Mackey is a University of Vermont graduate and filmmaker in New York City. He will be returning to China in the fall of 2016 to attend graduate school and work in Chinese independent film production.Interviewed on - 6 April 2016
I was studying Mandarin in school and thought that if I really wanted to improve my language proficiency, I would have to move abroad. I also wanted the opportunity of a leap-year, so to speak, and the idea of jumping directly into the job market was a stressful thought. I also felt that college seniors put way too much pressure on themselves to score a great job right out of school. But on top of all of that, I wanted to feel more connected to people outside of what I knew and gain new perspective of who I am and how I fit into the world.
Honestly, I chose Ameson Year in China (AYC) because there was no program fee. I don't have teaching experience and all the programs I researched had at least a $1,000 TEFL fee, and TEFL is a required for any teacher in China. I applied to several programs, some well-known, some not, and ended up choosing AYC because they were offering essentially the same benefits as other programs without the fee.
I also found many programs to be specifically teaching and education related programs. I wanted to teach English, but I also wanted to have enough free time to pursue other interests. AYC hires "Educational Ambassadors" not English teachers. Your main job is a teacher, but it's built into the contract to assure that you have time to engage in the community, that was huge for me.
I was placed in Wenzhou, a smaller coastal city about five hours south of Shanghai. My favorite part about the location was that it wasn't a major city. It's easy for Westerners to move to Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, and the other Westernized, megacities, but the real immersive experiences happen in the smaller cities. Wenzhou has a big business culture and people from the city can be found all over the world, but it felt extremely local to me.
Because there is a very small foreign presence in the city, pretty much everywhere I went was an interesting experience. The people were so incredible and welcoming. Everyone was willing to talk and tell me about their lives. They wanted me to learn about their city and their background. Things like going to the grocery store or bank and taking a bus were all eventful endeavors. Of course, this was sometimes exhausting, but it kept life very interesting and continued to remind me of where I was and why I wanted to be there.
A lot of my friends in the bigger cities had a great time, but have way fewer immersive experiences than I. It's like if you moved to America and only lived in New York City or LA and decided that's what America is like. You gotta get out of the wealthy cities to fully learn about a country!
As stated above, there is no program fee. They'll train you, TEFL certify you, give you a free week long orientation in Shanghai, provide a network of people doing the same thing in different cities, get you a host school, and provide support throughout the whole year. You're paid a very reasonable amount every month, given a flight allowance, Chinese lessons, a good balance of teaching and free time, and many other benefits.
Incredibly. I had a go-to person at my school for whatever I needed. Her English was fantastic and she always made sure all was well. If there were any problems with my apartment, late payments, scheduling conflicts, whatever, she was on it. The teachers welcomed me into their community and would take me on weekend trips, introduce me to their families, invite me to their homes for meals, and generally make me feel comfortable.
Part of me wishes I rented an apartment off campus. I think that was the one experience I didn't get. Though I enjoyed living on campus, I think it would've been great to get to know a local community separate from my school life.
I would usually have two or three classes a day. In between classes, I would work on lesson plans, study Chinese, and hang out with other teachers in my office. The school provided all meals and there was a nap time after lunch every day (which is typical in China). In my free time, I'd hang out around the neighborhood at some local spots where people knew me or I'd meet up with the other Educational Ambassadors downtown for some food and drinks. I played a lot of basketball and ping pong with the students and teachers also.
Probably spending time with the teachers and their families. We'd go hiking, to the beach, or to some nice park, and then have a huge meal and drinks; it was great. There were always very curious little kids running around wanting to practice their English with me, and older folks who had likely never met a foreigner who were also very curious. It was all about positive cultural exchange. It was so interesting to hear their opinions of foreigners, and specifically Americans, and they loved to hear my thoughts about China.
Of course, traveling throughout the year was great too. Whether I was with friends or alone, I loved having the ability to just jump on a high-speed train or plane and go somewhere new.
I lived in a teacher's dormitory; most of the younger teachers lived on campus. They were similar to a college dorm, except that I had a private room and bathroom. It was fine, nothing fancy. A lot of the other Educational Ambassadors lived in full on apartments, but it really depends on your individual placements. It was great to live on campus because I had no commute. Everything was right there, but I was just enough removed from the daily activities that I had privacy from the students.
Well I think anyone who has done a similar program has been changed irrevocably. Good or bad, you saw firsthand what life is like in a different part of the world. This was major for me and exceeded my expectations. In fact, so much so that I'll be returning to China next fall for graduate school. For some people, including myself, once you catch the travel bug it's hard to stay put. But I'll say this: with everything going on in the world today, no matter what your beliefs are, it's monumental to spend time elsewhere to share, learn, and connect with people.