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From Chesterfield Township to China: An Anchor Bay Grad Goes Abroad

Chesterfield native Patricia Calvert is teaching English to children overseas.

An Anchor Bay High School graduate has left her native Chesterfield Township for a life-changing move to China, where she's teaching children English.

Patricia Calvert, daughter of Chesterfield Fire Capt. Doug Calvert and New Baltimore community gardener Denise Calvert, shares her experiences with Patch.

Name: Patricia (Patty) Calvert

Age:
29

High School:
Graduated from Anchor Bay High School class of 2001

College/Degree:
Graduate from Central Michigan University with a bachelor’s degree in Hospitality Management.

On moving abroad

I didn’t think it was that big of a deal but more and more people are asking about it. I packed up three suitcases and a backpack and move to China; one of the hardest parts for me was deciding what items I thought I would need, when I return to the US. I’m a lucky girl to have some very close friends that allowed me to use them as storage for, what seems to be, at least the next year. 

Change of heart

I started my studies at CMU with the intention of getting my bachelor’s in Education, but somewhere along the line I decided to change. I’d been in the service industry for what seemed to be a while and it was a natural transition for me. I graduated in the fall of 2007 and received a job as Front Office Supervisor right after graduation in Columbus, Ohio at The Westin Resort. At the Westin I was in many different areas of the hotel (Front Office, Restaurant, and Accounting) and moved my way up; in the fall of 2011, transitioned to a new property, the Sheraton, as the Assistant Human Resources Manager and within about eight months had received a promotion to Training & Development Manager. 

Making a difference and move to travel

To any outsider, this would have been a great opportunity and a great job. But to me, I didn’t feel like I was making any contribution to the world. I know that sounds completely corny but it’s entirely true! I felt stagnant, I was training and I was developing both myself and others but it didn’t seem like enough. Besides working full-time at the hotel, I was also working part-time at Macy’s to keep up with my student loan payments. So I was not only feeling stagnant but I was also working myself to what seemed like certain death. Sure, I made friends and was having fun on my days that I could but still it wasn’t enough. 

I needed to do something, to see things; I had only been out of the country twice, to Canada and Italy. I aspired to travel and had only been out of the country twice, who was I becoming?! Excitement, of something new, unseen, undiscovered, this is what I needed.

Deciding on China

You ask why China?  I say why not China. It’s one of the biggest growing countries in the world, with the economic status of the US, the Chinese growing economy and the rate at which they pay expert expats I couldn’t go wrong. The Chinese economy is still not great for the people who live here, but expats can live like kings or queens. It’s still a growing and changing economy with lots more changes to go but it’s such a beautiful and vast country, why not visit for a little while. Also a benefit, the dollar goes a lot further here. I can buy an entire week’s worth of groceries and some goodies to boot and not spend $25 USD. 

Rapid growth in hotel industry, setting sights on teaching

Not only that, but since China is growing so rapidly, Starwood Hotels have opened over 100 properties in China alone in the last year.  If I learn the language and the culture and I decide to get back into the hospitality industry they would most likely hire me because I have the background in hospitality and I know their culture/language. About three or four years ago, I was in the same mood, I didn’t feel like I was accomplishing enough or doing anything. I almost joined the Peace Corps but eventually decided that I didn’t like the idea of possibly being the only English speaking person in a village and being left to tend things alone, so I dropped the idea.

That’s when I met an acquaintance, Joseph Day, who had been teaching English as a second language (ESL) for a few years and absolutely loved it. We talked about all of the places he had been, things he had seen and I remember saying to him, “I want to be you.”  We laughed it off and we’ve kept in contact since, emailing back and forth from his remote locations. He’d been to Turkey, India, South Korea, Chile, and up until December of 2012 was in China. I emailed him back in August, just to check on him and chat. That’s when I’d inquired about how to start this whole process, as that’s exactly what it is…a process!  He gave me some reputable recruiters and recruiting sites that he’d used in the past.  I noticed that I’d get paid more if I got my TEFL, so in October of 2012 that’s exactly what I did.  It took me a few weeks to complete the 100 hour training and testing required to get my certificate.  I had multiple interviews with different private school but chose one over the others, based mainly on size and location.  

Finding the right place

As you know, New Baltimore and Chesterfield are not exactly what people would consider ‘big’ cities and all of the schools I interviewed with were in large cities like Beijing or Shanghai which have roughly 22-24 million people respectively.  I didn’t want to get lost in a sea of faces, or lost in general.  Wenzhou is right in the middle at approximately nine million, where the population is a little more than New York City. 

Currently, I am an ESL teacher for a private language school, Lucheng Women and Children Activity Center which is in Wenzhou City, Zhejiang Provence, China.  I teach English to children as young as 4 through high school ages.  In the two weeks that I’ve been here, most of my students have been the high school students as they are preparing for their IELTS (International English Language Testing System) interviews.  This is where soon to be high school graduates will go to the universities of their choosing to have an English language interview. 

English in the East

Most of my students want to be English professors/teachers or English broadcasters.  The only person that I had been acquainted with was my school principle, who’d interviewed me. That soon changed, as soon as I arrived to the school I began to talk with some of my class interpreters. They are mainly young women in their mid-late 20’s who studied English in their universities  My friends and family were a bit shocked at first that I chose to move all of the way to China. 

But since, have been nothing but completely supportive and helpful, shipping boxes to me and all.  I’m not entirely sure that it’s hit me yet…I live in China!  I just kind of assume that people can understand the pointing to things; non-verbal body language is my new best friend.  I’ve always been a pretty independent, go-getting person, going for what I want and usually coming out with it in hand.  But I suppose this is a new high for me, learning a new language, culture and customs will take some time but I hope to make the best of every moment.

Observations from an American abroad

There are a lot of things that I’ve noticed, and some things have literally made me laugh out loud.  Public urination is normal here, as well as hocking loogies or blowing your nose on the street (without a tissue), these are all quite disturbing to write as well as to witness.  Also, driving and parking on the sidewalk is considered completely normal but foreigners are hardly ever seen.  So they stare at me, and they stare a lot! 

Food is also another difference, obviously. Nothing is the same here, other than the normal rice and noodles everyone would think of as Chinese food the rest is a bit different. I have tried some really different and some Americans would say crazy tasting food, like jellyfish or duck tongue, to the Chinese these are normal foods.  It’s like the Chinese version of hot dogs and apple pie. 

It’s a little weird not being in the US, but at the same time it’s totally freeing to be able to leave everything I know and everyone I know and start something new.  It’s not every day that you get to wake up and hear people screaming in Chinese (unless you happen to live over a Chinese restaurant) or get woken up by the sounds of firecrackers in the middle of the night (because it’s still Chinese New Year!) or get to walk down the street and get stares by almost every person, until you look at them and even then sometimes they still gawk. 

Making the most of it

It’s definitely a different world over here, not better or worse, just different.  I intend to make the most of it. There isn't much that I miss, yet, of course I miss my friends and family. Skype and email are great ways to communicate, especially with the 13 hour (ahead for me) time difference. So it's nice, when it's morning I can have my cup of coffee and people on the east coast will be getting ready for dinner.

Calvert also blogs about her experiences at abcexpat.weebly.com.

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