Carrie Kellenberger in China
ASIA,  China

Teaching English Abroad: Smiling Angel Learns the Ropes

Red Door

By June 2003, the SARS scare in northern China was starting to die down and life had returned to normal. My classes at Bai Da Wei English School had resumed and I had started working on improving my ESL teaching skills in the classroom. I had seven of my own classes, with students ranging from 4 to 14 years of age. At that time, most of the people I encountered in Changchun had never seen a foreigner. I had quickly gotten used to people staring at me and yelling HELLLOOOOOOO!!!! whenever I was outside.

Winning my students over was a little different. Two of my classes were ‘baby’ classes. The kids were really young and most of them were going through seperation anxiety. Plus, they had a strange looking woman in their classroom who they didn’t understand. It took them a week or two to stop crying whenever I came into the classroom.

My next challenge was getting them to do what I wanted them to do. I had had plenty of experience in my Mom’s kindergarten classroom in Canada, but it just wasn’t the same.   Despite my anxieties, I discovered that kids are the same everywhere around the world. They want to have fun and they want to feel safe. I started introducing lots of songs and games into my lessons and stopped worrying so much about getting them into their bookwork and found that this worked really well.

By the end of June, I had them eating out of the palm of my hand and parents couldn’t wait to bring them to my class. Teaching has never been so much fun and I maintain that to this day. I’ve worked at a lot of schools in the public and private sectors, but I had the best time at Bai Da Wei. I simply loved my job there. I would highly recommend working for this school.

I was also making strides in my personal life as well. I met with a Chinese tutor three times a week. North East China is not a place you can really get along in unless you speak some Chinese. I was sick of getting into cabs and grunting and shouting at cab drivers to make them understand. I was tired of having to bring a calculator with me if I wanted to buy something or taking a Chinese co-worker with me if I needed to go to the bank or get a hair cut. I was tired of play-acting to get what I wanted. The final straw came when I was at a clothing market and was trying to ask the sales woman what type of fur was on the trim of a Chinese jacket. I found myself hopping up and down, twitching my nose and holding two fingers to my ears to imitate a rabbit and realized – enough is enough!

Even though I doubted my ability to learn a new language, I persevered and discovered that when I applied myself, I had a natural aptitude for languages. Within months, I had memorized several hundred characters and my tutor was pressing me to study harder.

In the meantime, my social network was expanding as I was growing more confident about being on my own in a strange country. Our school owned a restaurant on the first floor of our building. Our teaching staff would often meet there on Sunday nights and drink cold beers after a long day at work. The restaurant soon became well known amongst the ex-pat community for good food, nice folks and a decent music system that blasted whatever we felt like listening to. I met a lot of teachers from the other language schools in Changchun. We had some amazing parties there that summer. I met so many new people from different countries and I was endlessly fascinated with hearing everyone’s stories and what had brought them to China in the first place. More than a few times, I stumbled home in the small hours of the morning, happy and satisfied with the road that I was on.

I'm a chronically ill Canadian who has been living in Taiwan since 2006. I'm a bit of a jack of all trades! I love art, gardening, flower arranging, reading (that's an understatement if you've seen my GoodReads profile), and snuggling with my cats. Animal videos make me cry. I hate cooking. Nothing makes me happier than seeing my garden bloom! Learning about new cultures and exploring the world has been my thing since I started traveling at age 19. A self-professed autodidact, I can speak comfortably on many different subjects and hold a special place in my heart for science, technology, law, health and medicine, and history. You can find me nerding out at home most of the time due to being chronically ill and housebound. If I'm not engaged in one of the activities listed above, I'm probably building websites. Check my About page under Carrie Kellenberger to learn why I'm taking you on this journey with me through My Several Worlds. I can't wait to get to know you better!

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