Why teach English in the Far East?

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If you find yourself at the crossroad between teaching in Southeast Asia specifically and some other career path, this blog post is for you. It gives clarity on the question of what makes teaching in the Far East such a special and rewarding act and what you can expect to gain out of it.

“How did your passion and enthusiasm for teaching come about?” is the question that most frequently pops up during my interviews for teaching positions. In brief, teaching evolved into my passion after spending a few years in the advertising industry when I was suddenly struck by the feeling that I had to go out there and venture on a more meaningful and impactful journey. My experience in the creative industries sector helped me clarify my professional goals in terms of devoting my critical and creative energies towards creating positive change in the lives of others. Surely, I am not Mother Teresa nor a saint so I hope this statement does not make me come across as the ultimate altruist in a world of villains. My decision has nothing to do with the world outside of me but instead it could be seen as the by-product of some sort of spiritual growth or awakening. I came to the realization that working in front of the computer is the passive way of living, while travelling and working with children, thereby seeing the world through their eyes, constitute the way of being.

Familiar with the West, I decided to embark on a voyage into the unknown and to take part as a volunteer, through the European Voluntary Service, in a social program aimed at encouraging children in rural areas of Indonesia to learn foreign languages and continue their studies after completing primary education. The experience revealed to me how gratifying it is to impart children with the skills and knowledge needed to develop their potential while at the same time having fun and being genuinely joyful. It also made me virtually fall in love with the Indonesian children who, to my astonishment, excel over their Western counterparts in morals and manners. Indonesian, and presumably many other Asian kids, are culturally conditioned to be polite, humble, modest, well-mannered, respectful, and open to learning about the world as testified by the following Letter of Reference:

Due to the strong Eastern values, teaching Asian pupils in particular is one of the most enjoyable and rewarding career experiences. Eastern cultures place high value on family ties, respect for the elderly, communal bonds, social connectedness, and harmony. Because of the strong value system, teaching in this context takes place considerably more smoothly and effectively thanks to students’ calm and friendly classroom demeanor and attentiveness to the teacher. These values significantly facilitate the establishment of a positive and collaborative learning environment.

Early on in my voluntary experience as an educator, I came to the realization that in the process of giving knowledge to children, I could empower them to make their own lives and the lives of others better. Meanwhile, what I was gaining from this interaction was a myriad of valuable lessons about living and loving. As a result, I decided to apply for a professional teaching experience in a school where I could really make a difference in the lives of children. That is how I ended up joining the community of a reputable International Baccalaureate school in Jakarta where in the course of two years, I was trained and practiced the delivery of inquiry-based, trans-disciplinary instruction.

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I want to mention that when I talk about teaching I refer not only to students’ English language proficiency (comprehension, fluency, and vocabulary skills) and their acquisition of the universal language but to developing the children as a whole in order to function successfully in school and within their community and to become prepared for the ever-globalizing world. Academic excellence or cognitive development represents just a portion of my teaching approach which I will talk about in depth later on.

It does come as a surprise to see me teaching English to young learners after graduating from Daniels College of Business, University of Denver in 2010 with the distinction of Magna Cum Laude gaining a Bachelor of Science degree in Marketing. To spicy it up even further, my background and experience in business unlocked for me the unparalleled opportunity of being appointed the General Manager of the world’s leader in children’s edutainment, KidZania Jakarta, at the meager age of 28.

I spent a whole year overseeing the company and making sure that the activities are educational enough and deliver value to visitors. This further helped me understand the theory and practice behind the immersive, experiential approach to learning. After one year, however, I was ready and happy to go back to teaching as I wanted to work directly with the children and see the effect of my efforts fist-hand.

So, here I am, early morning, opting for entering the classroom, instead of the office, filled with the strong conviction that one simple daily lesson could spark the dream of a single child and thus serve as a catalyst for meaningful change. I traded off my four-year bachelors degree and my high status to make sure that what I do today will have a long-lasting, positive impact on the lives of my students and on the communities and the environment they live in. Teachers of Asian pupils, who teach within the strong cultural and religious framework of care, compassion, and charity, are blessed to know that their work has a ripple effect much broader than simply imparting children with knowledge. Because nothing beats that moment you hear one of your fourth graders say ” Miss, do you remember when we donated our artwork to the students of the national school three years ago?” and when you receive the ultimate confirmation that your lesson has indeed touched the hearts and minds of these children.

Teaching is an astonishing process of filling our lives with meaning. It helps us shift the focus from ourselves and place it on one larger vision around which to orient our lives. Not only that it gives our lives direction and meaning but it helps recover the mindfulness we have lost in the clutter of our daily lives. Kids wake us up to the reality of mindful living by consciously engaging in the here-and-now and by questioning and inquiring rather than taking things for granted and sleepwalking through our lives. Kids help us restore our sense of wonder and rediscover the world with new eyes. We start looking at the ordinary and mundane things with fascination and delight. Kids make us smile, laugh, enjoy, and feel connected. They make us feel alive. Working with kids necessitates getting down to their level and dialing up our empathy and awareness. It means breaking down reality to simple components, imagining and then re-enacting the experience, with its accompanying enjoyment, of discovering things for the first time.

In the course of teaching, educators become not only more mindful but also more reflective in terms of the effectiveness and impact of their efforts. A classroom full of inattentive students does not necessarily signify the presence of an ineffective teacher or special needs students but the possibility of a poorly planned lesson. And through this constant cycle of questioning, reflecting, and reintegrating insights, teachers get the privilege to be present in the moment while investing into the future.

If you share my pronounced tendency towards “off the beaten track” experiences, go exotic with your teaching abroad experience and opt for Indonesia. On the other hand, if you want to play it safe, I invite you to go through the exciting stories of fellow teachers who share their experiences across other destinations in Asia, like Thailand, China, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan where teaching English as a second language could be equally thrilling,

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