I remember vividly having the conversation with my parents. “You what? You want to go where?” I had just told them of my intentions of taking a year off between high school and college to travel and teach in China. To put it mildly, they were not very excited about the idea. I had recently gotten into Brown University and my parents wanted me to get started right away. I had different plans. Something told me that spending some time abroad was the right thing for me to do. It took a lot of persuading to get my parents to let me come to China, but come I did. Since August 2015, I have been teaching English, studying Chinese and travelling around China and Southeast Asia.
My name is Julian De Georgia and I’m currently an English teacher at the Hebei International School in Shijiazhuang. My story is a bit different than those of most of the other foreign teachers at my school. Most of the others recently graduated from college. However, I’ve only recently graduated from high school. It was tremendously challenging for me to come here and to start teaching, but overall it has been an overwhelmingly positive experience and I’m extremely happy that I came.
The reasons that I decided to take this gap year instead of going straight to college are complex. The main reason is that I love to travel and explore new cultures. I lived in Berlin, Germany for a year when I was 16 and loved being in a place that was so different from my home in the US. I decided then that I wanted to find another country even more different culturally than what I was used to, and spend some time there. For Americans, China is the craziest and most unfamiliar place on the planet. The more I learned about how different it is, the more China appealed to me. Coupled with my interest in learning Chinese, this was enough to convince me to take a leap of faith and board a flight to Beijing.
At the Hebei International School, I teach four Junior Two classes, tutor two groups of younger children and teach two SAT classes per week. In addition, I have three to four hours of Chinese lessons each morning. That keeps me relatively busy. In my spare time, I like to read on my kindle (an electronic book, or e-book), write about my experiences here, play the guitar and go running.
Because I did very well on my SAT test, I was asked to teach a class twice a week for the students who want to study abroad. The SAT test is the exam that all students must take in order to apply for American colleges. If you do very well on this test, it will help you greatly in getting into good schools. I was very happy to teach the class because I enjoy helping others, especially older students, learn and improve! The two best ways to study for the test are to learn certain strategies that can be used to help you, and to practice taking the test. So, that is what I have been doing with my class every Monday and Thursday night.
Typically, I either print out sections of the SAT test for the students so that they can underline things and take notes, or I use the computer screen in the classroom to show the material. Together, the class and I go through the questions one by one talking about them and discussing why answer choices could be right or wrong.
When you’re studying for the SAT, it’s very important to get used to the way that the test is written and what kinds of answer choices are right and wrong. Often times, questions are written to try to trick you into choosing a wrong answer. If you have practiced the test for a long time, you will not be fooled by these choices and your score will be much higher. That’s why practicing questions over and over again, as we do in my class, helps you improve your score.
There are also certain types of questions that appear on almost every version of the SAT. For example, there is always a question that tests whether you know how to use semicolons (;) and colons (:). There are very simple rules that you can learn to tell when you should use which ones. After I taught these to the class, the students all started to get those questions correct. It is very rewarding for me to see the students improve their scores over time! That’s the best part about teaching.
Overall, my time here in Shijiazhuang has flown by; it’s hard to believe that the year is nearly over. When I return home to the US, I will remember fondly the city, all of my wonderful students, and the school. I am extremely grateful to the Hebei International School for inviting me to teach for the year and thank them for their kindness and help since I arrived. I hope that in the future, other foreigners will have the opportunity to come to Shijiazhuang and gain what I did: an unforgettable experience that will stay with me for a lifetime.