Why I’m teaching overseas and what I’m gaining

Published on 28th November, 2017 by Wendy Hartrey. Published in For Candidates / TIC News

Adam Wunker in Beijing having Peking duck with his son Rohan.

Adam Wunker in Beijing having Peking duck with his son Rohan.

Adam Wunker is from Toronto, Canada. He teaches English and is currently living in China, working at Harrow International School Beijing with his family, including two young children. Here Adam talks about his experiences:

“The driving factor for me moving overseas was the lack of job prospects in Canada. I also wanted to live a more interesting life. Teaching internationally was a chance to live a life that went beyond the 9 to 5 grind of a day job; a routine I’d seen so many friends falling into.

I also viewed it as an opportunity to travel. Canada is quite isolated from the rest of the world and it was difficult and expensive to visit other countries. While I had visited bits of Africa and Europe, I had not seen much of either, and I’d never been to Asia before.

Teaching overseas offered me the chance to have new experiences and open my mind. We all like to think we are open-minded, but you never really find out if you are until you’re confronted with a situation which challenges you.

Adam with his daughter Asha in his neighbourhood.

Adam with his daughter Asha in his neighbourhood.

Developing as a teacher

Teaching at an international school has made me re-examine my own cultural biases and expectations. Working with students who are learning English and coming from different cultures with different customs and history has forced me to explain things that I once took for granted.

Functioning in a country where you don’t know the language, forces you to learn quickly in order to survive, and I’ve certainly been pushed out of my comfort zone and challenged. Since living in Beijing, I’ve also re-examined how I communicate, both in terms of body language and the words I use.

The most challenging aspect of teaching internationally has been adjusting to living in a new culture. While there are certain elements of humanity that are common to all people and climes, there are certainly many beliefs, behaviours, and expectations that are purely cultural. For example, in Chinese culture reputation is very important.

Making friends

In most international schools, there is a strong sense of camaraderie. There’s a ready social scene for people who want to make friends and get to know their colleagues and I've been able to meet people who I might not otherwise have encountered. That being said, it can be difficult if you don’t live in a city with a large population of expats and I believe it’s important to get out into the wider community to help feel integrated.

I have been able to travel since living here and Beijing is a great base for seeing other countries. I’ve been to Malaysia on a few occasions, and seen parts of Indonesia, Thailand, China, and South Korea. 

Adam at a cooking class in a hutong.

Adam at a cooking class in a hutong.

If you’re thinking of teaching overseas

I would recommend international teaching to anyone who wants a genuinely unique experience, or a wider view of the world. Since being here, I’ve been examining my own privileges as a citizen of a developed country and it’s pushed me to think more about what I am doing with my privilege, and what I have accomplished. 

To get the most out of teaching internationally, I would suggest having an open mind and a willingness to give up your usual comforts and to experience new things. Plan to bring with you just enough to be comfortable. In short, if you prepare for an adventure, then that's what you will have!”

TIC helped Adam find his job and be selected for his teaching position at Harrow International School Beijing. You’ll find plenty more advice about teaching in international schools in our Teacher’s Stories section. Register free with TIC now as the main recruitment season begins in December through to March.

You may also be interested in these informative articles:
BBC Radio talks about international teaching
This is the life for teachers in Malaysia
I chose Bermuda for my first year teaching overseas!

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Wendy Hartrey