Interview with Alan Tomko: Teacher in ChinaBy Jennifer Collis
May 10, 2016
Alan Tomko is a BridgeTEFL graduate who went on to teach in China, where he is currently living. He shared some of his interesting experiences there, including making friends with the help of translation software and the feeling of being treated like a local celebrity in everyday life!
When did you arrive in China and how long have you taught there?
I first taught in China for 5 weeks in July and August of 2015. Then I was back in the US until Jan 2, 2016, when I returned again to China.
Where are you currently teaching?
I am in a city called Liaoyang. It’s about 500 miles NE of Beijing. I am in a part of China that has no tourists. I am the only non-Chinese I have seen since Jan. 2nd! That is nice though because I am treated like a celebrity. People want their pictures with me–taxi drivers, the local laundry and people on the street!
Can you tell us about your teaching job?
I have been giving private classes in my apartment to a group of high school graduates and a group of 8th graders. I also got a part-time job at a private school, coaching students on the IELTS (English proficiency) exam. As part of the coaching sessions, I do two-hour practice interviews for the speaking part of the exam!
Most recently, I got a part-time job teaching kindergarten. It is the hardest job I have ever had, but it is good for me, and fun too.
What do you love about China?
It is so cheap to live here. That’s the best part. And I am treated with great respect. There are only 5,000 native English-speaking teachers in all of China. And there are millions of students.
Is it hard not knowing the language?
You do have to get used to being in a lot of social situations, where a lot of time passes, and a lot of conversations are going, and you have no idea what anyone is talking about. There’s almost always food involved, so I just concentrate on enjoying my food, and smiling a lot.
One other funny thing is if you learn to say “Hello, how are you doing?” which is phonetically (knee how), and also “thank you” (she a she a), people are so amused to hear a foreign person speaking Chinese. They laugh, and it really goes a long way to making them feel comfortable.
Can you tell us about a memorable experience you have had in China?
It is very easy for an American to make friends here. Everyone wants to know you. For example, one evening I was walking along a street market that pops up every night at 5 PM in front of a Tesco (that is the British version of Costco). There was one vendor selling beer. I said via translation software that I would buy a beer if I could sit down and drink it. He found a chair for me, and we had a great one-and-a-half-hour conversation, and then he gave me my money back and gave me a few more beers for free! That kind of thing happens all the time. We are now WeChat friends, which is an app all Chinese people use to communicate with each other. WeChat has the best features of email and phone text messaging combined. Americans would love it if they tried it.
What advice do you have for potential teachers in China?
I would encourage your TEFL grads to apply here, or in Shenyang, or Harbin. All of China is good though. Beijing and Shanghai are very good cities, too.
What are your plans after China?
I return to America the last week in June with my Chinese fiancé! I am also hoping to publish a book on Amazon eBooks that is a compilation of my email observations and photos sent to about 25 friends in America. The working title is, ”The China That Americans Don’t Know.” I am getting a lot of positive feedback on it so far.
Congratulations on both! How did you meet your fiancé?
I have had a very good friend in America for 16 Years. I gave her a part-time job for a year when she first came to America. We have remained friends. My fiancé is her cousin.