What words come to mind when you think of your first year teaching in a new country? Exciting, intriguing, scary, overwhelming, adventurous…and a myriad others.
Add to that the challenges of going abroad in the midst of a global pandemic, and you have a journey you will never forget, and stories you will never tire of telling.
In this series of posts, we are sharing insights and advice from several of our teachers who are concluding their first year teaching internationally. This post is from BASIS International School Hangzhou Physics teacher Dr. Chantal Rudman. Her journey teaching abroad has had its highs and lows, but the cherished memories (and fun lab experiments) will never be forgotten.
What influenced your decision to teach abroad? Why did you choose to teach in China?
I had the opportunity during my Ph.D. studies to visit and attend an international conference in 2011 in Wuhan, China. Experiencing the rich culture and the way that traditions were held in high regard was beautiful to see and inspired me to want to see more! Everything about the culture intrigued me, so I decided that I would like to return one day to immerse myself in what this country could offer. From 2011 my husband and I started planning how we would take this big step to be able to work and live in China!
What do you enjoy most about teaching internationally?
I think as a teacher our personalities naturally migrate to wanting to not only impart our knowledge but also learn as much as we can ourselves! An international experience is exactly that! With teachers from different cultures from all over the world, and teaching kids from a totally different culture, there is no better way to learn about the whole world around us. I love to see how different cultures do things, what their beliefs are, and how they approach things.
With the unique circumstances of going abroad during COVID-19, what type of support did you receive from BASIS International School Hangzhou that helped to ease this transition?
The experience I most appreciate was how BASIS approached the issue of teachers being stuck outside the country indefinitely. From the start it was made clear that we are an asset to the company. The teachers that were at the schools already had to take up many more responsibilities due to our absence, but at the same time it was absolutely awful to be outside not knowing when you would be able to get into China!
As a “newbie” to the BASIS International Schools family, I am grateful to our Head of School Alan Wilkinson and his team that kept the new teachers well informed. They were incredibly supportive and guided us during this difficult process. I cannot imagine how many confused emails they received from us daily, patiently answering them while they had to keep all the balls in the air due to the absences of so many teachers.
We were included in training activities as far as possible, and we had numerous online meetings and correspondence to support us during the beginning of the pandemic. Where possible we had side by side collaboration with our fellow teachers so that we were not left behind! I can still remember waking up at two in the morning in order to attend our “Summer Institute.” Interesting to say the least! 🙂
Of course it didn’t stop there. BASIS International School Hangzhou recognized already that we would still need financial support, and made the arrangements so that we were not destitute while waiting. I don’t know of any other school which took the risk in paying teachers that have never taught at their school. I will forever be grateful for the leap of faith made by BASIS at that time!
What has been the most challenging part of your first year teaching abroad? What has been the most rewarding?
Any teacher coming to China will tell you that daily living is totally different than in Western societies. The language barrier is always a challenge, and embracing it takes time when you learn a new language. The cashless society and the convenience of immediate doorstep delivery was certainly an eye opener and, sadly, Taobao has become a “too good” friend of mine. 🙂
However, on a more serious note…because of the paperwork delays I was able to get my visa before my husband in October 2020 when the consulates opened in South Africa for the first time after COVID-19. We decided it would be a good idea if I came ahead, with him following as soon as his paperwork was finished. Sadly, the COVID-19 situation in South Africa worsened again, and he was once again stuck there. I would be lying if I said that doing this adventure on your own is easy. The first few months were difficult as NOTHING was familiar. Having to take up the reigns in the middle of a school year where you have never taught at before had immense challenges. It was an emotional roller coaster for sure. I still get “shell shock” thinking about it.
But here I am, in one piece…made it through the year with experiences of teachers and students I adore. These are memories I will cherish for the rest of my life.
What did you learn this year that has helped to improve your teaching practice?
The parents and students at BASIS International School Hangzhou are driven to perform well. Parents are more involved in their children’s academic progress than what I have experienced before. As a teacher, it is nice to see how children and parents alike have full investment in their academic performance.
However, with this comes the expectation to always having to be on top of your game and focusing on the next academic objective. It is easy to forget that amidst these expectations that they are still only kids and the best way of learning is through playing!
Some of my best experiences this year were when we were able to perform labs on work we are covering. They loved it! You come to realize how important it is when they start to ask you “Dr. Chantal when are we doing our next lab?” with their eyes glittering with expectation! Secretly, I don’t know who enjoyed the labs the most, the kids or myself? We tried to do as many labs as possible this year, but I would say the winner was when students had to develop a “Self-Propelled Vehicle.” Grade 6, 7, and 8 Physics students took part and some amazing designs came out of this. The kids absolutely loved it!
When you came to China, what did you find pleasantly surprising that you didn’t expect?
I come from a country where I as a woman would not walk alone at night because of the high crime rate. Although I knew that China was a safe place before I came, it is a different thing from knowing the statistics and then living it. It is great to be able to walk where I want and when I want without having to be cautious the whole time. It feels like an absolute luxury and one of the things I enjoy most of China.
What advice would you give teachers who are considering going abroad?
Just do it. It is CRAZY at the beginning but one just needs to realize one must just embrace that EVERYTHING will be okay. Things many go wrong, but it will be OKAY. You will not regret it.
Dr. Chantal Rudman teaches Grade 8 Physics at BASIS International School Hangzhou. Originally from South Africa, the 2020 – 21 school year was her first time teaching abroad.
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Check out other posts in this series from English and History teachers at BASIS International School Guangzhou about their first year teaching abroad.