Accomplishing any goal you set for yourself feels good. But it’s especially satisfying when it’s a crazy and unconventional goal, like “hey let’s quit our great jobs in the States to live and teach English in China!” Now as we say goodbye to China, we realize that we’ve gotten a lot more out of this experience then we ever could have imagined…or planned for. Preparing to leave is never easy, but we find this goodbye particularly difficult. After 15 months we can honestly say that a little piece of our hearts will forever been in Panyu, Guangzhou, China.
Accomplishing a Goal Feels Good, But We Never Imagined…
We didn’t really know what to expect when moving to China to teach English. Of course we’d read lots of blogs and websites ahead of time, to make sure that it was something we were up for. But in the end, everyone’s experience will be completely different – because there are too many variables.
Your experience will greatly depend on the school where you teach, the environment, students, management and co-workers make all the difference. But then it’s also the city where you live, the neighborhood, transportation, etc. It’s the apartment – the place where you can kick back and feel at home. And lastly, the friends that you make really enhances the experience.
While living in China, we can honestly say that we feel like we had the best experience anyone could have asked for. And while it feels great to check this goal off our list, more than anything we will cherish the memories we’ve had.
A Lesson In Following Your Heart
We were living and teaching in Chiang Mai, Thailand when Josh was offered the job to teach at First Leap in Guangzhou, China. To tell you the truth, we weren’t expecting a job offer so soon. We had actually just settled into Chiang Mai a couple weeks before, and had committed to an apartment and teaching English part time for 3 months.
Life was good in Chiang Mai, and we weren’t ready to leave quite yet. We were excited to have a little income coming in from teaching to cover our living in expenses, and we were loving finally having time to work on Peanuts or Pretzels. Our goal was to teach in China someday…but we really weren’t ready yet.
However, both Josh and I are believers that everything happens for a reason. And when things seem to fall into place so easily, we’ve learned not to question it. So while we had many discussions about what to do, we eventually decided to follow our hearts…and let fate do the rest.
So we up and moved to China a week later.
Had we not made that decision to follow our hearts, and take the job offer that we weren’t expecting, we never would have had such an amazing experience in China. So in hindsight, this further proves our theory that everything happens for a reason – and that you really just need to go with the flow sometimes, and let things happen the way they were meant to. Josh did not expect to be playing Santa Claus his first week living in China, but that is one memory he will never forget.
Touched By Our Students
Josh always wanted to be a teacher. But as childhood dreams go, they got pushed aside as other things came along. As most of us would expect, Josh is an awesome teacher! Teaching English in China to little kids in Panyu has been an experience he will never forget. And for the first time since I have known Josh, he came home from work genuinely happy and saying “I love my job.”
Everyday Josh would show me photos of him and his students, and he would light up as he talked about each of them. With their different personalities – some shy, some loud, some crazy, some scared…and some sweet and loving. He will forever miss those little ones who brightened up his day!
He would always express how special of an experience it was to be able and watch his kids grow. Josh said during his going away party, that even though he was the teacher it was his kids and his teachers who were really the ones teaching him. I think Josh has found his passion in being a teacher.
As for me, I came to China without a job but easily found one (more than one actually) across the street from our apartment. I was ecstatic to be teaching adults, something I truly wanted! Not only that, but I was teaching many business classes as well as traveling out to teach at various businesses around town.
This is exactly what I wanted to do in China. And I feel incredibly fortunate to have been able to do it.
Teaching adults has been great because I’m able to have conversations with them, and really learn about each of them and their culture. It has been an amazing window into life in China – and I have such a different view of life in China now. Eye-opening to say the least. I have also really loved teaching at the companies because I learned so much about international business, and doing business in China. It’s been valuable to me in ways I never imagined.
One surprise for me was teaching teenagers in China. Teens weren’t really on my list, but it just so happened that my school, Meten, taught adults and teens. And from day one I was shocked at the difference between teens in the USA and teens in China. While there obviously some similarities, in many ways, they are NOTHING like teens in the States. I never could teach teens in the States…but I honestly loved teaching them in China.
My students brightened my day, and I loved teaching all of them so much! Saying goodbye really made it sink in, how much perhaps I influenced them and helped them. I will miss them dearly.
Sad to Leave our Friends
We have also been fortunate to be surrounded by amazing friends while living in China. Josh’s boss and husband actually became quite good friends of ours, and they really helped to make our experience a good one. From inviting us over to their apartment to make dumplings for the Chinese New Year, to Dragon Boat Races, and Football games downtown, to taking care of us when I broke my foot and Josh got really sick…all in the same weekend! They are very special people who were constantly giving. We consider them family and can’t wait to see them again!
But we are also going to miss our friends and fellow teachers. Josh especially had a close relationship with his teachers – and we loved hanging out with all of them.
In addition to our local friends, there were our other foreign teacher friends. With so many schools around, we had friends from many different schools – First Leap, Meten, Disney, EF, and Shane English. We were lucky to find such an awesome group of people who had personalities that seemed to mesh so well together! They made life here a lot of fun!
We had a blast with all of our friends, and loved that we could walk out of our apartment at anytime and run into some of them. Or we could put a little note out in our WeChat group and usually find someone else who wanted to go to lunch / dinner or out for a drink.
Such great memories were had, and we will genuinely miss our friends and family who made our life in China so great.
The Long Goodbye to China
Saying goodbye is never easy. But in this case, we found it incredibly difficult to say goodbye to our life in Panyu, China. While we would have been happy to stay for a bit longer, it really was time for us to move on. Unfortunately, one of the downsides to meeting so many wonderful people is having to say goodbye to them.
At our schools, we found ourselves choking up a little as we said goodbye to our students – and they asked “why?” One of Josh’s little students really got him when he stood up and answered another by saying “it’s ok, we can go visit him in America one day.”
As for me, I’m lucky to be able to stay in contact with many of my students on WeChat – China’s social media platform. I underestimated the response to my announcement though, and was bombarded with selfies from students for weeks leading up to my departure.
But it wasn’t just our students and friends we had to say goodbye to, but our neighborhood. And it really did feel like a little neighborhood. From Momo at the coffee shop at the bottom of our building, who was one of the first people to welcome us and let us use her wifi for hours on end to work — she would even give us discounts on coffee and surprise us by bringing free cookies to our table as we worked hard.
Then there is the “Chicken Guy” – who owned a restaurant down the street. He would perk up whenever we walked in and practice the only three words of English he knew, “hello” “goodbye” and “thank you.” By the end of the year, Josh and him were friends on WeChat and they would communicate through the app because it could translate for each of them. So while neither of them could communicate beyond sign language in person, they could send & translate text messages.
We will also miss Kay and everyone at Pinnochio’s – our little hang out for quite sometime. Even though it closed a few months ago as Kay had to leave for Argentina, we loved having that place to go to after the end of a long day teaching. We knew that we could sit out there and eventually our friends would turn up, walking by and getting distracted by the loud music and fun being had.
Our neighborhood really felt like one. It seemed like every time we went outside we would run into someone we knew. Everything we needed was less than a 5 minute walk away (including BOTH of our jobs!), and we loved all the waving and smiling as we got to know everyone. Even after I was off crutches from breaking my foot, I would walk by people who would smile, point at my leg and say “foot!” with excitement in their voice – their way of congratulating me for getting well. Who knew we would have had that in a busy city in China?!?!
While our last few weeks were busy working hard and attending goodbye dinners and events, we managed to find some time to say goodbye to Guangzhou. We headed out the famous Lotus Mountain for some sightseeing, as well as visiting the stunning Baomo gardens. It’s sad that even after a year we still didn’t see and do all the things we wanted to. Time always seems to fly much too fast.
As for our plans now, we aren’t totally sure. We know that we want to travel around China much more, but there are just so many places we want to visit! It’s really hard to put a plan together. So we’ve decided to take a break from China – just for a month or so.
We’ve decided to spend a good month catching up on work from the website (because running an internet business in China is next to impossible…), as well as taking some time for ourselves and planning our travels in China. While we initially planned to stay in Hong Kong for a few weeks to do all of this, we ended up returning to Bangkok – and our beloved Thailand!
We were fortunate to find great flight deals, and an awesome apartment just outside the city center for 1 month. Ray, our Airbnb host, greeted us yesterday upon our arrival and gave us a tour of our kick-ass new apartment.
So over the next month we are going to buckle down and get a lot of work done, as well as exploring our new neighborhood and enjoying a more relaxed Thai life for a while. We will definitely be taking advantage of the gym onsite to work off some of the China pounds, and a beautiful infinity swimming pool surrounded by trees.
As we move on to the next phase of our journey, we are really excited for what is ahead of us. However we know that wherever we go, a little piece of us will always be in that little corner of China.