English Teacher Interview: Sasha of Grateful Gypsies

Sasha is a travel blogger and English teacher who spent some time teaching in Beijing! Now he works for VIPKID, travels, and writes Grateful Gypsies with his wife, Rachel.

In a water fight for Dai New Year in Yunnan province.

1. Where are you from?

 I’m from Grosse Pointe, Michigan, a suburb just a few minutes from downtown Detroit. My family lived in Philly for a few short years but then went back to Grosse Pointe before I started school so I grew up there.

2. What made you decide to teach abroad?

I graduated in May 2008 with a degree in Digital Media focused on video production. Despite doing a handful of internships, volunteering in my school’s radio and TV stations, and going to countless conferences, I was having no luck in the job search. Thanks a lot, economic recession. Rather than move home with my folks or stick around my college town, I decided to take a chance and move to Beijing to teach English. I figured I would do it for a year or two but ended up really enjoying it and have been teaching ever since. 

3. Which program did you work with?

I won’t mention the program I started with because they no longer exist. They basically over-promised and under-delivered and ended up losing 11 of 13 teachers and thus going under. Word of advice to any aspiring English teachers – don’t pay for a program! You can pay for a TEFL certificate, but there’s no reason to pay someone to get you into a job. I eventually got hired at a Korean school (in Beijing) through a company called China ESL. I went on to teach at Renmin University as well as Wall Street English in Beijing, and currently work for VIPKID online.

4. What country did you choose? 

I chose China for a variety of reasons. I had a friend who was already there and he had connections. The Olympics were also going to be in Beijing at that time, so I thought it would be an awesome experience. Plus, anyone who researches teaching ESL knows that China and Korea have the most jobs and pay the best. I also thought it wouldn’t be a bad idea to try and become conversational in Chinese.

With a group of college students.

5. Was teaching abroad your first experience in China?

Yes it was my first time in China. I couldn’t even say “ni hao” or use chopsticks when I first got there! And I definitely wasn’t well versed in the squatty-potty…

6. What grades did you teach?

I currently teach children, mostly ages 5-12. In my years in China, though, I mostly taught college kids or adults.

7. Had you worked with children in education before teaching abroad?

I had worked with children and had worked in education, but not together. I have six younger siblings so I was always babysitting for my parents and family friends. I also taught cello lessons in high school and worked as a tutor for ACT/SAT in college.

8. What surprised you most about the education system in China?

How much they go to school! Seriously it seems like kids are always in school in China. And when they get out of school, they have other classes – English, piano, tennis, kung-fu, the list goes on and on. A lot of kids are at school 6-7 days a week, too, which is crazy!

9. What are your favorite/least favorite parts of the job?

I really enjoyed teaching adults because I could sort of make friends with them and learn a lot about their country and Chinese culture. Teaching kids is fun because you get to be really silly. I use a stuffed Yoda in my classes these days and the kids love it. I’m a big kid, too, so it’s nice I get to be silly at work!

10. What was your favorite word or phrase your students used?

During football seasons, I always taught my students to say “Go green! Go white!” for my alma mater Michigan State. That never got old. 

11. What was your favorite part of living in China?

Every day is an adventure in China! There’s so much going on there it’s mind-boggling. I loved soaking up the local culture in parks, eating all the street food, staying out all night jamming to Chinese rock bands or DJs. 

12. What advice would you give a prospective teacher abroad?

Do some research into the country/countries you’re thinking about living in and then narrow it down to a few locations. Dive deeper and check out English-language websites for those cities to see what kind of jobs are out there and how much they pay. Ditto for apartments. That helps you get a better idea of what your day to day life will be like and what kind of lifestyle you’ll be able to have based on the costs/earnings.

Thank you so much, Sasha!

Check out Sasha’s blog, Grateful Gypsies 

If you are a volunteer, language assistant, or English teacher abroad and would like to participate in an interview, let me know via the contact tab!

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