Teaching Traveling: Ever wondered if you could get a job teaching abroad with your love?
Read on as we welcome, Alyssa, a young woman who is currently teaching in China with her boyfriend.
Alyssa, tell us a bit about your background.
Alyssa: Hello everyone! My name is Alyssa Binnig and am a Pennsylvania native, born and raised. I am 23 years old and currently serving as a volunteer English teacher in Changsha, Hunan, China with an organization called WorldTeach.
I just recently graduated from college at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with a degree in Asian Studies and no previous teaching experience. However, my previous life and travel experiences pushed me to go abroad again. During high school, my father received a job promotion and relocated the family to Singapore.
Before this life changing experienced, I had traveled mainly in the good ole’ states, Mexico, Canada and a class trip to Italy so living and traveling on the other side of the world was daunting. I spent my senior year of high school living in Singapore and traveling to surrounding countries; China, Thailand, Indonesia, Australia and South Africa.
This was the experience that really opened my eyes to travel and the world we live in, especially Asia. During college, I studied abroad for a semester in Tokyo, Japan and then decided to embark to China with my boyfriend as an volunteer English teacher and see where my travels would lead me next!
TT: Love it! Tell us more about your travels.
A: During my time in China the past year, I have designated two separate types of travel experiences: My many weekend or 4-5 day China holiday trips throughout the beautiful country (upcoming trip to Shanghai for May Day!) and my mid-year, 5-week break spent traveling through Southeast Asia. I will give a short synopsis of both.
First up, traveling the quirks of China! The Chinese education system is established on an “as you go” philosophy, meaning there is no set academic calendar and holidays breaks are created on the fly. This can be frustrating at first but you learn to ask in advance and the right people to ask for the information.
Anyway, this year China has blessed me with many a 4-5 day weekends or holidays (also a quick note: if the holiday is during a school week, I usually have to teach the entire weekend prior to make up for the classes being missed during the holiday, another China quirk). I have traveled to Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Sanya, Fenghuang, Zhangjiajie, and soon Shanghai.
For China travel, it is best to leave lots of travel time because things are never on time or convenient. Busses and regular trains are filled with cigarette smoke, trash, spitting and unclean bathrooms but you make do. It is normal for a journey to take 9 hours when only 6 was anticipated and for you as a foreigner to get hassled, stared at and touched.
Yet, all of these things make traveling in China a unique experience that is unforgettable. Luckily, my Chinese language skills have improved throughout the year and am not daunted in ordering bus and train tickets, food or telling people “No, I do not want”.
Also important when venturing into the China travel system, it’s best to always have a buddy or travel companion. One that you can joke about the strange crazy things you’ve seen or just to talk in English knowing no one else can butt into the conversation.
Now a quick look at my 5 week tour of Southeast Asia. Having been to some of these amazing countries before, I had an idea of what to expect and anticipate. One, English is widely spoken and makes getting around and communicating much easier than in China.
Two, you can never spend enough time in one place, there is always something to see and do. Three, still be wary of food and what you eat because your body can only handle so much crazy! And four, enjoy the unique beauty of each country because they all have something to offer! Traveling was pretty simple and straightforward, only traveled by plane into Thailand and out, crossed into countries by land for the rest.
So over the course of 5 weeks, I visited Bangkok and Koh Chang, Thailand, a perfect combination of city and island life in this country. Next onto Cambodia for some historical time and then into Vietnam to see a country still recovering from an awful war. Then finally, a quick stop into Singapore to visit old friends and familiar sites.
My one word of advice for anyone travelling in Southeast Asia is to bargain, bargain bargain and always be weary of scams. As a foreigner, you are targeted outright and it can be quite disheartening to learn you have fell victim. Unfortunately, this happened in Bangkok but turned out for the better so I survived unscathed.
TT: Fabulous advice. How did you find these travel opportunities?
A: All of the traveling has been learned through word of mouth of other teachers and travelers alike. Also, my teaching program was shared by close friends who highly recommended it for both the teaching and traveling opportunities.
TT: How did you find the money to fund this travel?
A: China travel within the country has been funded by my job as a volunteer teacher through a monthly stipend at about $300 US. Living in China is very cheap so much of my leftover money is spent traveling its borders.
As for the bigger five week trip, that was a mixture of savings and Christmas/Birthday money from throughout my family which I was very grateful for receiving. Travel is cheap if you look for the bargains, opt for dorm rooms instead of privates, eat at street vendors and stalls and choose lavish purchases wisely. Traveling on a $1,000-3,000 US budget over 1-3 months is very manageable.
TT: I agree! I was able to travel Asia and even Europe for $30 a day! Tell us one moment from your travels that was particularly powerful.
A: I think the overall theme in all my traveling the past year, is that no matter where I am, people are always willing to help. Sometimes there is a language barrier but hand motions work just as well. Whether I was in China, Thailand or Cambodia, the natives were happy to help and made sure we would enjoy our stay in their country.
Also something I found interesting, despite America’s reputation in the international world due to politics and economics, they was little prejudice against us because we were American. Many natives will ask you, “Where are you from?” and America was always received well, partly because very few Americans travel abroad.
As I also discovered, most of the foreigners exploring this side of the globe were from Europe, United Kingdom and Australia, Americans were few and far between. Therefore, I think it’s important when we travel to set a good example for the future travelers and adhere to as few stereotypes as possible.
TT: Very true. How have your travels impacted you as a teacher and in your career?
A: The impact my traveling has had on teaching is that I am getting to see my students’ country more than they can or maybe ever will. Many of my students’ have never left the province of Hunan, others (the wealthier parents) have taken their children throughout China and even some other countries.
Unfortunately, it is very hard for Chinese people to travel because they require a visa to enter almost every country and has to be approved and issued by the Chinese government. My traveling has helped me show my students there is more to the world and give them a look at something beyond their classroom walls.
It’s important they have a sense of other cultures and places even if it could only be a dream or there is a previous negative connotation i.e. Japan. I definitely think its important to travel in a country that you are teaching abroad in so you can understand customs, culture and the changing way of life.
TT: How have your travels impacted you as a person?
A: I have been lucky enough to have the opportunity to travel since I was very young, but traveling during my teenage and early adult years has had the biggest impact on me as an individual and determined many choices for my future.
I would not be teaching in China if I had never moved to Singapore back in high school. It has changed me as a person and made me more willing to try to new things and take risks in life. It also has made me appreciate the simplicities in life that are second nature for someone living in America but maybe a luxury for someone living in China, like constant running water or central heating. It has also made me want to continue traveling, seeing new things, exploring new cities and experiencing new cultures.
TT: What advice do you have for other teachers who are dreaming of travel?
A: If you have ever thought about, contemplated or researched the possibility of teaching abroad, DO IT! It will be one of the most rewarding, eye-opening, transformational experiences you may get to have in your life. It doesn’t matter how old or young, your knowledge of the country or language, be brave and accept a challenge.
My organization, WorldTeach, offers programs throughout Asia, Europe, Africa and South America. Some are more English based and offer TEFL certification as well while others are more education based and involve teaching the sciences and math. Either way it’s a great program and a great way to give your life a breath of fresh air. Here is a link where you can find more information.
TT: Thanks so much for this wonderful interview, Alyssa! Readers, what questions or comments do you have?