“I’ve talked to people who have been teaching for decades and they’ve told me they don’t always feel like a teacher.”

This week get a taste of what it’s like to be a volunteer teacher in China as we interview Tracey Sullivan, a current teacher in Nanyue, Hunan Province in China. There she lives and teaches some classes of more than 60 students with her husband. She’s learned to motivate while instructing and not to take anything personally, read on to get the latest from one of our most popular WorldTeach programs.


Volunteer Spotlight, January 2016

Meet Tracey Sullivan, Current Volunteer in China

In which WorldTeach country program are you currently serving?

We (my husband and I) are working in China, Hunan Province. We work in a small district of the city of Hengyang that has a population of about 10,000 people called Nanyue. We love our town, it is green and scenic. It is at the base of one of China’s 5 holy mountains, Mt. Hengshan. Our school is Yueyun Middle School. I currently teach the Sr 1 students they are 14-15 years old. I teach 14-40 minute classes per week and have office hours or will meet with students after class if they would like. My classes have 57-84 students each. Most of my students have never had a Spoken English class before so there English levels are relatively low. I do have some students who had spoken English as Jr high students and some who attended English camp in the summer.

What is one fun fact about yourself that nobody would guess?

I have seen the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark over 135 times. I stopped counting at 135 but it is probably close to 200 times. When I was younger I would act out the movie for my friends.

What’s one unexpected part of your volunteer experience so far?

I’ve never had a job that was so closely connected to my personal life and my mood. I’ve always been the type of person who could compartmentalize very well, a bad day at work didn’t equal a bad day all around for me. It is different now, very different. First living on campus I feel like I’m always working, also I am so emotionally invested in my students. I want them to do well and I want to be the one who helps them do well, so when a class doesn’t go well it really affects me and my mood. Conversely, when it is an exceptionally good class I’m on cloud nine. The problem with this is that it can change multiple times throughout the day depending on how my classes go! I’m learning to not take it all so personally but I’m learning slowly.

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you began your WorldTeach volunteer year?

So many things! One, as a new teacher it seems like it will never be “okay” but it will. Two, you are not going to feel like a teacher but you are not a fraud. I’ve talked to people who have been teaching for decades and they’ve told me they don’t always feel like a teacher. Three, my biggest job here in such a rural area is more motivator than instructor. Many of my students don’t feel like they will ever need or use English so I have to give them a reason to stay interested during class. Four, how to use chopsticks (never occurred to me or the hubby to practice).

Any words of wisdom to those considering doing a WorldTeach program?

When you are completing applications to teach abroad it seems rosy and noble in your head and it is, sometimes, but it is also your real life. You will be living this life for at least one year. Everything that you are travels with you and that person has to live with the ups and downs of living abroad. Even living with my husband I still sometimes feel isolated, at times I still get lonely. I’m barely 5 months out but I would not trade this experience for anything.