Interviewing Gustavo

Today’s interviewee I feel like I’ve know forever, even though we did meet during my international tutoring days in university. Gustavo is from Spain and since his exchange he has lived in Finland for a few times if I remember right. He has a different kind of story for us today! A good example how things can go so well regarding work or then not so much.. He has worked as an English teacher in China two times. Here is his interview, have a read.

Where did you work?

I have worked twice in China, both in the same sleepless city called Wuhan. First time I worked nine months for a Chinese kindergarten and it was an amazing time, but the second time I worked five months for an international training school called Helen Doron Early English and it did not work out well.

How did you get in to the line of work?

After living in Finland for a few months and loving it, I decided that I wanted to live abroad again to get more experience about living in a very different country. I weekly attend tandem meetings (people who want to learn languages and different cultures and share some beers). One day in one of those meetings I met a guy from my hometown that had been living in China for many years, he told me that I would fit the common profile that is needed in China to work as an English teacher, so he gave me a few websites and in my second day of searching I found a job in this random city called Wuhan. I love kids and I thought it would be a nice time traveling, so there I went.

How did you decide where in the world to go teach?

I was looking for an Asian country and China seemed to be a pretty interesting country. I was looking for a very Chinese city and also huge in terms of size and amount people, so I decided to give Wuhan an opportunity and I was not wrong.

Did you feel lucky landing your job?

Well, I have to say that the first few months in China were very very strange and tough, even more for me that I was coming from such a well-organized country like Finland, because Spain can be messy sometimes (wink-wink to my fellow Spaniards). Our standards as westerners are way higher than in Asian countries, but unfortunately I learned this lesson the hard way. For example accommodation, cleanliness and job organization are not as good as we would like them to be, that is a nice way to put it.

What qualifications do you have for English teaching?

For anyone interested in working in China, there is a hand full of requirements to become an official English teacher. The most common ones:

-Completed bachelor degree studies
-No criminal record
-No severe illnesses
-Teaching English certificate (such as TOEFL)
A lot of positive energy and motivation to take things as they come

Were you striven by the teaching or your paycheck?

In my first job, accommodation was included and my salary was about 1000 euros per month.  The cost of living in most of China is way cheaper than in Europe (not if you go hard on alcohol or expensive dinners), let´s say it was a pretty sweet deal in terms of money and I have to say that the working hours were good, but I had a lot of problems with the HR staff.
In my second job, accommodation was not included and my salary was lower, but the main reason why I quit it sooner than expected was because the work in my working center (Zhong-nan lu) was very poorly organized, making me work extra-hours and a lot of extra-bullshit to deal with.

Did the work match your expectation?

In the kindergarten my work did match my expectations. Working for the training school was a different story, I was expecting coming to an international branch, a way better organized school, but the reality was not this, it was a complete mess in terms of management and they feel comfortable working that way.

Describe a basic day teaching. Did it vary day by day?

A basic day of teaching normally goes for 8 am to 5 pm Monday through Friday in a kindergarten, and from 9 am to 9 pm Tuesday to Sunday in a training school. Although the amount of teaching hours are the same, around 25 a week, there is a lot more to organize (mainly bullshit) in the training school.

What was the most exciting thing about your work and why?

Well the most exciting part of the day was trying to get the kids´ attention with new games or ideas, and learning from my mistakes and the kids´ experience in the classroom. It is a lot of fun working with very small children but you have to love kids, otherwise is unbearable.

What did you get asked about your job by friends and family?

There is plenty to talk about this, everyday I used to get questions like, are they very communist? Are they as dirty as they seem to be? Can you get me some Chinese phone/tablet/Segway thing? Did you have a Chinese girlfriend? Those four are in the top ten questions every ex-pat in China gets asked.

What was the best part of your job?

The best part was learning from kids, it is almost impossible to be a male teacher in Spain working with very small children, this kind of job is still ruled by females. Also good but challenging was to be able to realize and learn from how different cultures are in terms of social interactions and particularly staff management.

Did you have bad days or moments? Why?

Well in my first year the very first month was very hard and intense, there was a lot to deal with and also to clean. 😀 And I did not know anyone!! In my second year I did not enjoy my job because of how poorly organized it was, so I had a few months were I felt I was not happy at all. This was the main reason why I decided to leave China. I do miss all my friends from China.

Would you go teach in another country again?

Well at the moment I would not go live abroad by myself, if I find the right partner or a very good friend I would go but I am not as adventurous as before. For sure I still want to travel, North America if possible is one of my priorities. I just need a proper job and savings.

Do you have any advice for people considering your line of work?

Yeah I would recommend them to work abroad with an open-mind, things do not work the same way specially in developing countries, we should definitely lower our standards. Also a lot of patience and a lot of positive energy will be needed for teaching. 🙂

Also a very nice suggestion would be to tell everyone that when traveling abroad, anything at any moment can go wrong. I have dealt with a lot of stuff in China and solving problems in a country where you do not understand most of what is said can get very frustrating indeed and end up you losing a lot of money.

As opposed you will meet amazing people and you will see incredible places that will fill your memory with happiness.

Thank you Gustavo!


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