Monday, November 25, 2013

My apartment in Macau: a mansion compared to my old shacks in Japan and Korea

This is my third time video taping my apartments in Asia. This apartment is going to seem like a mansion in comparison to my first two apartments, which were tiny little studios. This obviously reflects my higher position and pay bump due to completing my Master's degree and getting a University job abroad in Macau. My first two apartments were filmed in Korea, and Japan.

Right now I am in what is called "temporary" off campus faculty housing for the university. My rent is subsidized by the university so I pay a measly $104 a month plus utilities for a 3 bedroom apartment. However, when you live off-campus there is no guarantee you will not have roommates. When I first moved in there was a Portuguese teacher here and then another teacher from the ELC moved in and there were three of us. After 2 months the Portuguese teacher's temporary time was up and so then it was just the two of us.

Come spring I will have this entire apartment to myself if no other teachers are in need of temporary housing. I was supposed to get moved to the on-campus faculty housing at the new university. However, the construction was never completed and I am hypothesizing that I will be here until the remainder of my 10 month contract. Those that are senior teachers only have 30 days in the temporary housing and are then required to find their own apartments and also receive a small housing subsidy.

I hope you enjoy the live tour! I live right now in the most historical area of Macau near the Red Market. Its great because almost no expats live over here and you get a more cultural side of living in Macau. I am enjoying both the Chinese and the Portuguese life over here! The tourism in Macau is huge and we see a lot of people from all over the world each weekend. It's actually hard for me to find people my age that are living here! If you have any additional questions that I didn't answer for you don't hesitate to leave a comment.

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Sunday, November 10, 2013

Thoughts about teaching in the TESOL field in Asia

Students at University of Macau during a Mexican cooking demonstration.  

An old professor of mine asked me to share some thoughts for new teachers in the field of TESOL abroad in Asia for her new book.

What are the biggest mistakes teachers make when they first go to teach in these countries?  

Teachers are always bound to make mistakes when going abroad to work. I have taught in Korea, Japan, and China and probably one of my biggest mistakes is not asking about the nitty gritty details before taking on a position.  You don’t want to come off during the interview as a pushover, so you remain quiet and try and seem comfortable and cool right? But, this is one of the worst things that you can do, as you may be kicking your-self months after taking a position for not thoroughly and critically evaluating your new position beforehand.  As I have applied to more positions overtime, the process has gotten easier and I remember to make a giant checklist of items that I have questions about and sit there crossing them off and making more questions during my interviews.

1.      Not asking enough questions

If the interview is cut short, which it almost inevitably is, I make sure to e-mail back over my final questions or call again to get my questions answered. A lot of programs and schools are short on time during the interview process. They are brief and leave a lot of vital information out of the picture. One example happened to me recently while applying to The University of Macau. Because their University is expanding and a new campus is being built, they could not guarantee my housing stipend when I first signed my contract. I had to wait several months until I found out about my housing options through the University for off-campus faculty members. 3 months after I had signed my contract I heard back from the University with my housing package. Still, I forgot to ask if this housing was for the duration of my 10 month contract which I assumed it was. Little did I know that the University had only secured my off-campus apartment for 6 months with the hopes of moving me into the on-campus housing as soon as construction was finished. Because I was not nagging the office and administration about every tiny minute detail of my contract, I ultimately ended up with more stress upon arrival to the country. Uncertain if I was to be moved again, I could not truly settle in to my living space or purchase furniture because of the lack of communication between the administration and the University itself.

I also had a similar experience in Korea where I was told by the school that I would have assistance finding housing. They sold this as a plus side of taking a contract with their school since other workplaces teachers are left to deal with their own housing and hire a real estate agent. However, they did forget to mention that there was an exuberant fee associated with their housing assistance and I forgot to ask because I assumed that this was a perk of the position. Assume that nothing is a perk, and assume that anything offered will come with an extra fee until it is written in stone otherwise.

These are things that you need to be upfront with during your interview. You need to be detailed with your recent experience and expectations. If you do not share with your future workplace what you expect from the position and contract itself, you may find yourself wishing that you took more time to get acquainted with their position and school policies and environment.

2.      Not understanding that other countries are still developing

      Many teachers assume that because they got hired at the top notch college or school that they will have high quality access to the internet and state of the art equipment. This is often not the case and is hard to discover without visiting the new workplace in-person before-hand. A company or school may tell you that you will have access to projectors, computers, etc. but expect that there may be a lack of technology that you are used to living in the United States or other countries that have the latest technology. I taught at a University in Japan that gave me access to ONE computer in another teacher’s classroom to do attendance each day. That meant that I had NO computer to use in my classroom at all and no projector either. Everything had to be done with a simple chalk board and white board and I had to think creatively to plan my lessons without any access to technology at all. Even today at one of the most prestigious universities, the internet is often very slow because of so many classes going on at the same time. Thus, I cannot just hop on You Tube to show a video in my class or pull up an article. I need to download the clip before class and save it to my computer which takes extra time.

3.      They may think that their recent teaching experience or recent program will apply to their new workplace.
       This is NEVER the case! Each time I have taken a new position I have had to completely re-evaluate the way that I teach in order to apply my skills to their program. No program is alike and each University has their own guidelines and curriculum. For the first time I find myself in a program that is not focuses on specific language skills such as reading, writing, grammar. Etc. but strives to align itself with the core curriculum since the courses are a part of the required core classes at the university. Instead, I have found myself learning to adjust to the new curriculum which is focused on academic skills and aims to help students succeed in all of their university courses which a majority are conducted in English.

4.      Do not assume that the country you are applying to will understand or recognize your certifications or degrees.

Many schools abroad do not understand what a M.Ed. or an M.A. in TESOL entails. Instead, they are still asking teachers to have certifications such as the CELTA or DELTA. But, in other countries a CELTA or DELTA will not be recognized as a high enough certification for teaching or it may be a required certificate to work in their programs. Each country will have its own idea of the best certification or degree required for its program. Your current educational background may mean something very different in another country which is something that is often confusing for new teachers in the field. The field of TESOL is always changing and is relatively new in nature. Teachers that want to be extremely marketable for a position should try and receive every certificate and diploma possible to maximize their potential for securing a job.

5.      Not understanding the difference between language schools, universities, and teaching programs.

There is a huge difference if you are contracted by a private company to teach at a school or university versus being hired at the school or university directly. When searching for jobs, I often find myself researching the top schools in that country and looking directly for jobs on their websites. I also contact previous and current employees of these schools and ask about their experiences working for that particular school via linked-in and online teacher profiles.  I have never gone through a staffing agency or government teaching program, although if you do decide to do so, it is not a problem. However, many teachers find that when they leave a job in Korea or Japan they do not have high level positions that will allow them to move up within their profession. If you are teaching at a “Hagwon” or “Private Language Institution” in Korea, this will not allow you to secure a job at a University or public school in the states or U.K. Many teachers forget that even though they have been teaching for so long abroad and have learned how to become a great teacher within their school, they still do not have high enough certifications and work experience to get them into a job when they decide to return home. They will still need to further their education after these teaching experiences. So, if you are just going abroad for the experience a TESOL course or certification is best for you. But if you are trying to become a teacher as a life-long profession than I would strongly consider furthering your education ASAP to maximize your job potential and expertise in the field. 

What Cultural Aspects should teachers think about before going?

1.       Your style and experiences of teaching and learning may be completely different than that of your new students.

After teaching in 3 different countries I see the difference between expectations of the student and teacher the most devastatingly obvious in China. Students are passive, and walk into the classroom expecting the teacher to stand in front of the class and lecture while they take notes and sit in quiet throughout the course. In Western culture, the students are required to challenge the teacher and participate in class by asking questions and contributing to discussion. This is something that most students coming out of High School in China have NEVER done before in their lives. These students need to be taught the concept of critical thinking. This takes time and will not happen within a month or two of courses. Students are EXTREMELY nervous to explain their opinions or even raise their hand and share an answer because of fear that they will be ridiculed by their teacher and classmates.

2.       Your everyday work environment may be very different

You may be used to chatting freely in the office with your co-workers or sharing lesson plans and eating in the office.  But, in a different country these common work settings may change completely. In Japan and Korea, teachers were often expected to eat each meal with their colleagues or students on-campus. Where as many teachers in Western society may eat alone, this is not seen as a natural or viable option during the lunch or dinner hours in many Eastern countries.

Your office may be extremely quiet. My first thoughts on teaching in Japan and China were that my work environment was extremely dull. Teachers did not openly collaborate with one another during their office hours, and I often found myself leaving the office completely to escape from my cave down in the cold and dark dungeon.  However, sometimes the school required me to be on campus from 9am-5pm regardless of my teaching hours which was the case in Japan. Many teachers in the states can make up their own daily schedules around their teaching hours. However, while teaching abroad, this may be a different scenario. Luckily, I am allowed to work from any place at my current position in China. However, I understand that the local Chinese people think that if you are not physically in your office, you are not getting any work done and you may be seen as a lesser colleague for doing so. My advice is to try and engage is as much cross cultural communication as possible in your office as the locals may have completely different expectations of the work environment. Often a sterile and cold environment can be changed if your co-workers understand that you appreciate their input and social interactions in your everyday work life.  They may believe that they are distracting you, while you may believe they are rude and cold. This is a common misconception between those working in the Western world versus the Eastern world. Do not be afraid to share your culture with others and do not be expected to conform or mold your own culture to a schools professional environment. Staying completely true to your own culture may not be possible, however you can go through your every-day life as normal as possible while staying respectful of the countries expectations.

3.       Your students are stupid because they are quiet.

I can’t tell you how many teachers fall into this trap. Upon my first weeks of work in China a teacher said to me, “Oh yes, the level 0 students are very stupid. They do not know how to write at all.” Don’t listen to blunt or mistaken comments such as these. Often times there are teachers that are INSTITUTIONALIZED and have NEVER TAUGHT IN ANOTHER COUNTRY so they are out of touch with reality in their classrooms. Their teaching styles may be extremely dated and their expectations of students may be extremely low. This is simply not the case. The students coming into higher level university ESL programs simply have never had the opportunity to engage in any kind of sharing or reflections. Many of them are taught to take a test and remember the answers to questions. This is the only kind of learning that they have ever encountered before. Teachers need to be patient, and give these students many opportunities to produce ad practice their reading, writing, and speaking skills on a regular basis. Teaching down to these students will only hinder their learning. Often times I will be surprised by a student that is extremely quiet and shy in the classroom when I read their writing. This is because I find that they are even smarter than the students who try and participate in the class. Teachers need to remember that ESL students are processing information at all times and this takes longer for some students than others. How much a student is actively participating in class may not be an accurate measure of how smart this student is.

Other suggestions for new teachers

1.      Don’t be afraid to leave a position early

If a school is simply not meeting your expectations, than don’t feel obligated to finish your contract. Most schools will respect your decision that their program simply isn’t meeting your needs as a teacher and isn’t a good match. It is hard to find the perfect program that satisfies your needs and desires as a teacher. Don’t be afraid to try out many different schools and settings and even say no to positions or leave positions because you just didn’t feel comfortable working there. I currently know several teachers in the field that have changed programs and schools after only 2-3 months of working because they did not see the job as a “good fit.” This is ok! Many new teachers feel obligated to stay at their position out of fear that their reputation may be damaged for leaving. However, if you politely explain your situation to your current supervisor, they are sure to understand that it is often times difficult to find a good match between a school and a teacher. Don’t let fear or money stop you from finding a better position that will suit your personality, creativity, and goals. If the job isn’t meeting your expectations, then just leave. The good thing about this field is that you are sure to encounter many other people that have done the same, and many other supervisors who will appreciate your decision to leave a program early before they start investing in you as a teacher. There is always another job out there that is waiting for you.

2.      Don’t expect to be on vacation all the time!

Many new teachers in the field think that when they go abroad they will have an abundance of vacation and leisure time. This is often not the case as you are overwhelmed with adjusting to a new culture, moving, creating adjustments to your teaching, fitting into a new program. All of these things take time and you may find yourself busier than you previously thought. Teaching abroad is not a good means for traveling. Yes, there are perks that you are closer in distance to neighboring countries than you previously were if you are from the U.S. But in general, you will be working just as much as everyone back home if not more. Because I am so familiar with teaching in the States it is much easier for me to create a lesson plan or conduct research in that setting. However, living abroad often requires me twice the time because I am trying to take into account differences in culture and learning styles that I didn’t previously have to focus on as deeply.

3.      Travel or visit the country you plan to work-in beforehand.

Many times new teachers in the field of TESOL are  just excited to go to a new country and experience teaching abroad for the first time. However, moving to a new country is a HUGE decision that should not be taken lightly. Before each contract I have taken, I had previously traveled to the country or conducted a job interview in that country to make sure that I could see myself in that environment. I knew that I could live in Korea easily after spending 2 weeks there in the year before applying for a position. I also knew that Macau would be an easy place to live in because I had been and lived in North Eastern Asia multiple times, and knew that the European influence would remind me more of my home culture. Upon traveling to Vietnam in 2011, I knew that there was no way that I could ever apply for a teaching position there simply because I did not feel comfortable in that environment. For me, I need to be in a location that is extremely safe and provides a higher salary and middle to high cost of living. This meant that most countries in South East Asia were immediately off my list as their crime is much higher than countries like Japan and Korea. I know this about myself, and thus I take is into consideration when I am considering a country to live and work in. Knowing yourself and your living expectations is extremely important when factoring in a new job in a new country. 

If you have any questions or comments about "Thoughts about teaching in the TESOL field in Asiaplease leave them in the comment box below
or email them to 
  Creative Commons License  Gone Seoul Searching by Marie Webb is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at

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Creative Commons License
Gone Seoul Searching by Marie Webb is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at
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