cheese when I crave it. The less pleasant things stayed the same, too. The slow and censored internet, the language barrier, the air pollution, the lack of central heating in the winter, the constant last-minute changes and decisions at work, a boss that is hard to communicate with, all the little things. The honeymoon is over, the endorphins have worn off and I realise that those things do bother me. But this is China – as they say – and I knew exactly what I was in for this time.
Some things did change. There are new colleagues and new students. I had hoped that I could reuse many of my lessons from last year but my schedule and the curriculum changed, so I’m spending almost the same amount of time lesson planning as last year. I’m actually busier with work because I took another teaching job on Saturdays for some extra cash. More old friends left and new friends came along. The winter break gave me the chance to explore Hong Kong (rainy but insanely cool) and Bali (hot but insanely gorgeous), and now I only have four and a half months left. The obvious question is: How about a third year? And just like last year, my gut feeling tells me that the answer this time is no. There are various work and health related reasons, but ultimately I just feel that it’s time to go home at the end of this term. I know that I will be very sad to leave. I’ll probably cry on the airplane back home. There are so many things that I will miss, and Europe will seem very strange to me for a while, but I do hope to come back to China some day.
By Anna-Maria Linhard, teacher in Shanghai