“Unromantic Realities of Teaching in a Foreign Land”

I thought about this piece while walking to work this morning. The lone unicorn walking down these China streets powering through the stares and scowls of those around me. When I first made the decision to move abroad I was at the juncture in my life where I knew that if I didn’t change something and in a very big way, I was going to leave the world of academia behind altogether. My life in the U.S. was fine, but something always seemed to be missing or askew or just not quite right. And the constant threat upon my black skin from sources concrete and abstract made living there scary and seemingly dangerous. So like the romantic that I am, I decided living and teaching in a new country would be the answer. I fantasized about the impact I would make, the lessons I would perform and how I would grow to the heavens in my teaching practice. I imagined myself and my daughter in our exotic new locale indulging in new foods, visiting new countries and learning new languages. And while the things that I’ve imagined have, in fact, taken place, my main reason for living in China has been the most challenging aspect of our new journey.

You see, teaching in China has many more challenges than I anticipated. Aside from the obvious challenge of a language barrier, there have been three distinct challenges with which I have had to contend: unrealistic expectations from parents, lazy, under-motivated students and lack of resources. Teachers everywhere are reading that thinking, “I deal with the same issues!” Believe me, I know. Like many teachers, I thought teaching abroad would be a teacher’s utopia. And I especially thought teaching in China would be easier. I was a victim of the same preconceived notions as many other Americans are, “Chinese students work hard”, “Chinese students are naturally motivated”, “Chinese students are blah, blah, blah. Just wonderful”. The truth is Chinese students are, well, students, merely children who suffer from many of the same ailments and conditions as other children – laziness, self-indulgence, self-centeredness and just plain incorrigibility. Now, of course, it’s not all students all of the time, but the model student that many of us believed existed in China is in actuality a rarity not the norm.

The good thing about this realization is that being a trained, certified, experienced teacher in the U.S. properly prepared me to successfully handle this reality. Therefore, it is business as usual in my classroom. I simply employed the same strategies and expectations that I would in my American classroom. The biggest difference is having a teaching assistant/translator. Somewhat similar to the co-teaching model without the collaborative planning. Of course, many of us who have had co-teachers know that collaborative planning doesn’t always happen either.

Nonetheless, those realities aren’t enough to make me regret my decision to teach abroad, especially since I would be dealing with the exact same issues in the U.S. Moreover, just like back home, the students always make it worth it. I have students with big personalities, students who are exceptionally quiet, some who are extraordinarily loud and some who love drama. There are comedians, fighters, actors and natural leaders. Their personalities are just as varied as any group of young people would be and so are their academic levels. They definitely have helped to make this journey quite interesting.

The Six Best Places for Expats to Shop for Clothes in China

No matter what you know or don’t know about China, one thing we can all agree on is that the Chinese are rather small.  The Northern Chinese may not be as small as the Southern Chinese, but they all are still smaller on average than most Westerners. Therefore, shopping for clothes can be quite challenging. However, expats have a few choices to accommodate those extra inches. Continue reading “The Six Best Places for Expats to Shop for Clothes in China”

3 countries, 2 weeks, 2 people, less than 2k TOTAL. Bam!

Don’t you hate when you read a title or headline of a blog or article telling you how they did this amazing thing for just a little bit of money? And so you go on to read the article or blog expecting to learn all of these fabulous tips about how you too can have this fabulous experience for a only one dollar and you find that the author has used ridiculous or unrealistic (for you) ways to have said fabulous experience. Well, I hate that too. And with that being said, I’m going to tell you upfront that had I started this journey from the United States instead of China, the title would probably read “3 countries, 2 weeks, 2 people, less than 4k total.” Now, if there are two people splitting the cost that’s still pretty darn good, but when it’s a single parent footing the bill, less is best. So, I’m going to do something I don’t usually do and be completely transparent about the amount of money I spent to have this fabulous, yet budget friendly experience with my mini me. Continue reading “3 countries, 2 weeks, 2 people, less than 2k TOTAL. Bam!”

Teenager Abroad Segment: “Another Chapter”

One of the most important factors that I have to consider when traveling or living abroad is my quiet, reserved, yet very opinionated teenage daughter. Adjusting to living abroad is one thing when you’re solo, but when you’re a parent, and especially of a teenager, it adds an extra layer to the already challenging dynamic. My precious one agreed, albeit somewhat begrudgingly, to go on this journey with me. I thought the least I could do was give her a platform to share her thoughts. These are her words, raw and uncensored.

Continue reading “Teenager Abroad Segment: “Another Chapter””

Thanksgiving in Foshan- Food for My Soul

I’ll be the first to admit that I was truly worried about how the mini and I would spend our first major holiday abroad. Despite my best efforts to spend the day surrounded by people we were familiar with eating food that fed our souls as much as it did our stomachs, nothing seemed to be working out. The plans that we did make fell through, well sort of…but that’s another story. Nonetheless, I was left trying to make sure we didn’t spend the holiday sad, depressed and alone. So I had to put on mommy cape and get to work. Not only did we have a decent Thanksgiving dinner surrounded by good people, but we were so busy that we didn’t have time to think about all the glorious food and family time we were missing back home. Continue reading “Thanksgiving in Foshan- Food for My Soul”

Dude, Where’s My Mail?

Forgive my reference to the tacky, yet hilarious, 2000 movie staring Aston Kutcher. But just like the movie, my search for and expectation to receive packages sent from the U.S. are both futile and absolutely comedic. First, in order to get anything done in China, you MUST speak the language. There is simply no way around it. Well, I don’t speak the language. Therefore, I have to garner the assistance of Chinese work colleagues to assist me with things as simple as tracking down my packages. Continue reading “Dude, Where’s My Mail?”

Where should we go? HELP!

I’ve tossed and turned and had many a sleepless night on Skyscanner, Ctrip, TripAdvisor and Facebook trying to decide where the mini and I should go for the December holiday break. Of course, I’ve come up with a multitude of destinations. All of which would be new or newish to both of us. Yet, I still cannot make a final decision as to where to go, so I’m asking for your help. I’ve created a poll and I need for my readers to tell me where they think I should go. I chose places based on access to a beach, duration of flights and cost of visa.  If you feel I’ve overlooked a destination, please share it in the comments. Soooo…where should we go??

To Bangkok with Love (Pt. 1)

Thailand has been on my “list” since my first experience with Thai food at this cute, quaint Thai restaurant several years ago in Atlanta. I wish I could remember the name of the place, but it escapes me at this time. Nonetheless, I remember thinking to myself that if the food was this good here in Atlanta, then it would have to be 100 times better in the local area of Thailand. So…yes, food fueled my desire to get to Thailand and well, their epic Full Moon party, but that’s another story. Needless to say, the moment I confirmed that I would be living in China for the at least the next year I started planning our trip to Thailand. Initially, it was going to be our Christmas holiday trip, but when the Mid-Autumn Fall Break rolled around, I decided I couldn’t wait to find refuge in a different foreign land. And I desperately needed a place much different than my current country of residence. Bangkok gave me all that I needed and then some.

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Krispy Kreme in Emporium Mall.

Familiarity and Nostalgia
Our first night there we discovered a comprehensive dining guide in our modern and well-appointed rental apartment which was located in Circle 12 Condominiums on Sukhumvit Soi 12. It wasn’t my intent to do much restaurant eating as I am a street food fanatic, but my daughter saw that there was a Krispy Kreme in the Emporium shopping center and, being the doughnut aficionado she is, nearly lost her mind. At that moment, our mission became to find the doughnuts, after eating dinner and getting massages of course. So we officially began our trip with dinner at Stable Lodge where indulged in traditional Thai fare, followed by two wonderful full body scrubs with massages from a little place on Soi 8 called Relax…and something else. Honestly, the name doesn’t matter much. It was the only place on the street that did full body scrubs. Now, as far as extras, I don’t know anything about that, but our place seemed legit and while it was a bit shabby, the body work was the bomb and the price was super cheap.

One of the great things we discovered, soon after arrival, is that navigating Bangkok was 10 times easier than navigating Foshan. We didn’t face the same language barriers, the public transportation system was easy to understand and use and there dozens of familiar shops and restaurants. Krispy Kreme just happened to be one of them. So after we bought the Krispy Kreme we explored the multitude of shops, restaurants and stalls in Emporium and Terminal 21. We saw everything from Louis Vuitton to Sephora to Payless Shoes to Wine Market and even a boutique grocery store in the mall. The food courts in these places were absolutely amazing. Fine dining to fast food to stalls that resembled those at the night markets were all there. It was shopping and foodie heaven!

But the thing that made us miss home the most, the thing that caused the throat knot and the misty eyes, was the sight of Krispy Kreme. I don’t know how the Creator knew that we needed that little piece of home, but it was right on time. Honestly, Bangkok was right on time in many more ways.

Our "moveable feast" in a restaurant in the Terminal 21 mall.
Our “moveable feast” at restaurant Mix 21 in the Terminal 21 mall.
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