Sunday, February 4, 2018

Teaching in a Chinese university

The main entrance to Guangxi University, in Nanning, China

I just finished my first semester at a college within Guangxi University here in Nanning, China, and it was a whirlwind four months. The impression I've gotten of working in Chinese universities is that they can vary greatly, with some jobs being much more demanding than others and the overall quality of the programs being entirely different from place to place. The best way to know what you're getting into is to talk to current and former teachers and look out for blogs, forum posts etc. written by teachers.

In Asian countries, at least those I've lived in so far, things tend to be organized at the last minute more often than not. This was definitely the case with my job this past semester. I actually arrived in China early for visa reasons, at the end of the spring semester and spent a quiet summer mostly exploring Nanning and hanging around my air conditioned apartment. I had plenty of free time then to prepare for the upcoming fall semester, but I was told I would be teaching EFL classes and there wouldn't be much planning necessary.

In mid-August, just a few weeks before the start of the fall term, I received an email informing me that I would be teaching content instead and that the college needed a syllabus and class schedule within about a week. I've never been a content teacher before, so I really had to scramble to put something together. In the end, I taught American Literature as well as Academic Writing for the year two students of my college.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Life in China

A park near Minzu Square in Nanning, China

I last updated this blog in June just before I was about to leave for my new job in China. I haven't posted again since then because work and the slow internet connection here have made it difficult. But I have survived my first semester of work at Guangxi University and now at last I have some time to catch up on things like blogging.

This post will be an overview of what life has been like in Nanning so far. It's been keeping me very busy so I haven't had much time for traveling, but I have done a few small trips which I will write about in the following posts.

Image result for nanning china map

China is the third country in Asia that I have worked in now, after three years in Japan and one year in South Korea. While it has many things in common with those two countries, it is a completely different experience. I am living in the city of Nanning in Guangxi, which is located in the south near the border with Vietnam. Nanning is considered a small city by Chinese standards, but in most other places it would be quite large. 

Nanning is a good example of the break-neck rapid development that China is capable of when it decides to invest resources in an area. Just ten years ago there wasn't much here beyond a small city surrounded by rice paddies, but since then the population has boomed and the downtown areas have filled in with fairly cosmopolitan malls, convention centers, parks and so on. It has a new subway system that just opened its second line, making travel around the city much, much easier than the previous bus or e-bike options.

Everywhere you look in Nanning, there are new buildings popping up

The climate here is sub-tropical, with heavy rainfall in late spring and early summer and it's insanely humid about half of the year. In the summer I found myself showering at least twice a day if not more. But fortunately my university-provided apartment came with brand new air conditioning, so there was some relief from the heat. And all the rain and humidity creates a beautiful green landscape, which is especially nice where I live on campus, surrounded by lakes and parks. The air quality is also significantly cleaner here than most other places in China.

One of the many lily ponds on campus

At the small park near Minzu Square

Food in Nanning is all about noodles, to the point where you can get tired of eating them, but they are pretty tasty. Rice noodles in broth similar to Vietnamese Pho are popular, as well as flat noodles made from flour served in either broth or stir-fried in peanut oil. Guangxi is home to the majority of China's ethnic minorities, so you can also find restaurants specializing in their food. One of the best is lemon duck, a hot pot full of duck meat cooked with large chunks of garlic, ginger and lemon juice that is amazing.

Eating at the canteen on campus
Lemon Duck, a Guangxi specialty

There is also a barbecue street near Chaoyang Square where you can find all kinds of street food from waffles with ice cream and fruit to scorpions on a stick (not nearly as gross as they sound - mostly just crunchy and spicy).

In front: larvae, in the back right: millipedes and scorpions

Look out for the pointy bits!

Culturally I find the people here really kind and friendly, and for the most part they are really interested in cultural exchange. My students have been really curious to know more about the U.S. and have also been excited to tell me about Chinese culture. It's been one of the best things about living here; my students have always been enthusiastic about sharing customs, folklore, superstitions, and anything really about Chinese culture. I feel like they are teaching me just as much as I teach them.

It's a challenge to get by here without Chinese, as there aren't many people in Guangxi who speak English well. That said, I have pretty limited Chinese still but I've been managing pretty well, and I've even been able to travel to some more rural areas without too much trouble. A dictionary on your phone is an absolute necessity though, since Chinese pronunciation is difficult and also varies a lot from place to place. The best dictionary is called Pleco, it's a free app that will work even without an internet connection and I use it nearly everyday.

Nanning is not as exciting as cities like Hong Kong or Shanghai, but I really like living here so far. The pace of life is very relaxed, I don't have to worry as much about pollution, and there are a lot of amazing places to travel to nearby - most of southeast Asia is a short plane ride away from Nanning.

The Longji Rice Terraces in Guangxi, about 5-6 hours away from Nanning

Sunday, June 4, 2017


Watching the Manhattan Skyline go by from the ferry

I spent a week down in New York City as part of the final stages of processing my work visa for China. I needed to come down here to go to the Chinese Consulate to apply for the visa, which I finally just received on Thursday, after about three and a half months of organizing all the paperwork. There is one more document I'm waiting on, and then I'm off to Nanning at last!

The nice thing about visiting the consulate here was the opportunity to do a lot of sight-seeing while waiting around for the visa to be processed. Below are some of the highlights:

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Technical Difficulties

Just  a quick update, in case anyone is wondering what's happened to this blog. I've been having computer issues for a while now which is why I haven't been keeping up with my goal of posting every Monday and Friday. I'd really like to get back to posting at least once a week soon, provided my laptop decides to cooperate.

I'm still staying with my sister near Boston for now, working on getting the last few documents ready for my Chinese work visa. If all goes well, I should be headed to Nanning for my new job in a couple of weeks. Wish me luck!

Friday, April 21, 2017

Paperwork, paperwork & more paperwork


Well, unsurprisingly, the road to China is a bumpy one, cluttered with seemingly endless amounts of bureaucracy and paperwork. I accepted a job at a college in Nanning in mid-February, and it's now nearly May and I am still trying to get all the boxes ticked on the laundry list of things I need for a work permit.

It's definitely been the slowest and most arduous process of any of the countries I've worked in so far. Luckily, the end is finally in sight.

Monday, April 3, 2017

U.K. Visit: Brighton

The West Pier in Brighton

One of my favorite places that we visited while I was in the U.K was the city of Brighton, located on the southern coast of England on the ocean. I went with Anna for the weekend and we visited some of her old friends from university.

Brighton became a popular summer holiday destination during the Victorian era, so a lot of the architecture and famous landmarks are from that time. As a seaside city, Brighton has a nice beach where we spent a lot of our time. The beach is a great place to wander around with plenty of shops, art galleries, food and pubs, and it's most famous landmark, the Brighton pier. 

Walking the beach in Brighton

Friday, March 31, 2017

From England to New England

Hello Boston!

As I explained in the last post, I've decided to accept a position teaching in China next, which will be starting soon. However, the visa process for China is turning out to be longer and more complicated than any other country I've worked in thus far. So I decided to use the extra free time while I wait for my work visa to visit family in the U.S.

I just got back stateside a couple weeks ago and I'm having a great time staying with my sister and nephew James at their new apartment in Massachusetts. I've been keeping busy here helping home school James and working on my Mandarin. I'm also really enjoying exploring Boston and New England, a part of the U.S. I've never been to before.

Although, I have to say, I'm not enjoying the weather much. The week I arrived there were actual blizzard conditions here, with on and off again power outages that are really not good for my nephew, who has special medical needs. And people say that England has bad weather! Luckily things are finally warming up now.

I was welcomed to Massachusetts by a blizzard and power outages... 

I have at least one more post about my time in the U.K. I'd like to catch up on, and then as I do more sight-seeing here I will do some posts about that. I'll also post more about the China job hunting and visa process, in case anyone reading is considering working there.

I already miss the U.K. and Anna and her family. It was really fun staying there and getting to know Bristol, and I can't wait to get back there again soon. Also really looking forward to seeing Anna again in China!