Some of the peculiarities and challenges of teaching in Kazakhstan.


The Republic of Kazakhstan is the ninth largest country in the world. Its area is 2,724,900 sq. km. The nature is so diverse: mountains, lakes, rivers, forests, canyons, hot springs, steppe and forests – you can find it all here. Descendants of the nomadic culture, Kazakh people still respect the traditions of hospitality.  It is a very peaceful and politically stable country. More than one hundred and thirty ethnicities call Kazakhstan their motherland. Such a melting pot of traditions develops into a unique and diverse subculture. There are numerous festivals of folk music, craft fairs, and exhibitions on any given day. The city cafes and restaurants will treat you with traditional Kazakh, Russian, Georgian, Uighur, Dungan, Uzbek, Indian, Ukrainian, Chinese, Check, Italian, Korean and other food.


The Constitution guarantees the freedom of choosing the confession. Sometimes, a church, a mosque, and a temple stand next to each other, and it does not bother any group of people, including somebody like myself – agnostics. There are only a few countries in the world that equally celebrate Muslim Kurban-Bairam, Christian Easter, and a pagan new year – Nauryz, and Kazakhstan is one of them.


Most of foreigners find the living conditions quite comfortable. We have central heating, stable electrical and water supply, developed public transportation, banking, sports facilities and other products of civilization.  But watch out for taxi drivers – they think it is their duty to charge you 10 times more than a local! Get agreement on the price before the ride, or use Uber, InDriver and other apps for the smartphone.


Unfortunately for us, but fortunately for foreigners who get their salary in Euro or US Dollar, the national currency continues to fall. Of course, there is a luxury segment in entertainment, and the prices vary in different regions, but on average, with 10 dollars in your pocket you will be able to spend a good day, enjoying food, concerts, cinemas and exhibitions. Native English speaking teachers can easily negotiate $1,000 and more, which will be enough to cover your living expenses and fun social life.

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There is a surprise waiting for a foreign teacher, who comes to the class for the first time. It is quite a pleasant one – in our country students stand up to greet the teacher.  Beside the sign of respect it help students to “switch their brains” from previous activity or conversations and focus on the subject.

The Kazakh educational system provides quite a broad range of knowledge and information in different spheres, but when it comes to the development of such important competencies as collaboration, critical thinking and creativity it leaves much space for improvement. Pupils get used to receiving and following teacher’s instructions. They are rarely given tasks that require independent or group thinking.  Because of that the following typical situations may happen.

Situation 1 – Reading. You give time for students to go through the text and then ask questions to see if they understood it.  The learners use the shortcuts: they find the sentence with the same words that were in a question and read it.  They may not pay attention to the fact that the question had “not” in it, and asked for different information.

Situation 2 – Speaking. Your purpose is to activate the vocabulary on a specific subject. Let it be “Shopping”. If you ask to make dialogues “In the shop” it won’t be enough. You would have to assign roles (a shop assistant and a client), provide more specifics on the type of a shop (food/clothes), and explain what they conversation must be about (return/looking for different size or color, etc.)

Situation 3 – Writing. You ask students to write an opinion paragraph, or a problem/solution essay. The students search the Internet and plagiarize the text, without even trying to paraphrase.

Situation 4 – Team work. Group studies and team projects are not common in our schools. If you teach children and young people without work experience, then you will have to facilitate the process.

Situation 5 – Collusion. The understanding of “friendship” takes a strange form.  If the learner rejects to give his work to be copied by another student, he will be considered to be a bad friend and a mean person.    

Good thing is that all these difficulties can be overcome with the time. Just be persistent, and explain your requirements and expectations clearly.

By Динара Карамуратова


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Teaching in Myanmar


Gold peaks of the tops of pagodas reach up toward the sky every couple of blocks here in Mandalay. Sometimes in the afternoons the sounds of monks’ chants ride the back of the breezes. Migrating birds glide by overhead. I experience all of this from the roof of our school.

After teaching English in South Korea and China, I had a change of pace in Turkey. By the end of my two years there, I ached to return to Asia. I missed incense and Buddha’s kind eyes smiling down at me when I visited temples. I missed the rice paddies that roll on for miles. I also really missed the sweet faces of the gentle children I’d taught. Once I started to look for jobs back in Asia, I found a position with a Montessori kindergarten in Mandalay, which sounded perfect so I snapped it up.

KG graduation with some of our class, all dressed up in traditional Myanmar longyi
KG graduation with some of our class, all dressed up in traditional Myanmar longyi

Teaching experience

Our school boasts the best English program in the city, with children learning every subject in English from primarily native-English speakers. The young students even speak to each other in English at recess. Our school recently became WASC-accredited which means children are learning an American style curriculum and could possibly transfer directly to an American school.

I work in the kindergarten, which is intended to be Montessori, but lacks some of the philosophy in the actual day-to-day practice. The children are divided into 3 age groups, nursery, pre-KG, and KG (kindergarten). Our classroom has 4 teachers, one Montessori-trained local co-lead, two Assistant Teachers and me.

In the morning, we have line time, where students sit together in a circle and learn about a weekly topic. Teachers guide them through songs and chants or read them stories. Sometimes we use Powerpoint presentations or photos to help them understand new concepts. These topics include things like water animals, transportation, nutrition, and community helpers.

Then we have Montessori work time where children direct themselves to lessons they know in areas of the classroom, including practical life, sensorial, math, language, cosmic, and art areas. We teachers show the students new lessons in each area when we feel they have mastered the ones they are working on.

Later the students go to the playground or PE, the cafeteria for lunch and Myanmar language lessons. Then the younger two levels go for nap time and the oldest kids stay with me for KG time.

In KG time, we learn in a more “traditional” way so they will be ready for first grade. We work on reading, writing, more detailed topics like phonics, grammar, stories, sequencing, friendship, scissor and craft skills, a bit of science, and anything and everything else the teacher can think of that might help for first grade. We have a curriculum, but it is a loose list of topics. There are also expectations for a high level of reading. After KG time/nap time, we have more lesson time and then another short line time where we review the morning’s topic before the students go home.

We are contracted from 8:30 to 3:30 with a weekly meeting (or two) before or after school. We also have extensive, detailed report cards that we must fill out along with parent meetings each quarter to discuss the report cards. We are also responsible for choreographing some kind of show for the students twice a year. We choose the song or play, teach it to them, and make or buy any costumes or props they need.


At our school, the teachers live on-campus. Each teacher is given a minimal studio apartment with a small kitchen and bathroom. Most teachers have decorated and furnished the apartment further to their liking. I bought vivid patterned textiles at the market and made pillows and other items to brighten up the room. Other schools’ teachers live off-campus in housing provided by their school.

The view from our rooftop
The view from our rooftop


The Myanmar language is a tough one. From what I understand, the grammar is quite difficult and the sounds are too, because of the tonality of the language. I haven’t learned nearly as much as I hoped I would. Many people around town also speak English, which makes it easy to choose not to learn. Myanmar was once ruled by the British and their legacy brought their language.

My students are learning a lot of new English vocabulary and grammar, but there are some things they have trouble adjusting to. They often phrase questions out of order, like “Teacher is doing what?” or “They go where?” Also, they like to use the word “do” in place of many verbs and they don’t yet understand tenses. They also say, “he no call me” if their friend didn’t ask them to come play. They confuse a and e and struggle with a few other sounds like “th.” Many of their mistakes have been corrected enough that and if reminded they can fix them on their own.

Expat life

In Mandalay, there is a small community of expats. We hold regular quiz nights and sporting events. There are some places around town to hike. Largely, though Mandalay is a small enough place that you have to make your own fun.

The pace of life in Myanmar is a bit slower and things don’t get done quickly. Sometimes it’s nice to slow down and join in, but other times it can be frustrating.

Mohinga, a traditional Myanmar breakfast
Mohinga, a traditional Myanmar breakfast


There are a couple of large grocery stores in Mandalay. Also, there are many of small local markets and women selling produce out of baskets on the side of the road.

Myanmar food includes curries, rice, and rice noodles. There are also some bready snacks and fried treats.

Around town, there are also Thai, Indian, Nepalese, Japanese, Chinese and Western restaurants.


Most expats in Mandalay have a motorbike. In Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city, motorbikes are not allowed. It’s essential to independence in Mandalay, we motorbikers would argue. There aren’t many options for public transportation, though our school has a twice-weekly bus to the grocery store. Otherwise, to get around you must call a taxi in advance to come to the school to pick you up. Our school is not centrally located in town so taxis and motorbike taxis aren’t exactly waiting outside like they do in other areas.

Temple Offerings
Temple Offerings

Travel within Myanmar

There are many interesting sights to see in Myanmar. Bagan with its thousands of pagodas is probably the most famous. Inle lake with its floating villages is also a big destination. Up the road from Inle, Taunggyi is popular for its balloon festival. Yangon has many famous pagodas and more expats and more Western conveniences. Also, the beaches in the south of Myanmar are quite nice. There are many day trips and over-night trips that you can take from Mandalay. My favorite is the old British hill station, Pyin Oo Lwin.

By Katia Davis

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Hong Kong

12047018_10153837180213900_6897927075211857545_nI have never been one for planning much in advance, always finding myself enjoying not quite being able to answer the ‘five year plan’ question and frequently dodging my mum’s requests to open an ISA and ‘start thinking a bit more long-term’. Having said that, I must admit even I was a little bit surprised when after a split decision in a day, I found myself applying for English teaching jobs in Hong Kong on the basis of a short Facebook mail update-turned-invitation from a likeminded and reliable guy I had lived with for a couple of months in my first year of university. I’m not shy about rolling my eyes at the ever-present and somewhat condescending ‘quit your life and start again somewhere else’ industry but something felt inexplicably right about a move to Hong Kong and for the first time in a while, I was bouncing my legs in excitement under the desk as I typed out what I could offer a private English playgroup and kindergarten in Tsueng Kwan O, a bay area in the Sai Kung district north of Hong Kong island.

To give some sort of context, I had recently completed my TEFL qualification after a four week ‘on-site’ course in Barcelona and absolutely fallen in love with the way of life it provided. My class was small and we gelled quickly, I spent lunch times drinking coffee in the breezy October sunshine, laughing with my new friends and digesting my first few encounters of teaching the present perfect tense to students who were far more interested in whether or not I supported Scottish Independence, giving a knowing smile when they saw through my practiced neutral response. I loved the honesty of the classroom, the agreed willingness to be a bit vulnerable as a 45 year old adult learning from a newly trained 21 year old girl. My natural enthusiasm for teaching English was developed by my course tutors, who had the kind of patience and understanding only those dedicated to what they do, ever can. Also add a seemingly endless internal resource for every teaching query you could think of. They taught me that teaching internationally will be good to you, but the flip-side of that is professionalism and respect for your work. I learned the importance of thoughtful preparation, time-keeping, open-mindedness and not missing a chance to let the students do the talking. I developed everyday skills alongside teaching ones, all against the backdrop of beautiful autumnal Barcelona.

I interviewed for two jobs towards the end of my course in Barcelona, encouraged by a fantastic career guidance counselor. He was expert in curriculum, documents and paperwork, where you should be looking for work, what your rights are as a teacher in Spain and what particular schools expected in interviews. I couldn’t have asked for more in terms of guidance and support. With the help of his wisdom and tips, I was offered a full-time job following my second interview. But with an unfortunate turn of events, an illness in the family sent me home to Glasgow with haste and I had, for all intents and purposes, put my new life in Barcelona on hold. Although it was in difficult circumstances, I was home in time for Christmas with the first seed firmly planted on how I wanted to spend my future.

By the time my family member had been given the ‘all-clear’, I had been home for just over six months and had taken a convenient but somewhat soul-destroying job in telesales. My coffee and sun-filled days of meeting learners of all ages, abilities, backgrounds and personalities began to feel like a distant memory and I was most certainly what they call ‘stuck in a rut’. Lucky then that, out of the blue, my old friend from university messaged me asking if I had considered teaching work in Asia after my stint in Barcelona.  What did I stand to lose? Absolutely nothing. What did I have to gain? New friends, new city, new lessons, new love, new opportunities, new stories, new challenges, new apartment, new job, new coffee, new sunshine. I’ll assume you understand me when I say the decision was not a difficult one. Yes, I’d miss my family and my friends but are they really your family and friends if they don’t say ‘you absolutely must go and do this, it’s your time!’?

To give myself the best chance of stability on the other side of the world (in other words I didn’t take enough money for a quick flight home without making a wage first) I secured a job before I arrived in Hong Kong. After a 20 minute Skype interview at 5:30am, my new boss was a firm, inquisitive but smiley Chinese woman who ran a private early learning center for English as a foreign language. I booked my one-way flight a week before I left and said my goodbyes for a year of Cantonese adventure.



I got a fright when I moved to Hong Kong. It was intense, overwhelmingly humid, unrelentingly loud and I quickly discovered my boss disliked my Scottish accent and thought it was ‘unfair on the kids because they’re used to correct British English accents’. I did try to explain, on a few occasions, that British accents are inclusive of Scottish accents but she was reluctant to give up our weekly ‘pronunciation practice’ in which I would work with her one-to-one and we would repeat the sounds of the alphabet ‘correctly’. I was making really decent money for my first full-time teaching job, roughly 2000GBP a month but I found myself absolutely exhausted. I worked 9am until 7pm from Monday to Saturday and was given 7 days annual leave allowance. I think my inexperience and desire to get started had landed me in a job I didn’t suit. At all. I had never taught playgroup or Pre-K kids before and I quickly missed fluid two-way conversation, opinions and questions about grammar and vocabulary. I felt like I was performing all the time- for parents, the kids and for my boss. I formed a solid respect for those who dedicate their time to children and their development, because at the end of the day, the kids deserve someone who can genuinely sing the days of the week once every hour and know it’s helping them in some way. However, I am not that person and it took me a while to realize that doesn’t make me a bad one either.

On the flipside, I had found some of the best adults I had ever met in Hong Kong and that’s what kept me going. They were a group of friends who had just started a magazine, they listened to great music and reassured me it was all going to be okay. I spent my first few months in a hot sticky summer punctuated with typhoons and some of the best food I had ever eaten with some of the best friends I’d ever make. I would finish work late, head out to Temple Street market for fresh crab and cold beer and uncontrollable bouts of laughter. I would dance and sweat in the streetlights of the bustling city with tiny hidden speakeasy bars and clubs that felt like someone’s living room in the best kind of way. We’d venture out to the amazing beaches I never knew existed. I couldn’t believe the diversity Hong Kong offered in terms of lifestyle. You could hike in places that felt like deep, lush Vietnamese jungle or have free flow champagne brunch on a rooftop above the sleepless streets of Tsim Sha Tsui. You could rock-climb and swim to deserted beaches and in an hour be back in time for fast-paced dim sum lunch in Central. I had found my people, I was slowly finding my place but my work had to change if I wanted to find a home.




And so after really giving it my all and beginning to feel like a weekday zombie in one of the most exciting places I had ever been, I bucked up the courage and made my plea to terminate my 12 month contract 5 months early because it’s what was right for me and for the kids. My boss was furious and told me I was irresponsible and childish for not ‘keeping my professional word’. She told me she would charge me my salary for every month I failed to work, and suggested I leave her office and think about what I was doing.

After an hour of doing tearful laps around the shopping mall where the learning centre was, I received a message from my boss saying she understood and agreed it was the right thing to do. And just like that, my ‘half-life’ in Hong Kong began to open up like a flower.  Through a friend, I landed a new job with EF Englishtown and was happy to take the pay-cut and 9pm finishes for a life spent around people who valued me as a teacher and as a person. My role was full-time NET teacher, which meant I also took part in ‘lifeclub’ activities, events all over Hong Kong that brought the ‘real-life English speaking experience’ to the students. We would have beach days, hikes, movie nights, dinner nights, parties, kayaking, cycling, art and craft events and we were paid to help organize and enjoy them. I taught for 4 hours a day and the rest was sharing ideas, lesson planning and hosting events in our center with some of the best colleagues I’d ever had.




Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t always easy and the 9pm finishes and weekend work (I started at 1pm) often wreaked havoc on social plans or any kind of dinner routine. One of the biggest challenges I found whilst teaching adults in Hong Kong was that many prioritized when they could come to class and not what they were learning so it wouldn’t be rare for me to be teaching an advanced level class and somehow half of them were elementary level confused but often unwilling to voice their frustration. I began to understand that teaching was a personal thing to me, be that good or bad, I was determined to have my students learn something in my class in an engaging way and got very upset with myself if I felt I hadn’t achieved  that.

The next two and a half years FLEW by. They flew by. My new job at EF had allowed me far more time to take trips abroad and I managed to visit New York over Chinese New Year in 2014 where I fell in love with an Englishman who moved to Hong Kong to join me. We got scooters in Malaysia, onsens in Japan, sunsets in the Philippines, wildlife in Sri Lanka and bicycles in Guilin. I would often close my eyes, open them and thank whoever or whatever told me to take a chance on Hong Kong. I said thank you for it not always coming easy, because it felt all the more valuable.

I learned that teaching is what I’m about, so I carried it on after I left Hong Kong. It was time for something new. I’m now teaching at an academy for international students (mostly from Europe) in East London alongside studying for my masters in Applied Positive Psychology and Coaching. The money and hours are decent because of my experience in Hong Kong. Teaching is the first thing I did professionally and felt like the hours didn’t drag because I was engaged in something I honestly felt was important for me (the travel, the opportunities, the lessons, the new people) and for my students. I think perhaps it’s too easy these days to say ‘I only started teaching because I didn’t know what else to do and I wanted to travel’ but is that really enough? Are you giving yourself, and your adventure, credit where credit is due? The main elements of teaching, especially teaching a second language, are exactly how I’d like someone to describe my adventures; challenging, communicative, sometimes frustrating, fun, surprising but above all else – worthwhile.

So what’s left to say now but a quote from Mandela that I remind myself of often; ‘There is no passion to be found in playing small, in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living’.

By Erin Docherty

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Teaching in İstanbul

View of Istanbul from the Galata Tower
View of Istanbul from the Galata Tower

From the moment I arrived, İstanbul drew me in and awakened my senses. I loved the sound of the muezzin’s call to prayer. I reached the point where the afternoon felt long if I hadn’t already heard it. The mixture of Byzantine, Genoese, Ottoman and Turkish architecture is stunning, with minarets and towers piercing the sky. The flowers and designs inside of mosques and palaces curled around each other to make the most beautiful shapes and patterns. Shopping in the market provided a flurry of mouth-watering expectation. The shopkeepers had a variety of green and black olives, pale cheeses unique to Turkey, sausages, fresh figs bursting with juice, and bulbous red pomegranates. The mounds of spices sent mixtures of rich scents wafting through the air while their colors mesmerized my eyes. I loved to touch the soft silk scarves, the smooth cool ceramics and worn, thick kilim rugs.

It’s amazing to be immersed in such a rich culture- to live and teach there. The people were unbelievably friendly and hospitable too.


Teaching experience

I had two different jobs in İstanbul, both of them were in kindergartens. The teachers in the other grades in my schools also had TEFL certificates. In some of the other schools I’ve looked at, teachers for higher grades need a credential valid in their own country while the kindergarten teachers don’t.

I found the first school through a recruiter online. My interview was on Skype with a man in a big empty office in a big black chair. His main question was, “so, you like kids?” When the interview seems too easy or too good to be true, likely it is. So be sure to ask plenty of questions and do some internet research to be sure the school is legitimate. It’s a good idea to ask to talk to some current teachers at the school as well. After the interview, I got the job, which I think nearly anyone would. I was paid next to nothing, but I was ok with it because I wanted to move to Turkey so badly.

In the first job, I worked with one local co-lead teacher. She was a wonderful Turkish woman with a face like stone when the children crossed her. But she also had a bubbly laugh and lots of hugs, kisses and winks for them when they behaved nicely. We had oneassistant who came in to help during sessions when there was only one lead teacher. I worked with the children during meals, breakfast and lunch, which I was welcome to eat too. I also helped during play time in the morning with my co-teacher. I had one serious study time with the students in the afternoon. The school was new and so we helped with developing the curriculum. I had 5 scheduled periods each day and usually left school around 2 or 3. It was a plush position.

Kindergarten Class Photo
Kindergarten  Class

My next job was much more serious. I had to go to the school 3 times for an interview, an observation, and a demo lesson before I got the job. They paid much better to reflect the coming increase in work. Again I had one local co-lead teacher. She was less jovial and more outcome-driven. We had our kindergarteners all day long. We taught using a content and language integrated learning approach; all of our topics from “knowledge and understanding of the world” to literacy to science were in English.  We were at school from 8 to 5. The students left earlier, but then we had time to work, making lesson plans and new worksheets and completing other tasks related to teaching. We changed the classroom materials regularly and met often for the principal to explain what we would teach each week. There were lots of classes for each level so we could trade ideas and worksheets with the other teachers as well.



I lived in three different apartments during my two years living in İstanbul. The first two I had to find myself. Two of the other teachers working for the same recruiter I used found the first apartment on Air BNB. I thought it would be a good idea to share with some other teachers. I agreed to the smallest and cheapest room. When I arrived, I found out it was the size of a closet. I could literally touch all 4 walls while lying on the bed, which was the only furniture in the room. I shared the one bathroom, kitchen and LARGE Turkish-family sized living room with the two other teachers. It was nice living in a building with mostly local residents. I learned a lot from my Turkish neighbors across the hall, like the phrase “elenize sağlık,” meaning ‘health to your hands.’ This is a nice way to thank and simultaneously compliment someone on their cooking.

Later, I decided I wanted a bit more elbow room so I moved into an old building closer to the water. The building was originally built to house the workers who built the famous Haydarpaşa train station that I could see from my window. I could also see the Kadıköy harbor. I loved my view. I did not, however, love my roommates’ lifestyle. They were college students who were more interested in partying than doing their studying while they were abroad. It didn’t match too well with my working schedule. We shared a small living room, kitchen, and one tiny bathroom.

My second job came with a huge perk: housing included. I had a freshly refurbished one-bedroom apartment all to myself. I lived on the top floor and could see the Asian side from one of my windows even though I lived in Europe (the two continents are divided by the Bosphorus and the city is sprawled across a bit of both continents). My apartment had a big flat screen TV and a dishwasher! I felt like I was living the life of luxury! I had lots of counter space, including a breakfast bar. The large bedroom had tons of closet space and a full sized bed. I felt like a real grown up living there.




I found Turkish incredibly difficult to learn at first. I could hardly even understand which sounds made up the many syllables that combined to make a single phrase. It took me about 3 weeks to decipher and respond to a local shopkeeper who said “iyi akşamlar” (good evening) to me almost every night on my way home from work. İstanbul also wasn’t the easiest place to practice my new phrases. Often when I greeted shopkeepers, “Merhaba,” they would respond, “How can I help you?” Their English was always better than my Turkish so I would revert back to my comfort zone. I was thrilled however, to find when I traveled outside of the city that my learning proved to be more useful. I was throwing phrases around everywhere I went- how are you? Nasılsınız I want to buy cell phone credit kontür, Turkish coffee please türk kahvesi lütfen!


Some of my favorite phrases

Teşekkür ederim                             Thank you

Kolay gelsin!                                  May it be easy for you- said to someone who is working

Afiyet olsen                                     May it be good for you- said before, during or after a meal

Geçmiş olsun                                  May it pass- said to someone who is sick or otherwise ailing

İnşallah                                            God willing- used like hopefully or most likely

Allah, Allah                                    Literally, God, God- used a bit like oh my God, or wow



Expat life

İstanbul offers a very full array of experiences for activities outside of work. It is a great city to walk in. Each area has something different to offer. For example, in Kadıköy, there are complex and varied artistic murals on the sides of some buildings. It’s also a great place for being outdoors, whether sitting in the square by the Blue Mosque or dining outdoors in the cafes in Beşiktaş or on a rooftop in Taksim. I took classes in yoga and belly dancing. Some of my friends participated in theater, improv comedy clubs, and Hash House Harriers- an international group that follows clues to run around a city while participating in drinking challenges. I participated in regular weekend getaways with a group organized through InterNations. InterNations is a website to organize clubs. Whatever you’re interested in you can find- from language workshops to nights out to tennis games. Couch surfing, a website for finding places to stay and things to do, also organizes many events. Nike sponsors regular races and has weekly running groups that meet in most corners of the city. Another race that I really enjoyed was the Istanbul Marathon. It’s the only race in the world that goes through 2 continents. You can run from the Asian side of Istanbul over the Bosphorus Bridge to the European side. The fact that Istanbul straddles Europe and Asia also means a great opportunity for European travel. Europe was fairly new to me and I really enjoyed getting to know some of the major cities and lesser-known villages. In Istanbul, you can easily create a very full, rich life for yourself.

During some of my stay, there were riots in the Taksim area and occasionally in Kadıköy as well. For the most part, I found it easy to avoid the dangers. More recently, there have been a couple of small bombs in the city. Generally, the city is safe, but it’s always good to be careful and alert.

Hot Air Ballooning in Cappadocia
Hot Air Ballooning in Cappadocia


There is an abundance of delicious Turkish food. The highlight is probably breakfast- kavaltı. It’s a massive spread of tiny breakfast plates of fried or boiled eggs, olives, sausages or meat slices, fresh sliced veggies, a small collection of cheeses, bal-kaymak (cream and honey), jam, nutella, and breads.

Most Turkish lunch and dinner foods involve wheat and meat. There are lots of different takes on the combo though- mantı (like ravioli), köfte (like meatballs), pide (like pizza), kebap, dürüm (meat in a wrap like a burrito). Mezes are a little like the breakfast- lots of small plates. This time, the plates are full of appetizers. For dessert, how about fresh layered baklava or lokum (Turkish delight)? There are whole stores devoted to rich, flaky, honeyed baklava.

You can buy groceries at open-air markets or in grocery stores. There are also a few good stores for foreign foods that you might be missing while living abroad too.

There are lots of foreign food restaurants of varying quality. There is a website called Yemek Sepeti that will deliver food from nearly any restaurant in İstanbul.



Çay is crucial to Turkish culture. Turks drink more cups of tea each day than people in any other country in the world. The tea usually comes from Rize (a city near the Black Sea) and is usually made on a two-tiered kettle. I’ve never seen anyone drink it with milk, but they do like to add lots of sugar. Çay is served in small tulip-shaped glasses. Turks love to drink tea and even more than that they love to share it.



By far the most memorable way to get around İstanbul is by ferry. It’s also one of the best ways to get a great view of the city, feel a refreshing breeze, and skip the traffic that can often be found on city streets. There are scenic trams that run down İstiklal near Taksim, a major eating, drinking, and shopping hub. There are also trams, buses, and metro buses in the center of the highway. You can track them with the IETT website or iphone app. The metro was new when I was there. As they were building the tunnel under the Bosphorus, they repeatedly found treasure and had to pause construction for excavation. On almost all of the public transport options, look out for wandering hands. There are also Dolmuşes, which are minibuses that stop along their route wherever someone wants to get on or off. “Taksi” cabs are also available. They are more expensive than all of the other options, but not unreasonable.

Inside the Hagia Sophia Museum
Inside the Hagia Sophia Museum

Travel within Turkey

Of course within İstanbul there are lots of amazing sights to see, especially in Sultanahmet. The Hagia Sofia Museum is full of glittering mosaics. It’s next to the Topkapi Palace (Topkapı Sarayı where the Ottoman sultans used to live) and across from the beautiful Blue Mosque and the Bascilica Cistern (Yerebatan Sarnıcı, which is an underground cistern that used to be below a bascilica). Other highlights include the Galata Tower with a great view of the city, the Grand Bazaar (Kapalı Çarşı) full of wondrous touristy treasures, and Chora Church with its elaborately decorated ceilings.

Turkey has lots more to offer too! Ephesus was an ancient Greek city and the remains are well-preserved. Pamukkale means cotton castle in Turkish. It imaginatively, but accurately describes the white travertine cliffs filled with turquoise waters. Cappadocia is probably the most visited and best known destination outside of İstanbul. It is famous for its fascinating “fairy chimneys” which are tall thin rock formations. Mount Nemrut has massive carved stone statues at its summit. Turkey also has an amazing coast full of gorgeous beaches like Anatalya, Marmaris, Olympos and Bodrum. There is also more culture to explore, like Konya, the home of the whirling dervishes or Mardin famous for its old city architecture.

Tiles in Topkapi Palace
Tiles in Topkapi Palace

I look back fondly on two colorful years in an amazing city. What a great place to explore, teach and live! I miss the distinctive blue color of the Bosphorus and the taste of the fresh foods the most. I also miss my loving students and the amazing adults I met there too.   I’d recommend considering İstanbul if you want to teach abroad.


By Katia Davis

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Teaching in China

Hiking the Great Wall of China

Have you ever wanted to visit an incense-filled temple on a misty mountain side? Run along the top of the Great Wall of China? Feed pandas with a bamboo pole? If so, teaching in China might be a good choice for you.

After earning my TEFL, I applied to jobs throughout Asia. I was intimidated but intrigued by China. I accepted a job in Huizhou, a small city near Hong Kong. Websites comically described it as “pretty, especially for China.” Later, when my sister graduated from college, we applied to jobs together and were hired by a kindergarten in Beijing. Living in China was an adventure every day. It was challenging and humbling, but also amusing and amazing.

Teaching experience

In Huizhou, I worked at a language school. We taught Wednesdays through Fridays in the evenings and all day Saturday and Sunday. Monday and Tuesday were our weekend. We were some of the only foreigners in town so the odd work week didn’t restrict our social life too much. In an isolated area, your co-workers will probably also be your best friends.

I taught all levels from kindergarten to middle school for an hour each, totaling 22 hours each week. The school provided books for each level for the teachers and students (while this may seem like an obvious necessity, other schools I’ve considered teaching at didn’t have books or a specific curriculum). We planned and prepared our own lessons. We had lots of training for sharing ideas and methods. I also had a Chinese assistant to help with behavior, difficult concepts, and parents.

Later, in Beijing, my sister and I worked in a Montessori kindergarten. We worked a normal Monday to Friday work week. I was in one class for the whole day from 8-5. I also had a local Montessori-trained co-teacher and two local assistants. That meant we had four teachers for 24 students! Much of the day was Montessori work time, which meant I had to learn a lot about the Montessori philosophy and how to implement it. We had a week of training before the school year started but much of my training was hands-on in the classroom.

Students in China can be quite reserved at first. Many of them have a hard time with critical thinking and creativity. It was fun to help them test their limits and find new skills. They are diligent workers and caring people.

My kindergarten class in Beijing on Valentine's Day
My kindergarten class in Beijing on Valentine’s Day


In Huizhou, the school provided us with housing. The school owned two 5-bedroom apartments side by side. The apartments were a couple of blocks from the school. I shared bathrooms, a living room and a kitchen with the other teachers. The school also provided a cleaner who came twice a week.

In Beijing my sister and I had to find our own accommodation. The school sent us out with a translator and a realtor who showed us a few different options. Unfortunately, the translator quit a couple of weeks later and we never got our deposit back for the apartment. We presume the two events are related. We had a small private apartment and some friendly neighbors, both Chinese neighbors and expats.


In the classroom, I only needed English. Beyond the school walls, however, I was glad to know some Chinese. My school in Huizhou gave us free Chinese lessons once a week. An

Chinese Calligraphy Class
Chinese calligraphy class

assistant teacher from the Sichuan province was our Chinese teacher. She carefully explained the tonal language to us. If you have an ear for the tones, Chinese isn’t too tough. They don’t have tenses. Many words are simple and short, or made of a compilation of other short words. I found speaking Chinese to be fun, almost like singing. Chinese people are usually quite impressed when you can speak a few words and more inclined to try to help. It really motivated me to learn more. Also I found in the markets, I could get a cheaper price if I bargained in Chinese. Speaking some of the language really improved my experience in China.

Here are a few key phrases (accent marks show which way your voice should move. I’ve also included my best attempt at spelling out the pronunciation)

nǐ hǎo                                                      nee- how                                    hello

xiè xie                                                    shee-ah, shee-ah                  thank you

duì bù qǐ                                                dwe boo chee                                sorry

xǐ shǒu jiān                                          shee shwo jee-an                      bathroom

nǎ li                                                       nah lee                                        where (and also there)


Expat life

In Huizhou, I often felt like a celebrity. Random people would shout “hello” from passing cars, across a park, or from the other end of a store. In my spare time, I joined our school’s soccer team, which meant weekly matches and socializing afterward. I also liked walking through the local markets and by Xi Hu (West Lake) and Hong Hua Hu (Red Flower Lake). There was a good nightlife in Huizhou, including bars and clubs. It was busy even on our Monday-Tuesday weekend! There was a WalMart in town and a couple of local grocery stores as well. A couple of months before I left, Starbucks came to Huizhou. I’m sure the small city is modernizing more by the minute.

Huizhou at night
Huizhou at night

Beijing is packed with people, including loads of expats. This means lots of opportunities for events, clubs, and fun. Hey-robics is a Swedish form of fitness that Linus, the founder’s son, has brought to Beijing. It’s group fitness in a big circle with lots of dance moves, jumping, and wild outfits. They also held a running camp leading up to the Great Wall Marathon (during which I participated in the 10K). There is also a group called MashUp that runs intramural sports, including football, basketball, dodgeball, etc. There is a great magazine called “The Beijinger” that describes upcoming events, new restaurants, local traditions, popular shops, classifieds and more.   Beijing has a café-library called the Book Worm. It has a library of foreign books you can check out as well as many events and good food! There are local grocery stores and foreign food specialty stores. Beijing is a great place to be an expat.


Thousand year old eggs, chicken feet, roasted scorpion, and drunken shrimp (served live in local liquor!). These are foods I’d say you have to be daring to try! The Chinese do admittedly have a LOT of bizarre food dishes. There is a humorous saying about Cantonese food: they eat anything with four legs except a table, anything with two legs except man, anything that swims except a submarine, and anything that flies except an airplane.

However, there are also some truly, truly delicious dishes in China that I have to admit I crave regularly. I love Chinese hotpot- a soup cooked at the table that you put your own meats and vegetables into. Sichuan food is infamously spicy and I miss the numbing peppercorns. Macao-style egg tarts are fantastically buttery and flakey. Cantonese dim sum has such an amazing variety of little dumplings and steamed dishes that come around in bamboo baskets stacked high on small carts. Beijing duck is juicy and tender with a perfect pairing of plum sauce and thin pancakes. Noodles are popular everywhere but slightly different in each restaurant. Also, there’s great barbeque on the street! The key to Chinese food is to order carefully. Many restaurants have picture menus, which helps a lot. Before I could speak Chinese, I sometimes had a waiter follow me over to another table so I could point at the dish I wanted! The food in China is so cheap that it’s often less expensive to eat out than to cook at home.

In larger cities, like Beijing and Shanghai, there are also many foreign food choices. Some are “good for China” (like a burrito, maybe it’s not quite right but because you’ve been missing burritos for so long, it’s close enough) and sometimes other options are truly superb! In Beijing, there were lots of restaurants with deals, like half price Monday or free beer Thursday. Keep your eye out!



In China, there is a great variety of transportation. Within cities, there are usually tons of buses heading in every direction and Google maps can tell you which one to take and how many stops to your destination. Beijing and other major cities also have metro systems. Taxis are cheap too. Partway through my first year, I bought a bicycle. I felt more independent and explored further when I could get around on my own. Some cities also have motorbike taxis. I got so comfortable on them, that I bought an electric scooter once I moved to Beijing.

Gate in a hutong district of Beijing
Gate in a hutong district of Beijing

Travel within China

There are also trains and buses between cities for transportation all over the country. Chinese culture is very unique and absolutely fascinating. Each province has its own style, including food, architecture, dialect and flare. A highlight of living in China is visiting other places in China (and all around Asia). Some of the best known sights in China are the Great Wall of China in Beijing, the Forbidden City in Beijing, the Terracotta Warriors in Xian, the Bund District in Shanghai, Xi Hu lake in Hangzhou, the Yangtze River, the karst rock formations of Guilin, the pandas in Chengdu, the ice festival in Harbin, and Tiger Leaping Gorge in Yunnan. There are quaint villages, intricately designed temples, diverse landscapes, delicious food, and smiling faces waiting in every destination. There is such a wealth of rich experiences to be had in China.

When I went home after living in China, I craved rice after a week. I honked my horn as I changed lanes. I relished opportunities to use my zhong-wen language skills in Chinese restaurants, even though the food was never quite the same. I smiled when other people complained about crowds, knowing how much busier it was in China. I watched tourists in San Francisco with longing, missing the excitement of exploring. Warning: if you teach abroad in China, you will never see the rest of the world the same. It’s an absolutely unforgettable experience. China is full of life and full of surprises. I learned so much about the culture and so much about myself there. If any or all of this sounds good to you, look into China!

By Katia Davis                                    For more from Katia, check out

Teaching in Shanghai

In December 2006 I finally had my TEFL certificate from TEFL Barcelona, one of the greatest, most exhausting, and DSC02210wonderful months I have had. I’m a native Swede, and went back to Sweden and started to do TSFL = teach Swedish as a foreign language. The method is the same, the language is different.

I was going to teach in Shanghai International Studies University, a top ranked language university – most of the languages in the world can be learned there. My class, 13 girls and 2 boys, had Swedish as their major. The reasons for chosing our small language were really varied – ”Sweden is a beautiful country”, ”Not so many students study Swedish, so not so many to compete with”. I think that’s fair enough.

I came to Shanghai prepared and inspired with all my knowledge from our TEFL course. I had my bags loaded with material that I created – games, stories, pictures — all of you who have done the TEFL course know. And most of all the intention to only speak Swedish in the classroom from day one. I have to mention that I had two Chinese assistants- students graduated from the Swedish class same year.

First day – big clash! 15 students and 2 assistants just starred at me when I started to talk and tried to do the first introduction with a name game. As soon as I said something the assistants translated it into Chinese. So ok, first a small round with the names and then explanations and whatever in English – just today. But I have to admit – I had to compromise DSC01702and give up a little bit of what I learned. The students told me later that they were totally confused and scared that they would not be able to pass the exams. When I listened to my assistants teaching, it was only in Chinese with some Swedish words here and there. The normal way to teach a foreign language is to learn by heart, for example go-went-gone, just learn this but not how to use it. However, Chinese students are good at memorizing and reciting, but not so good at applying their knowledge. I call the teaching – feeding baby birds – put the knowledge in their heads. They are aslo very good in repeat after me – in chorus. All this reflects the education system in China.DSC03545

Anyhow, after some time I could start to do my material from the TEFL course, especially as I didn’t use a book in this class. And little by little, the students appreciated this very much. I taught this class for two years and today they graduated after four years. Their Swedish, most of the time, is very good, but unfortunately they don’t have the chance to use it and the assistant teachers still talk in Chinese.

My students have often said ”we are poker face”, and it is so true. If you ask if they understand, everyone nods and you can never read in their faces or eyes if they actually don’t understand. You can never see a question. Or if you say ”do you DSC05576understand what I say or do I speak too fast?” – nobody will give you a sign. But the more I have gotten to know my students the more they can now can tell me when they don’t understand something. So it’s a challenge with Chinese students, but very rewarding. Some of them will be my friends forever.

It’s challenging to teach and live in Shanghai, but so rewarding. A wonderful experience which I highly recommend.

by Liselotte Kjellme