Hey guys! My name is Rebecca. I’m 27 years old and I’m from Johannesburg, South Africa. I currently live in Sanya: an island paradise, also known as China’s Hawaii! I have lived here and worked as an English teacher for First Leap for eight months, and I don’t plan on leaving anytime soon.
Follow Rebecca’s adventures in China on Instagram: @redangeldnb
I worked as an English teacher in South Korea in 2018. Although it was a great experience, I decided to move on to a new, bigger, and more exciting challenge. I’d heard of how many people were happy living in China, and decided that it would be the best choice for my next destination.
One day, while scrolling through Facebook, I saw an ad for a job through Career China. I emailed the recruitment agent, Helen, and she set up an interview shortly afterwards. I was quite picky with the kind of job I wanted, as well as where in China I wanted to live. Avoiding pollution and the cold was important to me! Helen helped tick all the boxes, and it wasn’t long before I got a job at First Leap.
Although I had my heart set on China from the end of 2018, the process of getting here was difficult and time-consuming. As a South African, I needed a lot of different documents verified by several institutions in order to apply for an invitation letter. I was also unable to get an invitation letter for Zhuhai, the city I first got a job in, after waiting almost four months for an invitation letter. This was a major setback, but my recruitment agent never gave up, providing me with other options of cities I could work in.
When she told me about Sanya, I was over the moon. It was the perfect match! From my first application, to my flight paid for by Career China, to landing in Beijing for training, the process took 6 months. It was a long process, but totally worth the wait.
I have fallen more in love with China every day that I’ve lived here. However, my dream come true nearly became a nightmare. I was on holiday in Yangshuo for Spring Festival, with my fiancé, Carlo. This was the exact time that the Coronavirus began to dominate the news. Masks began to sell out, and there was a sense of fear amongst people who had freely been roaming the streets a few days before.
After returning home to Sanya, we only left home to buy groceries. Two weeks later, we were put into quarantine. We weren’t allowed to leave our front door for 14 days! This was quite a difficult time for us, but we kept busy through interacting with our students on WeChat, and by watching as much series as humanly possible. These were fun ways to keep busy, but it was a difficult time, and I really missed going outside.
Shortly after quarantine ended, First Leap created an online platform for us to use. This was intimidating for me initially – I had no experience with online teaching, and felt like I wouldn’t be able to cope with the change.
In my time as a First Leap teacher, I’ve developed some special relationships with my students. One thing I was apprehensive about was replicating and maintaining this connection with my students online. I’ve had so many memorable moments in the past eight months. My coworkers and I find it hilarious (and adorable) every time one of my stage 1 classes (ages 3-4) walk past the office from their classroom, and chant “He-llo Re-bec-ca!”
One night, however, particularly stands out: I walked into one of my stage 3 (ages 7-8) classes, when I noticed my student, Jane, missing for the entire lesson. I found her, crying her eyes out with her Chinese teacher, Amanda. When I asked her what was wrong, Amanda told me that Jane had bought me a gift – a huge, adorable corgi plush toy – but forgot the gift bag at home. This is why she had been crying! This warmed my heart and that toy will always be very special to me.
Once I found out that our curriculum remained the same, some of my fears about online teaching were relieved. In addition, the software that we use is pretty easy to navigate, and provides us with some fun tools that contribute to a great lesson. The students particularly love the “Up Platform”, where they’re able to be on the main screen to give answers and participate in activities.
After a few weeks of teaching online, and lots of training, I finally feel comfortable with this new way of teaching. It can be really fun, especially the reward systems that can be implemented. These are very interactive and almost like a game for the students. There are other ways to spice up one’s teaching that we don’t have in person, like adding different filters and stickers to the webcam. The kids love them!
Read More: 10 Ways To Engage Your Online ESL Students
There are some things that are challenging, though. It’s difficult to be quick with muting and unmuting students’ microphones at the perfect moment. I’ve struggled many times with having my own mic muted, and my students telling me that it is! There are also technical issues. Some students don’t have fast internet, which can create a lag in our interactions. The majority of my students are between the ages of 3 and 7, and they especially struggle with staring at a screen for 40 minutes. I have to constantly think of ways to keep them entertained for the duration of the lesson.
If I could give any tips for online teachers, they would be:
1. Be overly dramatic and excited throughout the lesson! Being as close to a TV character as possible will help to keep the students' attention.
2. Use reward systems! You could keep it simple and create a poster in real life,or download one of the many amazing options available for online teachers. These will really help with motivating the students to get involved.
3. If you’re lucky enough to have a Chinese teacher in your class with you, use them as often as possible. Not only does this help students understand activities, but also keeps them entertained, as they love seeing (and laughing at) their teacher on screen.
4. Be early for your classes. I like to be “in the classroom” 20 minutes in advance, so that I can converse with my students, play games with them (such as Pictionary and Hang Man), and get them speaking English right from the beginning.
5. Use an app for your webcam to add stickers and filters. I use ManyCam, but I’ve heard Snapcamera is great, too. The students find them hilarious!
To anyone considering coming to China, I can’t recommend it enough. It was the best decision I’ve ever made! I’d suggest being fussy from the beginning. Take your time researching the kind of job you want, and the city you want to live in. This can help with your transition to life in China. Although I didn’t move to China alone, I was able to make some amazing friends from the training I attended in Beijing, who I still keep in touch with today!
Even though it might seem intimidating, China is an incredible country to create a life in, and I couldn’t be more grateful to be here.
Follow Rebecca’s adventures in China on Instagram: @redangeldnb
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