31 July 2016

Teaching English: One Year At Etonkids...

I was introduced to Etonkids during the final throws of August 2015, I vividly remember walking into the grand apartment complex that led me to Guanggu's very own Etonkids Huizhu Kindergarten. Little did I know that after a series of events I would find myself settled into a whole new teaching environment, my first academic year recently finished! I gave it my all!

On the other side of a less than fortunate situation I was patiently waiting to see what would be behind a rather imposing set of gates. I had originally wanted to be a Kindergarten teacher but fate had taken me the long way around, nevertheless I was excited to see how things would pan out! My demo class was a hit because the principal and academic lead at the time welcomed me into their Wuhan Etonkids family! I was overjoyed, keeping it all together I got on with what I needed to before my first day as an English Specialist would begin. Reporting bright and early on Monday 1st September 2015 I was bewildered and I couldn't believe I had been given a chance! Waiting at the front gates I greeted all the children with a warm and inviting smile, I gave out high-fives like they were going out of fashion! In that moment I had no idea what was ahead of me! I was ready for the to games begin!

For what it's worth it's not worth my time to go into the finer details of my contract because that didn't define me as an Etonkids English Specialist. Working under slightly different means I was immensely blessed to have been given the opportunity to remain in China and fulfill my dream of being a Kindergarten teacher in Wuhan. The first month of teaching felt like nothing I had ever experienced before, I gave multiple children their first English name and benefited from a free school dinner! Montessori hadn't come into the equation yet, I knew that things would be different in the second semester. As time passed I became familiar with the curriculum and even the six classes per day didn't feel so tiring! September merged into October, I benefited from more national holidays compared to my previous teaching role! Returning back from my National Day holiday, I was ready to get back to business at Etonkids, Wuhan. Etonkids truly felt like home, I had arrived!

The winter break was fast approaching but it was time to celebrate my 25th birthday first as an English Specialist. The children wished me a 'Happy Birthday' in English! I had grown so close to them, teaching six classes five days per week allowed me to spend time with all the children everyday. I couldn't walk down the stairs or around the campus without being hounded by the children, their beaming faces and pure happiness to see me was worth every bit of crazy I had experienced during my first three months in China! I won't lie because with every job their are hardships, try working in an environment where you're the only foreigner and native English speaker for that matter, through the confusion and madness I look back and see everything as a character building experience. I dressed up as Father Christmas on Christmas Eve to give each of the children and teachers their Xmas apples, it was mad!

My weekends were my own, working from Monday to Friday gave me structure and that was something I didn't have before! I had one of my most nerve-racking classes in December 2015, one of the managers from the Etonkids English Department observed my class. I chose Casa Two for that formal observation and I can safely say it was a day to remember! January bought some bitter temperatures in Wuhan but my English lessons were energetic and full packed with games centred around Chinese Spring Festival. It was nice teaching about Christmas but the child knew exactly what was going on with the different zodiacs, I tried to be inventive with a broom to allow them to clean up the class room as in preparation for that special holiday. From the beginning of my time at Etonkids I felt that the campus was so quiet at dinnertime, it was nap time! I learned fast with six classes per day that having a nap was the way! The winter break saw me travel down to Macau!

The second semester provided a few surprises and served multiple campus changes, some of which were easier to process than others were. I became more involved with the English Department, I confronted the task of putting an English Corner together, being the only English Specialist at my school meant I was designated one class per month to create two language materials and a themed art display. I took a lot of inspiration from the English Specialist WeChat group in the beginning as it was something I had never done before that Spring/Summer term. March and April proved to be two months that challenged me beyond what I had previously expected it to be, I worked so hard to meet each and every deadline because making a good impression counts for me! Classes were still great, it was mad to see the nursery children grow and become more confident! Yes, I learned a lot!

I had lot to deal with during the second semester compared to the first but I did my best to take everything in my stride and channel all of my energy into a positive manner. May was a blessed month, the book was 'Giraffes Can't Dance' it was a chance for me to encourage the children to express themselves, I was on a mission to have my students learning to take chances and enjoy being silly! June 2016 brought the Etonkids Children's Day Show, it was a spectacle for sure with several dazzling performances and it featured a Chinese speaking British presenter. Yes, I was a host alongside my Chinese English teaching colleague Miki and four of the oldest students, who were from the Bridging class. I impressed the parents with my Chinese speaking ability, everyone who took part in the show was amazing and put so much effort into each act! It was my first Children's Day in China and I loved the whole experience even though it was bizarre! I was ready for the summer already!

From the successes of June to July, the final semester of my first year as an English Specialist in Wuhan was a month to remember for many reasons. I was ready for a smooth month, free from interruption and change. The heavens opened and it didn't just rain it poured down with monsoon type rain and thunderstorms that closed the school for two days in just one week, that was decided by the education bureau in Wuhan. I attempted to make my way to work through the treacherous conditions because in my book it's detrimental to be on-time for work everyday! Missing my step and with my hands full with my laptop I hit my arm on the curb, giving me a large bloody cut but I wasn't deterred from trying to get to work. Thankfully, school closed for that day so I could take it easy and get some antiseptic for my arm. Thinking back to July 2015 the weather was like a dream compared to this year! That rain!

The children had a great final day before the beginning of their summer holiday, we held a water fun day that certainly did the trick to cool them down in the sweltering Wuhan sun! I stood with my sea creatures, I had made a board for the children to learn some new sea creatures like; dolphin, crab, fish, lobster and octopus! Referring to the photo above I was ushered to the office before our summer break to see the meeting room dressed for a party, a cake and carved fruit were waiting, but it wasn't anybody's birthday!? With the principal, region principal and the English manager present I was shocked to find out that I had won the 'Etonkids English Specialist of the Month' for July 2016! All I do is what is required and yes I do my best to go above and beyond for the children because that's my job! The children deserve the best of me, I feel blessed to have won the award! My team know me very well because along with my award and certificate I got a bottle of wine! It's summertime!

One Year Completed!

Joseph Harrison

28 July 2016

Dr. Sun Yat-Sen: Wuhan, Guangzhou & Nanjing

Dr. Sun Yat-Sen was the first president of China, taking the Middle Kingdom away from it's Dynasties to a modern country of its time. I knew nothing about that revolutionist before moving to Wuhan, China in June 2015. From causing an uprising in Wuhan during 1911, Dr. Zhongshan played his part part to find the foundations of the People's Republic of China! Yes, Dr. Sun!

Looking for something special to see during my first sightseeing days in Wuhan, China I came across the Wuchang Uprising Memorial 1911. I will admit that I have never heard of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen before that day of discovery, stopping by the legendary Yellow Crane Tower I made it my mission to see what was up during 1911! Getting a clearer picture of what Dr. Sun Yat-Sen contributed to the forming of the People's Republic of China. Pushing for change there was a whole lot of shady business going down with specific things that I wasn't sure of. Essentially, the succession of a new Dynasty wasn't going to be a welcomed idea! Paving the way with careful negotiation Dr. Sun Yat-Sen became the first president of the newly established Republic of China. It was quite difficult to piece together what the exhibits said at the Uprising Memorial museum because were predominately in Chinese. Oh, Wuhan!

On the 11th of October 1911 Huang Xing, a fellow revolutionary managed the logistics of the Wuchang Uprising whilst Dr. Sun Yat-Sen was exiled in the United States. The revolution was successfully fought to over-throw 2000 years of Imperial Chinese rule part of such Dynasties like the Qing and Ming, the Emperors and their Empresses would not rule over China ever again. Sun returned from the United States of America after he learned the result had been in the favour of the Republic. Making my way around the final installments of the museum to find the style revolution that was taking place in China after Imperial rule had vanished, women were wearing new fashion forward trends and they were working new permed hairstyles. Aside from the politics of that business I know those Empresses would have looked on-point during those former Dynasties! I had done good considering I previously knew nothing about that time! Wuhan was and still is schooling me about China's history!

Choosing Guangzhou as the final stop on my 2016 Spring Festival holiday I was aware Dr. Sun Yat-Sen had a Memorial Hall that conveniently had it's own underground station. Opened in 1931, this Memorial Hall had much to show me, like the Wuchang 1911 Uprising site the vast majority of the exhibits were only in Chinese, unfortunately I can't read those characters! Catching the still atmosphere during that Chinese New Year's Day I appreciated the well manicured gardens that shone in that winter sunshine during one of Chinese busiest festival's. Admission was free for that day only, I had definitely chose the right time and location for that Guangzhou visit! The grand auditorium impressed me much, I could just imagine important meetings taking place with many influential people from Zhongshan's delegation. Guangzhou's former Presidential Palace once stood on the foundations of this colorful memorial hall, let's get it!

After digging a little deeper I uncovered some shade from 1922, Guangzhou's former Presidential Palace was under-fire by Ye-Ju's attack, so Dr. Sun Yat-Sen was sent to the SS Yongfeng along with Chiang Kai-Shek, a former leader of the Republic of China. Sun's wife got away from the perils of the yet to be Memorial Hall, of course I do my research when I craft my blog posts! During my February 2016 visit to the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall, I got the feeling that Zhongshan could of had the same level as respect as maybe former British Prime Minster, Winston Churchill? Nevertheless, getting to know the Memorial Hall and it's quirks was well worth it! These sights from Wuhan and Guangzhou had opened up a whole new Chinese icon that I never knew existed. I didn't realise Macau had it's own Zhongshan Park until I had crossed the borderline back into China! Wuhan has a Zhongshan Park, I have already been there so I'm over that one! I wouldn't think twice about a park in England!

Nanjing held the key to the third slice of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen's legacy, finding the resting place of this Chinese visionary and revolutionist had to be done. I had seen about Zhongshan Mausoleum prior to my move to China and had put it on my travel list. Choosing the Dragon Boat Festival to visit the city of Nanjing, it was like opening a new can of worms for the events after the Uprising of 1911 put the spotlight on this former Southern Capital of China. No, Beijing wasn't always the capital city of China, as far as Nanjing I learned at Chaotian Gong that Nanjing was handed the torch to be the first capital city of the newly formed Republic of China. As I get better with the Chinese characters for the cities I now understand the symbols for Nanjing and Beijing, 'Nan' for 'South' and 'Bei for  'North' for that I could try to understand. Beijing is on my sights but Nanjing had me pretty caught up! Oh, China is amazing!

Making way through a maze of paths as the crowds grew more and more hectic it felt like I was entering a place that had the same hype as Walt Disney World, Florida possesses! On the 1st, June 1929 the Doctor was buried at his very own Mausoleum in Nanjing. Known as the 'Father of Modern China' Dr. Sun Yat-Sen had been hailed for his victories to move China forward, away from the Qing Imperialist rulers to a new frontier for China and Taiwan. From what I saw at the Zhongshan Mausoleum was remarkable, I even had to get real with one lady because she was trying to take a photo inside the Mausoleum! The whole experience of seeing the Mausoleum had made my reason for Nanjing worth it! Looking back on that Dragon Boat Festival occasion it felt like people had made a pilgrimage of some sorts to visit the resting place of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen? I know that investing time into finding more about Zhongshan has shaped a part of my experience in China! Yes, Zhongshan served!

Dynasty Denied!

Joseph Harrison 

20 July 2016

How Travelling Can Improve Your Job Prospects...

It's fair to say that being a teacher out here in Wuhan, China my own future job prospects are being expanded on a daily basis. With each additional day of experience under my belt I’ve got more meat to my CV which I can rightly be proud of and this should serve me well in my career as well as in my personal life. Life is an exciting thing, let's embrace every moment!

I have chosen a path with a very obviously beneficial trajectory whilst many young people on travels round the world, whether short term, long term or just a gap year, will find this time doesn’t lend itself quite so well to that resume you’ll be firing off with job applications later down the line. But does that mean that travelers need to seek out paid work when on overseas adventures to make the most of the experience? When detailing your relevant experience on a CV it tends to follow the tried and tested format of listing past jobs in a logical order and then summarising a few “extracurricular” experiences you’d like to draw upon to help pad things out beyond the strictly professional. You can’t really just jam in “went travelling” between that checkout job in Sainsbury’s and temping for a financial services company but at the same time it would be a mistake not to reference your time as a traveller. Just think!

Some experiences abroad naturally fit into a job application quite nicely so if you’ve been partaking in voluntary conservation work or working at a summer camp in America, these can be neatly presented alongside the 9-5 jobs you’ve worked back home. But for every easy to summarise overseas work placement there are thousands of travellers taking less well trodden paths that can’t be easily parachuted into that “work experience” section of your CV. Fear not however, as all this means is that you’ll need to be a little more creative with the way in which you summarise the skills you’ve picked up. I worked at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, USA during one summer whilst I was at University College Birmingham, it may have only been a retail role but I broaden my horizons as I met people from around the world! I know that having work experience from working at Disney helped me secure another work placement in the USA! Maybe a summer camp in America?

While it may seem like something that requires minimal effort, travelling around the world actually requires you possess excellent communication skills; this is amplified if you manage to learn a foreign language along the way and will set you apart from other candidates in your home country. Admittedly six weeks in Peru won’t see you coming back fluent in Spanish but you could definitely make the most of your time to get to grips with at least the basics. After all communicating effectively with people is much more than simply sharing a common language! Applying this situation to teaching English, my students range from the ages of two to six years old so their English skills and my Chinese skills don't mix, but with the fun and energetic games we play and the colourful language material I use we find a way to make learning a lot of fun! Communication skills are required for every instance in life!

The ability to communicate with speakers of other languages, even if only to a fairly rudimentary degree, will make you a far more attractive candidate to prospective employers. Certainly there is evidence to suggest that those who are genuinely multilingual possess greater earning potential compared to those who only speak one language. Of course even without being able to speak, write and understand a foreign language there are still plenty of communication skills you can develop whilst adventuring, not least of which pertains to your own confidence levels. The more confident you are speaking to those with whom you’ve no common tongue the greater your preparedness for situations and circumstances that may be alien to you. That’s a skill that cannot be underestimated in the world of work! I can speak a smattering of Spanish and French but my Chinese reading skills are improving, it definitely makes getting the high speed trains easier from Wuhan Railway Station!

As you can probably tell this one’s a subject close to my heart. As someone who loves to write, both as a means to document my experiences and by way of having an outlet for my creative endeavours, blogging is a fantastic form of therapy. But far beyond its simple therapeutic qualities that dedication to writing shows potential employers you can stick to a routine, that you’re not a quitter and that you’re able to engage with an audience. There’s really no excuse for poor spelling, grammar and punctuation in this day and age so hone your skills by committing to writing on a regular basis. It’s great for getting the creative juices flowing and with each post you can enjoy the satisfaction of having created something meaningful. As a blogger in my spare time I know that having a limited budget can alter my initial plan but with a check on my finances and some flexibility, I make it happen. 

Going back to the time when I was interviewing for teaching jobs in China, I turned countless opportunities down because I was continuously carrying out research on the industry. Being completely honest, diving in head first to another country and culture is one of the greatest blind leaps of faith you can make in life but doing your homework beforehand will make life a hell of a lot easier. Possessing a modern digital camera can help you capture those moments that really do count, but professional photography equipment won't cost you the earth nowadays! Planning your itinerary, managing your budget, organising travel plans for each leg of the journey and putting time in to research cultural nuances and other useful information to aid you on arrival all fits under the blanket term of “organisation skills”, being a life skill that once you’ve mastered can sit proudly at the top of any list of strengths. Being organised is key, oh it's definitely a quality to be adopted!

Whilst all of the above skills should stand you in good stead, there are of course the vital life skills that just don’t fit into any one particular category of black and white boxes to be ticked. Travelling and experiencing new cultures helps to make you a better developed and happier person. It can also help you to learn more about yourself as a person, including your own strengths and weaknesses. Travelling keeps me sane, seeing new places and learning things about cultures allows me to increase my travel footprint. You’ll gain valuable insight into other cultures, but also learn more about your own country and its culture by way of comparison. You might very well find yourself missing little things about your own country enabling you to develop a whole new level of appreciation for your homeland. I can't run back to England when the first thing goes wrong, but I want a home-cooked Sunday Roast Dinner!  

Finally, you should find the experience of travelling helps to open your mind to better understand others. Anyone can preach tolerance as a virtue but to truly experience it one needs to develop it as a skill and you won’t do that by staying put! Taking one element from each section of this post might well change your life? Life isn't all about work but unfortunately it takes the most part of our time up, turning that necessary evil on its head could well make your travel odyssey a lot more fruitful because working abroad allows certain spots of travelling to be done whilst a steady income finances life. We don't need to all have first class university degrees or be bilingual but with a smattering of common sense and a love for seeing new places around the world could this be a breeze for you? For me teaching English enables me to travel and my blogging keeps it alive! There's a big world out there that won't wait for us, we need to get our live in check! 

Travel Can Be Your Remedy! 

Joseph Harrison 

14 July 2016

2016: A Brand New Secret!

So, I have been so busy recently that I haven't been able to blog, that's quite frankly not on but I'm back to serve some of my Spring/Summer collection. The fashion of my life has recently been very colourful, for living in China there's never a dull moment! From May to June and then July it's been hectic to say the least! Oh yes, I have a few brand new secrets to debut! 

A free day out?! I get paid well but if there's anything going for nothing I'm there! The teaching agency that I'm associated with decided to organise a scenic day out for us away from the smog and concrete of Wuhan city. I was skeptical about this day out for several reasons but my best one told me to get a grip because we had both got our lives and priorities in check! Leaving with a coachload of English teachers and the administrative staff from the agency we made a run from the craziness of the city without any hesitation. Reuniting with some familiar faces was nice, we may be affiliated with the same teaching agency but our Wuhan circles have certainly being decided for us. Fiona made the journey from Xianning the evening before, staying at my Guanggu flat made the early wake up call much easy for her. I'm on a different hype as new teachers had arrived, it made me feel like I had been here for ages!

Getting to grips with the scenic area that we were spending the day at I was impressed with the 90RMB ticket admission that had been waived for us. I can't remember the name of the place but it had a sense of Oriental Realness with the halfpenny style bridge that spanned the lily-pad filled lake. Weaving in and out of several different social groups it was nice to be a social butterfly of some sorts, the weather was blessed and the mood was relaxed so there was no shade to be thrown! Making our way for lunch we dined on some interesting Chinese delacascies, I threw all caution to the wind by eating some frog! In actual fact that frog meat tasted really nice, not like chicken but really good nonetheless. I bumped into one of my students and her family as they were on a day like we were ourselves. I got some great snaps and I really enjoyed that scenic day our with my fellow English teachers! I recognised that some new groups had morphed, I'm with exceptional company, Fi!

One week before my Nanjing Dragon Boat Festival trip it was time for the 2016 Etonkids Children's Day Show! I played my part as one of the hosts alongside four students from the oldest class and my teaching colleague and friend, Miki, The children had rehearsed quite a lot and the stage had been set for the annual performance. Being from England it was the first time I was exposed to such a celebration that even allowed most children to have the day off school! I only had a few lines to say but they were all in Chinese, with the help from Miki who had the sentences typed into the Pinyin written form of Chinese, I had no problem reading my lines after that alteration. One class were dressed as mini Tarzan's with their leopard print costumes, whereas some of the girls from Casa Two looked like mini majorettes for their high energy dance routine! I loved the applause from the parents and grandparents!

Yes, a lot of preparation had gone into our Children's Day show, lessons had to be rescheduled as rehearsals took the priority. A selection of the teachers performed an amazing Tibetan style dance, I really do hope to visit that Autonomous Region in the future but for now it's not going to be feasible for my first stint in China! The whole experience of the Children's Day show was great, I appreciated the time that I spent with the four from the eldest class as their final semester at Etonkids was almost over, signifying their transition to primary school. Following the show it was going to be a full packed June at school, classes slowed down throughout the rehearsal period so the children had lost their focus in the classroom, that was challenging to restore as the summer heat was slowly returning. The first throws of my second Wuhan summer had been great throughout that period because my second semester served some different tones compared to my very first term! Go!

July 1st soon came back around, one year on from my first meeting with Wuhan I had already made it my one year mark since arriving into Mainland China from England but I called the day that I arrived in Wuhan as another landmark moment. I have to pinch myself even to this day, I'm approaching my thirteenth month of living in China and I feel blessed that I made it through that moment of uncertainty! Guanggu is home, it gets on my nerves but it's become a part of me. It's a student's paradise and a shopping mecca, most of all I love having my own apartment, I negotiated the handover of a new contract in the same apartment that I moved into on the 3rd of July 2015, the previous landlord wanted to sell and I didn't want to pack my things up and go just yet, I listened carefully and made sure I managed the finer parts of that new rental contract. Some of the central areas look tactic but I can deal with that!

July has been a good month so far, it's been very busy and more things are being implemented from management with a new regional manager for the city. I honestly cannot wait for my holiday period as I'm working an extra week into August but I battled for that paid two week break, I intend to enjoy the fruits of of my labour. Friends come and go, groups changed too but I know that my friendship with Fiona is made of the strong stuff as we have just clicked, I live for our boozy nights out and our belly busting meals because we love all the good things in life, there's no false pretenses or basicness whatsoever! Life and work has got in the way of my blog but I know that I'll still be publishing my four posts per month as usual. I hope to be in Guanggu for at least another eleven months as I have another year's worth of teaching that I have committed to! I'm not good with secrets but not being off my blog game was like sitting on something that hadn't been told! No more secrets!

I'm Back! 

Joseph Harrison