Guys, it's finally happening!
My papers have all been sent in, and by the end of the day, I will have an email in my inbox telling me how and when to book my flight to China.
I'll be honest, I never really thought that this day would come. I have been waiting to hear this news since the end of August, when I saw many of the other CIEE Teach in China teachers updating their Facebook statuses about boarding their flights and starting their TEFL journeys. For the whole month of September, I got their WeChat messages about what they were doing in Chongqing and what they were seeing. On Instagram, I saw countless pictures of Chongqing restaurants and street foods, Chongqing scenery, and all of the schools where the other teachers had begun teaching.
Over the past month, I have felt a rainbow of emotions as I have watched everyone else leave for China and have waited for it to be my turn. In the beginning, I felt a little disappointed and let down. I wondered if my school secretly didn't want me to teach there because I was under-qualified in their eyes. I speculated on every reason why my school might have been taking so long to send in my paperwork, which only made me paranoid.
Really, I was just wondering when it would be my turn to post Instagram pictures that would make all of MY followers jealous and finally post that beautiful status I had been saving in my head:
"It's official: I'll be leaving next week to begin my adventure as a TEFL teacher in China! So long, America! Or should I say, 再见!"
Eventually, I had to tell myself to stop being jealous of other people's happiness and to start focusing on my own.
It is true, my situation was very different from most of the others'. I was originally expecting to be on a plane and in China by the second week of September. When I saw the other teachers post about their first days of class, I instantly became nervous. "What if I won't be able to start teaching for another month?" "What if my students automatically resent me for arriving late?" "What if I can't assess their needs fast enough or build good relationships with them due to time constraints?" "What if I don't deliver quality material in the short amount of time I have with them?"
All of those thoughts plagued me for a good two weeks or so. On top of dealing with my own thoughts, I had to deal with people always asking me, "When are you leaving for China?" "You still don't have a date yet?" "Are you sure you're actually still going to China?" "What if it's all a scam?"
All of these thoughts and feelings combined made me want to give up on my dream of ever living in China. I thought that this was the universe telling me to just pick a new aspiration and move on already. That is, until I gained a new perspective.
The truth is, living in China for 9, 10, 11 months is a huge deal. There are so many preparations to be made and so many details to sort out. After quite a bit of self-reflection, I have compiled this list of reasons for anyone experiencing a delay with their paperwork (which, as I was told frequently, happens a lot when dealing with foreign governments) to take a step back, take a breath, and realize that your situation is not a condemnation but a key for your success.
1. More Time for Buying What You Need
One of the first things I realized when I was selected to teach in China was that I needed to improve my wardrobe. I had just graduated college, so I was used to rocking yoga pants and t-shirts every day around campus. When I did dress up, you couldn't really call my choice of clothing "business casual." As a college student, I only owned two or three outfits that could actually fall under that category.
For future teachers in China, business casual is generally the best way for you to dress at school. Business casual in China may not be as strict as it is in the United States, but when it doubt, you can always reference the American standard when shopping. Basically, you want to look presentable and professional, which means no jeans and no t-shirts or tank tops. Also, for the female teachers, it is always a good idea to be mindful of the length of your skirts and dresses and of exposed shoulders. I was always told to be on the safe end of the spectrum by in China by covering up your shoulders if you can. Cover-ups and cardigans really can and will be your best friend!
To bring things back on track, I knew that I had a lot of shopping to do to become a young professional. And BOY, did it take me a while! I'll get more into this in a later blog post, but if you are especially tall, wear a large shoe size, or are plus-sized, then you're really out of luck as far as shopping goes in China. So, for a plus-size woman such as myself, finding the right style and sizes can take an eternity. I also have the big feet problem, so I had to throw in shoe shopping into the mix as well. For bigger people like myself, clothes shopping can be a hit-or-miss activity. It really took a lot of the pressure off knowing that I had plenty of time to find items that were suitable for the job that I would actually love wearing.
2. The Ability to Save Money and Spread Out Payments
When you start paying the fees associated with your teach abroad journey, you may become a bit overwhelmed when you see your monetary supply slowly disappear. The costs for the physical examinations required for your visa paperwork, your CIEE fees, and the cost of all of the clothing and personal supplies you will need to live in China for a long period of time can quickly add up.
The more you can disperse your payments, the better. The extra time between payments allows you to save up money so you aren't scrambling for it later. This is especially true for those of us who just graduated college and are relying mostly on our parents for help. I know that my mom appreciated the ability to space out our shopping trips so that she could budget her money better. Plus, I had extra time to earn some money of my own to cover some of the necessary expenses.
3. More Time for Packing
When it comes to shoes and clothes and makeup, I am a major girly-girl. So, being confronted with the thought of having to fit all of my favorite clothes and shoes into two suitcases caused me quite a bit of anxiety.
Your two suitcases can only be 50 pounds each, which means that you have to be selective when it comes to clothing items and personal supplies. To pack and unpack and still be at the 50 pound weight limit is an ongoing process. The more time you have to analyze what you really need to get by in another country, the more likely you will be to avoid overweight baggage fees. You will also be more confident that you have everything you need and everything you will use. Most importantly, you will have time to check and double check that you actually packed everything you planned to pack so you don't get a shock when you start settling into your apartment in China.
4. More Time to Study Chinese
Okay, this one I probably should have taken advantage of more. When you are in the waiting period, you have plenty of time to set aside for studying Chinese. If you study Chinese often, you will see and feel an improvement in your language ability before leaving the States, which can be a huge confidence boost. Even just 30 minutes a day is better than none!
If you really don't feel like studying, you can watch a Chinese movie or start a Chinese TV series to get yourself accustomed to listening to the language. Or, if you're more into learning about Chinese culture, then you can also allot time for researching Chinese culture online. All of the extra time you spend learning about your new destination will result in you feeling more comfortable than ever with the thought of living in a new place with a different culture.
5. More Time for Yourself
This one may sound selfish, but the importance of rest and rejuvenation cannot be disputed. As a Psychology major in college, I have read multiple studies showing the benefits of reducing stress through leisure activities. Some of the benefits include increased happiness and life satisfaction, better quality of physical health, and decreased likelihood of depression or anxiety.
When you step off that plane in China, it's going to be go, go, go all the time. Between lesson planning, exploring, building friendships, helping out at your school, and actually going in to teach each week, you're going to get back to a life of strict schedules and time management. You're going to constantly be thinking about your students and your colleagues and focusing less and less on yourself. Teaching is one of the most selfless fields out there, which can make it feel highly rewarding. But if you focus too much on everyone else and not enough on yourself, then you're sure to burn yourself out.
During this waiting period, take advantage of the time you get to rest. Sleep in, indulge in your hobbies, catch up with your favorite series on Netflix, and have fun-filled weekends. Especially for those of you just coming out of college, you can think of this time as an extended summer vacation. Now that I know that my summer vacation is actually coming to an end, I'm already starting to miss it.
There is nothing wrong with treating yourself to some substantial you-time. Soak all of it in now before you go and get back on the daily grind! You're going to wish you had it all back once you fly into a new time zone and start to feel the jet lag sink in.
6. More Time for Friends and Family
Of all the items on this list, this one resonates the most with me. I am really close to my family, and the thought of having to leave them and my friends almost made me want to back out of teaching abroad altogether. While I was swimming in self-doubt and speculating on everything that could have gone wrong to keep me in the States, the consolation that I had more time to spend with my loved ones was what kept me above water.
Thanks to this month-long waiting period, I had so many opportunities to make fun memories with my friends. I got to take new pictures with them, which I will be printing out and hanging on my walls in my apartment in China. I got to share everything that I was excited and nervous about with people who wanted to listen. I even gained some shopping and preparation pals to help me make the move easier and more fun!
I am having my final goodbye dinner with my friends this weekend, and I am actually not sad about it. The extra time I have had to spend with my friends has made me feel confident to take on China. It has made me realize just how strong our bonds are and just how much they are looking forward to seeing me pursue my goals. Knowing that I have that strong of a support system behind me, there is no need for sadness or fear.