The Arvesen’s Move to the Middle Kingdom

A snapshot of an ordinary teaching couple living and teaching for eight years in China

“Are you crazy? Have you lost your mind?”

Those were the two questions I first asked my husband when he brought up the idea of teaching abroad in 2011. At that time, we were both public school teachers in central Florida, U.S.A. The pay was terrible, but I truly enjoyed the Florida lifestyle. We lived in a small city outside of Orlando. It was the type of community where people were friendly and proud of displaying genuine southern hospitality. After living in the New York metropolitan area for 26 years, I embraced this small city and fell in love with the warm climate, people, and the community. I was not ready to leave when he first brought up the idea of moving to China.

My husband calmly sat down next to me and began to list his rational reasons as to why our time to travel abroad was now and not during our retirement like I was looking forward to someday in the very distant future:

  1. “Our time to go is now. Who knows what type of physical and medical shape we will be in when we are old enough to retire.” As he said this, I pictured my elderly mother-in-law, who is a prisoner in her own body due to severe rheumatoid arthritis.
  2. “Vincent is independent now.” His college-aged son from a previous relationship just started his first year away at college in Georgia. I was concerned about my stepson, but my husband reassured me that he was more than capable of being independent and taking care of himself.
  3. “Your mom is in excellent health.” My husband was right. My mother was still working and keeping herself very active in her neighborhood, and my older brother and sister-in-law were nearby in case something may happen.

I was still skeptical, but I relaxed a little by telling myself that this was only a pipedream, but it wasn’t until the end of the school year that I was ready to make a change. I was scared, but nothing great ever comes from staying in one’s comfort zone. I was afraid of the unknown, but I was excited about the new adventures that would lie ahead in the future. My husband and I have always loved to travel, but on our teaching salaries, we couldn’t afford it. My husband came up with the idea of teaching our way around the world, and I’m happy to say that I have embraced his vision, and my life will never be the same again.

How has my life changed?

In the past eight years, my husband and I have saved up enough of our money to purchase the house we were renting in central Florida. We often travel to many foreign countries during our school breaks. Since we are in China, it is convenient and economical to travel to other countries in Europe and Asia. Since 2012 we have been to over 16 different countries and counting, and we have done extensive traveling around China.

Do I miss my family and friends in the United States? Yes, I miss them, but many international schools will pay to fly teachers round trip to their home country and back to China at least once a year. I like to do this during the summer; that way I have more time to visit friends and family in the New York metropolitan area, and of course, my second hometown in central Florida. It is essential to save your travel itinerary and plane ticket subs for reimbursement in the fall when we return to school.

Many international schools will even pay teachers housing costs during their teaching contracts. Most apartments in China come fully furnished, and all of the apartments I have lived in on school campuses are spacious and beautiful. At present, I am at BASIS International School Park Lane Harbour. My husband and I are living for free in a beautiful, fully furnished three bedrooms, two full bathroom apartment that overlooks the mountains and the South China Sea in a quiet, beach resort community just over an hour drive from the city of Shenzhen.

“What is it like teaching in China? What are the students like?”

I get asked that question all the time by my friends and former coworkers back home. Teaching in international schools in China is just like teaching at a public school in America. All the schools require the teachers to hold teaching certifications in the subjects they are teaching and have at least a bachelor’s degree from a four-year university. Advanced degrees and ample years of teaching experience are preferred.

The students are just like American children. I tell my friends, family, and former coworkers the same thing, “The students are all interested in the same thing in class, which is to see what they can get away with instead of doing their work.” Many times both in America and in China, I have seen students trying to draw pictures, read comic books, play with cell phones, or trying to listen to music or play games during class lessons. There are a few differences. The first difference is that the students’ parents are very involved and supportive of their children’s educations. If I need to get in touch with a parent, I have found all my parents to be incredibly supportive and actively involved in the education of their children. The second difference is that the general public as a whole respects teachers and the work which we do daily. We know educators are busy attending workshops and in-services to keep our teaching licenses current. If you plan to teach anywhere in the world, you must hold a current teaching license, and attendance and participation at workshops and in-services are vital.

I’m glad I took a risk and came over and tried teaching in China for a year. I loved living in China so much that I gave up a fully tenured teaching position in the state of Florida to work in China. That was eight years ago. This experience has taught me that I’m a lot stronger that I initially thought and that my husband was right. I didn’t tell him that I wish I waited another 20 years to see the Bund of Shanghai’s skyscrapers lit up at night.

the bund in Shanghai

Danielle Arvesen teaches English at BASIS International School Park Lane Harbour. Read her husband’s, English teacher Andrew Arvesen, account of their decision to teach abroad in this post.

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