Growing Butterflies, Elephantine Nerves


 by Professor Fury

The flight will be longer than any flight you ever took before to a holiday destination. This is not a fortnight in Benidorm or Waikiki. This is a year of your life doing something new. The butterflies in your belly will grow into elephants in a cement mixer sometime during that flight.

Banish them. You made the decision, this is not a prison sentence. Sure, keep some nervous anxiety but really, leave that until your first lesson (see previous article!). Sit back, enjoy the in-flight service and ponder on your new life. Relax and enjoy, you can hardly get off the train now, can you?

When you land in China you may be surprised you are not immediately whisked away to a forced labour camp, in fact you will be treated just like all the other laowei, made to use a separate queue at immigration just as non-EU arrivals are in London and non-Americans are in New York.

Of course by now the butterflies are back. I’m really doing this! Will there be anyone here to meet me as they promised? You pass through immigration and go to baggage reclaim. Will my case be there? Well hopefully you will not be among the minuscule percentage who never see their luggage again (in 52 years of flying it has only ever happened to me twice, once in Australia and once in London and both times I was reunited with my luggage). Your bag will appear, you clear customs and enter the arrivals hall.

You look around, praying someone is there for you. And hey! Either someone is waving or they are holding up your name! Of course your school is there to take you to your new home! Ok they are paid to be nice to you but they also may genuinely be nice people. Depending on your time of arrival and distance to destination, they may even stop en route for breakfast, lunch or dinner. They may have spent some hours just to greet you, remember that.

Get to know them. They will probably be your foreign affairs officer and your assistant who helps you with any problems. Do not make the mistake of thinking your assistant is your personal secretary,  they will undoubtedly be a teacher in their own right (with you thrown in as extra work) and hold a Masters/PhD and quite possibly be a professor if you are teaching at a public university.

You will be taken to your new home. Depending on what time you arrive a decent school will also arrange a welcome dinner for you, where you may meet your dean and any other hangers-on in authority. Be nice. You do not know what help you may need in the future!

You should immediately ask how to buy essentials  (soap, towels, toilet rolls, tea/coffee etc and they will help you this once. After that you will be expected to know where to go so pay attention to the route. My own first greeting in China saw me taken to a supermarket in town a long way away wherein I bought everything from towels to iron to ironing board but nothing to drink in the morning because “ we can stop at the campus shop on the way back”. The campus shop was closed then. It took me two days to find it. It was a big campus.

So yes, if you are going to teach in a public university (and I cannot speak for anything other) then after the initial nuptials you are generally left on your own until you are summoned for the medical, the visit to the PSB and so on.

As for any guidance/instructions on teaching, I can only relate my own experience. My first Dean told me yes, use the book but do it your way. Best advice I ever had and stood me in good stead for 6 years there and withstood the annual charade of a  handful of teachers each term coming to “learn” from me. If you believe that then Santa exists. They go straight off to report.

Do NOT be a wimp! Any time another Chinese teacher came to my class (there were many and some actually came of their own accord, believe it or not)  they were in my classroom and they were just new students. Oh yes, they took part whether they liked it or not. I was the teacher. Risky? Not if you do it right. They ended up having fun.

I think that what everyone forgets is that they were at school once too. No matter whether you are a wrinkly like me or straight out of the packet from uni, we all remember certain teachers regardless of subject. The ones we all remember are the ones that made learning interesting and fun  we also remember the boring ones. Be that first sort of teacher. The one who two years after graduation gets a text message or email from an ex student who now has a great job and tells you what an impression you made. I have had many and every time I cry because it means I made a difference to a life.

You can too.

Next on Prof Fury’s load of old rubbish: Documentation.


About the Author 

He is in his early sixties and has been teaching in universities in China for seven years. He has been a ships officer, salesman, manager, company director, engineer and truck driver in the past  and so has a wealth of stories and experience to impart to his students.

He has been to 47 countries so far and visited more than 400 cities around the globe. Antarctica is the only continent he has yet to experience but there is still time!

He has so far volunteered at every school level in China, appeared on television several times (including taking part in a Spring Festival Gala show) and his ambition is to be allowed to retire in China when the time comes. His latest party piece is playing Santa for whoever asks!

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