Haley Williams, Teaching English In Shanghai, China

Reach To Teach is back again with another teacher interview for our readers. This time we spoke to Haley Williams who is currently teaching young children in Shanghai, China with her boyfriend. She made the incredible leap from the vast expanses of Alaska to the big city life of Shanghai. Below is her story. 

1. Please tell us a little about yourself. 

slideMy name is Haley and I am teaching English in Shanghai to tiny and incredibly cute Chinese children. Before moving to China, I lived and studied earth science in Alaska. I love being outdoors, especially in the mountains, and I love to travel.

2. How have you enjoyed teaching in Shanghai to date? 

When I first came to Shanghai I got the obligatory, “Oh no, what have I gotten myself into” feeling. I have to admit, teaching young children was scary at first, but I have since shed that nervousness and now really enjoy it. It allows me to let me be the goofy self that I keep hidden from the world. Where else could I jump around singing about hamburgers and bananas?

3. What advice can you give to new teachers interested in teaching in Shanghai?

If you’re nervous about teaching in Shanghai, don’t worry too much! You’ll quickly learn the ropes once you’re here and develop a daily routine. (For instance, I now know where to get the best coffee! And that’s important.)

I’ve written about what life was like my first scary yet comical day in China. If you want to know what it’s like being a Westerner walking around China for the first time, check it out here.

You’ll need to pack a little extra patience with you when you make the journey to Shanghai, especially if you don’t speak Chinese. It’s a different culture with a different style of living, and it takes some getting used to. No matter what, always remember that you are a guest in a foreign country, so be respectful.

Living is cheap (compared to the US) especially if you abandon some Western habits. I see a lot of people spend most of their earnings on nights out at the bar. If you need a night out, by all means don’t let me stop you, but be conscious of how many nights out you take. You’ll find yourself with more money in the long run and be able to travel around Southeast Asia. I’d rather sit on a beach in Vietnam with my extra earnings than blow it all on Chinese beer at a pub.

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

kidsVery recently I finished up a class with 21 students all around 7 and 8 years old. As I was cleaning up and passing back their books, I heard a few of the kids singing, “There was a farmer had a dog and Bingo was his name-o! B-I-N-G-O…” you know how it goes. Well I started to sing along as I packed up my markers and before I knew it, all the kids joined in. I was smiling and waving my arms like a conductor as they giggled and sang.

The fact that I could connect with these kids by singing a song that I myself grew up singing made me smile. It honestly felt like a scene straight from some movie. I was half expecting us to all start performing some choreographed dance to go with the song.

5. What are the positive and negative aspects of living in Shanghai?

I’m going to be honest with you. I have a love/hate relationship with Shanghai. Some days, I watch the sunset reflect in the countless windows of the tall skyscrapers of Pudong and think, “Wow. I’m in China. How cool!” Then I have days where the stress of living in a big city gets to me.

But I attribute my bad days to typical big city happenings that I’m just not used to. I come from Alaska where the moose outnumber the people. If I so desired, I could walk into the Alaskan mountains and not encounter another human for hundreds of miles. So I enjoy large expanses of open wilderness and alone time. Therefore, Shanghai can leave me feeling a bit claustrophobic.

I’ve written about specific experiences I’ve had on my website, so if you’re inclined to know more about what daily life is like here, feel free to explore what I’ve written, you can find a link to my blog at the end of this interview.

BUT, if you enjoy the big city life, then Shanghai is right up your alley. There’s a unique twist to living here as well. You’ll see things on the sidewalk that you would never see on the streets of Chicago or New York. For example, I see old women selling turtles outside my school and butchering bull frogs for some eagerly awaiting customers. Try finding that on the sidewalks of LA.

The pollution is something I also think you should consider. Chinese smog is not a myth, it’s very real. Some days you don’t notice it, but other days you find yourself coughing constantly. I get sick a lot more in China, and it’s usually something having to do with my lungs.

6. Have you had the opportunity to travel much in Shanghai or in China? If yes, where? 

Shanghai Skyline from the BundShanghai is an enormous, sprawling city. Some days I find myself jumping off the metro at some random station, just because. I think that’s one of the best ways to explore Shanghai yourself. Once you pop out of the metro station, you never know what you’ll find!

I’ve traveled quite a bit outside Shanghai. There are beautiful rural areas only a few hours outside the city. It’s nice to be able to escape the rush of the city and just hike in the mountains. I’ve been on multi-day trips to Qingling Mountain in Zhejiang province, as well as on a hiking trip to some beautiful hot springs in Ninghai (also in Zhejiang). I’ve been to Anhui province and hiked Longxu mountain and visited several local villages nestled in the beautiful mountains.

I’ve taken a trip to Harbin, north of Beijing, to see the Harbin Ice Festival. The first day there, we stayed in a village 5 hours from the city. We stayed in a guesthouse where the beds were heated by fire from underneath. The beds were huge and made of brick, but layers of warm quilts made that one of the most restful nights of sleep I ever had. You can see some photos of my trips here.

I’m constantly working on getting photos out there, so there’s going to be plenty more where these came from!

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

My pre-conceived notions of China were very wrong. As a child growing up in America, I was fed negative snippets of Chinese life and politics through the media. To tell you the truth, I feel safer in Shanghai than I have ever felt in any city in the US. I take my dog for walks late at night, and I don’t think twice about it. Sure, you may have to keep a watchful eye out for scooters or taxis when you’re crossing streets, but that’s about it.

It’s not easy to uproot and replant yourself in China. If it was easy, everyone would do it! But whatever fears you may have or struggles you may face when you get here, it’s worth it! I would much rather sit down at the end of the day knowing that I am doing something with my life, even if it’s challenging. But challenges make life more interesting, so don’t be afraid to take a risk!

8. Do you have any favorite blogs or websites about Shanghai that you’d like to share with our readers?

One website that helped me a lot is Smart Shanghai. You can find out what’s happening in the city, like concerts and events. It’s also really helpful to use when you’re looking for an apartment. That’s how I contacted my landlord and got my awesome little apartment. They also provide addresses in Chinese if you need to show a taxi driver, and that has come in handy a lot. Feel free to check out my blog here.

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