It’s been a long time since my last post. So much has happened. I’ve been focusing on living life, and haven’t had much time to write about it. You may have also noticed that I’ve moved over to a new platform. Luckily, we were able to move over all my previous posts (by ‘we’, I mean my wonderful tech-savvy husband), and now that I’ve figured out the new system and gotten it looking the way I want it to, I’m back!
The 2022/2023 school year can truly be divided into two parts. In the first half of the year, Suzhou was still in and out of lockdowns due to COVID. They were stricter than ever about entering buildings and it got to the point where we were cooking at home, just to save ourselves the hassle of trying to get into the mall. Volunteer trips to the shelter became nearly impossible because I needed to collect phone numbers, passport numbers, green codes and proof of tests for every single volunteer (usually around 25 people). If I didn’t have these things, we weren’t allowed into the village where the shelter is located.
Chinese citizens had enough, and protests started to erupt all over the country. I haven’t talked much about the worst parts of the COVID measures in China, but many people did die due to those measures. 10 people died in the western province of Xinjiang, when their building managers locked them in with chains during lock downs. A fire broke started, and people couldn’t get out. 27 people died in Guizhou province while on their way to a quarantine hotel. The bus lost control and went off the side of a cliff. At that point, only 2 people had died of COVID in all of Guizhou province, but it didn’t change the crazy measures they were taking to keep people ‘safe’.
In addition to all the deaths caused by COVID measures, lockdowns were getting worse all over China. Dave and I were watching the news in horror as violence was breaking out in factories all over the country, where hundreds of thousands of people were being locked into their places of employment. There were food shortages, and anyone testing positive was taken into horrible quarantine camps. People had had enough, and they started to fight back. Things became very physical, and we were seeing videos popping up all over Chinese media. Of course, they were taken down within hours (sometimes minutes!) of being posted, but everyone saw them anyway.
It was a very scary time to be living here, and it took a toll on our mental health. My classes were interrupted daily for testing. We were being tested nearly every day in autumn, and as winter approached, things were looking grim. I didn’t want to spend my last year here in and out of lock downs. I didn’t want my memories of this beautiful country to be tarnished by a virus that was going to spread regardless of government actions. I just wanted things to go back to normal.
Then, on December 7th, it all changed. Codes were no longer needed and testing was halted. The city was no longer full of ‘Da Bai’ (the term for people dressed in the white safety suits that China used). The country stopped posting daily number for infected individuals. It was one of the strangest things I’ve ever experienced. A switch was flipped and suddenly, we could breath again.
It was impossible for them to track how many people got sick in those first weeks, but the numbers were certainly in the hundreds of millions. Hospitals were overrun, mostly because people in China go to the hospital for even the smallest thing. Fever clinics were opened up all over Suzhou to help with all the people coming in, demanding IV drips. There were certainly deaths, but they weren’t announced. I caught COVID on December 18th, and Dave started showing symptoms on the 19th. By Christmas, we were right as rain and able to go enjoy a dinner in nearby Kunshan. Most holiday celebrations were cancelled though, because so many service workers were catching the virus and recovering at home or in fever clinics.
By mid January, it was estimated that 80% of China’s massive 1.4 billion citizens had had caught COVID. Eventually, quarantine measures for flights were reduced and then disappeared, and life got back to almost normal. Masks became optional. People started to live again. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was living in fear. I was scared it could all start up again at any point. When Monkey Pox started hitting the news, we were worried they were renew virus management measures.
A lot of ridiculous things were posted online during that time. Superstitions were rampant. People in China were terrified of doing any physical activity for months after they caught COVID, because they were sure it would cause them to have heart attacks and die. I was told by all my coworkers that I shouldn’t be taking walks, because physical activity could be deadly. Long showers were also risky, I was told. When Monkey Pox started hitting the news here, news articles were being published telling locals not to shake hands or come into contact with any foreign people because we might infect them.
But, eventually, things sort of just went back to normal. People started going out again. We weren’t all living in fear that we might be put back into a lock down. Events started happening again. We could go places freely. We didn’t have to worry about getting COVID tests daily, and I didn’t need to show any codes when I came into the school or went to the store. I went from having my temperature checked 5 times a day, to never having it checked at all. We all started LIVING again. It was wonderful.
Our last few months in China were incredible. It made me very sad to leave this place that I’ve called home for the past 8 years. I accepted a job in Hanoi, Vietnam, in spring, and as the date came closer, I felt sadder about leaving. I knew it would be hard to say goodbye to all my friends here. I know it would be especially hard to say goodbye to the music scene. In my last 6 months in China, I performed nearly every weekend, sometimes by myself, but often with various bands.
Sadly, the thing that made me happiest in my last 6 months in China, also cost me a lot. Although Dave and I were supposed to arrive in Vietnam on July 7th, everything changed at my farewell party on July 1st. But I’ll be telling that story in my next blog post. It’s a doozy. Be sure to check back to hear all about how I was arrested in front of all my friends, and spent 6 weeks trapped in the country I once loved so much.
I’ve taken quite the absence from my blogging this year, mostly because there hasn’t been much to blog about. We were in and out of the various stages of lock down for 3+ months, which led to our finalized decision to leave China in June of 2023. The good news is that there was a silver lining at the end of lock downs… we got to go home!!!
The months leading up to our trip home was filled with uncertainty. When we booked our flights, we were expecting to do 2 weeks of hotel quarantine and 2 weeks of at home quarantine where we would not be allowed to leave the apartment. About a month before we left however, this was changed to 7 days in hotel quarantine with only 3 days at home. Several other changes lead to us having an extra week in Manitoba as well, so it seemed like things were looking up! Still, I didn’t fully relax until we were seated on our flight back to Vancouver. Things change quickly, and right up until that point, we were prepared for things to go wrong.
The whole process of getting out of China and then getting back in was quite an ordeal. I thought you might all be interested in hearing about all the steps we had to take, so here it is: our summer adventure!
Getting out of Suzhou
Getting out of Suzhou was a bit of an ordeal up until the week we left. If we had gone 1 week earlier, we would have had to take a car to the permiter between Suzhou and Shanghai and then transfered to another car because it was impossible for drivers to get into Shanghai and then out again. This rule was lifted just in time and we were able to take 1 car the whole 3 hour drive. It was still pricey (3x the normal fee) but doable.
We arrived at the airport 5 hours before our flight and we were very glad had the extra time. Although Pudong airport was a ghost town (which was very strange because it’s usually an incredibly busy place), it took us 2.5 hours just to check in our luggage. It seemed like everyone packed more luggage than usual (many seemed to be paying to take extra suitcases), and many pets were flying too. Worst of all, due to COVID concerns, the AC was basically non existent so we had to stand there in the heat, wearing N95 masks. Shanghai is a hot city and even in the morning it was between 25 and 30 degrees celsius, with plenty of humidity.
Once we got through check-in, we had to get through immigration and security. They were extra fussy with security this year, and we had to leave behind all our hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes. Our luggage was thoroughly checked. Customs was easy for us, but the line was slow because any Chinese people leaving had to explain why they were leaving in detail. I overheard one woman explaining that she needed to go to America because she hadn’t seen her son and grandchildren in three years. China is still trying to prevent any unnecessary travel in and out of the country, so people actually had to have a valid reason to leave.
Once we were boarded, things went smoothly, but the flight itself was 2 hours longer than normal because there was a crew switch in Seoul. With the added COVID rules, the crews couldn’t legally do the entire trip. They have hours of safety measures to do once the plane lands, so all flights to and from Canada now have a stop in Korea, to allow a new crew to take over We weren’t allowed off the plane, of course, and it added an additional 2 hours to our already long trip home.
Arriving in Canada
Arriving in Canada was easy peasy. Although there were massive delays in Toronto, Vancouver was not very affected, so aside from a slightly longer wait to check in, arriving in Canada was a piece of cake. It was so good to be home, hearing French on the intercoms, and seeing familiar shops and restaurants. Our first meal back was at A&W, where we overloaded on sodium and sugar and immediately regretted our decision.
Getting Ready to Head Back
Our trip home was fantastic and I’ll write more about that in my next couple of posts. The last week, though, was a bit stressful. In addition to worrying about our flights being cancelled, we had to be tested and apply for a codes that would allow us to get back into the country. We heard horror stories of people who had tested positive and the difficulty they were having with getting negative tests, even weeks later. Many flights were being cancelled on the Canadian side (because of staff shortages) and also on the China side (due to circuit breaker measures that China has in place if too many people on a particular fight test positive on arrival).
Our biggest challenge was finding the right information about the testing requirements to get our green codes for re-entry. Info on the consulate websites were out of date and we had a lot of difficulty getting in touch with anyone at the consulates as well. It turned out that we had to get 2 tests done from DIFFERENT labs. The first had to be done 2 days before departure, the second 1 day before departure. The problem was that there was only 1 lab in Winnipeg that was in China’s approval list. After some digging, we found out that they were ok with us using labs that weren’t on the list, as long as they were legit and the tests were done in the nose. We found this to be particularly interesting because all the testing we do weekly in China is done in the throat, but rules were rules and we followed them.
In total, the testing cost us over $700 Canadian, which was a little crazy given that we get tested multiple times per week in China for free. And if we happen to miss the free testing, it costs less than a dollar to pay to have one done. Of course, China has the infrastructure in place to mass test, whereas Canada relies mostly on at-home antigen tests. Those aren’t accepted in China, so it’s PCR or nothing here.
I think the biggest stress in that last week, aside from conflicting and missing information, was our fear of catching COVID. If we had, it could have taken months for us to get back to China, and it also would have cost us thousands of dollars. We hand sanitized, masked up and acted like paranoid nuts that last week, but luckily, our families were very understanding and accommodating and we had most of our get togethers and goodbyes outside, where risks were much lower. We never caught COVID, which was a stroke of good luck, supported by careful measures. Our time in China had already normalized a lot of these behaviors, so it was just a matter of switching back into those habits after a very stress-free summer.
We managed to get through it all and got our green codes to China, and before we knew it, we were off!
Arriving in China
This is where the real “fun” began. I’ll try not to bore you with too much detail, but the moment we arrived back in China, things got a lot more serious. The difference in the way we were treated was obvious. In Canada, COVID is basically treated as ‘no big deal’. In China, we were treated like we had bubonic plague and had the intention of spreading it to the masses.
The airport was all extremely sterile, with every worker in a full PPE suit, despite the heat. There was a lot of shouting as we were hearded from one line up to the next, walking several kms around the airport for the different parts of re-entry. This is a rough breakdown of the steps.
Recheck the codes that we had needed to board the airplane & sign consent forms for testing to be done (these tests were not optional, so I’m not sure why we needed to sign consent)
COVID testing- the most painful and uncomfortable test of my life. It took the guy 3 tries before he was happy with the results, and the swabs went so deep into my throat that I gagged and heaved the entire time. My throat was sore for hours.
Temperature checks and facial recognition.
Sorting into provinces for the quarantine hotels
Preparation for the hotel quarantine location we’d be staying in and the surrender of our passports
Getting onto the bus that would take us into quarantine
Check in and payment at the quarantine hotel
Preliminary testing at the COVID hotel, including temperature checks (with thermometers that didn’t work), another PCR (nose AND throat… different swabs, don’t worry) and logging in info so that we could be sorted into our next quarantine hotel.
We landed at 6am and it was probably about 1pm by the time we could finally sit back and relax in our quarantine room. None of it was particularly difficult, but the amount of walking we had to do, carrying all our luggage, was exhausting… especially in the heat & N95 masks. I was very glad to have a bottle of water for Dave and I to share, because there was no where to get water on the way. This was probably a good thing because I don’t think we were allowed to use the washrooms either.
By the end of it, I was jetlagged, sore and emotionally drained. I got yelled at so many times, and there wasn’t a smile to be seen anywhere… Just PPE suits, masks, visors and exhausted and overheating staff at the airport. It wasn’t exactly the nicest welcome back.
I have 1 week left of quarantine and plenty that I’m still planning to write about, including an entire post describing our life behind monitored doors, and several posts about Canada…
Stay tuned and feel free to leave your comments below!!
Well, it’s been an interesting start to the year of the Tiger! Dave and I decided to stay in Suzhou over Chinese New Year, once more. Traveling in China at the moment is a headache, as Omicron spreads across the country. We didn’t want to deal with potential quarantines or all the testing required to travel, so we stayed in the city of gardens and canals and enjoyed good times with good friends.
The last night of the holiday, things got interesting. Suzhou announced that 4 cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed in Suzhou. It was announced that schools were going to be closed while the city figured out if the virus had spread. 4 cases may not seem like much, but Suzhou hasn’t had any local transmission since May 2020, so this was a pretty big deal.
Monday morning, things got even more interesting! I woke up at 7am to find out that the city was ordering mass testing, and that we wouldn’t be allowed to leave our apartment compound until we had COVID tests done. So, we lined up outside, along with 1000 of our neighbors, and waited for the swab.
It took about 2 hours to get through the line, and then I was able to get to the school for an emergency meeting on how online classes would be handled. I was a little annoyed that my boss decided that an in-person meeting was required (we’ve been through all this before, after all…), but we were called in, so we went.
My compound was all clear, but some of my coworkers ended up with yellow codes, indicating that they had been in the same vicinity as someone who was confirmed as being a positive case. One of my coworkers had a confirmed case in her apartment complex, which was a little alarming. She had to go home and basically stay there until further notice.
We’re up to 24 positive cases in Suzhou now. No one is really panicking. We all know that omicron isn’t super deadly and that we’ll mostly be fine if we catch it, but with China’s MASSIVE population, and close living conditions, an out-of-control breakout could lead to a LOT of hospitalizations, so it’s still taken very seriously.
Dave and I lined up again this morning for test #2. We’ll likely need to be tested every second day for the next couple of weeks. I’m teaching from home and we stocked up on groceries (and toilet paper!), So we aren’t leaving the apartment all that much. We are free to move around if we want to, and as long as we comply with testing and masks, we can go out, but we’d rather not risk ending up with yellow codes if we come into contact with someone who later tests positive. It’s too much of a headache, so we’re playing it safe.
I find it interesting how different countries are reacting to things now (and through these past two years too). In Canada, there are massive protests going, and with vaccination rates being so high, and population density so low, I understand why people are tired of the restrictions. I am too. In China though, the risks are different, and as frustrated as I can get about things here, on some levels I get it.
I think I can speak for everyone on the planet when I say that I just really want this all to end.
Stay safe everyone! Looking forward to the day that all this is a distant memory!!
As COVID continues to affect the world, we continue to be unable to go home. Although Canada did recently lift the mandatory 2 week quarantine for vaccinated people coming into Canada, they are not recognizing the Chinese vaccines, so we were forced to stay here for the second summer in a row.
Of course, staying in Suzhou didn’t really appeal to us, so we decided to plan an epic 5 week trip across 10 provinces and a huge range of places in China. Our first stop: Qinghai Province
Our original plan was to go to Tibet and see Everest and Lhasa, but those plans were thwarted due to permit issues. Even with a valid Chinese visa, you can’t actually visit TAR (Tibetan Autonomous Region) without a special permit issued by the government. And although Tibet opened again for international tourists in May, permits still aren’t actually being issued. So, we decided to see other areas of the Tibetan Plateau instead.
This morning, we flew to Xining, which is the capital of Qinghai Province. Although the Province is huge, there are only a handful of really popular tourist spots in the area. Xining itself is a pretty city, with much cleaner air than we have on the east coast. I prefer it to Lanzhou, the capital of Gansu, where we spent our October Holiday. People here are friendlier and the city is more modern.
We spent today exploring the area with the friends we are spending the next week with: Ian and Andy. A couple of Andy’s friends have joined as well, and the 6 of us enjoyed a chill day of sight seeing and COVID tests.
We found 2 beautiful mosques today. They were quite different from one another. The first seemed a lot older, but with several modern (and culturally Chinese) elements added.
The second mosque seemed newer and was definitely more grand. There was a secondary area near the back, where the walls were brown (the rest of the mosque was white). The whole area was very peaceful and beautiful.
Our last stop for the day was at the old city wall. We were there after dark and got to see part of it all lit up and beautiful!! Definitely one of my favorite things about China is the way they use lights to keep things intriguing, even in the dark.
Our first day in Xining was lovely! Looking forward to tomorrow, when we head out to Qinghai Lake!!!
One of the best things about living in China is the high speed train. Dave and I have no interest in buying a car in China, so the high speed train is how we get from city to city, when we need a break from Suzhou.
This year, we’ve taken a record number of weekend trips that I thought might be worth writing about.
Cirque du Soleil
My hatred of Shanghai city has never been a secret, but I’ve recently grown to appreciate this metropolis, regardless of its overpopulation and pollution…
The event that began this new understanding of Shanghai was none other than a Cirque Du Soleil show. Dave and I have seen 6 shows total now, so when we found out that Kooza would be playing in old Pudong…we booked tickets with our friends Kim and CJ.
Shanghai doesn’t get as many big shows as I wish it did (mainly because a lot of bands and musicians are banned in China), but now and then, they get a good one. Linkin Park played Shanghai a few years ago, before Chester Bennington’s death. Unfortunately, the concert took place while I was visiting family in Canada, which meant I missed my last opportunity to see one of my favourite bands perform.
Couldn’t pay me to see….
Don’t really care to see…
Christmas with Friends
We’ve taken a couple of trips to Hangzhou this year as well. Located about 2 hours away by high speed train, Hangzhou is a beautiful city. It was recently the location of a G20 Summit, and is home to West Lake, which is both scenic and huge. Hangzhou is the capital of Zhezhang province, Jiangsu’s neighbour to the south.
Christmas with Friends
A beautiful place to take a walk
More importantly, Hangzhou is home to two of my favourite people in the world! So, Dave and I, along with our friend Kevin, made our way down to Hangzhou for Christmas this year. We enjoyed some excellent meals, a nice walk around West Lake, and time with good friends. It was well worth the weekend trip!
Feeling ‘Christmasy’ at Eudora…a lovely restaurant in Hangzhou
On the train
A purple wreath
We had dinner at a very interesting place. The menu had some translation problems…
Weddings in Hangzhou
A few months later, we found ourselves back in Hangzhou for Deb and Dedrick’s wedding! We had another lovely trip in, and this time, we got to spend the weekend with our good friends Mark and Deb. Mark and I play in The Sundaze together, and it was good to get out and cut loose in a new city with them. And of course, my dear Kevin was there as well!
Back at Eudora
The adorable Deb and I
Mark, being himself
Midnight snack stop on our way home from drinks at Eudora
The longer you stay in China, the more people you meet. Deb and Dedrick’s wedding was a really cool experience because there were people from everywhere there. It was a beautiful mixture of North American and Argentinian culture, with guests from all over the world.
Dressed up for the wedding
A beautiful vegetarian wedding dinner
These were so darn good!
A beautiful dress designed by the bride
Friends travelled from France and Mexico to be there for the wedding
Moroccan food in Tianzefang
Finally, Shanghai itself can be an awesome little getaway. When Dave and I went to Taiwan in April, we opted to spend the night in Shanghai before flying out the next morning to Taipei (Suzhou doesn’t have an airport). We asked around for food recommendation, and my friend Andy told me of a good Moroccan place in an area of Shanghai called Tianzefang.
Such a great restaurant! Can’t wait to go back!!!
Pear and chicken breast….
figs and lamb shank
Morrocan friend rice
Tianzifang is lovely! It’s a vibrant and interesting area that doesn’t feel at all like the Pudong I grew to hate. It’s full of bars, unique shops and great international food options.
Dave and I, enjoying a walk home
Some strange signs
This cat doesn’t move….these two pictures were taken a month apart lol
A month or so later, Dave and I actually made a special trip to Shanghai just to have another meal at Andelus, the Moroccan restaurant Andy recommended. The following morning, we visited the very famous ” Lao Wai Park“.
Shanghai’s Lao Wai (foreigner) Park, is an are of restaurants and bars that are very popular among expats. The comedy group Mamahuhu did a series of videos there. Dave and I had an amazing lunch at a little Vietnamese restaurant. I can’t wait til we can visit again!
We also wandered around Shanghai for a bit during our last trip in. We saw the largest Starbucks in the world while we were there. There was a massive lineup, so we didn’t go in, but I did take some pictures.
In it’s first 8 weeks, this 30,000 square foot Starbucks roastery made more than $60,000 every DAY
The lineups were ridiculous and we didn’t want to wait in the heat, so we didn’t go inside
But I DID sneak some pictures from the outside!
There are so many more nearby places we want to visit before we leave China. We have friends in Nanjing that we really want to go visit. We also want to see Yellow Mountain, and of course we’d love to see more of Shanghai and Hangzhou. The high speed train gives us so many opportunities for travel. Now, to make the time!
I’ll be writing lots over the next week, trying to catch up on all my Indonesia posts before we head to The Philippines!
Being an English teacher has its challenges, but one of the biggest perks I have as a language teacher is that I can teach my lessons through a variety of lenses. If I’m teaching about conditional voice, for example, I can have the students talk about which super powers they wish they had, or about regrets they have from the past.
This year, I chose to teach my grade 9 students English through a lens I think everyone should consider: “Critical Thinking in Social Media”. I introduced them to Snopes, discussed the power (and danger) of memes and we talked about subjects ranging from gun control in the United States to South Korean fan superstitions. My hope was that I’d teach them how to be considerate and intelligent Netizens, but I probably learned nearly as much as they did.
Our class discussions about the dangers of Social Media really got me thinking. We discussed the idea that people rarely write about bad things that are happening in their lives, but instead tend to focus on the positive, making their lives look more glamorous and perfect that they really are. In of itself, this isn’t a problem, but when others see those happy posts, they start to compare their own lives with the (perfect) lives that others present to the cyber world.
Elephants in Thailand
Ziplining in Laos
Cruising down the Mekong River looking for Irawaddy Dolphins
Sunsets on the Great Wall
Sunsets in Phu Quoc….if all you see are these…it seems like my life is a breeze!
I try not to do this, but, of course, it can be difficult. I haven’t been feeling particularly positive lately, so I thought this would be a good time to write about the negative aspects of living as an expat. *Spoiler…it’s awesome…but like everything, it has its downsides*
June is a hard month for a lot of reasons. It’s the end of the school year, which is stressful for all teachers. Between grading, report cards and final tests, teachers across the planet are barely holding it together every June. When you’re an expat teacher, you have to also consider the stress of booking flights home, finding cat sitters, and spending 6 weeks living out of suitcases. It’s stressful.
Not to mention the nightmare of travelling…
And the fact that I have to go to an airport that has SIM card vending machines every few meters, but bottled water is hidden away
And then there’s the train station…. Have I mentioned we do all this with luggage???
That’s not to say that I’d give up my trip home to avoid these stresses…but it is something a lot of people don’t think about when they think of what it’s like teaching abroad. Other things include…
Saying Goodbye to Students
One event was particularly emotional for me this month. My grade 9 students have been with me since my very first day at SFLS, and in September, they will be moving onto high school. Many of them will be moving abroad as well, so it’s not as though I’ll be seeing many of them again. Their graduation was last Friday and although I promised myself I wasn’t going to cry (I even refused to bring tissue in an attempt to not even give myself the option), I ended up red in the face and tearier than I would like to admit. When you love teaching…it’s easy to become attached to the kids you see every day for 3 years.
Victor and I with Wendy. I was happy I could put my hands in front of my face because I’d started crying a few moments before and simply couldn’t stop
This class is full of the coolest kids in China. I’m sure of it
This is Angel. She’s the reason I was crying. She came up and gave me a hug and whipered ‘thank you’ in my ear and I just couldn’t stop. As a teacher, you pour yourself into your students. You spend all your free time grading their work and helping them on Wechat. You spend you life getting them ready for exams and making sure that they’re getting the best education you can provide. Unfortunately, teaching teenagers can be pretty thankless. They often forget about their foreign teachers because we aren’t as important at the school as the Chinese staff. It’s amazing what one quiet “Thank You” can make you feel. Also…I know teachers aren’t suppose to have favourites…but Angel is one of my favourite students ever. She’s kind and intelligent as she is beautiful.
Michael and I at the Drama Festival. I’m still waiting for him to send me the photos of us at grad, although he made me cry too. He has popped up in many of my blog posts and will always have a special place in my heart.
Ken, back when he was in 7th grade
He’s taller than me now…but still one of the coolest kids I’ve ever known. He’ll be moving to Hawaii over the summer. He was accepted in the a school there. I’m insanely jealous.
Still, I wish them all the best, and although it sucks to see them go, I have new students coming in next September, and they will provide new challenges and rewards for me and all their other teachers.
This class is full of the coolest kids in China. I’m sure of it
Kate looked beautiful in her graduation dress. She reminds me so much of what I was like at that age…kind of sarcastic…very dramatic…but as passionate as they come.
With the students at this year’s spelling bee
Final class photos
The friendships you form while living abroad are also a very important part of the expat life. I’ve made friends from all over the world, and although we’re all very different people with very different backgrounds, there is one thing we all have in common: we don’t really belong anywhere.
When you’re away from home, having a good group of friends becomes increasingly important. They’re who you spend Christmas with and they’re who help you through troubled times. Most importantly, they’re the ones who understand you, because as much as people back home can try and empathize, they only really see the really good and really bad parts of being an expat…none of the ‘in-between-everday-stuff’.
When a student of mine committed suicide in January, it was Kim and CJ who helped me through. Kim has been a teacher for years, and she understands the pressure Chinese students deal with. It’s pressure different from anything western students experience
These people have helped us both through a whole lot of crappy days, crappy months and crappy moments.
Mike also helped me through Pony’s death. He and I spend quite a lot of time brainstorming ways to make sure our students know we are there for them. Pony was his student as well, and I think that if I hadn’t had someone to talk to about how we could prevent this from happening again…it would have been even harder to get through it.
Dave and I are far more outgoing and far more adventurous abroad than we ever were back home, and our social life is pretty awesome. We spend lots of time going out for dinner, going to KTV, going to Salsa parties, and of course, I have my band. All these things are done with friends…and 99% of my friends are currently expats, or people who were previously expats, but have moved back home to China.
Cheetar (USA_, Myself and Tythus (Malaysia). They both work in the highschool. Cheetar and I have been working together for 3 years. He is leaving to move to a different part of China this summer. I’m going to miss seeing him around the school.
Dedrick, Mark and I….We are the Sundaze! Dedrick moved to Hangzhou last summer…it’s only an hour away, and I still get to see him often, but it’s sucked not having him around. Luckily, he’s moving back to Suzhou in September!! Mark and I are planning to leave Suzhou at the same time. I’m working on convincing him and his wife to join us in Vietnam. Fingers crossed!
Katie, Kevin, Dave and I last year at Dave’s Birthday. I just learned that Katie is moving back to Suzhou after finishing her Master’s degree in England. It’ll be great to have her back!
Jeff…the very first friend i made in Suzhou. When he found out a new Canadian was going to be working at SFLS, he emailed me to welcome me to the team. I felt more welcomed in Suzhou before I even moved there, than I did my whole time in Guiyang
Liz. One of my longest friendships in Suzhou
Adam is also one of my oldest Suzhou friends. We only worked together for a year before he moved to a different school, but we’ve stayed friends even though he’s across the city. His girlfriend, Tracy, lives in our building, so we get to see her often
Kevin is one of my best friends in the world. He moved away last week. I miss him more than I really want to think about
You make friends at school too, of course. Sam is the giant on the far left. He teaches economics with me in IGCSE. Crystal is the Chinese teacher and she is also my cleaning buddy in the office! And Victor is one of my bffs. We’ve worked together for 2 years at SFLS. He’s from Nigeria and he’s a fantastic human being
Linda and Paul are Taiwanese. We became friends over the past 3 years because Linda’s parents own a restaurant we like
Miya. One of the most beautiful people on the planet. She moved away for a year to live in New Zealand. It sucked.
Michael and Dave. Michael is a Kiwi who lived in Suzhou for our first 2 years. I still find myself missing him although he moved back to New Zealand more than a year ago now.
We are losing Shane on Saturday. He’s moving back to Australia. He’ll be missed a lot. Other than Dave, he’s our best groupie!
Of course…when you are a nomad and surround yourself with other nomads…people enter and leave your life regularly. It’s difficult because I understand it…but I hate it. I also hate that soon I’ll be the one leaving people behind. Already, I find myself wondering if I’ll ever find friends as good as the ones I have in Suzhou…
Occasionally, you get to see your expat friends again….
We were lucky to have 2 friends visit us this year. Joan and Lexie both visited us in the fall
And sometimes, people even move back…like Miya. this was us the day she came back to Suzhou. I look only about half as excited as I actually was!!
The ‘Home Dilemma’
Home becomes a really weird concept when you live abroad. I like to say that ‘Home is where my cats are’, but in reality, I spend 3 months away from them every year. I’d like to say that ‘Home is where you grew up’, but nobody in my family even lives in that tiny Manitoba town, so how can that really be home? Steinbach never really felt like home for me, because I was too different from the local people. Oddly enough, in some ways, Suzhou has been feeling more like home than anywhere I’ve ever been. I’ve become a part of the community, through music, foodie groups and through school.
My band has turned me into a more social and charismatic person. Playing with these guys is easily one of the funnest things I’ve ever done in my life
Whether we’re playing in dingy bars
Or at music festivals
We always have a blast!
I think that living abroad changes you in that way. Home isn’t as easily defined when you don’t ever quite fit in. In China, I’m a minority. I’m only one of a few thousand expats in a city of 8 million people. Back home, it’s the same. I’ve had such a different 4 years than most of my friends and family. It’s difficult to explain your feelings about things when the people in your life see the world differently than you do. It’s especially noticeable when talking about world politics or world events with people back in Canada. It’s easy to talk about India’s poverty or an earthquake in Indonesia when you see it as some far off place, separate from you. But when you can picture the smells and sounds of a place….when you’ve been there and it’s personal…you see those events very differently.
What makes it especially hard is that we’ve never had any family or friends visit us here in China. I know that it isn’t in everyone’s budget, and there are a thousand reasons why people can’t just hop on a plane and visit, but regardless of those reasons…it makes ‘home’ a difficult subject. At the end of the day, China is currently our home, but the people we know and love back in Canada have no idea what our life is like in the place we call home.
And that’s why I hound my family save up and come visit us…it’s not because I want to show them the sites or because I think China is the most beautiful place on earth….it’s because I want them to understand me. I people back home to understand what life is like in the city I currently call home.
Always Missing Somewhere or Someone
And of course there’s the obvious reason it’s hard being an expat is all the stuff you leave behind at the end of the summer. It’s great having stories to tell your family and friends…but I really do wish I had the power of teleportation. Then, I wouldn’t need to miss everyone so much.
I always laugh because when I’m in China, I call Canada Home…and when I’m in Canada, I call China home
There’s so much I miss about Winnipeg. Going to concerts is definitely one
I miss lakes and trees….and quiet.
I miss these wonderful people most of all!
It isn’t All Bad
Of course, it isn’t nearly all bad. June is probably my least favourite month of the year. It’s difficult saying goodbye to students. It’s difficult saying goodbye to friends. Add that to the fact that it’s exam season and end of term…and I can’t believe it’s taken me 4 years to write this post.
Still, there are a thousand things that being an expat allows us to do. It sucks saying goodbye to friends…but it’s great meeting so many new people all the time. It sucks only seeing our family and Canadian friends once a year, but we always have so many stories to tell them! And being an Expat gives us so many opportunities that we’d never have back in Canada. My band wouldn’t get nearly as many gigs if we weren’t ‘interesting foreigners’. Of course, we could never afford to travel this much if we didn’t live in China. And with Dave working from home, we were able to foster little Oscar. Here are some pictures of Oscar to remind you of all the reasons I love being an expat!
Stay tuned! I’ve got half a dozen more posts coming in the next month or so!!
He was found in the bushes right outside my school
He was mostly blind when we found him. Within our first week with him he started following movements
He was such a princely little cat!
What a flirt!
If Dave didn’t work at home, we never would have been able to give him the care he needed
These are the lovely women who adopted our little foster kitty
Suzhou doesn’t get a lot of snow. In fact, it only snows here every 5 years or so; and it rarely sticks around.
Fortunately for me, this year was one of those ‘off’ years, where Mother Nature bestowed some of the white stuff upon this beautiful city.
When people aren’t used to snow, it can be quite an ordeal! We saw one accident on our 5 minute walk home, and I can’t imagine how many delivery men wiped out on their e-bikes today! Imagine a late spring storm…with people who have never driven on ice before!
A chilly walk home!
The two cars in the intersection collided as we were waiting for the light to change. An hour later, they’re still out there, probably squabbling over who is at fault
Many of these notices were left around the city. Schools were PREEMPTIVELY shut down for 2 days because they knew the snow was coming. Unfortunately for my students…school had already ended so they didn’t get any bonus time off.
Kevin….pretending not to be thrilled about the snow. He was skipping through it a moment earlier…I swear!
Dave made a snow angel, to my disgust (Chinese sidewalks should never be laid on…)
I’ve lived in Suzhou now for nearly 3 years, and although I’ve had my challenges here, I really do love this city. Many of the gardens here are UNESCO World Heritage Sites and are considered to be some of the most beautiful gardens in China. We often spend afternoons walking through them because even the smaller ones are a nice break from the hustle and bustle of Suzhou. I’m always amazed at how quiet the gardens here are…especially when I consider the 8 million + people that live here!
Various parks around the city
Unfortunately for me, I never had a chance to bring my camera to any of Suzhou’s gardens today. Plenty of others did though, so I’ve collected some of my favourite photos from the day and compiled them so you can see what a lovely city we chose to call home. I can’t actually credit anyone specifically…China isn’t big on copyrighting things, so I’ll just say now that none of these pictures are mine….
Dave and I had plans today to explore the city. Suzhou recently opened its 3rd metro line, and it has made all sorts of local attractions easier to get to. We thought exploring the city and getting some more photos would be a grand way to spend the day…but then the smog came…
I realized while talking to my family this morning that many of the people back home can’t even begin to understand what pollution is all about and the many ways it impacts our lives here, so I thought it might make for an interesting article.
**Note** Very few pictures in this article will be my own…they’ve mostly been borrowed from the internet. If I did take the picture, I’ll indicate it in the caption Our Global Pollution Problem
Pollution is a problem all over the world. In India, I saw unbelievable amounts of garbage on the road, and I brushed my teeth with bottled water to avoid getting sick from the tap water.
Although much better than India and China, Vietnam also has some pretty terrible pollution problems. The number of motorcyles on the road leave your lungs pretty sore by the end of a day sight-seeing in HoChiMin City. Phu Quoc is also a giant dumping ground for garbage.
A helmet protects your head…one of these fancy masks protects your lungs
We saw this on our jungle walk, on the way to see some ruins…
Lots of broken glass on the beach…
Even in the beautiful Caribbean, you can find all sorts of pollution issues. Water there is generally unsafe to drink, and although resorts do a good job of keeping their shores clean, the same can’t be said in other areas of the country.
Pollution is a problem globally, there’s no doubt. I look forward to my time in Canada every year. The fresh air smells so fantastic, and even in the heart of Winnipeg, I’ve never smelt the tinny scent of PM2.5. Yet…where do you think this picture was taken?
What I’m trying to say here is that pollution is an issue everywhere. If you’re lucky enough to never have seen anything like this with your own eyes, you are a minority on this planet and this is a case where being a minority is a good thing… The Lingo
In Guizhou (the Chinese province where we lived prior to moving to Suzhou), the pollution isn’t so bad. That’s not to say the air was perfect there (because it’s such a poor province, many of the vehicles on the road are old and blow large amounts of black exhaust), but we never needed masks or felt like our health was at risk.
In Suzhou, things are different. We are only about 100km west of Shanghai, so we get a lot of our pollution from the factories out that way. On a bad day, our AQI level will go up to 200 or occasionally 300. During the current sandstorm, we are sitting somewhere between 450 and 600 on the AQI scale. What exactly does that mean, you might ask?
AQI is the global term that indicates how clean the air is in any particular place. Air Quality Index becomes a very important part of your life when you live in a city with a pollution problem. Most people have apps on their phones that tell them whether they should wear a mask outside. I don’t use an app because I have an easier way to tell. Suzhou’s iconic Pants Building is within eyesight of my apartment. I make a point of looking out the window every day, and I can usually tell how bad the pollution is by how clearly I can see the pants building.
Something else people are aware of here in Suzhou are the different KINDS of pollution. I’ll begin explaining this with a story…
Last year, one of my jobs as a teacher was to help students prepare for their IGCSE spoken exams. To do that, I met with students individually, gave them a topic and had them tell me what they could about that topic. The topic I chose one day was ‘The Environment’. One girl really impressed me, as she started rattling off different types of air pollution (PM2.5, PM10 etc.). I was FLOORED that she knew those terms. I had only lived in Suzhou for a few months at that point.
Now, these terms are part of my regular vocabulary. I frequently say things like ‘PM2.5 levels are brutal this week’, or ‘well this stand storm is mostly bringing in PM10 particles, which aren’t QUITE so bad’. All this ‘PM’ talk refers to the size of the particles. PM10 particles are slightly bigger, but equally as harmful as PM2.5. Both get trapped in your lungs and build up over time and both are linked to lung cancer, lung disease and even brain issues. Of course, living in China for a short-term period doesn’t mean that I’ll come home with lung cancer, but the elderly in China really do suffer.
Pollution is more than just something you see on the news. It’s something that is real and it affects a large portion of the world on a day to day basis. Here are some of the ways it effects me:
I sometimes need to wear a mask to go outside
I constantly worry about the quality of air in my home and at work
I spend hundreds of dollars every year on filters and machines designed to clean my air
I have had a lung infection so bad that I needed to be on 4 different medications to get better. I was using an asthma puffer for 3 months after that infection.
Colds last longer and are much more severe than they are elsewhere I’ve lived
If I don’t ride my e-bike for a few days, I will get dust on my pants when I sit down.
I dry my clothes in my bathroom because if I dry them outside, they’ll be dirty by the time I wear them again (most people in China don’t have clothes dryers)
Hanging onto a railing as I climb up or down outdoor stairs will leave me with dirty hands.
I go into coughing fits when I go to a country with clean air. My lungs literally try and eject the garbage that has built up over the months.
After a particularly dusty day, I’ll wake up with build up in my eyes and a bit of a sore throat.
When the PM2.5 is especially bad (usually in January or February), you can actually taste metal in the air.
I often worry about the long-term health hazards of pollution. The obvious ones don’t worry me as much (lung cancer, emphysema etc.) but after recently discovering that PM2.5 is connected to alzymers disease, I’ve been in a constant state of worrying about the health of my brain.
Pollution levels are a constant presence in my life. I need to know when they’re high so I can turn on my air purifier. I also need to know about the air quality so that I know when it’s appropriate for me to partake in one of my favourite pastimes: walking.
Since I was just a little girl, I’ve always loved walked. It started with walks around the block with my Pepere, and it evolved into walking my dog in the forest trails of St. Malo Provincial Park. When I moved to Guiyang, walking was one of the ways I dealt with the stress of living in such a difficult city. In Suzhou…taking a walk is off the table some days.
My sweet, Trace. He passed away 5 years ago. I still miss him. He was the best walking buddy I ever had
The man who got me walking when I was just a little kid. We seemed to go on endless walks…always with the same aim. “To see a man about a dog”
With this as my backdrop…I couldn’t walk enough back when I lived in Rural Manitoba
The provincial Park 5 minutes from where I grew up
How We Get Through It
On days like today, we mostly stay indoors. At home, we have 2 air purifiers, so we definitely have those running while we’re in the apartment. My classrooms also have air purifiers, but unfortunately, my school doesn’t see an advantage to making sure our offices also have clean air. Air purifiers can be a bit pricey and they seem to become obsolete frequently, making it impossible to find a new filter for a device you purchased only 6 months before. Our solution has been SmartAir Purifiers…they’re a small company that make purifiers that work well, for only 600rmb (most other purifiers that do a decent job cost up to 5000rmb…). If you’re living in mainland China, check out their website. They’re well worth the money.
How This Effects YOU
If you’re reading this from Canada, you might be thinking that I’m crazy for choosing to live here. I know the risks, but I still take them. There are risks living in Manitoba as well. Hitting the ditch in a snow storm, or sliding into oncoming traffic during winter/spring is every bit as much of a risk as living somewhere where pollution is a problem. I check the PM2.5 levels the same as you check the temperature to know how many sweaters you should wear under your parka.
You may also be thinking that countries like China and India are poorly managed and that if they ‘got their acts together’, this wouldn’t be an issue. But let me ask you this….
Where are the majority of your ‘things’ made? The truth of the matter is that we export our pollution to China to cut costs. One of the reasons things are cheaper coming from China is because health and safety standards aren’t as big of a deal here….it’s something to think about before you shop at places like Walmart, Superstore or other ‘low cost’ chains. You’re paying 50 cents less, but the global environment is suffering.
Furthermore…we live in a very wasteful world. I recently got into a heated debate about the use of paper cups in the office. I think they should be banned, whereas other people really like their convenience. What’s important to remember is that by using disposable items (on a regular basis), you’re contributing to our landfill problems, as well as creating a need for more factories in the world. For more information on that, I found this nifty article written by Time Magazine called ‘Throwaway Living’. Be sure to check it out if you’re interested in the topic.
PS..I know it’s been a while, but I have 3 posts in the works:
Our weekend in Seoul
Catching up on Life in Suzhou
Beautiful Suzhou (I’ve been on a picture taking mission lately)
Suzhou Foreign Language school’s Autumn semester begins on September 1st. As I prepare for my classes and plan out my term, I thought it might be a good idea to write a little bit about what it’s like teaching in China!
I don’t have many selfies with my older students! They’re too cool for selfies!
I’m not going to lie…living abroad isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. When we arrived in Shanghai last week, after a sleepless 11 hour flight, I was not prepared to deal with the bus depot’s toilets or the long ride back to Suzhou. I wanted to get right back into the plane and return to Canada. But as I sat there, fighting back tears of exhaustion in the bus terminal, Dave reminded me that soon I’d be back at work, and that calmed me right down. I thought of all my students and all the plans I had for them this year, and I knew that everything would be okay. Teaching is what I was always meant to do and I can’t express enough how rewarding it can be. I’ve taught children as young as 3 years old, 50 year old business men and everything in between, and I’ve gotta say…it doesn’t matter what age or level you are teaching…being an educator is a blast!
No matter how awesome the job is, though, the beginning of the semester offers some rather large challenges. If you know about them ahead of time, it can help a lot, here’s a list of tips I have for teachers at the beginning of the term. 1.) Be Prepared!!!
I once had an interviewer ask me what my ‘super power’ is. I replied, without hesitation, that it is organization. My ability to stay on top of my chaotic life all goes back to my day planner. Without it…I am lost. I am the master of lists and checking off items is sometimes all that gets me through hectic days. But that’s the key…it DOES get me through!
I recommend check lists to everyone and everyone because they allow you to stay on top of everything (and not forget about important events or tasks!) but also because they can give you a real sense of accomplishment. I recently had a coworker tease me for having ‘start grade 7 ppt’ as one of my check-list items. He thought it was silly that I had only ‘part’ of a task listed as an item on my list.
So, I asked him: “What’s the hardest part of making your weekly Power Point?” He answered “getting it started…” Boom! Item #1 is done and once you start, it’s not nearly as daunting of a task.
I also firmly believe in the power of lesson plans. I know countless teachers who go into their classes with an idea of what they’re doing…but with no physical plan. I honestly have no idea how they do it…I lose track of time, I miss items and I let the class get carried away in discussions when I don’t have a proper plan. Don’t get me wrong…discussions are great in an ESL classroom! It’s what you WANT!! But in your 8:30am writing class, it isn’t always good when little Tom asks me ‘what I like about Suzhou’ to try and distract me from teaching about Present Perfect tense…
And going Macro…Term plans can also be an excellent idea, especially when you don’t have a book to teach from! Last year, none of my classes had actual textbooks, so it became very important for me to plan ahead to make sure I was covering all the material they’d need to know for their IGCSE exams. Even when I DID have a book to teach from, when I was teaching Elementary and Kindergarten, my term plans were crucial to making sure all content was covered. It was a simple outline for the term, but an outline nonetheless. I recommend these tools to anyone! (And if you have any questions about layouts or things you should have in any of these plans, shoot me a question in the comments section! I’m always happy to help a fellow teacher!)
2.) But not too prepared…
This may seems silly…but in China, you need to expect things to change. Your classes might get moved around or cancelled at the last second. I’ve often walked into my classroom to find no students there…when I track down their homeroom teacher it’s usually because some other activity was planned and they forgot to tell me. This is normal in China. You have to roll with the punches because like it or not…these things are CONSTANT!
These types of things used to drive me CRAZY until I had someone tell me the reasoning behind it. China is what is known as a ‘Shame Culture’. I’ve written about ‘saving face’ in previous posts, and that’s what’s coming into play here. Things are often planned at the last second in here because it reduces the chance of having to cancel events. Cancelling an event is very bad in Chinese culture and knowing that actually made me feel a lot better about the ways it affects me. People here aren’t stupid or disorganized…the cultural norms are just different. That is something VERY important to remember when living here! 3.) Be Prepared for all the September/October Holiday Mayhem
The beginning of term always takes it out of me… Whether you are in a Training Center, a Foreign Language School or an International school (the 3 basic types of schools in China). the beginning of term has many challenges to overcome.
First, you need to get back into the groove of things and find your flow in the classroom. Then, you have to get all of your ‘beginning of term admin stuff’ out of the way…then you have to deal with 2 holidays within the first month of teaching!!!
Mid-Autumn Festival is a lovely holiday (one of my favourites!) celebrated by getting together with family and eating Moon Cakes. It takes place in the beginning of September and it usually means a 3 day holiday for teachers.
Then, there is China’s “National Day”, which actually lasts a week. It’s known in the tourism industry as “The Golden Mess” because there are literally over 1 billion people all on holiday at the same time in China! The regular tourist sights are PACKED and even the lesser known sights are still teaming with people. We traveled to Xiamen our first year in China during the holiday and it was uncomfortable trying to get anywhere, because you were shoulder to shoulder with tourists…
And then there’s the other problem with all these days off…Holidays are great, but they REALLY mess with your schedule! In China, if you are given 3 days off, it doesn’t necessary mean that you don’t owe some of them back. For example, this year, Mid-Autumn festival falls on September 15,16 and 17 (a Thursday, Friday and Saturday). In order to make up for that time off, schools open on Sunday and the week following the holiday becomes a 6 day week, with 2 Tuesdays in it. My first year, I had to have someone sit me down and draw a chart so I understood what was actually happening and when I had to work!!
4.) Form a Good Relationship with your Co-Teachers/Homeroom Teachers
I cannot stress enough how important this is! It seems like common sense…who doesn’t want to get along with the people they work with? But too often I see people treat their Chinese counterparts in the education system poorly (and vice versa). There seems to be a mentality at some schools (and even in some departments at my own school) that it’s US vs THEM!!! This is SO counterproductive!
It’s natural to connect more easily with other expats…
But it doesn’t mean there’s no value in befriending someone from a different culture. It can be difficult sometimes…because some people ONLY want to be your friend because you’re ‘exotic’. But most Chinese people are genuinely very warm and friendly. There’s no need to treat them badly just because you don’t understand their culture!!
I’ve always tried my very best to be kind to the people I work with…to me that’s just common decency. When I was at the training center, I became good friends with Talia and Kayla. They weren’t teachers, but they were the people who helped me translate for parents and made sure that parents got important information about homework and students’ progress. Now, I work at a Foreign Language school where I’m co-teaching with Chinese teachers. We may not always see eye to eye on the way some things should be handled (education systems vary greatly from country to country!), but I always try to find a reasonable compromise.
Talia and I at Halloween
Kayla and I…she and I went through the ringer together with some pretty difficult parents. She always stood by me and was always SO helpful! I love both the TAs I had at Interlingua
I also do my best to never to create more work for my co-teachers. I’ve worked with teachers that wait until the last minute to do their progress reports or who don’t grade their papers until they’re told they HAVE to, even when they know that their Chinese counterpart needs them to finish up before they themselves can begin. Once more, I feel like this should be common sense, but I’ve seen it happen SO many times!!!
This doesn’t only extend to the classroom either. Staff rooms can be tricky when you have a mixture of different cultures together. For example, the Chinese staff typically don’t want to have the air conditioners on in the summer or the heaters on in the winter. It’s a belief in China that they both blow dirty air, so they prefer to open the window. I run hot, so this has always been an issue for me in summer, but I compromised and bought myself a fan. On days where it’s particularly humid, I ask if I can turn on the AC for 15 minutes or so, to dry out the air. Then, when the room is cool, I turn it off again! There’s no need to be demanding…you’re in THEIR country! And it’s amazing, because 9 times out of 10, when you are respectful, so are they!!! I didn’t even have to ask by the end of the year…my dear friend Ivy would go and switch on the AC when it started to get uncomfortable.
5. Extra Work = Extra Awesome!
I’ve found in China (and pretty much everywhere else in the world too) that the better you are at your job, the more you are asked to do. It can be a bit much sometimes when you’re an overachiever (I may fit that description…), but I always remind myself that I am asked to do things because I’m doing well. The bright side of those extra projects is that you expand yourself SO MUCH when you take them on! Last year I organized the school’s first yearbook and hosted the annual Drama Festival, both in the second term.
The Drama Festival was SUCH a success!!!
Both events were SO fantastic!!! Not only did the students work hard, but they also saw ME working hard…that does wonders for your relationship with them. When they know that a teacher actually cares about them…it’s like the game changes a little bit. There are so many foreigners teaching China that are only here for the visa and so they can live abroad….and that’s okay! That’s how I started out too…but then I fell in love with the job and now, I take that job very seriously! And students can always tell when they have a teacher who is present and putting in effort vs the teachers that show up and do what they have to do.
Being a positive influence is SO important. As an educator, I know that my students are learning more from me than just what is coming out of a text book. My boss, Nathan, is a prime example of teaching through doing…As I’ve mentioned before, he does a lot of work with Migrant schools and other charities around the city, and this year, our grade 8 class organized a big fundraiser for the migrant schools Nathan works with! It was so awesome watching them find ways to raise money and they really did a great job! Students are watching you ALL the time! Be an inspiration!!
6.) Have Fun with It!!!
Lastly, make sure to have fun teaching!! It’s an AWESOME job and at most schools you are given plenty of opportunities to let your own skills shine. I mentioned earlier that I didn’t have textbooks for any of my classes last year. That may have intimidated some teachers (which is why my boss offered me a few textbooks I could follow along with if I needed), but for me…it meant I got to be creative.
I may not be much of a drawer, but my jelly bean people are always a hit! This is how I taught family vocabulary. If you notice that the family members all have different facial expressions, it’s because I was also teaching the students how to make sentences about emotions using their family members. For example: Daddy is angry.
I had a lot of free time during my administrative hours (we weren’t allowed doing grading etc…) so I jazzed up my classroom with my arts and crafts skills. I was VERY proud of this! It went from being an empty quark board, to a colourful masterpiece! lol
I also made these tracking boards for each class. I awarded stickers based on schoolwork, class behaviour and effort. Whoever reached the end first won a prize. It went over VERY well!
In Food and Nutrition, I decided to teach my students about culture and how it relates to food. I did focuses on Mexico, Brazil, Jamaica, Italy, France, India and then I also taught them about December Holidays around the world (and the foods people eat during those holidays). It ended up being a tonne of fun! Because I’m so interested in both travel and cooking, I was able to shape this class around my own interests and talents. It worked out well for everyone, I think!
For Drama, I used my writing skills and training to have the students write their own plays for the drama festival! I’m also very competitive and I turn everything into competitions within my classroom. The students ended up LOVING the way we chose which play we’d perform in each class.
The Drama Festival was a huge success because I used the skills I had to make it happen. Best of all, I learned a lot along the way! I’d never been given an opportunity to direct before, nor had I ever coordinated an event like that. I developed new skills while using skills I already had. It was a perfect combo 🙂
So that’s the beauty of my job! I decided to try and keep my posts shorter this year, but as I was writing, I just couldn’t stop! I’m far too in love with my job and have so much advice to give!! I do hope that you’ve found this informative and if you’re teaching in an ESL classroom yourself, and if you are just reading to know what it’s like to be a teacher, I hope you got a good idea of how awesome my job is 🙂
If you have any comments or questions about anything I do…feel free to as in the comments section below! Thanks for checking in!
Another day, another blog post! We decided to change things up and go to a Starbucks out in Suzhou New District (where SFLS is located) because I have a farewell IGCSE dinner to attend later tonight. It’s so crazy that another term is finished! Most of the department is returning next year, but we are losing a teacher or two that I wish we were keeping.
Personally, I’m happy to be staying in the department. I really like the administration in IGCSE and next year I’ll be taking over as the grade 7 and 8 English teacher. Right now I only teach 1 writing class but next year I’ll be teaching 3, plus 3 oral and listening classes. I think it’ll be better for me than teaching Food and Nutrition and I know I’m more qualified for my new role. Plus, I still get to keep 2 of my drama classes and I’ll be starting a new Publishing and Editing elective next year (my class will be in charge of the school yearbook, the school calendar and our departmental blog!). Exciting things are in store for me in September!
Although teaching Food and Nutrition wasn’t my cup of tea, the end of the year was a lot of fun!
Neat and Tidy!
The Grade 7 IGCSE boys
My grade 7 writing class is one of my favourites to teach, and I know I’m going to miss them over the summer. These kids are very bright for their age so I decided to teach them how to write simple thesis statements in an effort to better organize their writing. Michael is a student who tends to be a bit of a downer…always complaining about how tough life is. I taught him the word ‘optimistic’ earlier this year and he’s used it every chance he could. This was my favourite use of this word:
This year I see them twice a week, but next year I get them 6 times a week, so I’m pretty excited about that! These kids never stop making me laugh! They are truly a joy!!
Tom from IG1…he may not be the most studious student of the bunch, but he’s hilarious
The IG1 kids standing outside the teacher’s locked office while Nathan and I were practicing our song for the IG2 Charity Show
IGCSE is a really cool department to be part of. Although I mostly taught in the Elite Department this past year, I took part in several IGCSE projects and I ran the school yearbook as well. All of the staff try to provide a well rounded school life for the students and I try to help out whenever I can. But my favourite thing about IG is the way they help out with a migrant school in Suzhou.
Migrant schools are for children whose parents are from other provinces but who have come to Suzhou for work. They are highly underfunded and the students don’t as good of an education. Each class in our department gets a chance to visit a migrant school each team. This means that nearly every month, my department takes an afternoon to spend time teaching students English. It’s a learning experience for everyone involved because the migrant kids get some English lessons and the IG kids get to see how lucky they are to be going to a school with the resources that SFLS has. We have Nathan (my boss) to thank for this added activity for the students. He’s been working with the migrant school for years and has won awards for the help he’s given them.
Nathan and I performing at the Grade 8 Charity Fundraiser last week
So all these little projects have really filled up my year, but none of them took as much of my focus and hard work than the Drama Festival. It took months of work, hours of writing, days of rehearsal…but in the end, it was all so worth it!!!
Because of my background in writing, I decided early on that my focus was going to be on writing the plays and (of course) having them act them out with comprehend-able English. Nathan ran the Drama festival last year, and with his art background there was a lot more focus on sets and props, so it was kind of cool to mix it up this year. I’m especially proud of the way each of my classes came up with their plays:
Step 1: I began the term in February by teaching my students how to write a story. First, we focused on writing good characters and making sure that their characters had depth. Then, I taught them about plot and what a good plot line looks like.
Step 2: Each class was separated into 4 groups and I gave them 2 weeks to write the outline for a play. I gave them free reign on the topics and they came up with very different stories.
The winning Elite 2 Boys group. Vasyli was intense about their play right from the start!
Tracy and Victoria from Elite 1 Girls. This class had the most difficulty choosing their play. In the end, it came down to a few votes….but even the losing teams did a fabulous job presenting their ideas to the rest of the class
Step 3: Each group presented their outline to the class and then the class voted on which play they would do for the drama festival.
Step 4: I took the winning outline and turned it into a play. I met with the students and got a better idea of what they wanted to see in their play and discussed ways that we could add characters so everyone who wanted to act could. Then I wrote the dialogue and presented it to them. Other than a few small details, the students were thrilled to see their ideas come to life on page in proper English.
One of the small performances between plays. This is a grade 8 boy from the Elite Department. He plays the piano beautifully and entertained the crowd while I organized the next play to go up
The sound guys from Elite 1 Boys. This was these guys’ first Drama festival and they were a little less organized than I’d hoped. Samuel is the kid covering his face…He’s in Grade 8 and was losing his patience with the excited boys! lol
Because of the way we did this, there was HUGE buy in from the students at the Drama Festival. Each class was so proud of their play and they all worked very hard to impress all the other students. Here’s the breakdown of each play: Elite 1 Girls Class (Grade 7)
Their play had all the usual school characters: A good teacher, a Bad teacher, rich students, poor students, hard working students, lazy students…
Julia played the teacher-villain of the play (back row on the left). She did SUCH a wonderful job. When she finished her first scene the whole audience went nuts. She memorized her lines within 2 weeks of receiving the script and she had more lines than anyone else in the play
These girls wanted to write a story with a moral, so that’s what we did. They worked the hardest out of any of my classes on their emphasis and pronunciation and the other students noticed. Although their play wasn’t as exciting as a lot of the other plays, they really shone because their speech was so clear. I am very proud of these ladies and I’m super bummed I won’t be teaching them again next year! Elite 1 Boys Class (Grade 7)
Jagger…the evil robot
Adam, Poker and Jagger arguing
Adam and his assistant, Alfred, bringing to life the good robot, Potter
One of the fight scenes took place in a restaurant. It was probably my favourite scene in the play. It was VERY well done by the boys!
This was one of the funniest plays at the festival. Adam, the student wearing the big glasses, is a Drama King! He wrote the outline to a fabulous “Robots and Mad Scientist” type play that the class voted in. There were several fighting scenes (with correlating sound effects) that had the audience in stitches and everyone loved how the Narrator was killed by the villain in the end. I was worried about this play before the festival because it seemed like the students weren’t listening to anything I was saying during rehearsals, but someone was obviously paying attention (probably Adam lol!) and they pulled it together in the final hour! It was an AWESOME play and I’m very excited to be teaching them again next year! Elite 2 Boys Class (Grade 8)
Peter (the boy with the mic) struggles with pronunciation and hates English class. Drama has given him a creative outlet where he’s learning English in a new way. He loves acting and has become quite good! Best of all…his English has improved a tonne!
Vasyli is my star. He was so dedicated to the play that he was spending all his free time practicing, to the point where he didn’t know know HIS lines…but everyone else’s too! One day we were waiting for the auditorium to be unlocked, and he spent the time entertaining the whole class by doing the entire first scene…he played all 4 characters and had us all laughing up a storm.
These were easily the most hardworking students at the Drama Festival. Not only did they participate more than any other class with the writing of the actual play, but they were practicing in their free time and they added so many things to the play that weren’t in the script. They OWNED this play and it was a huge success at the festival.
A brilliant calling card
These boys spent the entire scene like this. They did pretty well to not move, but when they inevitably did, it just added to the fun!
Detective Echo being interviewed by a reporter. William (on the left) is such a humble kid. When I asked him to play one of the leads he looked at me shocked….this kid is a brilliant actor! I don’t know how he didn’t think the class would want him in a lead!
Mike is another one of my favourites in this class (I laugh as I write this because they’re honestly all my favourites). He’s so careful about his pronunciation and vocabulary. He cares such a great deal about everything he does. Such a cool 14 year old.
The Drama Festival was SUCH a success!!!
The story line was very funny and although it wasn’t originally suppose to be a comedy, we were all glad it became one. It was a detective story about a murderer who’s calling card was to leave high-end underwear on his victim’s heads (the underwear wasn’t part of the original script but when I told them they needed to have something memorable in the play, that’s what they thought up….middle school boys are hilarious!!).
IGCSE (grades 7-9 co-ed classes)
The plays’ protagonists: Heisenburger and PJ. Tiffany played Heisenburger and did SUCH an incredible job with her lines!
Suzy as PJ…a student in love with socks
Discovering the perfect recipe for candy
The IGCSE play is the one I’m personally most proud of, because I wrote it all myself. The students were in the middle of their IGCSE exams during the festival so they didn’t have time to help as much as I would have liked. Still, they worked hard at remembering their lines and bringing their best actor-selves to the stage.
The end-of-play fight scene)
The heroes of the play: The janitor and Chef
The Blue Candy inspired by Breaking Bad (I used dyed coconut shavings!)
The play was called ‘Breaking Bad: Candy Crush Edition’ and it was based on the television show, only instead of crystal meth, the students were selling a special type of candy that was addictive and high in sugar content. Because the play was set in IGCSE, the kids LOVED the issues brought up (the candy starts as a distraction to break ‘the homework system’ that’s keeping them all prisoner). Best of all, 3 teachers (myself included) made guest appearances in the play. Isaac, the Economics teacher. does body building on the side, so he came out and raged at the students for misbehaving, even breaking a meter stick in the process. Adam’s socks were stolen for candy and I was found crying in a hallway because of all the ants that the candy had attracted into the Food and Nutrition kitchens. Students and teachers alike loved the play and I think it was the perfect way to end the festival. Even Mr. Rehan, who prides himself in being quite serious, sent me a message after the Drama Festival was over saying: “Thank you. In my 2 years at this school, this is the first time I found something so entertaining”. Win for Marie!!!!
So that’s been my spring term! Lots of projects and lots of hard work…but all worth it!
(I am truly looking forward to next year’s Drama Festival already!!)