By Livvy Hill
TEFL Life in the “Pearl of the Orient”
After two years of living and working abroad, it only took a few weeks of being back home unemployed that I got my usual itchy feet and started looking at moving away again. Having taught English in Thailand before, I decided that teaching somewhere in Asia again was a good option as there are plenty of opportunities. This time though, I was taking my boyfriend along for the ride!
So we started looking at the best options for ‘TEFL couples’ and originally, South Korea was our choice. Plenty of ‘couples’ opportunities, good money and of course, a new exciting experience. However, I then received an email for an opportunity in Hong Kong and it seemed like an awesome deal. We hadn’t even considered Hong Kong, and if I’m honest, I barely knew anything about it beforehand! I got straight online and did more research into the city and other teaching opportunities on offer. After reading plenty of blogs that sold Hong Kong to me and my boyfriend, we jazzed up our CV’s and emailed lots of language schools. One week later, we landed jobs with Hong Kong’s largest English language center and had 1 month to get everything organized and begin our new life chapter.
TEFLing in Hong Kong
Like most places in Asia, when it comes to teaching English you have two choices here. You can work in a local, private or an International school, or you can work in English language centers. I can only really offer advice on the latter, as this is the route my boyfriend and I chose. However, if you hold a PGCE or equivalent, I highly recommend looking into the first options or the NET scheme, as there are some pretty incredible opportunities to be had. I had my TEFL certificate and one years experience and my boyfriend had only recently just gained his TEFL, so English language centers were much more likely to hire us.
We both landed jobs with Monkey Tree English Learning Center, Hong Kong’s largest English language school with over 40 centers. We work at separate centers (which we like…living AND working AND traveling together is a little intense) and we currently live on Hong Kong Island.
Our experience so far is very positive. However it is VERY different from what I was used to in Thailand. Creating my own lessons, teaching 18 hours a week to the same homeroom kindergarten class of 30…oh no. This is nothing like it. The work ethic in Hong Kong is extremely high, and even as a TEFL teacher, our hours are long. We work 9.30-6.30 3 days a week, and until 7.30 2 days a week, teaching a maximum of 30 hours. However, the center we work for provides everything for us. There is no lesson planning involved, all materials are provided and classes are small. I teach a maximum of 8 children at a time, and the ages range from 2 years old to 12 years old. The center offers a variety of classes too, so I might teach a kindergarten style lesson in the morning, with some phonic lessons in the afternoon and then reading or grammar in the evening.
There are pros and cons to this style of teaching, as in Thailand it was slightly more relaxed and I had the chance to be super creative with my lesson planning. However, sometimes I would be up until 2am designing worksheets or preparing crafts. Whereas now, I turn up to work and everything I need is there, and I can come home and not even think about work. Work stays at work. Nevertheless, sometimes I miss the mental challenge and creative side of things.
If you think an English language center could be the route for you, I just recommend researching the company and other teachers experiences there. However, always read a variety of opinions, as one persons experience can be very different from another. We are over 6 months into our contract now and have had a very good experience so far. Monkey Tree is a well known language school here, other centers I have heard of are Excel English and Jolly Kingdom. Many companies interview over Skype, so if you wanted to secure a job before you landed here like we did, then it shouldn’t be a problem.
The pay as a TEFL teacher here is good and most companies will offer a bonus on completion of your contract. Contracts are usually 12+ months and if you are looking at saving money like we were, it can be done!
In Thailand, I had my own studio apartment with a huge double bed, and then in Sydney my boyfriend and I had a master bedroom with plenty of space. So moving to Hong Kong was a little shock to the system as living spaces here are TINY.
There are two options when it comes to where one lives in Hong Kong: on the island or off. Living on the island means easy access to the centre and all its bars, restaurants and entertainment, but living off the island generally means getting more value for money from one’s accommodation.
We live on the Island, in a very small 3 bedroom apartment and share what can only be described as a miniature double bed (it is not a regular size double bed). We live with 2 other teachers from Monkey Tree, and it has definitely been a challenge living in such a confined space. However, we are in such a good location and we live above the food markets, it has so much character and the apartment itself is fairly modern.
Property prices in Hong Kong are among the highest in the world, and to rent you usually need to be able to afford 3 months up front for your deposit, and the size you get for your money can be a little sickening. However, our company actually organizes housing for those who want it and you just have to pay 1 months deposit. We took this option as it was much more financially doable for us. You can of course, find your own apartment to rent and have the choice to not have housemates and there are plenty of really fancy places you can live, but a BIG price tag will be attached. Our main goal is to save to travel here, so staying in Monkey Tree accommodation and apartment sharing, plus being a couple, makes it a lot cheaper for us and easier to save!
Hong Kong Lifestyle
Life in Hong Kong is really what you make it. People working in Hong Kong often live their social lives with the same speed and efficiency expected of them in the business world. After long, demanding days at the office, locals and foreigners alike have a bewildering array of opportunities to enjoy ostentatious luxury or to absorb the city’s natural splendor and cultural allure.
A lot of expats here seem to “work hard, play hard”, however for us it’s more like “work hard, save hard”. This isn’t to say that we have not made the most of our time here! Hong Kong has stunning mountains with plenty of beautiful hiking trails and pretty beaches to see, and all of this is free, so we like to get outdoors on our days off and explore outside of the city. It isn’t always necessary to pay top dollar to enjoy yourself. We have sought out some great cheap eats and we know what bars offer happy hours and what cinemas offer cheap tickets on certain days. So it really is just finding out about all the little deals that can save you a fortune.
Exercise and gyms are such a luxury here too. If you want to join a gym or yoga club, expect to pay at least 700HKD (70GBP) a month for a basic gym with an attached hefty joining fee. Or you can pay up to 1500HKD but the facilities of the health club will be outstanding and you will get an incredible view too. For me, this just was not in my budget. So I have taken up running. We live very close to the harbor where there is a fantastic 3km promenade that overlooks the Kowloon Island with the mountains in the background, it is truly stunning. I can do my own circuit training exercises in the local park and as a yoga addict, who cannot afford the price tag attached to the yoga clubs here, I have managed to always find out about charity classes and free events and I even found a yoga teacher who offers a pay as you go scheme with no contract, which is perfect (and the classes are great!) I am probably the most physically fit I have ever been and it is the first time I haven’t paid to be a member of a gym, so I am saving a ton of money and keeping in shape! So I suggest people looking to save here but who like to workout, just head outside!
Eating in Hong Kong has not really been a challenge. Hong Kong is the perfect mix of East meets West, and you can get all the western treats here if you want, or you can head to the local markets to eat some chicken feet soup if that’s your thing. For us, personally, Chinese food does not hit the spot, and we are not huge meat eaters, so we were a little apprehensive about what we were going to be eating out here. However, it has been fine, we occasionally buy chicken from the supermarkets, but we get all of our fruit and veggies form the food market below us, we have nutella in the cupboard, cereals, you can buy all the normal crisps and chocolate if you wanted. I can’t have dairy, so I was worried about finding other alternatives but it has not been difficult at all. I have access to soy milk, almond milk, coconut milk, dairy free ice creams and yogurts, so food shopping really isn’t that different from the UK. It’s just a lot more expensive! So when we do go shopping in the supermarkets we usually just get essentials like bread and butter, but occasionally we like to treat ourselves. The food markets are very cheap to buy fruit and vegetables, and rice and noodles are of course very cheap and easy to come by. As I said before, we have found lots of great cheap restaurants, so we actually eat out about 2-3 times a week, as it can work out as the same price as cooking your own food.
Getting around Asia’s World City
Transport in Hong Kong is incredibly efficient and cheap. The MTR system is fantastic, the buses are pretty good and you can even get the ferries between the islands which offer incredible views. Rarely have I ever had to get taxis, but when I have done, it’s been easy and reasonably priced. Hong Kong is also a great location to be visit other parts of Asia. We have already been to Taiwan, and have booked to go to Borneo over Christmas and to the Philippines in the New Year. You can get very good deals on flights here.
Hong Kong has the nickname “Pearl of the Orient”, which is a reflection of the impressive night-view of the city’s light decorations on the skyscrapers along both sides of the Victoria Harbour, and if you come here it’s easy to understand why it has this name. It’s a bustling city built on a stunning island, and it’s a very cool place to live and work! If you are considering teaching English here, I 100% recommend it.