Teaching English: Demo Classes, Suzhou Nights & High Speed Trains!

Packing up my suitcase for what seemed like the fiftieth time I left my Pudong Jin Jiang Hotel behind me to start the beginning of my METEN English teacher training experience. After waiting for some time I met with a group of fellow new teachers, we all waited for the next move as some of them had just arrived from the U.S. C, I was glad that I had flown in earlier that week.

It was time to get down to the real reason that we had come to China for. It was time to start the training for our government approved TEFL qualification. That assignment would be the main aim for the week ahead. Captured above is my METEN English Center in Optics Valley, Wuhan. We didn't train at that specific Training Center, although I wanted it to be a part of this blog to show that all METEN locations have a glass fronted feel, after all it was the end goal that was achieved after my initial Suzhou training. We reported to class before that peculiar METEN bell would chime for the 10am class. All of us were ready for the next dosage of the TEFL in China course. We learned during that week, I had to present my own demo class! For me I know I felt petrified but with more in-class training, I had every faith that my teaching skills would continue to improve beyond training. It felt mad to be studying again because university was never about the books for me! It was going to be a fun week, learning didn't just take place in the classroom! 

Discovering that the English language has so many different grammar focuses, I was like shut that front door because I was never going to take any of that business in! Planning our first demo lessons filled most of us with fear, actually some teachers had been teaching for a little while so they had already found their style. I had to pinch myself that I was finally in China, not only that but I was training to be an English teacher because those endless interviews didn't impress me much! METEN English had proved from day one to be real, from the moment I viewed there website I had a strong feeling that company would be here to stay! Learning our lessons in the day we traded the classroom for a series of different Suzhou based restaurants, building up friends in such a short space of time allowed us to be real! Building up to our final exam at the end of the week we knew deep down that the party would still be waiting for us outside Family Mart on any given night! The nearby Family Mart became our twilight hangout! 苏州, I loved it!

Each person in the group found their own niches, I found a close group of lovely people who are now in other parts of China. As a collective we broke from class and reported to our hotel's lobby at an agreed time for dinner, making decisions about the smallest things can sometimes be magnified but the different parts of our group found their way. Dining at my first Chinese Muslim restaurant placed an emphasis that Chinese food has many depths. I was learning that eating with only chopsticks for the first time was not a walk in the park! Help! Reconnecting with my American cousins, it was great to meet some more super people from across the pond! Closer to home I found a friend in Samantha who was from Glasgow in Scotland, a true and genuine character that I clicked with from the get go! Never did I ever think a Puerto Rican beauty would be part of our TEFL group that week! Gloria, you already know that I'll see you and the Texans in Chongqing City! I was back out in the world after the slump I had endured! 加油!

We were promised one cultural day during our week in Suzhou, some of the group would be leaving Suzhou for our respected cities to begin our teaching contracts. Wuhan, 加油! Suzhou, China is known as the 'Asian Venice' with its extensive canal networks. I was itching to see the historic parts of town because our hotel was located close to the booming glass-fronted business district. It was a construction site! Sneaking out after dinner one night a few of us went to a bar along Ping Jiang Road in the old town, little did I know that this would be the location for our cultural day. Braving the heat it was a lovely afternoon going about the cobbled streets of that historical Suzhou area. I loved the hotel, the breakfast was a bit questionable at times but I was new to China. Getting further into the week the course grew more intense with the prospect of the final exam but we had this, too much stress never leads to anything good so we kept on studying and enjoying Suzhou! The achievements of the week had to be celebrated properly! 是! 

Flashing back to the day of my demo class, I was a bag of nerves! Yes, I was excited at the same time! I had chose 'A Hero To Me' lesson because it featured that famous Chinese warrior princess, Mulan. She would be my good omen, I knew it! Serving my first thirty minute lesson I felt elated afterwards, I had completed it and thankfully went on to pass with enough credits. I had only taught with my former Youth Arts Drama Company as a volunteer, it was a risk but I passed and got the papers that I needed for my work visa. Later that night we hit another part of the old town, this time to a glittering and vibrant street for some great food, we were introduced to 'Baijiu' a seriously strong Chinese spirit that's made out of wheat. Moving from one bar we found a great corner store that served some seriously cheap drinks! Making our way back towards the hotel, some of the group retired to their beds but us lot went to Family Mart! It was a standard convenience store, located steps away from the hotel. Revision? We needed to! Yes!

Getting our study game on we knew the final exam wouldn't be all that bad, but we wanted to be prepared. Building up to the big day there was some nerves in the camp but we were right at the beginning of a new experience so we were all still in a euphoric mind set! I was just overjoyed to be across that borderline, away from the mundane backdrop of my hometown! I had never anticipated that my training week in Suzhou would turn out to be crazy! From the Training Center classroom to the streets of Suzhou, it was a full-bodied experience! We worked hard then played hard, I had worked hard at the hotel in Walsall so wanted to switch things up! Knuckling down to those test papers we tried our damn best to hit the pass mark, some of us would be moving on the next day, regardless whatever happened we wanted to do our best so we could then celebrate! Had I made the right decision? In that moment the only that mattered was I had made it to China, I would continue to do my best! Sure, life would show me the right way to go. 

Something told me that our post-exam celebrations were going to be eventful for all the right reasons. Due to that lively prospective, I pre-packed my suitcase the night before my Hankou, Wuhan bound train. I was about to be missing my first ever China High Speed train! No! Making our way to Suzhou Railway Station, myself and another guy were both heading for the same train that would take us to our intended Central Chinese City. Our tickets had been pre-booked by one of the HR team from METEN. We simply had to show our passports, it was such an experience considering it was the simplest of tasks. KFC saved me, to my delight I didn't pass up the opportunity to eat something because it was quite early. As we hurtled towards our Hankou Railway Station stop, the whole experience of the train journey felt new to me but it was a positive experience! People had their snacks, some looked interesting whereas some really did not! I wasn't going to judge, but were we the only foreigners in the carriage? Quite possibly so! 

To our delight the train finally pulled into Wuhan's Hankou Railway Station, we stepped off the train without hefty luggage in tow. We then had to find the Wuhan Metro at Hankou Railway Station, considering we had no idea where we were going it wasn't such a difficult thing to do. The culture shock factor had been turned up a few notches by that time and then some! Getting to Zhongshan Road, it was a relief to meet the HR lady that we were supposed to me. The Wuhan crowds kept us on our toes, it was a challenge to weave through the scenes of everyday pandemonium. We were then taken to a very basic hotel along Wansongyuan Road. We would be meeting with our Wuhan based co-ordinator and trainer the next day, I wanted to sleep! One step closer to the life that I had longed for, I felt that Wuhan would be keeping me on my toes! Only the next evening, I had my bank card swallowed by the Cash Point machine by my hotel! I was able to retrieve it the next day, was I really ready for such shenanigans? Wuhan, let's get it! 


Joseph Harrison 


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