International Educator Interviews: Andrew in Hong Kong

For this week’s International Educator Interview, I bring you Andrew who is currently teaching in Hong Kong. Andrew and I briefly taught together in Brooklyn before parting ways on our own international adventures, he to China and me to Beirut. Read on to hear Andrew’s take on life as an international educator.

Where are you now and what are you currently teaching?

I am teaching 4th grade at ISF Academy in Hong Kong. I have been here for two years and have just signed up for another two-year contract.

ISF Academy is a Putonghua (Mandarin) and English bilingual school.  4th grade students spend half of their day in English and half in Putonghua. In the early primary grades it is a 70/30 split for Putonghua and in secondary it is 70/30 for English as the students enter into MYP (Middle Years Program) and DP (Diploma Program).

Is this your first international post or is this one in a string of many international posts for you?

This is my second international school posting. My first job out of Brooklyn was in Chengdu, China teaching grades 3-5 in a brand new school. I do not know what the future holds, but I might try a new country/location after this next contract.

What made you decide to teach internationally?

I had experience traveling both domestically and internationally from fencing when I was younger and wanted to start traveling again. This is the best way because I get paid well and have lots of holidays where I can explore new people, places, and food! Also, my school in Brooklyn was extremely poorly run and I now work in an environment that is very professional where I am learning from some wonderful educators.

Sri LankaWorld’s End, Sri Lanka (Andrew on the far right)

What’s challenging about teaching at a new school in a new country?

For me, the challenge is getting used to a new school, a new educational system, and, at least in China, a massive language barrier. However, if you find a school that has similar beliefs and ideas about education as you do, there aren’t as many challenges. The biggest challenges are usually living-based as opposed to school-based.

How is teaching internationally different from teaching in your home country?

Teaching internationally has been completely different for me. In Asia education is valued and teachers are treated with respect and appreciation. In Brooklyn, this was not the case. In China, my students were from all over the world due to their parents moving around with their jobs. In Hong Kong the kids are mostly local, affluent kids with some expats sprinkled in. In Brooklyn, I was working with immigrant students living mostly in poverty. The other major difference is that there are no high-stakes tests at the end of the year and I have found my schools to be better funded with professional development, technology, and books than the schools back home.

What’s it like living in Hong Kong? What’s your favorite thing about being an expat there?

Hong Kong is an amazingly vibrant city. It calls itself Asia’s World City, and for good reason. Life here is easy and extremely fun. To start, while Cantonese is the main language, most everyone has at least a working ability to use English. Signs are always in English and all government and bank operations are done in English. This is vastly easier than living in China, where everything had to be done in Putonghua. There are activities for all walks of life here and the social scene is extremely active. Hong Kong has great restaurants and night life, both high-end and local. It also has amazing hiking, beaches, and culture and history.

Hong Kong TerritoriesNew Territories, Hong Kong

What is a myth about your adopted country?

The biggest myth about Hong Kong is probably that it is part of China and run by triads. Hong Kong, while officially under Chinese authority is a Special Administrative Region, like Macau. Due to this, you have to show a passport to move between Hong Kong and Mainland China, and more importantly, locals go out of their way to differentiate themselves from Mainlanders. The triads thing is funny because every single Hollywood movie that takes place in Hong Kong has to do with triads and organized crime. It would seem that this is some wild west place that is dangerous to live in when in reality you never see any crime and it is very safe.

How do you spend your holidays? How often do you visit home?

I usually visit home once a year in the summer because then I can make it a longer trip. However, this year I am going to Italy in the summer, so I will be returning home for Christmas for the first time since 2009. When I have a holiday, I usually travel around the region, although I am starting to venture a little farther since Hong Kong has more direct flights.

When I first moved to Chengdu, I had all these visions of places around Asia I wanted to travel to and quickly learned that there were a ton of amazing places within China I had never heard of. Many of my best trips have been to places in China because of the unique challenge of the trips. Some of the places I went in China include Beijing, Shanghai, Tibet, Xian, Hangzhou, Huangshan, Yunnan Province (LIjiang, Dali, Shangri-La, Deqin), Guangxi Province (Guilin, Dazhai and Yangshuo), Hunan Province (Zhangjiajie and Dehang) and of course Sichuan Province (Jiuzhaigou, Leshan, Chengdu). The great thing about Asia is there are so many wonderful places to go with such variety. I have also traveled all around Southeast Asia, but there is just so much more to explore! I have been to Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Taiwan, Philippines, Bali, Malaysia, South Korea, Sri Lanka, and Australia. As you can see, when I have a holiday I am immediately off and return back only the night before school starts again!

When you are looking for a new job, what do you personally look for in a school and country? Has that changed from when you first started teaching?

For me, I personally look for where the school is first. I wanted to live in Hong Kong because I had some friends already here and I loved the city when I visited. After that, I want to make sure that I agree with the ethos of the school. The problem here is that I do not have official experience in PYP (Primary Years Program) and in Asia PYP schools often do not even want to interview if you don’t already have the experience.

How do you go about making a new place your own? (That is, both your new accommodation and your new country.)

I am not one to worry much about my apartment as far as decorations, but as for the city/country, I like to get acclimated into the social scene through soccer. This is a great way to meet people as well as stay fit. As I said, I already had friends in Hong Kong, so this process was much easier than in Chengdu where I knew no one. Often, international teachers stay within their own communities of colleagues and I try to branch out as much as possible so that I am not reliant just on the same people from work. This was important in Chengdu, but in Hong Kong, I am good friends with many colleagues as the school is much larger.

ChinaHuanglong, Sichuan Province, China

How do you know when it’s time to leave?

I know it is time to go when I am starting to get tired of the place. Chengdu was a very small expat community in a massive city and I was ready for the repetitive life to end. Hong Kong has so much to offer that I am still exploring new places and am excited about another two years.

What has been your favorite teaching position/location thus far? Is there anywhere you are hoping to land a position in the future?

Hong Kong for the all around, but the experience of moving to Chengdu was very much an experience I needed and enjoyed. I learned a lot about myself doing solo travel for the first time, learning a new language in a sink or swim way, and meeting amazing people. Hong Kong feels like less of a challenge because of the lack of language barrier and the amenities the city has to offer. That being said, I love the city and am not looking to move anytime soon.

What tips or advice would you give to others thinking about making the leap to a career in international teaching?

It is the best decision I have ever made and I would say you need to make sure you can handle being away from home and friends for an extended period of time. Living abroad teaches you about yourself, your values, and you really narrow down who is important in your life. These are the people you make time for when you return home and calculate time zones to talk to on Skype. Finally, make sure the school is the right fit for you because while I love it, I have met people who are not loving their situations and that can be handled with more research into a school and place.

Find the full series of Interviews with International Educators here.

If you are an international educator and you would like to be featured on The Present Perfect, contact me at thepresentperfectblog {at} gmail {dot} com.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: