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Do you have a passion for both teaching and travel? In this interview, a teacher of English as a second language shares how he moved across the glob to pursue an English teaching opportunity.

I have always felt strong ties to my Chinese ancestry and have sought a way to reflect these feelings in my professional career. In 2010, the economy was still reeling from the banking crisis and I knew that I could not live on savings and day trading alone. I had to find some kind of steady work, preferably with an engaging atmosphere that held some kind of interest for me. I began to research the available positions throughout the USA but found that there was little, if anything, that was correct for me and paid a sufficient salary to live on. So, I started to search abroad and found that there were many, many jobs teaching English over seas. This seemed like the perfect opportunity for me, as I am interested in my heritage and fascinated by other cultures. Without hesitation I began to assemble the required documents for teaching abroad. It was a lengthy process, but with the help of recruiting professionals, I was able to secure the necessary documentation.

I chose Thailand because of the numerous positions available, and because I felt that my Chinese upbringing and cultural understanding would facilitate the transition into my new position, but I was wrong. Thai culture and Chinese culture are fundamentally different. Down to the way people walk, move, and eat, everything is different. Immediately, I realized that I would have some difficulties transitioning into this new way of life. As a Chinese American, I felt as if once again, I had been thrown into atmosphere that was subtly rejecting me.

My coworkers were all extremely kind, but communicating with people who only speak a small amount of your language, and you speak none of theirs, is extremely challenging. And, even if a language understanding is reached, often, the subtle social implications are too complex to grasp on both sides. However, my past experiences in the classroom working with students from everywhere in the world, really helped.

The working environment is extremely different than anything I had experienced in the past. Being Chinese, I am used to working in a very organized and straight forward manner. Thai people tend to be very circumspect and passive in their instructions and expectations. This has definitely been a continuing source of problems for me and my employer. Constantly misunderstanding expectations and instructions is one of the most challenging aspects of working with people from other cultures. Keeping an open mind definitely has helped me, as well as reading material about resolving cultural conflicts.

Sometimes I feel as if my Chinese background is actually a hindrance in what I had originally perceived to be a friendly work environment. Chinese customs and norms are so often similar to Thai customs, but interpreted differently, that it is almost impossible to really reconcile the two cultures. My grandfather was from Shanghai, and always talked about the direct business culture of the area. He had made a good career for himself by being honest, direct, and up front about his business deals. I remember listening to his stories and watching him work as a child, and taking those lessons to heart. Even now I am influenced by his way of thinking and my cultural heritage every day. Unfortunately, the business culture in Thailand is very passive and low key. They are a very indirect people, and resolve problems in subtle ways. As a Chinese person, my first response to a problem would be to confront it immediately, and inform the management. But, in Thailand, one is expected to be very circumspect about problem solving. Leaving notes, giving gifts, and wearing different colors are all ways to communicate a message. This is completely different than anything my grandfather would have done. Often, because of my conflicting heritage I am not sure how to resolve conflicts in this culture.

In the classroom, where I thought my upbringing would be excellent common ground for my students and I, I have found that we are simply too different to relate. Asian cultures vary widely in their education styles, and Chinese learning methods and Thai learning methods are extremely different. I was brought up to be diligent, exacting, focused, and punctual in school. But, Thai students seem very uncaring about their work. They come late to class, make simple errors, do not care about quality of work, and are messy. Really, this difference has been one of the most shocking because I was always taught to be so careful in my studies. Chinese people are very strict with their cleanliness and their time, but Thai people are very loose and carefree. I have had to learn to be more relaxed about my standards and expectations. I have found it fascinating that two Asian cultures could be so different. One would expect some level of parallel thought, but that is the complete opposite of the reality.

Working with such a different background than those around me has really stretched my ability to adapt in a work environment. Understanding your own upbringing, and the upbringing of your coworkers really helps the attempt to work together productively. I would encourage anyone with any culturally different background, Asian or otherwise, to keep an open mind and see what opportunities come your way. However, I would not trade the experience of being Chinese for anything; it has given me a sense of diligence, neatness, and perfection that my other coworkers lack.