Leenna was born asking, ‘Why?’. She’s still on a quest for an answer, having travelled to the furthest points on Earth from her home to do so. She’s hoping to have the answer by next October or in her next book.
Leenna would love to hear your thoughts on her work, and any answers to ‘Why?’ would be appreciated. Contact her via her blog: www.leennanaidoo.wordpress.com
How would you overall describe your experience with Aston? How was your transition to China, and how did Aston help you adjust?
My experience at Aston Yulin was, for the most part, wonderfully life-changing. Yes, there were days when I felt isolated and depressed, but they were far, far outweighed by the friendships, fun and joy, which typified most days. Finding joy in Yulin was as simple as playing a game with my students, climbing to a high point and feeling the breeze, a smile from my favourite greengrocer, beginning a new story, catching up with a friend, watching the clouds form in the blue, blue sky…simple things that money can’t easily buy, or buy at all.
My recruitment process went very well. My first contact with Aston was in Xi’An, where I was spending a couple of days before flying out to Yulin. My then Aston Yulin manager, Camilla, contacted me via phone and email, directing me to the Xi’An school which would oversee my medical. Camilla had also booked me a flight into Yulin. Aston Xi’An had no friendly faces for me, in fact they seemed unaware of any such arrangements, not surprising considering I wasn’t one of theirs. I was so stressed, suffering with culture shock for the first time, and subsisting only on KFC; I wondered if I shouldn’t head back home before things got worse…
Fortunately, things looked up as soon as I got to Yulin. I was met by Kate, Helen and another Chinese Teacher. We piled into a little car with my massive suitcase and drove through to the night to my new home. I understood that Ms Feng was away just then, so I didn’t get to meet her until almost a week later.
A welcome pack was most welcome! With necessities and interesting unfamiliar snacks to see me through for my first few days. Camilla took me on an orientation of the supermarket and path to school the next day, so I was able to start exploring quite soon. I fell in love with Yulin within the next couple of weeks.
While my first year of sharing an apartment was less than ideal – with two other guys (very negative ESL teachers) who disliked me as intensely as I disliked them – my second year was absolutely ideal – all on my own in a modern apartment with wonderful views of the sky and quiet neighbours.
With my temperamental tummy and sinus problems, there’s much I can’t eat. Add to that I don’t drink much alcohol, and you can guess that I can’t always eat what’s on the table or join in the drinking games, which created problems in Harbin, but not in Yulin.
Yulin was very understanding, and cut me a lot of slack. Ms Feng always, always made sure that I had enough of my favoured dishes whenever we went out on school dinners (something she does for all of us), and my not being a drinker or a late-night reveller wasn’t held against me. When gifts were given, I always got a food treat or tea instead! It felt really good to be accepted as I was instead of ostracised for being different.
I had a lot of emotional and other support from the school. I tend to be a soft-voiced speaker. During the first month of my first semester, I contracted a severe case of laryngitis which quickly turned into pharyngitis. I was mortified! I was completely mute. Not only was I in a foreign country with a language I didn’t know, but I couldn’t do my job at a crucial time of year. And I had no family or friends to call upon…
Ms. Feng, Camilla, and my Chinese colleagues were there for me. I was taken to the hospital, given effective treatment, and had my shopping taken care of. I was allowed to rest as needed. Classes were strange with me not being able to speak. My students were understanding too, most behaved better than expected! Fortunately, I recovered within two weeks, and learned how to project my voice better. And by the end of that ordeal, I knew I could live in Yulin. It started to feel like home.
Do you have any suggestions for improvement? Would you recommend Aston to a person interested in teaching abroad? Why or why not?
It would have been less daunting a start to my Aston experience if I had been met in Xi’An as other teachers have been. That said, finding my way alone (to a certain extent), served me well for the rest of my stay in China. I had little qualms about exploring on my own when I needed to!
I would recommend Aston to others looking to teach in China. With Aston, I gained a rock-solid foundation for my teaching career. I can only speak for Yulin, but I can also say that my contracts were fair and honoured to the letter in a timely fashion, some bonuses were unexpected and generous, and the training was very useful even though I’d done my CELTA. I was treated as a friend by my Chinese colleagues, and Ms Feng, a very hands-on principal, became someone I admire immensely and still have a great deal of affection for.
What aspects of teaching with Aston do you like and dislike?
Five years ago I had a love/hate relationship with the chalkboard. It aggravated my sinus problems, but was a lot of fun to use. Chalk dust managed to smudge itself all over somehow…
It would have been nice to have had more technology in classes to listen to music more easily or study a movie, especially for the C6s and upwards.
I liked the Aston material. Now that I can compare it to another popular ESL franchise, I can see that Aston’s material is less stressful and more useful to my students. Concentrating on essential vocabulary frees up time in class for more practice and review.
I also found the Aston semester structure easy to work with and required less class preparation; altogether less stress. There was plenty of time to find exciting review and practice games, as well as props.
Aston Yulin had mostly happy and engaging students. The school had a relaxed and fun atmosphere, something I often missed in Harbin.
What sort of advice would you give a person considering Aston?
My advice to those considering teaching at Aston is to be open-minded, be yourself. Regard yourself as a student too, and learn from your colleagues, students and new city. ‘Allow yourself to have fun with your class’ was what my Yulin manager, Saul, had said to me after one evaluation. It was the best advice I’d ever received.
Challenge your students, they’ll often surprise you in a really good way.
Aston material and classes allow for creativity. Explore it where-ever you can with your students. Skim through the Aston Teachers’ Resources. There’s often something in there you can put a new spin on, if you’re running out of ideas.
What sort of things were you been able to achieve in China with Aston that you wouldn’t have been able to accomplish at home?
Where to begin with this question? I’m going to look at just a slice or two of a really big pie
My lifestyle in Yulin was, looking back, idyllic. I was fit and healthy from regular Tai Chi in the park and walking around. No car, no stress, no money black-hole, thanks to my season bus-pass. Food was healthy – often organic, I thought – from the local farms, reasonably priced, varied and quite delicious. I had more than enough of the necessities, and a few luxuries I couldn’t afford back home, including a camera I love. Beauty and innovation was all around me.
Yulin was the first place I’ve visited to have installed solar-powered traffic lights and street-lamps. And with Aston Yulin’s schedule, I had at least three days out of most weeks to travel and explore…and to create.
It was easy to write, with inspiration all around me.
It was easy to afford both time and materials to draw and paint.
It was easy to discover magic right on my doorstep; whether it was an unexpected temple mural striking a chord within me, or dark roiling clouds looking like dragons tussling up a storm…
So it was easy to complete three novels, begin six other stories, and scatter in a good lot of short stories for good measure, all while using a good internet connection to learn about publishing.
It was easiest of all to feel alive and free, instead of constantly running a dead-end rat-race.
While I have never been on a Chinese talk-show, I was once interviewed by a local journalist about an exhibition etchings from ancient stone carvings. I’d been invited to the opening by a friend and was the only foreigner present, I believe. I felt really privileged to have attended.
And once, my eminent acupuncturist and dear friend, Dr Zhou, was featured on a local TV station. I was one of her patients whose weekly treatment was filmed. Strange, but true.
Any thing else you’d like to share about your experiences?
A lot of my writing was done at the 2nd Street KFC and FuShi Lu KFC. I’d have my breakfast there; often one of the first customers in even after a sizeable snowfall or heavy rain — my favourite times. I’d take my two cups of hongcha (real Ceylon tea) and two cups of hot water and get out my notebook. I was a well-known figure sitting upstairs, I suppose, hunched over, pen in hand, frowning or grinning insanely. The staff were very kind to me. One manager, sometimes knowing I’d been there for two straight hours or more and had probably finished my tea, would send up hot water for me – and only then would I realise how thirsty I’d gotten again.
In Yulin, the little things matter and are attended to. And in those little things lie a lot of all the good things that make living a happy, rich, productive experience
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Read ‘Temple of Heavenly Falsities‘ in Foreigners for free.
Two short stories:
In far-flung mysterious China, two foreigners discover the secrets of The Temple Heavenly Falsities despite the language barrier.
In South Africa, Trishnen returns home to find so much, yet so little has changed.
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