Hong Kong: The Expat Life – Part 1 (Teacher Training)

I realised that I’ve been teaching in Hong Kong for nearly 8 months now and yet I’ve never done a proper blog post about what my job entails and the pros/cons etc. Obviously teaching is a great gateway to travel and I feel like Hong Kong can often be overlooked by TEFL applicants in favour of cheaper, sunnier alternatives (looking at you Thailand). But Hong Kong is a great place to live and, if you can find a job which pays a relatively decent amount, you can live comfortably here and save up enough cash to travel.

In these blog posts I’ll hopefully try and paint an honest picture of what living and working in Hong Kong is like. For this part, I’ll talk about my initial return to Hong Kong as a new recruit (‘CNET’) for Chatteris Educational Foundation. In the next part, I’ll go into more detail about my role as a Native English Teacher then, finally, I’ll talk more generally about living in Hong Kong. Hopefully it’s of some use to people thinking about making the big move to this city.

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Home Sweet Home

For me, teaching wasn’t a vocation like it is for so many teachers. I would never teach in the UK (I remember my school days far too vividly to do that) but in Asia or elsewhere, teaching English is an incredibly easy way to get into a whole host of exciting countries. People I’ve met whilst travelling are teaching in places as diverse as Vietnam, Singapore, Bolivia, South Korea and Iraq to name a few. After I graduated, I knew I didn’t want to do Law, at least not for now, so when I saw the job opportunity with Chatteris in Hong Kong, a city that I already knew and loved, I decided to take a punt and see if teaching was for me.

Chatteris is very much an entry-level organisation for aspiring teachers. An NGO which has been around for 20+ years (and certainly feels like it at times), Chatteris’ appeal is the ease at which you can apply and get a teaching post. They don’t require a TEFL, just a university degree in any subject and a clean police record. You don’t even have to be a native English speaker, as long as you ‘possess excellent English language competency’.

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Chatteris Educational Foundation, my current employer

I had two Skype interviews from the UK last year and found out almost instantly that I had been accepted. Others I now work with applied mere weeks or even days before they flew out to Hong Kong. Perhaps things will change, but I think you would literally have to be drowning kittens during the interview to be turned down by Chatteris as things stand.

Chatteris sponsors your visa but require a HK$2000 deposit to do so, which is paid back once your contract is complete. The contract runs from August to the end of May of the following year. They were pretty decent in terms of setting things up. Their website is clear about your salary (a paltry HK$14000 a month) and other stats/facts, such as the amount of money you need to bring with you (a fair amount as it happens). This certainly put my mind at ease when applying for my first job abroad.

The set-up of Chatteris, as I understood it, was that they have three streams: primary, secondary and post-secondary (where I now work) and you could be placed in any one of these streams depending on your preference and availability.

I flew out in early August last year, sporting an epic hangover from my brother’s wedding the day before which meant I arrived in Hong Kong later than my colleagues. I was met at the airport by a senior CNET, immediately whisked to a lavish dim sum meal and was thrown into a pretty intense and hectic orientation. I was so glad I was already familiar with Hong Kong or the orientation would have been much more bruising than it was.

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The view from Mt. Davis Hostel. Quite possibly the only thing I liked about that place.

The orientation involves basically having to make huge life decisions in an insanely short period of time. Within a week or two, you have to live in a cramped hostel in the middle of nowhere (but paid for by Chatteris and with cracking views), you’re expected to know which of the 70-odd strangers you’ve barely spoken to you want to live with for a year; you have to passionately suggest what sort of school you’d like to teach in, despite never having seen a Hong Kong school before and, just to top it off, you’re working (sorry, ‘training‘) for no pay throughout August.

It’s all very fast-moving. Even once I had forced myself to make the awkward flatmate conversations, most of my time was spent (immediately after training) traipsing round flats trying to find somewhere semi-habitable on our shoestring budget. One great thing Chatteris did do was provide us with local, Cantonese-speaking helpers who devoted their time to hunting for flats and accompanying us to viewings. Without their help, we never would have found a flat so it definitely made the process less stressful.

Then of course the big moment in the hostel came where we found out in which schools we’d been placed. The post-secondary stream is by far the largest (though, strangely, the least promoted by Chatteris) and so around half of all CNETs ended up placed here, including myself. I got lucky. I was placed with two other people in a Youth College in Kwai Chung which is easily accessible and just a 20 minute commute from my flat in the heart of Kowloon where most CNETs live. Other people had commutes topping an hour and/or were in schools completely by themselves. It really is just the luck of the draw. And it’s this one moment, way back at the beginning of the year, that decides what sort of a time you’ll have with Chatteris.

Orientation ended with a degree of optimism. Our first paycheck would be on the way soon, we had moved out of that hostel with its closet-sized rooms and we were about to start our exciting new job. The first few weeks had been frustrating, exhausting, funny and hectic – pretty much a crash course for what was to come over the course of the year…

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Bye bye hostel. Hello new life.
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