In the lead-up to leaving the U.K. I was constantly asked “why China?” with such bemusement. Something that seems really strange to me simply because, well, why not? When people I know travel it doesn’t occur to me to ask “why?” because to state the blindingly obvious, they want to go there, they’re interested in the country and the culture. And there’s not a lot more I can add to that when I’m asked to be honest. I think perhaps in the West, China is considered so far-flung and so far removed from our own culture that people, generally speaking, find it hard to comprehend the draw. The fact it’s one of the largest countries in the world, with one of the largest economies in the world steeped in such culturally significant history and tradition is what draws me. I don’t want to spend time in cultures similar to my own, that defeats the point of travel for me. The fascination is the very fact that everything is different.
My natural curiosity to know how the rest of the world works has always left me restless. Yes I’ve had holidays, I’ve back-packed and traveled to various countries over the years, but I don’t believe you get a real understanding of a culture until you’ve lived and breathed it, warts and all. So, after a 12 year career in the TV industry, the latter 4 being the most unhappy of my life so far, that curiosity and what I’ve now come to recognize as need, finally got the better of me. I didn’t want to just visit new countries once every few years having saved enough money or been made redundant again, I really want to spend my life living them.
Not easy to do if you don’t have the funds or a job that pays for you to work abroad. And that’s where TEFL came in; I’ve never had a burning desire to teach to be honest, but I do have the burning desire to spend my days working and living in as many countries around the world as humanly possible in my lifetime, however long or short that may be. So, what better way to be able to fund that dream than qualifying as an English teacher to take me on that journey? 2 months after making the decision to give up the life I’d built for myself in London, I qualified. 1 month after qualifying I was offered my first teaching job, 3 months later here I am in Xi’an, China’s ancient Capital city, the birth place of The Silk Road and home to China’s most influential philosopher, Confucius. This time last year I was still working in Soho for a global U.S. TV Network managing their 3 Nordic channels single-handedly. Today, by comparison I was rolling around a classroom floor being a snake for a bunch of 10 year olds and I couldn’t be happier!
China was an easy country for me to get a teaching job in. Unlike most other countries, they will accept newly qualified teachers providing you have a degree and are a native English speaker, everywhere else expects a minimum of 1-2 years previous teaching experience. So, my decision to come here was part circumstance along with being a corner of the world I’d never seen before. Next on my long to-do list was Asia – having done South America, North Africa, most of Europe and the Middle-East – so I couldn’t get more Asia than China! Having been here for only 1 month, I’m already planning my October vacation to Vietnam, a trip so cheap being so close by. And on my days off I get to play the tourist, taking the speed train to Beijing, travelling to the ancient town of Pingyao, visiting the Buddha caves of North Shaanxi and seeing awe-inspiring Terracotta Warriors. All the while an official resident of this amazing Country. I honestly couldn’t want for anything more.
Luckily, I’ve taken to teaching quite naturally, being a bit of a buffoon by nature helps, I’ll admit! And despite it not being my ‘dream job’ what I’ve learnt already is that it really doesn’t matter. I’m out here living in such a unique country learning so many new things every day about this culture, the fact that I happen to be doing a job that’s turned out to be fun and having a more meaningful/rewarding impact is just a bonus. Because, after years of striving to be the best and most successful I could be in my TV career, ultimately it didn’t make my soul happy. The job we do doesn’t define who we are, yet for years mine did. Being successful in my career and earning a decent salary meant everything but there came a point when I had the good title, the good salary, my gorgeous apartment and I still wasn’t satisfied. Not because I’m greedy, far from it, but because my instinct started to tell me that this wasn’t the only thing meant for me.
I see China as my stepping stone to the rest of the world – with my first year teaching English as a foreign language under way, this time next year the world really will be my oyster, I’ll be in the privelidged position to be able to pick and chose which countries I want to move to next, earning a living as I go!
For me at this point, I am taking care of my own happiness, experiencing contentment I’ve not felt before and living the dream.
My very own dream.