Teaching English Abroad: An Interview With Sarah Bennett

For recent graduates, the temptation to stave off real life for a little longer and roam the world is a big one. But is it a waste of time that could be better spent job hunting? Recent grad, Sarah Bennett, thinks not.

Read on to discover where she's been, what skills she learnt along the way and why she thinks you ought to indulge in a little wanderlust too.

So, where have your travels taken you so far?

Since uni I’ve spent 2 years teaching English in China in 2 cities called Ordos and Zhangzhou (originally the plan was just 6 months) and I’m now in New Zealand, hoping to work my way around here with various different jobs. I run a blog about my travels at The Further Adventures of Bennett.

What course did you do at uni?

I did Combined Honours in English Linguistics and German at Newcastle University and loved it. I loved my time up north and being so far from my hometown of Dorset helped me get used to being away from home for extended periods of time, hence the travelling.

What attracted you to a TEFL course?

I’ve worked a lot with children since the age of 14, so teaching felt like a path I was inevitably going to explore at some point. The TEFL course just opened up a lot more doors with jobs abroad, meaning that I could feed my travel habit at the same time!

Did you do a TEFL course before you started teaching?

I did an “Introductory TEFL in Theatre in Education” course.  I did it in Italy at an English camp run by a company called ACLE, where I also taught for 3 weeks afterwards, but this was enough to get me a job in China. 

What are the best things about travelling while working?

I could go on and on here, but for me, it’s the independence and not being tied down to one place for too long. I’m content with travelling around and trying new things as I love variety; I taught English in China for two years and over Christmas this year I helped out in a kennels.

My “problem” is that I’m easily pleased; I find a lot of pleasure in the little things, as well as the big things, obviously, and trying out all the delicious food is a huge thing for me!

What is your favourite memory from your travels so far?

Too many, again.  There are so many times I’ve been welcomed into a family home; the Chinese were so hospitable. However I have to say that Chinese New Year 2013, which I spent in Beijing, was the best, as a friend from home came to visit and I could show her the life I’d been living for 18 months at that point. It was fantastic to share with someone, not just through my blog or Facebook.

What was the biggest culture shock?

Oddly, the biggest shock was probably how quickly I settled in China! After just one month I’d decided to extend my contract to a year, and after 6 months, I extended it to two. There were obviously crazy times when I got frustrated with people, but overall, China really agreed with me!

What advice would you give to people who are unsure about travelling and working?

There are people who like to stay at home and people who like to go out and travel the world. It doesn’t matter what category you fall under, but I would encourage those who want to do it to go for it.

If you’re interested in learning more about being a teacher in China, I’ve actually written a book with 2 friends called “Add Your Brick To The Great Wall: Experience-based advice for expats” which goes into a lot of detail about life in China and what you can expect from being a teacher there.

​Do you think that your experience has made you more attractive to employers?

I hope so. I believe I've achieved a lot, progressing from being a teacher to a manager of a school in a relatively short period of time. Besides the teamwork and management skills gained during my time in school, I also greatly developed my communication skills, having to adapt my English to instruct colleagues, as well as learning bits of Mandarin as well. 

Any regrets?

None. I’d choose China all over again in a heartbeat and I’m happy with the path I’m on.

What are your career plans for the future?

Who knows. Maybe one day I’ll make money with my blog?!

I’ll probably end up back in the UK though because I appreciate what I have there. Saying that, if some handsome guy from another country sweeps me off my feet and wants to travel somewhere else, I’ll be happy to adventure further.

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