Becky is an Aston Yinchuan alum who is originally from Arkansas, USA. She and her husband taught with Aston English for a year, and returned to the States where Becky continues to work in education.
How would you describe your overall experience with Aston?
I worked with Aston for a year in Yinchuan, which is a relatively small (by Chinese standards) city near Inner Mongolia. My main motivation for moving to China was to challenge myself. I wanted to experience the day-to-day life in China, as that’s something that can’t be gained from simply visiting as a tourist, and I also wanted to experience working in an intercultural environment. The twelve months I spent in China included some of the most challenging and exciting moments of my life. I look back at particularly frustrating moments, such as having a lesson plan completely bomb or ending up utterly lost in an unfamiliar city, and I feel proud that I met those moments head-on. Now, when I’m faced with a frustrating situation, I often think, “Well, I did X in China, so I can handle anything.”
How was your transition to China, and how did Aston help you adjust?
By the time I joined Aston, I had actually already experienced living and working in China, which made my initial readjustment to Chinese life relatively smooth. Of course, living overseas long-term brings its own array of challenges, especially when it comes to figuring out day-to-day tasks that would be a breeze back home (e.g., paying utilities, locating the nearest pharmacy, getting a phone, etc.). The biggest resources for these situations were my fellow coworkers (both Chinese and foreign), who were always willing to share advice and check in to be sure I was adjusting well.
Do you have any suggestions for improvement?
The biggest struggle I faced when first arriving was the timeline of my onboarding. I completed a short training program in Xian, took an overnight train to Yinchuan, and then dove into my first day of lesson planning and teaching straight upon arrival. Based on this experience, I would recommend incorporating a smoother onboarding process to reduce the stress new teachers face and to make their arrival less hectic. Furthermore, I would recommend developing an online community where former and current teachers can connect, share teaching resources, or just seek general advice. I worked in the smallest school in my city with only one other foreign teacher, and I quickly found that working in such isolation can easily lead to a silo effect.
Would you recommend Aston to a person interested in teaching abroad? Why or Why not?
Anyone who has ever researched teaching overseas has likely encountered all sorts of horror stories, generally involving disreputable schools, which can make moving to China even more daunting. The last thing I wanted was to move halfway across the world only to find myself in a regrettable situation. Based on this desire, my primary concern when researching schools was finding a trusted and reliable company. In the end, I applied to Aston because they were the most transparent with their contract information, and also because I’d spoken directly with former teachers who had had positive experiences.
Overall, I would recommend Aston as an option for someone wishing to teach abroad, particularly for anyone new to China or English teaching. Aston provides certain benefits for its foreign teachers (housing, ongoing teacher training, Chinese language classes, etc.) that make the transition far less daunting.
What aspects of teaching with Aston do you like and dislike?
My teaching experience was generally positive. In particular, I liked that Aston’s teaching approach is quite formulaic, which eventually made lesson planning fairly straightforward because I knew the beats of each lesson. Furthermore, I also enjoyed teaching with a Chinese co-teacher, as it was helpful to strategize our plans, brainstorm game ideas, and have general in-class support when needed. In terms of improvement, having access to a teacher community, as I mentioned earlier, would have been incredibly helpful. In my first few weeks of teaching, it would have been especially useful to have advice and resources from fellow teachers, as I often felt like I was trying to recreate the wheel with each lesson plan. Also, Aston places a high value on creativity and bringing fresh activities to each class. While the ability to be innovative was generally rewarding, it could also be quite challenging, and I sometimes found myself simply out of ideas.
What sort of advice would you give someone considering Aston?
Overall, I would recommend aligning your expectations before you arrive. By expectations, I mean everything from the Chinese city you’ll call home to the various cultural norms you’ll experience on a daily basis. Furthermore, understand the responsibilities related to the job itself. Some people mistakenly assume that teaching English abroad is the equivalent of a paid vacation; however, that is simply not true. Yes, you will have ample opportunities to travel and try new things during your teaching term, but know that you’re also signing up for a job. Like any job, the work can be stressful at times, but the rewarding moments are what stay with you and make the stress worth it in the end.
What sort of things were you able to achieve in China with Aston that you wouldn’t have been able to accomplish at home?
I appreciated the opportunity to work with people from all over the world. It was fascinating to find myself all the way in northern China, yet surrounded by such a culturally-diverse group of individuals who shared my passion for travel. Furthermore, while the big adventures are obviously unforgettable (e.g., strolling through the Forbidden City, seeing the Terracotta Warriors), the small adventures I experienced every day, by virtue of simply being in China, are what I miss most.