I became a widow at 45 years old. I had been a very young mother so by this time my children were all adults. I smelt freedom.
However, I was not to be completely free for some time as I supported a couple of my children through their personal crisis. During the following 10 years I had a strong urge to downsize. I attended to this gradually as the mood moved me. I moved through a few relationships, but I never wanted to settle down again into married life.
I have never been wealthy so taking long trips anywhere was not a consideration. I kept myself busy, but I always knew there was more out there somewhere. An acquaintance was to change my life. She’d sold her car and needed a ride home from the wedding we were attending. She told me she was leaving very soon to go and teach English in China. I was so envious.
“You can too” she told me.
“But I’m not a teacher”.
“You don’t have to be. Here is the email address of my agent. Contact him”.
An inquiry email was sent as soon as I arrived home. I received an immediate reply.
“Can you be in China in one month?”
I was so excited, but as I couldn’t imagine this was true, I told no-one. But I continued sorting/selling/giving away my things. However, when the visa application arrived I knew it was for real. Christmas was fast approaching so all the family got together for Xmas making the goodbyes a lot easier. I was so busy and excited I gave little thought to where I was actually going or what I was going to do. The agent gave me very little information. I didn’t think to ask.
I’m not a detail person and easily go with the flow. My initial concern was that I had to go from very hot weather to very cold weather. It was never very cold where I lived so gathering up suitable clothes was a challenge. There were some hiccups when I arrived at Shanghai airport, but these were dealt with quickly and efficiently.
I’d never been in a classroom before, but for many years I’d worked in sales and marketing and I’d been a toastmaster so I was not daunted by having to teach. But I was very surprised to be sent to the classroom with no guidance about what to teach. So the poor students in my initial classes had to endure my learning process. My first biggest hurdle was talking loud enough. Fortunately, (as I was to learn much later) my class sizes were only about 35 students. My first school was privately owned and they took the foreign teacher English classes seriously by splitting their large classes into two. Later I was to encounter class sizes of 60-70 students in public schools. There was no help or support in these classes so it was a case of “do my best”. However, the class teachers quickly get feed back from the students and if something is not right they will tell you. No feedback, don’t worry, everything is OK.
During my first year I realised that going back home was not an immediate option. I had a much better quality of life in China plus there was a new culture in a huge fascinating, very scenic country to investigate. Within six months I went travelling around China by myself for six weeks during the summer holidays. 18 months later I took a 20-day trip to the Philippines. If I’d still been in Australia, I could never afford to do all this. I also returned home three times during the eight years I was there, to visit family and friends.
I enjoyed the mental stimulation that living in China gave me. Never a day went by without something interesting or funny happening. Even if it’s annoying you know it won’t last long. For example, spitting will never be acceptable, but as an act it’s brief. The more educated people don’t do it, so generally things improved.
I have many Chinese friends whose friendships I value dearly, but what was unexpected were the many friendships I made with people from different countries. We crossed paths in many different ways and this enriched my life enormously. Generally Chinese people are very kind and helpful and my life there would certainly not be so easy and interesting without their friendship and support.
Cultural differences are an issue of course, but why go to a foreign country and expect things to be the same as they are in your country? I didn’t know one word of Mandarin or how to use chop sticks. But that was part of the excitement of being in a new country. Eight years later I was still learning about the very complex Chinese culture. I know many Mandarin words, but I cannot hold a conversation. But these situations provide the most memorable experiences.
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