China. The first things that spring to mind are bustling cities full of people, smog-filled streets, terrifying roads and Jackie Chan. I haven’t seen Jackie Chan yet, but the rest is pretty much accurate for your first week in Beijing.
I’ve never been outside of Europe before, and hadn’t actually left England for more than ten years before getting on that plane to Beijing. I turned up; husband in tow, without a single clue of where I was, how to speak the language or even how to get through customs.
I got an email back in October 2016 offering me a deal on a 5 month internship to China and I promptly signed up for the February intake. We’ve been considering travel for a while, and when the offer came along I knew that it was a now-or-never kind of thing.
The next few months passed in a blur of paperwork, terrifying moments where Liam’s visa application got sent back because he hadn’t signed it, and before we knew it we’d moved out of our house and were staying with my parents for our final few days in England.
We arrived in Beijing airport at 3am on 1st February – it was freezing cold, I had no idea what time my body thought it was any more and we had to wait until 7.30 AM before the ImmerQi helpers would turn up. I was not a happy bunny, but we found some of the other interns and together huddled around our pile of bags with coffee and strange bread like things and made it through.
The first week in Beijing at the training centre was such a surreal experience – there were so many new people, everyone was trying to make friends and there was always something going on. We had TEFL classes, Mandarin classes, calligraphy and Tai Chi; we also climbed the Great Wall, went to a Lama Temple, the Silk Market and, of course, spent a lot of time drinking.
The Great Wall was one of the best experiences of the week – the weather was glorious, the smog had cleared and 50 minutes after we began we were standing at the top of the Wall admiring the view.
We found out that we were going to Inner Mongolia just two days beforehand, to a tiny (for China) city called Wuhai. We’re right in the middle of the Gobi and Ordos desert on the Yellow River, and we’re surrounded by mountain ranges which are absolutely stunning. Wuhai also doesn’t really have Westerners, so we get a lot of stares and people take pictures of us eating lunch!
I’ve been out here for just over 2 and a half months now, and I’m still looking to explore more of China which I hope to do once I’ve finished the internship. I’ve learned so much since being here – I can now speak some basic Mandarin, I can use chopsticks like a pro and I’m getting some amazing teaching experience. I’ve made some incredible friends, and despite being halfway across the country we still keep in touch and I know we will after the internship is over.
So far we’ve gone quad biking, eaten sheep’s brains, listened to traditional Mongolian music, celebrated International Women’s Day, gone out to KTV and stayed out until 2am… We’ve also ridden a camel, had a photo shoot at an airsoft range and eaten dinner with the city’s officials. China is a weird old place, and it’s utterly amazing.
One of the things I would say to anyone who is considering coming to China is that you need to be a Yes Man. Do you want to go to a bar the night before classes? Hell yes! Do you want to play laser tag? Sure thing! You get a lot more out of life here in China if you are willing to go along with the plans, although you do need to be aware that no one ever makes plans more than about an hour in advance.
My favourite thing about China has to be the people, whether that’s the other teachers who go above and beyond to make sure that we are happy, or if it’s the students who are so excited to have a foreign teacher that you can’t hear yourself think in class. I teach in a private school where there are about 4,000 students spread over 5 different branches. We teach at weekends and during the evenings, and the classes can be anything from 15 minutes to 2 hours long so you need to be flexible!
I’ve got another two months here and I know that every day is going to be different; every day will have its own challenges whether that’s finding a good place for lunch or trying out a new extreme sport! Sometimes life in China can get overwhelming, but overall it’s one of the best experiences and I wouldn’t change a thing.
Susie Spry, a teaching intern from Teach & Travel China Program Winter 2017 intake, is placed in Wuhai, China.