Interview with Madison MacNichol: A Reach To Teach Teacher In China

Meet our latest Reach To Teach Teacher Madison MacNichol who has taken the time to answer a few of our burning questions. Read on to catch up with her about her time in China so far.

Madison MacNicholPlease tell us a little about yourself

Hello there! My name is Madison MacNichol and I am currently teaching English in China, Tinajin and having the experience of a lifetime! I am originally from the USA and the beautiful state of Idaho.  I am new to the teaching profession and received my TESOL certification through the Language Corps program in Cambodia in April.

After I decided China was the place for me, I found my current school through Reach to Teach and after a short application and interview process I found myself packed and China bound with a year-long teaching contract in my hands.

How have you enjoyed teaching in China to date?

Upon arriving I was really nervous. What if I didn’t like teaching or worse ,was a bad teacher? What if I didn’t make friends or couldn’t find a place to live? What if I spent the next year lonely and homesick?  I soon found all of these questions are both absurd and justified in their own way, and the only one of my worries that has come true so far is that I would miss my Mom’s homemade enchiladas so much; my stomach rumbles just thinking about them! So far I have found this city to have everything I need and more.

The experience of living abroad has been an interesting one.  Experiencing a different culture and work environment can be challenging but rewarding at the same time. I personally take a lot of interest in foreign language so living in a place where I can learn one fascinates me to my very core. And what better place than China? This is such a unique place where the people are intensely proud of their Chinese roots, culture, and heritage and are more than willing to share it with foreigners.

What are the positive and negative aspects of living in China?

China can seem like home and like another world at the same time. Some of the biggest differences that jumped out at me upon arrival are: the driving rules (pedestrians beware!!), social norms, and of course the work environment.

Coming from another culture it can be hard to figure out how to accomplish basic needs without help. Where to buy necessities, how to pay bills and navigate the banking system are all situations one must tackle.  Also specific to China is the Internet censorship.  Due to government regulations, many Western websites are inaccessible from China, including news site from back home and most social media.  Of course China has its own versions of all these, but if like me, you are still in the infant stages of learning Chinese characters, they don’t do you much good.

All that being said, there are so many positive aspects to living in China including lower cost of living, wonderful public transportation, and great personal development are all individual advantages to consider, not to mention, the welcoming atmosphere, exciting festivals, and all the wonderful food! Living abroad is really only half the fun, the other half is teaching.

What advice can you give to new teachers interested in teaching in China?

I recommend purchasing a reliable VPN before arriving in China to avoid the hassle.  If you’re hesitant to spend the money I would say bite the bullet and do it. There is no replacement for chatting with a family member back home when you’re home sick. Culture shock can hit hard some days and it takes some getting used to, but the reward of living in a different country offers more than it takes.

I work at a language school, which means evening and weekend hours with days off during the week, which works well for me as it gives me time during the days to do things like take Mandarin courses and explore the city. My students are anywhere from four to twelve years old and have a wide range of levels. I teach two to four classes per day plus office hours, which from talking to other foreign teachers in Tianjin, seems pretty normal.

Can you tell us about a particularly powerful moment in your classroom?

Madison MacNichol

Of course there are always difficult students or classes but to be perfectly honest, the good days stick out more than the bad. A few weeks ago I was teaching colors to a class of five year olds, and for the last 15 minutes of the lesson I had prepared a color by numbers worksheet.  When it came time to color they were very excited and were quick to help each other choose the right color for each number according to my instructions.

It made me so happy to see how excited they were! It made me feel like a good teacher and blessed to have such good students. The classroom reminded me of a busy little beehive! They were all so busy working away, we ran 5 minutes over our class time after which one of the girls gave me her completed worksheet and said I could have it because maybe my new house needed some pictures!

I now have a color by numbers Hello Kitty picture hung up on my living room cork board to remind me that although teaching children can be tedious at times, some days are just plain great.

Have you had the opportunity to travel much in China or in Asia?

Besides teaching and living, there is the exploration aspect to consider. Few things in life offer as much joy as going somewhere one has never been before. Tianjin is in the Northern region of China sandwiched between Beijing and the coast.  It is a smaller city by China standards, but it’s accessibility and laid-back atmosphere are right up my alley.

So far I haven’t had the opportunity to do much traveling as I am still getting to know my own city, but many places are piling up on my list to see. The Great Wall is only a 30-minute train ride away along with Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, the beach and a number of other things I haven’t gotten to yet. Patience. All in it’s own time right?!

Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about?

If you are interested in seeing those places when I get around to visiting them, I keep a blog which I update about every 10 days or so with photos and videos of my foreign adventure, you can explore that here.

Feel free to comment with any questions, as I would be happy to help! I believe this is a great experience and would love to share it and encourage those who are considering adding it into their own life paths.

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