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Is it far from Kilkenny to China?

Updated: Jul 6, 2021

My name is Philip Bryan. I am from Callan, County Kilkenny. I have been living and working as an English teacher in the city of Guiyang, Guizhou Province, China since 2016.

Sometimes I am asked “why did you go to China?”. It is a long story. I was working as a gas station manager and I was under severe pressure and stress in my job. In May 2015, I went on a group trip to Jordan, where I met some fantastic and inspiring people who showed me that there was more to life than working Monday-Friday and that I could get a job abroad and see the world at the same time. When I came back home to Ireland, I enrolled in an online TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) course and spent the evenings of the next eight months studying to become an English teacher. When it came to think about where to go, I considered countries in the Middle East such as The Emirates, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Oman. The thoughts of going to China never crossed my mind. I had been to the Middle East and I was really impressed with the culture and way of life. My plans changed a bit when I was applying for jobs out there. I discovered that people needed teaching experience to work as teachers in these countries, and many schools did not recognise and accept online teaching certificates. Then I began thinking if I worked one year somewhere else, it could help me to get to Dubai in the future. China came up. I got a job teaching English in a training school to children and teenagers from three years to seventeen years of age. I will admit that I was nervous about going out there. Here I was, about to go to China, a place that I thought I would never go to, strange food, and strange culture, and not knowing anyone out there, apart from the contact that gave me the job.

I experienced the biggest culture shock of my life when I came to Guiyang.

Guiyang is a small city (7 million people) in China, it is in the south west of the country. It took me a little while to adapt to the culture, the food, and the way of life here, but after I had adapted well to the spicy food, using chopsticks and to the language.

I enjoyed teaching so much. My job entailed playing games with the kids, helping them to learn through play, to sitting down and having discussions on different topics with the teenagers. Working with teenagers here was the most rewarding part of my job. I learned so much about being a student in China, and life in general.

After spending three years in this training school, I decided that I wanted a change. I wanted to try a different school andhave time to pursue my other interests. In September 2019, I began working at the No. 1 High school of Guiyang. I did not realise that this school is the best school in the province of Guizhou and one of the best schools in China. Here I teach speaking English, academic writing, IELTS and PE class to different grades.

Apart from working as a teacher in China, I have been blessed with so many opportunities. I can travel to so many different countries here and see many interesting places in China. I have made so many wonderful friends here in Guiyang and from around the world, some of them have become family to me now. I usually spend most of my time with my Chinese friends. The best is that one of my closest friends here is a fellow Kilkenny man, Billy Brennan from Castlecomer, who is a football coach here. We never knew each other before we came to Guiyang. it just goes to show how small China is, and in fact, how small the world is. Something remarkably interesting and funny here is associated with a green hat! Now being Irish wearing green hats is part of our Saint Paddy’s Day celebrations, its part of our culture and who we are. But, in China, wearing a green hat has a completely different meaning! Here it is a symbol of when a man’s wife or girlfriend has cheated on him! So, you imagine the reaction and the looks I got when I wore a green hat for Paddy’s Day here!!

I have also been fortunate enough to take part in different sporting events here such as Crossfit competitions and marathons, as well as teaching English to doctors and nurses at a hospital here. I have completed two certificates to become an international spinning coach, which I can teach here in gyms in Guiyang in both English and Chinese.

Another achieving moment in my life happened in 2020. I had finished writing a book based on my travels and personal experiences to different countries, and I signed a publishing deal with a UK publisher which I am excited about.

Reflecting on the last four years in China, I cannot believe sometimes that I am doing this, but it really was the best decision of my life. There are so many amazing things that I have done here, and I am excited for what else is coming. I have really embraced life and the culture here and it would be difficult to change at this point.

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