Jennifer is an Aston English alumna who taught in Yinchuan, China for a year. She studied history at the University of York, and currently resides in London where she spends her free time adventuring around Europe.
How would you overall describe your experience with Aston?
I worked for Aston for one year, and overall I had a very positive experience! First of all, I felt that there was generally a lot of support for foreigners – especially useful if you are totally new to China. This support ranged from local – being able to talk to my foreign manager about any problems – to having regular contact with Aston HQ. Consequently, there was always someone who could address any issues or concerns that I had. More generally, Aston provided great teaching experience. I was able to work with a variety of students, differing in age and ability. This often meant that no two weeks of work were the same – something which although could be challenging, was interesting! The curriculum at Aston was structured enough to help novice teachers, yet flexible for those with more experience to add their own touch. Of course, as with many jobs, sometimes I was met with difficult or challenging situations. Sometimes this related to the job itself (disruptive classrooms, lessons not going to plan), other times there was an issue of communication – important information being lost in translation. However, moving to a non-English speaking country, whose culture differs so much from my own, this was to be expected. Learning to overcome these problems was an important part of the experience, something I shall learn from and take back home with me. Overall, I would describe my time with Aston as having given me a year’s worth of great experiences and certainly allowed me a greater insight into many aspects of Chinese culture.
How was your transition to China, and how did Aston help you to adjust?
When I joined Aston, I had already been in China for 6 months. In this sense, I had gotten over any initial culture shock and had become somewhat adapted to the changes there. However, taking a job in Yinchuan required moving across the country, from the east coast to the north west. So, in some respects, many things were suddenly new again. As my travels have taught me, China varies much between provinces and cities, and so required adjusting to the Yinchuan way of life. Aston helped make this transition easy and relatively painless! The process between my initial application and start date was quick, the logistics of which were organized quite efficiently. Upon arriving in my new city, I was greeted at the train station and transferred to my new apartment. Within the first few days I had met most of my co-workers and had been given a pretty good introduction to the school there. Everyone at the school was always willing to provide help and assistance with lesson planning and understanding the curriculum. Regular performance feedback also helped me overcome any issues. On the whole, I found that with the support provided by Aston, adjusting was really no problem!
Do you have any suggestions for improvement?
In terms of helping people adjust, I think it would be beneficial if Aston could provide a more established way of allowing new and prospective teachers to contact existing employees, either in the city they will live or the school they will work. Maybe a question and answer session, or a sort of “buddy” system where you can address any concerns to someone who has a similar experience – not just about the job, but adapting to life in China. From my experience, talking to people who have been there and done it is a great way of preparing yourself.
Would you recommend Aston to a person interested in teaching abroad? Why or why not?
I certainly would recommend Aston (and I already have!) to anyone looking to come and teach in China – whether you have experience or not. As aforementioned, Aston provides support for its foreign teachers – helping you to deal with concerns at work, with your housing or more general issues. For anyone who has never lived abroad and/or is apprehensive about coming to China, Aston will help make your transition and adjustment as easy as possible. Aston provides regular training, allowing you to grow and develop as a teacher. They have locations all over the country – giving you the option to live in some very interesting places. It’s a great way to meet other foreign teachers from all over the world, as well as making local friends. The general ethos of Aston is to make learning fun and this applies to the teachers, not just the students!
What aspects of teaching with Aston do you like and dislike?
As I briefly mentioned, the curriculum that Aston uses and its learning ethos were both aspects I enjoyed in the job. Having books for each level in some ways really helps make your job easier! It means you can walk into a classroom with a clear aim of what you hope to achieve by the end, and it makes monitoring student progress somewhat easier. It’s a great tool if you are new to teaching and are struggling where to begin. However, Aston also encourages its teachers to complement the books with their own personal flair. This allows you to use your imagination to create your own activities in your own style. Learning at Aston is based around making English enjoyable, focusing on games and challenges in the classroom. Watching children run around pretending to be animals is just an example of how energetic lessons can be! Because my work at Aston was centered around evenings and weekends, it does require working odd hours. This meant late evenings and very busy weekends! Fitting in 8 plus classes a day can be quite hectic, and certainly requires all of your energy. However, having more free time to travel and do what you want certainly makes up for it.
What sort of advice would you give to a person considering Aston?
I would always recommend doing as much research as you can. This includes looking up Aston online – what locations they have, how big the school is, are there other foreigners working there? Have a thought about what part of China you would like to live in, as Aston may be able to accommodate this. Once you do know of your location, research this too. How big is the city? Is it too rural/too urban for you? Are there many foreigners or expats in this area? Additionally, it is always really useful to talk to someone already working at Aston, and preferably someone in your city. This will give you a better insight into what daily life is like and you can gain an understanding of the work you will do.
What sort of things have you been able to achieve in China with Aston that you wouldn’t have been able to accomplish at home?
I would say that one of the best experiences of my time with Aston was being able to live and work in a culture so different from home. Whilst this presents its own challenges, it’s been one of the most interesting and rewarding things I have ever done! I was able to interact with people from all over the world, whose experience of life is so different to mine. I was able to learn to speak Mandarin (not quite fluently – although alcohol certainly boosts the confidence!), a language which is lives up to the reputation of being very hard, but is also quite fun. As a tourist, you can come to China and see many of its most famous and beautiful landmarks. However, living here you get to see and experience a China that your everyday tourist doesn’t. This includes interacting with local people you wouldn’t usually meet, being able to take part in the way of life (especially festivals!), and laughing at the myriad of strange things you will encounter (squat toilets, excessive car-honking, trying to fit an entire family and the pet on a small e-bike!). Being able to travel across much of China was another great experience. I visited 11 provinces and was able to see most of the important landmarks as well as a few more. Doing this enabled me to see just how the world’s fourth biggest country really varied. I witnessed everything from ancient water villages, impressive urban metropolis’ and deserts. Although there is much that is uniform across the country, many of the people and much of the food changed from east to west and north to south. Additionally, the free time that working with Aston allowed also enabled me to explore further afield in South East Asia, something I had long wanted to do. Again, I saw so many new and interesting things, which I never would have been able to do back home!
Anything else you’d like to share about your experiences?
To anyone considering teaching abroad, especially those who might be apprehensive, I would say go for it! I don’t think I’ve met anyone who hasn’t enjoyed their experience, in fact quite the opposite. Many people who intended to come for a short time have ended up staying many years! It’s an experience unlike anything you can get at home. China, especially, offers that chance to live in the fastest growing country in the world and I can promise you will come away with many stories to tell. However, I would always encourage anybody to approach this experience with an open mind. There are many differences between life in China and elsewhere (especially the western world) and these can be both positive and negative. Be flexible and prepared to accept change and you will come away with a very rewarding experience!