Teaching English in China and Japan | An Interview with Terra Tice




Last time, I was fortuitous enough to be able to learn a lot about the lovely Adri Mendez, a young Costa Rican lady who is currently residing in Nairobi and Kenya.

Today, and I have the company of Terra Tice who hosts her website over at TraipsingTerra.com. Terra is originally from California, and has recent experience of working as a teacher of English in Yunnan, China, and in Japan.



Terra’s Blog at TraipsingTerra.com



So, sit back, relax, and enjoy what Terra has to share with us with respect to her experiences abroad:




  1. What made you want to teach English as a foreign or secondary language originally?


I learned early on that I really enjoyed traveling. So I started to figure out ways that would allow me to travel and work once I finished college. I have always enjoyed being around children, and had thought that I would really enjoy teaching, so why not teach and travel?




  1. What steps did you take to make that become a reality? Examples: Experience gained; your degree if you have one; did you also undertake a TEFL/TESOL/ some other form of language training certificate? Did you make any other preparations for life abroad?


During the final years of my bachelor’s degree, I volunteered in an after school literacy program to gain a little experience in the classroom. I studied geography in university, which allowed me to learn about the world both physically and culturally. Upon graduating I enrolled in a 120 hour online TEFL course while working and saving money to travel.

As for other preparations, I bought a backpack to carry my things in, worked on a resume, and made sure that I had all the documents I needed scanned into my computer for ease of applying for jobs.




  1. How did you feel when you first arrived at your new place of abode and work? Were you confident in your abilities or particularly hesitant (like I was)?


My first job was in Dali, Yunnan, China, and I was a bit nervous. My co-teacher picked my husband and I up and was a very quiet person. I too can be quite shy at first, so my husband was doing most of the talking on the ride to our hotel.

That job didn’t have accommodations, so I spent the first month searching for a place to live, which was incredibly difficult with the language barrier. I had a little help, but not much. We finally found a place and the landlord spoke English, which made things a bit easier.

My confidence in the classroom was a little shaky at first. My first class I taught too quickly because I was nervous, but as the day went on it got better. After the first week, I had gotten my rhythm, so didn’t have any problems there.







  1. Please feel free to relate to the readers any outstanding experiences during the time you have been teaching to date. For example, any major successes; any real embarrassing moments? And, how long were you teaching in China and Japan?


I was in China for a little under a year. I remember a moment about 3 months into living there when I had a “what the heck am I doing here” moment. I think it was because I felt lonely. Of course, I had my husband, but it was hard to make friends. I said hello and would talk to people a few times a week but hadn’t made a real friend.

But as time went on I made some friends who taught me a lot about Chinese culture and food. While teaching in China, the most shocking thing was how many kids were in each class. It was common to have at least 40 and maybe 50 kids per class. That made it a little challenging to engage every child.

I also remember the day there was an “earthquake drill”. It was total chaos. One moment I was entering the classroom, and the next kids and teachers were running through the hallways and down the stairs. We reached the bottom and at least half of the kids were crying, not understanding what had just happened.

Teaching the rest of the classes that day was a little difficult because the kids were still thinking about it.

I lived in Japan for just over a year, and really loved my life there from the beginning. My job was a lot more demanding, which wore on me a little, but I loved being able to form real connections with each of my students.

I was lucky in Japan because I instantly liked my co-workers, and since they had been teaching there for a few years they were able to teach me the ropes. That allowed me to feel very comfortable early on.

My life in Japan was a lot more social than when I lived in China. I often went out with large groups of co-workers and other people who lived nearby.

Even my job allowed for social occasions. My favorite social event with the school was the artistic performance. This happened right around Christmas and was a theatrical and musical performance by the students for their families. I had been working with the kids everyday for 4 months, practicing our version of Elves and the Shoemaker, and teaching them a song my co-teacher had translated from Japanese to English.

After working so hard, it felt great to watch the kids perform in front of their parents. My students were so excited to put costumes on and really did a great job. The whole day was so much fun because not only were the kids having a great time but the teachers were also able to interact with each other and the parents. All the teachers were dressed up too, which is always fun, and our boss took us out for a nice staff meal afterwards.




  1. If you wouldn’t mind sharing, approximately how much were you earning? No need to be exact, it’s just to give the readers some insight into what can be expected as a foreign teacher of English in individual countries.


In China I wasn’t making a lot, about $800 a month. That is low for China, but I wasn’t in Beijing, Shanghai, or any of the other larger cities where you can make closer to $2000 a month. My living expenses were quite low where I lived, so I lived comfortably, and was able to save a small amount.

In Japan I was making about $2000 a month. It’s also possible to make more in Japan, but that is an average. This allows you to save lots of money if you manage your money well.




  1. In what way do you feel the whole experience has helped you in life in general?


Well, aside from gaining valuable teaching experience, I feel I was able to learn a lot about two different cultures through immersion. I feel I have grown so much during my time teaching and traveling, both mentally and spiritually, allowing me to grow more as both a teacher and a person.


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