I came across your website after finding the interview you did with Andy. I am a former ESL teacher in China and found my time here to be one of the most inspiring times of my life so far. It has led me to start a website called ESL Authority, and I’d love to talk about finding inspiration abroad and how my time in China has influenced me.
And with this email, Quincy and I began a correspondence about his experiences abroad, about how others can teach English in another country, and about whether Quincy now wants to go back to a routine in the U.S. or continue exploring the globe.
First, where/when did you teach? What ages were your students?
I spent two years teaching in Guangzhou, China beginning in 2014. The students were mostly young learners (kindergarten and primary school), but I did occasionally work with some adults as well.
Where did you grow up and live before going to China? What were the circumstances/reasons for going there to teach?
I grew up in Atlanta and first visited China for two weeks back in 2010. That was an incredible trip and really left me wanting to visit more of the country. I headed back to teach in China in 2014. I was 27 years old. My reasoning was that I was really interested in living abroad and seeing more of China and Asia in general. Teaching was a logical way to do that. So I did some research, chose a city, and started interviewing.
Did you stay in China (teaching or otherwise) for longer than you intended?
I’ve been in China just over three years now. When I left the states I told everyone that it would only be for a year. I wasn’t entirely sure that I believed that at the time, but I know it made it easier on my family to know that there was an end date.
I decided to teach for second year, because I felt like I had just scratched the surface in China, and I really wasn’t looking forward to going back to the states (something that still holds true). I stayed for a third year, because I had transitioned out of teaching and starting working for a Chinese company and am really enjoying that. As someone that knew they didn’t want to teach for their entire life, this was huge in that it allowed me to stay abroad without putting my career on hold for too long.
Why aren’t you eager to return to the US? Is it about the desire to keep exploring? An aversion to the US? Both?
It’s the combination of a lot of things – the fear of falling into an uninspired routine again, the fact that I have this amazing opportunity where I can continue to explore and still support myself, and the realization that I’m not in love with where the US is right now as a country.
You said you are working for a Chinese company. What kind of company? What kind of work do you do for them?
When I was looking at China, in the back of my mind I had hoped to be able to stay abroad without teaching long term. This was kind of early on in the digital nomad movement, but I knew more and more companies were hiring remotely and my pseudo-plan was to use some of the free time afforded to me by teaching to pursue a project or opportunity that would allow me to work remotely. That’s all I knew.
Luckily, my background is in analytics, and I happened to meet a guy at my gym that was in manufacturing and interested in getting more exposure for his products in the US. This morphed into me learning more about online marketing, and I was able to land a few other opportunities as time went on with one allowing me to move into pretty much a full time role after my teaching contract expired.
One of my biggest fears was that I would do my stint in China and have nothing to show for it afterwards other than some cool stories. But because I had this goal of coming out on the other end with a remote work opportunity, I spent a lot of my free time working on that (getting certifications, networking, applying to jobs and even internships) and it happened to work out.
What were your reasons for starting your website?
I started ESL Authority for a few reasons:
- I know how terrible some of the current ESL job websites can be. Many can be unintuitive, overrun with ads, or poorly designed.
- I know how valuable it can be to talk to people actually teaching abroad when you are doing your research, but I also know that there is no real place to go to read teachers’ stories. So I wanted to make one.
- Finally, when I was doing my research I was putting together info piecemeal – jobs from one place, visa requirements from another. I really wanted to create a resource that eliminated the need to jump from site to site.
The website is still very much a side project. But it’s growing, and I’ve gotten some good feedback. My plan is to build it out country by country. I work on it at least a little every day and really enjoy it, because I know it’s a site I would have used when I was looking into teaching. Hopefully others find it valuable as well.
In your first email to me you said China was “one of the most inspiring times of my life.” Why/how was it?
China and life abroad in general has been incredible from a creative standpoint. There’s just something about being challenged every day that seems to flood me with ideas and inspiration. What I mean by that is that my life here is never easy, and I am constantly trying to figure out minor things like asking for directions, how to read a sign, or which bus to take. These are things that would be routine back home, but even knowing a bit of the language here doesn’t prevent me from having to think things through more carefully.
It’s this perpetual planning and problem solving that has really made an impact. I truly think that routine stifles innovation, and forcing myself to adapt to things daily has really opened me up to a new way of thinking. On the surface this has yielded some really cool ideas, but I think the long term benefit will be my improved ability to think through a problem and create a more detailed solution.
Has your time in China affected some personal traits?
China has made me more minimalistic than I thought possible. After a few trips home, I’ve gotten my life down to two suitcases, which is pretty cool. As a result, I’m much more mindful of what I buy because of my limited space. I’m planning on leaving China in the next few months and heading somewhere new. I’d like that transition (and the ones after it) to be as seamless as possible. So it’s in my best interest to keep my possessions to a minimum. Plus, I really like this mindset of minimizing your footprint, and it’s something I almost certainly would not have tried had I stayed in the states.
While in China, have you traveled around the country and region?
Yes, I’ve traveled extensively around Guangdong province (where Guangzhou is located) as well as out west towards Yunnan province. I have plans to go back up north this spring and revisit at least Shanghai if not Beijing as well. I’d estimate I’ve seen close to 20 Chinese cities but also feel like I’ve barely put a dent in what the country has to offer.
What has it been like meeting people when abroad? Have you befriended Chinese and other foreigners?
Meeting people has been quite easy. The expat community is small, and you already have the shared bond of living in China. So I consider it easier than in the states. My girlfriend is American, and we met through mutual friends. A small city makes it easier to befriend locals (or rather they befriend you) because you are such a rarity.
Any surprises or challenges you encountered living in China?
Depending on where you are, you should be prepared to be stared at and photographed without your permission. I was really put off by this when I first arrived in China but have come to tolerate and even expect it. Funny story – one of my friends living in Guangzhou frequented a tea shop by her office a few times a week. One time the manager asked to take a picture and she agreed, only to walk into another branch of the tea shop a few weeks later and see them advertising using her face. You just really never know, and like most things in life it tends to work out better if you just take it in stride.
How does one begin the process of teaching abroad?
Finding a job can be overwhelming. If you’re looking to do it for the first time, I highly recommend using a recruiter (as I did). We’ve been adding to our Teach English in China section constantly in an effort to help potential teachers, but recruiters do a great job of helping you filter jobs based on your requirements and support you during your time there.
Above all, trust your gut. Lots of first time teachers assume there are a finite amount of good jobs available (something shady recruiters also push). The fact is that if you’re qualified, there are seemingly endless jobs out there. So don’t hesitate to turn down ones that don’t feel right, or to quit working with a recruiter that is trying to push you to take a job.
Based on your experiences abroad, what would you advise to others considering this path?
If you’re in the enviable position to be able to travel, work, or live abroad – do not pass it up. The world is getting smaller and smaller by the day, and we need all the global citizens we can get. I cannot say enough about stepping out of your comfort zone and trying something new. It can be a life changing experience and really show you a new side of yourself.
For any questions about Quincy’s experiences or about teaching abroad, please ask in the comments below. And if you’d like to share your story on The Periphery, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to hear all about your insights and adventures.