14 Aug 2022

From Callan to China - we're all together in challenging times

Philip Bryan on teaching in China and how the world has changed in the wake of Covid-19

Kilkenny Kilkenny Kilkenny

Callan man Philip Bryan teaching in China

My name is Philip Bryan. I am from Callan. I have been living and working as an English teacher in the city of Guiyang, Guizhou Province, China for almost four years now.

Sometimes I am asked “why did you go to China?”
It’s a long story. I was working as a gas station manager and I was under severe pressure and stress in my job. In May 2015, I went on a group trip to Jordan, where I met some fantastic and inspiring people who showed me that there was more to life than working Monday to Friday and that I could get a job abroad and see the world at the same time.

When I came back home to Ireland, I enrolled in an online TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) course and spent the evenings of the next eight months studying to become an English teacher.

When it came to think about where to go, I considered countries in the Middle East such as The Emirates, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Oman. The thought of going to China never crossed my mind. I had been to the Middle East and I was really impressed with the culture and way of life.

My plans changed a bit when I was applying for jobs out there. I discovered that people needed teaching experience to work as teachers in these countries, and many schools did not recognise and accept online teaching certificates.

Then I began thinking if I worked one year somewhere else, it could help me to get to Dubai in the future. China came up. I got a job teaching English in a training school to children and teenagers from three to 17 years of age.

I will admit that I was nervous about going out there. Here I was, about to go to China, a place that I thought I would never go to, strange food, and strange culture, and not knowing anyone out there, apart from the contact that gave me the job.
I experienced the biggest culture shock of my life when I came to Guiyang. Guiyang is a small city (a small city of seven million people!) in the south west of the country.

It took me a little while to adapt to the culture, the food, and the way of life here, but I adapted well to the spicy food, using chopsticks, and to the language.
I enjoyed teaching so much. My job entailed playing games with the kids, helping them to learn through play, to sitting down and having discussions on different topics with the teenagers.
Working with teenagers here was the most rewarding part of my job. I learned so much about being a student in China, and life in general.

Many people may not be aware of the pressure, stress, and workload that students face in school in China. From an early age they begin by going to kindergarten, taking math or English classes on weekends or in the evenings. This is the way for them for most of their school lives.
While in middle and high school (secondary) they spend their weekends going to different training schools for extra classes to help them get their grades. There is a lot of pressure on students to get the best GaoKao exam (their equivalent of the Leaving Certificate).

Students’ school days begin around 7am. Classes begin around 7.40am and finish at 5.40pm. Then, after dinner, they must complete their evening study from 7 to 10pm.
After spending three years in this training school I decided that I wanted a change. I wanted to try a different school and have time to pursue my other interests.

In September 2019, I began working at the No. 1 High school of Guiyang. I did not realise that this school is the best school in the province of Guizhou and one of the best schools in China. Here I teach speaking English and PE class to different grades. There are over 5,400 students in this school.

So far, 2020 has been a most challenging and difficult year for everyone. I stopped teaching before Christmas 2019, and I had a two-month vacation for Chinese New Year. I went to Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Australia.

During this time, the Coronavirus broke out and ravaged China and I was not able to return on my planned date of February 10. Instead I went home to Ireland for a few weeks for safety reasons.
While home, the virus spread all over the world.
I missed Guiyang, my friends, my students, and my life. I decided that I wanted to go back to China.

I returned to Guiyang on March 2 and I had to complete a strict mandatory 14-day quarantine in my house in the school. After completing nucleic acid tests and CT scans, I was able to finally leave my house and go outside.

Fortunately the Guizhou Province was not affected seriously by the virus, there was only about 150 cases all over the province.
Now that I was free, I had to wear a facemask, undergo temperature checks and scan a health code everywhere I went. Even now though things are much safer and better here, I still have to abide by the rules and wear the mask everywhere I go.

Finally, on Monday, May 4, the students returned to school and I got back to work after being idle for over four months.
Now things are a little different here. My colleagues and some of my friends are still stuck abroad and they cannot come back due to travel restrictions. It is just me here from my school department. I am teaching so many classes and over 700 students. I am so happy to be back to work, back to a routine and some degree of normality.

The last few months took its toll on me mentally. Having all that free time led me to worry about my family, overthink and question a lot, but I am grateful for my family in Ireland, my close friends here in China and also that I could go to my friend’s gym to exercise as a means to help occupy my mind and help me through it.

Slowly but surely, life is returning to normal but it is going to take some time yet - even for Ireland. We must keep vigilant and cannot afford to take the foot off the gas with this virus. Better days are coming, we must stay safe and stay strong. We are all in this together.

Apart from working as a teacher in China, I have been blessed with so many opportunities to travel and see many interesting places in China.
I have made so many wonderful friends here in Guiyang and from around the world. Some of them have become family to me now.

The best is that one of my closest friends here is a fellow Kilkennyman, Billy Brennan from Castlecomer, who is a football coach here. We never knew each other before we came to Guiyang. It just goes to show how small China is - in fact, how small the world is!

I have also been fortunate enough to take part in different sporting events here such as Crossfit competitions and marathons, as well as teaching English to doctors and nurses at a hospital here. I have completed two certificates to become an international spinning coach, which I can teach here in gyms in Guiyang in both English and Chinese.

Reflecting on the last four years in China, I cannot believe sometimes that I am doing this, but it really was the best decision of my life.

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