- Aidan Fairhall was a public school teacher in England.
- He moved to China nine years ago.
- Now, he says he feels reverse culture shock when he returns to his hometown in England.
This told essay is based on a conversation with Aidan Fairhall, 34, a chemistry teacher at an international school based in Shanghai. This essay has been edited for length and clarity. Business Insider confirmed his rent and employment.
After four years as a teacher in a public school in England, I had reached a breaking point and was on the verge of quitting the profession.
The workload was so intense that I struggled to make ends meet and ended up in debt, and at one point I was sharing an apartment with 10 other people.
That’s when I decided it might be fun to go teach abroad and see the world. Initially she intended to leave for two years as a bit of an adventure, but after nearly 10 years teaching in China she has no intention of returning to the UK unless she has to.
After about a month in Guangzhou, I realized that I had no intention of returning to the UK.
In England, I taught in a school in a fairly privileged area. About 70 percent of the students there were below the poverty line and received free meals. The workload was enormous: preparing eight curriculums each week for students with many behavioral needs. It felt like it was controlling the crowd and constantly redirecting this torrent of energy that was constantly blowing at it.
In Guangzhou, work was completely different.
I taught at an international school, where the children were polite. There were only three classes she had to prepare for. Also, the class size for her was between 10 and 20 students, which was much smaller than the usual 30+ students in the UK.
All of this meant rediscovering what work-life balance means. When I was in England, I mostly just went back to my hometown for holidays. While in Guangzhou, he would spend weekends in Hong Kong, sometimes renting a junk boat to host parties for up to 40 people, and fly to Taiwan, India, and Southeast Asia for vacations.
This move meant going from living in a room in a shared apartment to having a place of my own.
Now, after attending two international schools, I live in a one-bedroom apartment in the French Concession area of Shanghai, where my monthly rent is about 19,000 yuan, or about $2,600. Most of this is covered by the school’s housing allowance.
I’m not allowed to say how much I make in my current job, but my school offers students with a bachelor’s degree between the ages of 5 and 10 a basic annual salary (including housing allowance and other benefits). We are publicly advertising positions that will earn you $60,000 to $70,000 (excluding benefits). Years of teaching experience.
Being willing to say yes to everything helped me adapt to China.
After seeing everything in the media about Asian cities, I had imagined that Guangzhou would be like a majestic, claustrophobic Hong Kong, where when you look up all you see is an empty square.
But Guangzhou was built on a different scale, like a city built for giants. 15 people can walk side by side. I never expected it to be so green, like a city developed from a jungle.
On my first day in Guangzhou, I ventured out to a wok restaurant with another foreign teacher despite having no knowledge of Chinese. I didn’t have a VPN so I couldn’t connect anywhere. Back then, he didn’t have image translation tools like Google Translate, so he had to gesture and point to the waiter.
Everyone around us was giggling as we watched things being brought out, and then we returned to the same restaurant every week. It was great.
What struck me about foreigners who don’t like living in China is that many people think they can impose existing norms on their lives in China. And they couldn’t get over that people didn’t do things the same way they did back home.
Let’s use food as an example. I fell in love with chicken feet and replaced my usual Sunday roast with dim sum.
Of course, there were some stumbling blocks. In some places, the quality of food is unstable. It took some time to get used to doing so many things digitally and the prevalence of online fraud. I didn’t use the e-commerce site Taobao for years because I couldn’t figure out which buttons to press.
Now, when I go home, I feel reverse culture shock.
The school I worked for paid for return flights to the teacher’s home country, so I ended up returning to the UK every summer.
Every time I return to the UK, many parts of the country feel quaint. Because of how filthy and inefficient the London Underground is compared to China’s underground system. How ridiculous is it that pockets full of coins weigh down your pants, even though most of China is cashless?
After 10 years in China, I feel like part of the furniture here, but now I feel out of place in my hometown.
When I first moved, I had to say goodbye to a lot of friends. And even though I promised them I would definitely come back before I turn 30 so I could attend their children and their wedding, I can’t imagine giving up my life here anytime soon. .
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