Earlier this week, I found out that this particular blog of mine had somehow made it onto the improbably mammoth and random Top 2300 Travel Blogs list, clocking in at number 18 on the Teaching English Abroad category.
Aside from calling it by the wrong name (hello, Totally Impractical Guide to Living in Shanghai, y’all, or Ephemera and Detritus if you’re literal about URLs!), I was surprised to find it being defined as a TEFL blog.
Because, like, I’ve totally written shitloads about TEFL. Not.
Sure, I’ve written quite a few peripheral work-related posts, wherein I introduced my loyal readership to my fleeting, superficial work-related visits to 2nd and 3rd tier Chinese cities. However, I never actually wrote about the work itself, nor have I written anything like that for TWO FREAKING YEARS.
Because I haven’t exactly been in the biz since I left Shanghai two years ago.
Two whole years.
Two years as a nominal housewife and stay at home mother and (paid!) writer of a dozen guides to relocating to Chinese cities I’ve barely visited much less relocated to.
Two years of bouncing around the world, trying to find somewhere decent to stop for a while.
And you know what? The thing I hadn’t quite anticipated when I got knocked up in my last few months in Shanghai was how tricky it would be to go back to work after having a kid.
Not the emotional stuff- we leave him with a babysitter every Sunday while we dash out the door, laughing and rubbing our hands together in gleeful anticipation of an afternoon spent amongst adults, with conversations and cocktails and maybe a nice massage thrown in for good measure.
No, I’m thankfully cold hearted when it comes to abandoning the little boy I spend the other 6.75 days of the week with.
The tricky thing has been, what do you do with an 18 month old in a foreign country when you’re in an industry that’s really unstable?
For example: I briefly took on a 12-week Sunday afternoon university prep teaching gig back in November, which meant I had to track down a babysitter. A 3 hour class needed 5 hours of babysitting time, allowing for prep and commuting.
When I hired her, it was under the premise that we’d soon be able to offer her around 20 hours a week. I had been told that there would be more classes opening soon, based on my availability (afternoons and weekends).
Three months later after that initial course finished, I still haven’t heard back from the school and my babysitter has long since moved on to clients who can actually offer her work (but we still get Sundays).
Maybe it was because I couldn’t work late nights or crazy split shifts or bizarre 45 minute isolated classes (with an hour’s commute to do so!).
Maybe it’s because I couldn’t linger around at the school for three hours after my Sunday class finished, in order to go out for drinks with the other teachers.
Maybe it’s because I couldn’t join in the school’s starting-at-eleven bia-hoi Christmas or New Year’s parties.
You can’t just leave the babysitter alone with a still-nursing baby for ten hours without warning.
I still feel like a huge spoil sport.
With my 13 years of solid experience in the industry, in the dark satanic language mills and the half-assed international universities and in the lucrative world of exams and assessment, I thought that surely there were some stable, regular hours out there, where I could get and keep a babysitter.
Something kind of 9-5ish, or even 10-6ish or 7-3ish. Maybe another university gig. Something stable’ish.
Not in Hanoi, anyway.
The one gig in town that did offer regular hours had recently laid off all of its full time staff and now was only hiring part time teachers on a bare bones contract with very unpredictable, changeable timetables.
I was told by other schools, oh, maybe a few evenings, til 9pm? Maybe for a few weeks, maybe longer, depending on the students’ schedules?
It’s tricky finding a babysitter willing to work irregular nights, and night classes are big here.
Or maybe a few weekends, one or two hours at a time, on the other side of the city? Or maybe split shifts, with 4 hour gaps between 90 minute classes?
Between commuting costs and babysitting costs and so-so pay and the fact that nothing was stable, it wasn’t looking so good.
I started looking further afield, seeing what our international options were.
Everywhere I looked I had to stop and think about the logistics of finding a babysitter.
Where do you go, say, in Kazakhstan or Taiwan or Oman or wherever, to find someone at short notice (you don’t tend to arrive a month or two early for a new TEFL job in a new country) that you can trust with your toddler for 8 to 10 hours a day, with a potentially changeable timetable?
And what about those countries where the local women don’t do the nannying (Oman, for example) and you have to figure out how to find someone somewhere else that you might be able to sponsor and bring over? How can you begin looking for someone to sponsor if you haven’t even got the job yet and are just looking and don’t know where you’ll end up or what you’ll need?
It’s weird and confusing and complicated- three things that this particular profession never used to be for me.
I used to like the flexibility and spontaneity of it all.
However, as number 18 on the Top TEFL Blogs list, I am almost certainly an authority on this matter, even if I’m a bit baffled by it all right now.
Rest assured, I shall pontificate on it as the answers become clear.
That’ll be sometime around 2017, when I finish my MA in Applied Linguistics.
You know, the specific bit of higher edjamacation I should have gone for back in 2005 when I first considered it (and decided I couldn’t afford it). The one that opens the doors to TEFL gigs that pay well and have sane hours and acknowledge that you may have a spouse and child and life outside of work (something I never really realized most efl jobs are oblivious to).
Something to think about. That’s all.