From Falcarragh to Beijing, Lauren Toner's trip to China has led her to make some amazing discoveries about herself and her surroundings.

Here, Lauren sends a message home from her adventures in China to describe her new life as a teacher and to share insightful tips about what she’s learned on this journey:

Sitting on the bus, daydreaming, then I look up. It hits me for the 100th time. I’m in China! The feeling is surreal. I was told it feels like you are in a dream like state when you are in China and it really does feel like that.

It was late summer 2016 when I applied for the Teach & Travel TEFL internship and it couldn’t have come quick enough. I can safely say that it has been the best thing I’ve ever done.

I was quite scared getting on that plane to Beijing on my own but one day later I had already met lots of people from all over the world – who I now call my friends.

Fast forward 6 days, we had taken part in some Tai Chi and calligraphy lessons not to mention the intense Chinese lessons we had been doing for two days. ‘Ni hao, wo jiao Lauren’ was as far as I got.

New adventures

Teacher training completed, we visited the famous Yonghe Lamasery – or as it’s commonly known The Lama Temple. We went to a Jade museum, visited the Beijing Olympic Stadium, witnessed an impressive acrobatic show and last but not least we climbed The Great Wall of China.

You know those pictures you see of people on nice flat parts of The Wall, well we hadn’t arrived at that. This was so steep I had to look twice. However, one hour later and maybe a lung down, I was on top of The Great Wall. I stood in amazement at the wonderful views and smog filled city in the background. What an achievement!

It was nearly just as hard to get down as it was to get up. At this stage everybody’s legs were wobbly and we took the steps side on to make it easier. We walked in zigzags on the flat parts to get rid of the dizziness. Unreal experience, but as they say ‘No pain, No gain’.

Rewarding role

I have been here for nearly 5 months now and absolutely love teaching my children at a private boarding school in a small town called Houjie in Dongguan.

Being a teacher for me is very rewarding. Seeing the children’s little faces light up when they are learning is just wonderful. I can honestly say I always walk out of my classroom with a smile on my face.

My favourite thing about teaching is the entertainment I get from the students. Also being on the other side of the desk makes me appreciate how much work teachers put in for their students.

Teaching in China has provided me with a lot of opportunities as I also teach middle school students ‘Social Studies’. Believe you me, I had to learn how to teach that very quickly. I also run an afterschool musical club which is right up my street. This is the reason I came to China!

Apart from teaching, the time to travel is the most fun part about living in China where exploring the surrounding areas is necessary as there’s just so much to see.

I have been to a lot of different cities during my 5 months here with the amazing people I met in Beijing.

Prepare yourself for the culture shock

If you ever decide to come to China, be prepared to get lost, get stressed over trains and buses not arriving and dealing with the hardest thing, the language barrier – as not many people speak English here. You might end up getting chicken feet for dinner if you don’t ask properly. It’s pretty hard without the saviour that is – Google Translate.

Chinese culture for me personally wasn’t as hard to adapt to as I thought it was going to be. Sometimes, it does get to me when everyone is staring at me or secretly taking photos but sure I decided to come here so I take it on the chin.

I have a love-hate relationship with the food here, but mostly I enjoy the Chinese way of eating. I am now a pro at using chopsticks! Chinese people have been nothing but friendly during my time in China (even if they can’t speak English).  

Exciting plans

Now that it’s coming up to the end of the teaching semester, I have plans to travel around China with my new found friends. We have adventures planned in amazing cities around the country, from bamboo raft river cruises in the Li River to bungee jumping in Beijing and hiking through the renowned ‘Avatar Mountains’.

In January, it seemed absurd when I stepped off that plane in Beijing but it has definitely been worth every single minute. Six months in China has opened up an endless amount of possibilities.

Have an open mind

The advice I would give to people who are interested in doing this kind of thing is to be open minded. Anything can happen.

But if you want to do it and you’re stressing over it, then DON’T stress. Just do it. I can guarantee you will have a unique experience and a story for the grand kids 😉

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