Tag Archives: TEFL

Some thoughts on teaching English in China and Indonesia

It’s been more than a year since my last post but I think i’s important to put some information out there for prospective English teachers.

After I left Korea in 2015 my went to China. I had a two year plan and was very excited about the position I’d accepted with EF 6 months prior to my departure. I was promised a few things including:

  • professional development in the form of a TESOL and later a Dip.TESOL.
  • a professional teaching environment surrounded by lots of other foreign teachers
  • high standards

The truth was rather different. There’s no doubt that the first two weeks of orientation were great. We were put up in the Holiday Inn Shenzhen and got our training materials, polo shirts and bags. All very nice.

After orientation I was moved to a “new” school that was very far from the centre of Shenzhen. None of the teachers I met during my time there had even heard of the suburb I’d been placed. It turned out that I was the only teacher at this school, surrounded by sales staff. Staff who would mix ages together paying no regards to student levels. I always got the distinct impression they were purely money-driven.

We had no business licence so I couldn’t officially teach either. Cue weekend demo lessons and unofficial classes afterwards to keep students interested. So far, so good. They got an oven and I had to bake cookies with kids but we had no fire extinguishers in the school!!!

Someone thought that it was a good idea to put wet coffee grounds all over the school to absorb the smell of paint… which lead to a fly infestation. HUGE flies. In Korea I used fly swatters to play games with kids. In China I had to use it to kill flies.

This school was built according to a “new design” which featured all glass walls. Very practical for playing games and keeping your students’ attention. Especially the classroom that looked out into the mall. Very clever.

We had lots of iPads but no workable wifi. The big touch screen TV that replaced all whiteboards (and contained the whole lesson plan, videos and activties) would switch itself off after 5 minutes of you not touching it. Also, if a fly was on the screen you couldn’t write on it.

That was my work environment.

I went to an info session about TESOL training. We were told that there was a lack of trainers in China which meant that anyone interested in development would go on a waiting list and that senior teachers would be given preference. I was  also told that I’d probably have to wait until my second year before I could do a course and  that my manager would have the final say about whether I could attend/ whether my leave would be used for the course or not.

It was after attending this session that I decided not to continue working for EF after my 2 month probation. After 2 months, you’d have to give 2 months’ notice. You only required a 3 day notice period during your probation. I gave a week’s notice but I still had my apartment.

When you move to China, there is a lot of pressure on you to choose an apartment as soon as possible. Your office is supposed to help you, but only as much as they can be bothered. I was advised to take  an apartment I was very hesitant about because it required a 2 month deposit and first month’s rent upfront. That worked out as GBP1500. I walked away from it initially, but my manager told me it was a good deal.It was only party furnished so I spent another 500GBP at Ikea to make it liveable. (I am a bare necessities kind of person: pots, pans, iron, duvet etc.).  When I gave  notice on my apartment it meant losing out on a month’s non-refundable deposit and re-selling my practically brand new Ikea stuff. BIG LOSS. I only recently paid off this credit card debt.

When I handed in my notice, EF begged me to stay and offered to move me to another school. I declined saying that I felt that they had been dishonest from the start.I was really disappointed that I’d planned a 2 year career move 6 months ago based on lies.At my debrief, I was told by the on-boarding guy that less than 40% of teachers stay the full year. That is all you need to know about EF China. Overworked, underpaid. In the month after I left, 3 other teachers that I knew of, left too. While at my school, one sales person and the Chinese head of school left too.

I was waiting out my last month in my apartment so I started job hunting. I chose a job in Indonesia that offered my a CELTA as part of my contract, as well as a work visa (KITAS) , accommodation and a flexible schedule which meant that I could freedive 1 week/ month. I asked a million questions because the deal seemed too good to be true.

I was very happy to leave China.

The Indonesian dream was mostly all true. Unfortunately, the most important part, the visa, never came true. Indonesian Immigration is a joke. My colleagues and I spent a year working on business visas while we waited to be processed. It became evident after 6 months that the KITAS was a pipedream. I finished my contract a month ago and just heard that immigration was going from house to house in the neighbourhood where foreigners live. They took at least one passport away.

I would not recommend working as an English teacher for most companies in Indonesia. Aim for a public or private school, not an academy. Ask to speak to previous employees to find out the truth about KITAS. Why should you take the risk to make money for someone else?

Stick to Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Japan. If you teach in China, aim to work at a public school.




Eat this!

A couple of weeks ago we celebrated Teachers’ Day in Korea. A lovely day where your students give you kitsch presents and cute notes about how much they love you. Teachers also got treated to 수박 (watermelon). I asked my co-teachers if Koreans ever use the rind for anything since the culture is very efficient at preserving and utilising food. They told me that some old-school grannies make watermelon kimchi but none of them have actually ever tried it.

I grew up eating watermelon jam in South Africa so I asked if it was popular in Korea. They were stunned to hear that such a thing existed. My mind was made up. I was going to have to introduce them to the syrupy gingery goodness of subak jam. I collected the left- over rinds and they just looked at me a little bit strangely.

I found a great recipe online. If you’re going to make this jam, you need time. Time to soak the rind in bicarb of soda and time for it to soak in water- basically a day’s pre-prep. I reduced the amount of sugar to 1kg, although I personally think after making it that next time I’d cut it to 500-750g. Make sure you don’t overcook the syrup at the end!


Here’s my end result:


I took a jar into school for taste testing during my “Friday Fun English” adult conversation class.  Everyone was brave enough to try at least one bite and two people had seconds. Not quite the revolution I was hoping for but I’m glad that they got to try something new.


I plan to introduce them to South African melktert, Bulgarian Tarator soup and I want something British but I don’t know what to choose. They’ve all had apple pie before so I’m thinking Eton mess, Bakewell tart or mince pies. Or spotted dick. I’d quite like to work that into English class conversation.

What is your idea of a classic English dessert?



The difference between being a dive instructor and an English teacher


I was a dive instructor for 8 years but became restless. As part of a couple I found myself being shoe-horned towards office jobs instead of teaching and guiding and I refused to be pigeon-holed because of my gender. I took a few years out to get back into normal life and then decided to get back into teaching of another kind: teaching English as a Foreign Language. I love traveling and exploring countries by living in them so this was a perfect way for me to keep my lifestyle going. The quality of my life is more important than  chasing dollar signs so teaching/ traveling/living outdoors suits me to a t.

I believed that teaching English and teaching scuba diving would be much the same. Same same but different.

Pros of being a dive instructor:

– You get wet every day and see awesome wildlife.

– You get to teach a variety of ages.

– Your students generally WANT to be there, they’re on holiday and they are happy.

– Small class sizes with additional helpers with a class of 8+.

– You can choose whether to certify someone or not based on their ability.

– Fast results.

– You get tips.

– You can drink with your students after class. Students can become friends… or conquests.

– You are usually in good shape because you do moderate exercise every day to off-set the booze you drink with your customers.

– You can swear underwater and no one will understand you.

– The majority of people you encounter during your working day will share English as a common language.

Cons of being a dive instructor:

– Less holiday time, long hours and early morning starts. You work when everyone else is on holiday (Christmas, Easter, New Year, school holidays).

– Commercial pressure on you to perform/ bend standards/ pass students.

– You have to spend a lot of your free time with customers to give them an unforgettable experience. This leaves less time to nurture personal relationships.

– There is a large amount of egotistical, crazy managers and dive shop owners in this world and no human resources department to support you in case of maltreatment.

Pros of being an English Teacher:

– You have lots of fun and laugh a lot.

– You get a good amount of holiday and enough money to travel.

– You are making a difference, especially if you teach in a government school. Even if the kids still suck at English, you are teaching them about the wider world and acceptance of “other”. When you’re a dive instructor you mostly teach people who are well-off who can afford to see the world and travel.

– You get letters and gifts from your students and they love greeting you outside of school.

Cons of being an English Teacher:

– Large class size, hard to give individual attention, kids get left behind.

– Everyone passes regardless of ability.

– You will encounter discipline problems and language barriers to a degree not encountered as a dive instructor.

– More creative lesson planning required as opposed to pre-planned formulaic PADI teaching.

– You can’t swear.

– You may be the only foreigner at your school so you may feel isolated because of the lack of English around you.

For me, Teaching English is more challenging but far more rewarding. I miss being a dive instructor and in an ideal world I’d alternate between the two jobs.  However, I managed to educate 600 teenagers about the ocean and conservation last year. I would never have been able to teach that many students how to dive. I may have moved battle grounds but the fight remains the same: education in order to preserve oceanic species.

Boozy skin

Welcome to the land of mirrors and vanity! Before I moved to Korea, the only mirror I used on a daily basis was the one hanging in the bathroom. In the Land of the Morning Calm, you can’t turn a corner without looking at your reflection. School girls (and boys) are constantly distracted by their reflections in hand held mirrors during class time (oh how I love confiscating those!). The disease of vanity is mildly contagious so I started thinking “Hey, I wonder what I look like?”. I’m not obsessed, just aware. Please kill me before I put looks before character 😉

Everyone knows that Asians tend to age much better than any other race. Everyone also knows that plastic surgery is super popular in Korea. Invasive procedures notwithstanding, I can say that I have learnt one or two things about skin care in this country.

Lots of girls complain that they develop skin and hair problems when they come here, blaming stress and water quality for lifeless hair and break outs. There is probably something to be said about water quality in Pohang. The water DOES contain lots of chlorine and more heavy metals than we’re used to back home, which tends to leave the skin feeling dry after showers (it also kills off plants and gold fish). You can buy bottled water but it’s more environmentally friendly to buy a water filter (you can buy a shower filter too). I’ve been drinking tap water for a year now and I haven’t been diagnosed with cancer yet so “the experiment” continues.

I just scoff at anyone who blames “stress” here for skin problems… we live the life of Riley. There is no stress. Or if there is, far less stress than you’d have back in your home country. Fact.

I think girls overlook the main reason WHY they have skin and hair problems here. Why do Korean women have great skin and glossy hair and we look like old, dried out hags? Let’s look at the main culprits, shall we?

1. BOOZE!! Korea is like “spring break forever bitches”.  Maybe it’s part of the memory loss aspect of booze that you forget how alcohol dehydrates your skin (and hair). If you want to know how your 247 party people lifestyle is ruining your future face, look here, here and here.

The video games, scuba diving and EFL industry have one thing in common. Can you guess what that is? I have been in boozy environments since my early twenties and only recently took stock of what effect this has had on my life (no doubt I ‘ve had some great times, if only I could remember them all!).

I have significantly cut my alcohol consumption in the last month or so and upped my water intake and my skin has seen a vast improvement ! I have less zits, less red flushing and my wrinkles look less pronounced! Less really is more, if the “less” is booze. I am really happy that my eyes finally opened to the truth.

2. Lack of sleep. Closely linked to boozing is lack of sleep. Pulling an all-nighter is pretty standard here. Alcohol is well known for disrupting sleep- I think we all know that.  BUT check this out : “poor quality sleepers showed increased signs of intrinsic skin aging including fine lines, uneven pigmentation and slackening of skin and reduced elasticity.”   

3. Fruit and veggies. When you’re spending your not-so-hard earnt millions of won on beer, wine and mini breaks all the time, it doesn’t leave much money for decent groceries. Us waygookins love complaining about how expensive fruit and veggies are here, but there’s more to the story 😉 We tend to buy ramen noodles and other cheap, processed foods and use the money we saved on the important things like going out, getting drunk and taxis home. Korean fruit and veg ARE more expensive but I really respect the fact that they sell only what’s in season. We’ve become so spoiled in the West, expecting fruit and veg from all over the world to be available at cut price. This is not only bad for the environment but also carries a human price (the farmer on the production end struggling to make ends meet).

Recently, I have made a concerted effort to add more fruit and veg into my diet and I can see the difference in my skin. I have done a lot of reading on veganism, vegetarianism and raw food diets and while I’ll never give up animal products completely, I have taken massive inspiration from the blogs I’ve read and YouTube videos I’ve watched. Have a look at my blog roll for more. There is no denying that these people touting fruit and veg are healthy and glowing. They’re not just a bunch of tree hugging hippies. They’re onto something.

I know you’re thinking “Oh my god, I’m not giving up my social life!!!” and you don’t have to. But I think we can all benefit from cutting back A LOT! We need to stop blaming the environment we live in and take responsibility for the choices that we make for our bodies. If you want to look and feel better, you can. But you need to MAKE IT HAPPEN. No one else can do this for you.

The end result will be a younger, fresher looking you. It might also save you from hooking up with guys you’d steer well clear of otherwise. To me, that sounds like a win-win situation 🙂

With love from Korea x

V-Day: Lost in Translation

This is my penultimate week teaching at high school level so I’m trying to keep things relatively fun and light. Our theme is love and dating in preparation for next week and Valentine’s Day. I don’t believe in Valentine’s Day but whatever, it works in the classroom.  I created a “Blind Date” TV show questionnaire which features the question “What do you look for in a boyfriend/ girlfriend?”.  I do the rounds and sit with my groups to help them with their answers. One girl points “down below” and says “big, big”. So I give a little nervous laugh and continue to explain (and write down) the terms “well hung” (slang) and “well endowed” (correct).  Turns out she meant something else entirely. Oh.