Matt Piechocki taught in Guangzhou on the Teach Intern & TEFL Training China program in 2013. Now he is the Senior Program Coordinator for ImmerQi, InterExchange’s partner in China. We asked Matt to share his experience and wisdom about teaching and living in China.
What made you apply to the Teach Intern & TEFL Training program? I applied because I wanted to experience more of the world, and didn't want to spend my entire life in a single place, doing a job that I merely tolerated. So three years ago, with no teaching experience under my belt, I made the decision to come to China to teach English. The rest, as they say, is history.
What aspects of the month-long orientation and training did you find most helpful once you were at your school placement? The information on living in China, and what to expect as far as cultural differences. It’s truly a different way of life here, in ways both good and bad.
What was your school in Guangzhou like? The school I was placed in was a private boarding school, and I can’t overstate how massive it was. It seemed more like a coliseum than an educational institution. I taught from ages 4 to 12.
The average class size would be around 30, but I had a few that were closer to 50. English abilities could vary wildly, even in one single class, which certainly added to the challenge.
Can you describe any cultural differences in the workplace/school setting compared to US workplaces/school settings? There are numerous, but the biggest difference, hands down, is the Chinese idea of organization. Basically, in most Westerner’s eyes, there seems to be none, but a lot of last minute changes and notifications and lack of clarity as to who is exactly in charge of what. Yet, seemingly against all odds, it works! So it definitely took some getting used to the Chinese “pace” of solving problems in the workplace.
What challenges did you face teaching? I’d say the hardest part of teaching was trying to find ways to connect with the older kids. You’d be faced with a whole lot of apathetic faces every day, unless you really applied yourself and tried to find out what music they listened to, movies they enjoyed, etc. It was imperative to learn about them as people, not just as students. Also, it’s Maroon 5 for music and Fast and Furious for movies.
Challenges living as a foreigner in China? The staring from random passersby can be pretty intense. A vast majority of the time, however, it’s just people being curious, and they’re usually more than happy to have a conversation with you (however limited it may be due to linguistic differences), should you strike one up.
Culture-shock anecdotes? I once wanted to get a shopkeeper's attention and used the Chinese word that I thought was for “Miss”, but apparently used a term that is more widely known to mean “prostitute”. Needless to say, she wasn’t very happy with me.
What made you want to work for ImmerQi (InterExchange's partner)? The desire to continue working in a foreign country and satisfy both my urge to travel and to find a job in which I could challenge myself.
Advice for future participants? Expect the unexpected. One random foreigner is not going to change the ways of an entire country. The people who get the most out of their time here are those who roll with the punches and take it all in.
Ready to take the plunge and earn your TEFL certification and experience amazing culture? Our next Teach Intern & TEFL Training China program begins in January 2017. Read more online and look for the Sign Up button to enroll!