Andy Navias is an English bloke. (Really, what other kinds of blokes are there?) I had the pleasure of meeting him when I lived in China from 2010-2011. We taught English at the same school.
But while I returned to my home country after a year, Andy stuck around and has now opened his own educational consultancy and created an app to help kids learn English.
So in a couple of twists to these weekly, reader-contributed travel stories, we go to China for the first time as well as learn about one man’s journey from English teacher to CEO.
Built upon a Q & A I had with Andy online, we offer you a two-part story about Andy’s experiences in China. This week: Making China a Home and Starting a Career
How did you first make it to China?
Andy: Well that’s a generic story. I went backpacking around Southeast Asia after I graduated from university and simply fell in love with Asian culture. Fast forward eight years, and now I call China “home.”
What made you want to stay in China?
Andy: I think my biggest surprise when I got here was that I loved my job. Like so many others, I became an English teacher because I wanted to travel. The actual job didn’t excite me. That is, until I started doing it. I have so many fond memories: from first time I had a really good class, the first time a student’s parents called me to say their son had scored 100% in a school test, and the first time one of my students got into Oxford. Obviously, I also had some pretty lousy classes while I was learning the ropes, but that just made it more special when my students started doing really well. Whilst enjoying teaching came as a surprise, I knew that I would love living in China. All in all, staying in China felt like a no-brainer.
Why? What was it about China?
Andy: The social life is very good here. Chinese people are generally very friendly, especially when it comes to meeting Westerners. Often they know very little about foreign countries and customs, so they are very curious. Expats are also very sociable. Being so far away from friends and family rather forces you to make an effort with new people. Of course, Chinese food is famous all of the world, so I don’t need to tell you how great that is. Also, after about a year of living here, I met a great girl. She is another big reason to stay!
So after having a great experience working for a language center, what made you want to open your own?
Andy: Well, deep down I’m still a teacher. A huge part of my job is developing a syllabus and training less experienced teachers. My parents raised me to always try to achieve whatever I could, so it just made sense for me to move from working for a school to running one. By sharing my experience with teachers rather than students, I am able to indirectly effect a lot more people.
How do you start a business in China?!
Andy: The vast majority of people that do this do so with a Chinese business partner. That helps a lot because they are more familiar with the process with applying for a license and so on. Of course, being from China and knowing the culture also helps a lot in terms of marketing. I went down a different route and formed a partnership with a British company that has been active in China for over ten years. Thankfully, they have Chinese staff in both HR and finance who dealt with most of the administration side of the business. I wouldn’t recommend that any “China newbie” tries to open a company without that kind of support. I certainly couldn’t have done it without them.
And then you launched an app. How did that come about?
Andy: Well, for two years I worked at an international kindergarten teaching kids no older than five and sometimes as young as two. I learned that the two things they enjoyed most in class are English songs and computer games (or applications—”apps”). I loved this job, but one thing that I didn’t like was permanently having awful music stuck in my head! I also thought it must be difficult for parents to come home from a hard day at work and generate enthusiasm for Old MacDonald and other seriously outdated songs.
Fortunately, one of the other teachers at that kindergarten was an extremely talented singer/songwriter who had graduated from Cambridge University (hence the name of our app, Happy Cambridge English). She agreed to work with us. In the app, each of her songs has an animated video which introduces vocabulary within a certain topic. There’s also interactive flashcards and a game to help reinforce that vocabulary. It’s all presented by a big dopey gorilla and a wise toucan. Fittingly, I play the part of the dopey gorilla.
Our songwriter has come up with 64 songs with us, so we will be busy over the next few years adding more updates. So far all of our reviews have been 5-Star, so long may that last! It’s free to download, so feel free to do so at www.happycambridge.com. It’s not just a tool to teach English as a foreign language, it is a fantastic early learning tool for babies and toddlers from English-speaking families.
Considering the success you’ve had making China a home, do you have any words of advice for anybody considering moving to China to teach English–or moving to a foreign country in general?
Andy: Yes, do it! If you decide that it isn’t for you long-term, then you will still have a wonderful year or so. It also offers a wonderful life if you decide to stay for longer. Oh, and if you teach abroad, don’t forget your iPad! As well as Happy Cambridge English there are countless apps that can really make your classes fun and interactive.
I would also advise you to be really open to new experiences and people. It is so easy to just go home and watch a movie after work, but why travel to another country and not embrace it?
Are you hiring new teachers, in case anyone reading this is interested? Can people contact you with questions?
Andy: Unfortunately we can only hire experienced teachers as this is an agreement that we have with our students. However, we do hire interns looking to come to China and get some experience under their belts. We have a wide range of roles from international marketing to syllabus development and graphic design. They would suit somebody that has either just graduated and wants some hands-on experience, or somebody that needs to complete a work placement as part of their studies. People are welcome to email me for more information it’s firstname.lastname@example.org.
Next week, we offer part-two in my interview with Andy–The Ups and Downs of Doing Business in China
If you’d like to share your story on The Periphery, please email me at email@example.com. We’d love to hear all about your adventure.