I didn't have a clue what I was getting myself into…
People often ask how I decide where to go, and I usually stumble with my response, as I don't actually have an answer for that. For more than three years, I have been making movements with the universe, sidling from location to location at seemingly random intervals. I wait for opportunities to present themselves, and then I act.
After a bout of visa issues in New Zealand, I found asylum in Brisbane, Australia for three months, where I worked in a local nightclub and waited for my next opportunity to present itself.
A friend of mine, who I met closer to the beginning of my travels, posted a Facebook status asking if anybody was interested in a job teaching English in China. It was funny timing, really, because I had already entertained the idea of teaching English somewhere in Asia.
Sometimes I feel like I've been selfish in my travels, and I'm very grateful for the freedom that I have been granted in my life. Without the support of my family, friends, strangers, and all of you, I would not be able to lead the life that I live today. I feel as though I have amassed an immense amount of life experience, and I felt like it was time to give back.
So I jumped on a plane to China.
I was under the impression that teaching English in China was going to be, somehow, globally significant. I pictured myself as an international philanthropist, making a significant and worthy contribution to the world. What I didn't realize is that I would, once again, be the selfish party walking away with yet another incredible, meaningful experience under my belt.
For six months I lived in central China and taught English to tiny little Chinese people. I've never seen children as people, per se, but getting to know 140 three-to-13 year-olds put a particular emphasis on each one's personalities, their idiosyncrasies, and their distinct individualities.
Walking into my first class, I was bombarded by 16 strange children who couldn't understand a single word out of my mouth. When I walked out of my last class, six months later, I had made a personal connection with each and every one of them. Some of my students could barely speak Chinese, much less a lick of English. But somehow, through determination and force, we connected.
Every class was not only a lesson in English, but a lesson in camaraderie, being a role-model, being a parent, and being a friend. I became a father to some, an older brother to others. I was loved and adored, feared and hated. I had to learn discipline, and not only how to dole it out, but how to discipline and conduct myself as a role model, teacher and as a full-fledged adult.
But in between the discipline, I had to make learning a fun experience, and I had to create a nurturing classroom environment for my little ones. Between the dance parties, the games, the tickling and the singing, I had to make teaching the words “fox” and “zipper” somehow dramatic and stimulating for two full hours.
They stood by me as I spent two months fumbling through lesson plans and the child psyche, and they forgave me when I yelled or got upset. And when they threw tantrums or bruised their knee or missed their mommy, I forgave them, kissed their bruises better, and gave them a shoulder to cry on.
It's what they needed, and unbeknownst to me, it's what I needed as well.
Over the course of six months, these children became an integral part of my life. They became my outlet and, somehow, they stuck to my heart. They looked up to me, truly loved me, and they cried when I left.
And I loved them right back.
Teaching English in China was, by far, the most emotionally rewarding and fulfilling thing I've ever challenged myself to do. I have walked away from this job with a softened heart, knowing that I have made a difference in so many lives. Sure, they won't remember me in ten years, but I know that I made an impact on them, hopefully, one that will stick with them for the rest of their life.
And I want that, more than anything, because of the profound effect that they've had on my life. I want my teachings to be reciprocal because they taught me how to unconditionally open my heart and how to be a more loving and patient person.
Because, really, no person is perfect, and our days are far more meaningful when we have someone to share our lives with.
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