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How Teaching English in China Taught Me Not to Settle
Written by: Jessica Addington
Last Updated: May 12, 2020
I have always been a “pleaser” as my family lovingly calls me. I am the mediator. I am the happy camper. The person who makes sure that everyone is doing fine and dandy at the expense of my own wants and needs. I have always been that way, and most of the time I see it as a good quality, one that should be appreciated because I want to contribute to others’ happiness and well being. It is part of who I am. However, as I have gotten older and a little bit wiser, and especially since traveling abroad, I have realized that this is a quality that is not always a good thing. I realized that I was not speaking up for myself and what I wanted. I was not putting myself first. That all began to change when I went to teach English abroad in China.
Sometimes I think back to middle school and high school. Other than the exams, pep rallies, and football games, I remember my friends. Though I still remember those moments fondly, I look back at myself letting my friends cancel plans at the last minute for better offers or going to that one restaurant because that is what everyone else wanted to do. I look back at missed plans and going with the flow. Back then, I was fine with these moments and they didn’t change my life very much. I didn’t mind settling. Then I took the Online TEFL class through International TEFL Academy, and moved abroad to China.
Let me preface by saying, China is not easy. It was tough from the start! The endless amounts of people, crowded metros, and the constant lack of communication from the Chinese who are trying to save face can get to someone right away. And they got to me at first. I had no idea how to navigate a group of people that never said what they meant and always provided information and assistance at the last possible second even if they could’ve helped me earlier. However, this high speed, crazy environment forced me to step up, to speak my mind, to say what I wanted, and more importantly, to ask for it.
Slowly, I started learning how to get things done in China and with the people who live here, both native and expats. When my school wouldn’t give me the dates for our holidays and end of year dates, I pushed and pushed them until I got answers. When my school wouldn’t help me with the visa process, I stood up for myself and told them to get their act together if they wanted me to work at their school. This was unnatural to me at first, but starting small with these instances in China spilled over into other aspects of my abroad life.
I stopped settling for friends who were flaky and inconsiderate and starting making friends who I felt comfortable enough to speak up around and who wanted to join in on plans with me. I stopped going along with the group and starting planning my own trips and vacations that I was interested in. When my roommate in China backed out of our winter holiday trip, I refused to settle and cancel the plans, and ended up going alone. Though I was scared, I refused to let this person dictate my abroad experience. This was one of the best decisions I ever made. I met people on that trip that I still communicate with even though we only traveled together for a few weeks. I saw parts of Asia I would have never seen if I hadn’t said stopped saying “yes” to everyone around me, and started saying “no” when it mattered.
Refusing to settle is a new concept to me, but it has given me a whole new lease on life. I am now the captain of my abroad adventure. I am traveling places that I want to travel to, seeing places that I want to see, not just going with the flow and pleasing everyone else. China taught me how to speak up for myself, to ask for what I want, and that its okay to say “no” sometimes. China has been a crazy, educational, overwhelming journey but I am grateful that I was able to immerse myself here, in this fast paced, intense, country.
It has given me perspective and a new sense of self.
ITA alumna Jessica is 23 from Fort Collins, Colorado, with a BA in Human Development and Family Studies in 2015. She is currently teaching English abroad in Shenzhen, China, and loving the experience!
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