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FOREIGN TEACHERS with ethnic background…Second best in China?
My long cherished dream of coming to China was finally achieved when a very friendly and approachable staff from the International Exchange Division of one of the best agricultural universities here in the province of Hunan gave me a call confirming about my acceptance as a Foreign teacher. I was ecstatic that very moment. I couldn’t believe that I was chosen to teach and that they have considered my application despite the fact that I am not an English native speaker.

The moment I set my foot at Changsha Airport I told myself, “this is it…there’s no turning back Isabella and you must be proud of your color and your race.” And so my journey to the world of EFL teaching started with a spirited mind.

Life as a teacher here as I have observed is very worthwhile and full of rewarding experiences. Nevertheless, life in China generally speaking, is not always a bed of roses. I mean, for us, non-native English speakers.

I was lucky that my contract to stay for another year was extended but a very good friend of mine’s contract was not renewed. It saddened me for we have been friends for a year and I regarded him already as a confidante. It was a great loss for me.

Finding another teaching job for him was not that easy. Why? The problem is that he is black. And his Nigerian accent was somewhat strong that after several phone interviews, he would get rejections from some of the schools he has applied for.

I think it’s just unfair. He is a very capable teacher and a hard worker. Yet, to many, that is not sufficient. Well, I would say that racial discrimination is still predominantly apparent when it comes to ESL Teaching. That’s very true.

For one, I can’t blame the school administrators because they are only concerned with their students’ welfare. Yet, the unknown fact is that they should take into consideration that having different accents and cultures of the teachers they hire will be a great advantage for the students.

I thought my life is easier comparing with my good friend. But I was proven wrong this time.

When China is on the brink of summer, life dramatically changes for foreign teachers. It means that every one will have the opportunity to work as a part time instructor in a summer camp or a training school. The smell of big money is floating in the air.

There is also a longing for me to indulge myself into these summer income-generating activities. To my surprise, I got a call from my colleague inviting me to teach. Wow! It was a big chance so I put all my energies and concentration on that. I prepared for an initial interview with the director of the foreign language of an outstanding university in Hunan. I dressed up so I will not miss this big break of a lifetime.

The discussion went for about an hour. After which, I was given the textbook which will be used for the entire summer class. The interpreter promised to call me two days before the class to give last minute instructions. I humbly agreed.

Two days later, the most awaited call confirming of my attendance to their university arrived. It was another breakthrough for me as a Spoken English lecturer. Immediately after receiving the confirmation, I developed a mindset - that is to promise myself to give all the efforts and the best I can offer to my students. I did all the preparations from visual aids to small tokens that I usually hand over to deserving students once they excelled in a certain classroom activity.

The night before the class begins, I received the most frustrating call of my life. The interpreter who used to be the mediator told me at once that I should not be going anymore because they are experiencing difficulty finding an available classroom for my class. I was also told to continue my other plans for my summer vacation.

I was totally at a loss that very moment. I don’t know how to react. I can’t express my grudges or any other feelings. It was an emotional downfall for me.

Can I blame myself for having a brown color? I always know that this is the reason and the visible truth that I am not a native speaker.

I cried the whole night. When I woke up the following morning, I went for a walk trying to erase the sad events in my memory. It did help me in some ways.

As soon as I entered my room, a phone was ringing. Wow! It was another teaching offer from a training school. I just want to laugh and say, “Come on! I just got rejected!”

The funny thing was that I have to act as a proxy for the American teachers who first committed to this institution but later backed out for unknown reasons. What’s more, they were asking if I could tell my students that I once lived in the US for sometime. It was another blow to the extent that I need to lie.

I was having apprehensions again. I told them I have to think about it. The forced decision came to mind after two days of hard thinking and weighing the pros and cons of the scenario. I gave them a ring and told them that I will give it a try.

My class went well though there was another story behind it. The administrator who promised to give me my salary 2 days after my teaching is over did not keep his promise. The reward of my hard work was not released. And so I need to ask a friend to locate him because he was nowhere to be found. Until I decided to ask the authorities to handle this matter – the school and the police department. They interrogated and finally, the accused was caught and was eventually fired! Later, I was given my money back.

But to sum up the experience I gained, it was incredible learning that my students were so intelligent and so updated with the latest information. Mind you! They are very young yet very articulate. I am so proud of them as their teacher.

So I guess for Foreign Teachers with a tribal background, the treatment will always be like this. And I just need to accept it if I can stand lying all the time or being treated like second best. Yet, I am praying that this unfair treatment would change for the better to create better relationships.

However, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the university I am currently in for I have never been considered a second-class foreign teacher. The kindness and recognition they are showing me will always be treasured in my heart forever.
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