Discover how Elise Boros is feeding her passion for travel with an amazing TEFL job in Hong Kong! Discover the real Hong Kong, through Elise’s experiences.
How old were you when you decided to teach English overseas?
Actually my first job teaching English was in France at a Polytech in Lyon. I was 23 when I did this, and now I’m 24 teaching young children and adults in Hong Kong.
What led you to want to teach overseas?
Straight up, it really complemented my passion to travel. In fact I have always enjoyed teaching and tutoring in any subject. Since there is such a high demand for English teachers around the world, the opportunities for a wee kiwi globetrotter are endless!
What degree had you just completed at Uni?
Before coming to Hong Kong I had recently completed a BSc majoring in Zoology and a DipGrad in French Language at Otago Uni. I also did some random papers in HR management, Communications and Cross-Cultural Management whilst on an 18 month exchange to France.
How did you go about choosing the company to complete your TEFL course with? Why did you choose i-to-i?
I did the whole internet search to check out the options. What I liked about i-to-i is that the website was so easy to get around and I felt comfortable with it straight away. It felt like I was on the same wavelength as the people who worked there and I was instantly attracted to it. The fact that I could do a TEFL course in my own time, on the net, from anywhere in the world was an amazing advantage. The idea was simple and the online help was fabulous.
How did you choose which country to teach in?
I actually knew some people that were in Hong Kong at the time and I had done a bit of research on Asian countries because I hadn’t been to Asia before and wanted to check it out. HK seemed to have the most opportunities, and it is relatively accessible if I wanted to do travel to other parts of Asia.
How did you go about finding work in Hong Kong?
I set up ads on Geoexpat and immediately I had people coming to me. Some of my friends are on Gumtree and Asia Expat, and they have had similar success in finding work. Alternatively, you can check out ads in South China Morning Post, classified ads on the net or in the paper once you get here. Ads are also posted on the other three websites above, just check them out and send your C.V.
Did you have any reservations about teaching in a foreign country?
Personally I had no trouble. No reservations whatsoever. I knew that in Hong Kong it wasn’t essential to speak the native language (Cantonese) so I had no worries about this before coming, even though I wouldn’t mind learning a bit of the local lingo.
Secondly, standing up in front of a class is nothing to be nervous about. We all do it at school and as long as you know what you are talking about then it’s pretty easy to get into. Since I am teaching at a learning centre, where English is a main focus, my co-workers all speak English as a second language. They are all so lovely and a pleasure to work with so going to work each day is not a drab. In terms of making friends, Hong Kong ranks as one of the most social places I have been. So many foreigners of all nationalities, all different backgrounds, are all as open to meeting new people as the next. Regardless of how many people you know when you first come hear, there is no doubt that it will be difficult to leave all the new people you’ve met. In saying this, Hong Kong can be rather transient, since lots of people just come over for short periods (internships for example which only last 2 months on average) so friendships tend to be short and intense.
What was it like when you first arrived in the country/on the job?
It was little daunting to begin with, with all the skyscrapers and being in the middle of a concrete jungle, but as soon as I had an apartment it was all go. Everyone at my job was so welcoming and lovely, but they did just kind of throw me in the deep end so I was forced to learn quickly on how to deal with my classes.
What would a typical week involve while you’re teaching?
Initially I was teaching part time but over the summer I will be full-time 9-6 Mon-Fri. A typical week for teachers involves usually only teaching 1-1.5 hour classes, and materials are usually provided. I only have experience teaching in a learning centre (extra-curricular for students) since I do not have a teaching degree or more than 5 years experience (usually essential if you want to teach at a school).
Outside of teaching, what do you get up to?
I live on Hong Kong island, in Causeway Bay (expensive yet extremely convenient). The nightlife is crazy and you can basically go out any night of the week. Im quite close to Wanchai where theres more pubs, but Soho (great food and cute bars) and Lan Kwai Fong (nightclubs & main strip of bars) are only a 5 – 10min taxi journey. Since living here, I have travelled only in Hong Kong to the outer islands, Macau and to the border (Shenzhen). Some of my favourite places include Lantau island (the big buddah and seeing pink dolphins), Lamma island (very hippy vibe with lots of thai souvenirs, cute beaches and great seafood), Cheung Chau (relaxed vibe like Lamma and with cute souvenir shops). The beaches on the island are fabulous and all within a reasonable distance via minibus. Since I have been working a lot I don’t have much time to travel for long periods of time, although I’d love to see more of Asia before I go back to New Zealand.
Do you have any advice for anyone thinking of teaching overseas?
Be aware that some places may push you to sign a contract. Don’t sign anything until you have read the fine print. For example, the period of notice that you should give before resigning should not be more than 1 month. Some people get caught out with this and then have to pay 2 months salary if they give insufficient notice. Make sure you have the right visa which allows you to work. I have a working holiday visa for Hong Kong, and this only allows you to work at any single institute for a maximum of 3 months. If you want to work for longer, you should ask your employer to sponsor you for a working visa. This is relatively easy and they usually pay for you. Some institutes may say that they will pay for your training and visa if you work for them for a year, otherwise you may have to pay for the training yourself.
I took time to find a good job and not be pressured into signing a contract with an institution I didn’t trust or that was too far away. A friend of mine was working for a place that didn’t have some legal documents they required and as a result all the staff got fined as well as the institution itself. So it is important to know a bit about the company before you get too involved.
Come with an open mind and don’t be quick to judge. If you are teaching in a culture that is very different from your own then there will be so many aspects which will affect your relationship with your students and co-workers. Be patient and receptive to the signals they give you, be considerate, and be aware of your own actions and how they may affect others. Especially in Hong Kong, the locals can be very self conscious and afraid to lose face. Don’t do anything that may embarrass them or draw negative attention to them. In a classroom, make sure you create a trusting and comfortable environment where students can express themselves without being criticised by you or their classmates. Encouragement is important and so is earning respect from your students.
Overall, teaching in Hong Kong is simple and employers make it easy for you.
What is the main thing you’ve learnt so far from the experience?
I have learned a lot about culture in Hong Kong, its people, how to interact with them, and a lot about my self and my own strengths and limitations. Travelling and living in different countries is an invaluable experience and what you take from it you will have forever. There is no, one single thing that I have learned so far, but a myriad of trials and errors that I continue to learn from.
If you could do it again, would you do anything differently?
I would find a cheaper apartment. Really love where I am right now, excellent location, fabulous flatmates and neighbours (all my age!) but this place is a real funds drainer. I’d recommend taking some time and scoping out apartments in Midlevels. You should be paying about HKD5000 for a nice flatshare apartment.
I feel pretty lucky with my position at the moment so I wouldn’t change too much else!