Madison MacNichol

So many changes must be made in this life. Some are simply slight adjustments while others involve a total life overhaul. Although changing light bulbs, finding a new grocery store or alternate routes to work can be an annoyance from time to time, it is the later category of changes that most affect us. If we are forced or choose to change jobs, move cities, enter or leave a relationship or quit an addiction these are things we remember and usually have quite strong feelings about. They mark us and further shape us as people.

Training in Cambodia

When I was 23 years and long done with my undergraduate degree, I had been let loose into America’s workforce. I was honing my skill set as a waitress/secretary/baker all at once and searching for something more long term. After much research and help from Google, I found the LanguageCorps program and decided to invest the time and money to get my TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) Certificate so I could spread my native language across the globe. I spent four wonderful weeks in Phnom Penh, Cambodia in the LC TESOL training program, and upon receiving my certificate packed my bags for China. I had been learning Chinese in university although it had been a few years since I really had an opportunity to use it. So I arrived in Shanghai: enormous life change #1.


The city was massive. No, excuse me; the city was so big there isn’t a proper English word to describe such enormity. I spent five weeks there being trained by the company I was working for and each day the city chewed me up and spit me out. It was exhausting and I for the most part was miserable.


Luckily after my training I was transferred to still big, but smaller by Chinese standards, city in the north, Tianjin. It was much more suited to my tastes and I was able to find my footing there easier.

For eight months I worked as an English teacher in a kindergarten. My students we mostly under the age of 6 and mostly adorable. The hours were good and the pay was great and my Chinese was getting better through practice and classes, but still I felt an absence. I thought, “What is wrong with me?! I left home to find a more permanent stable career I could excel in and I have that. What more do you want?!” But the voice of American culture was whispering in my ear, “I’m glad you’re enjoying yourself, but are you where you want to be? Are you learning anything new?” Of course the answer was yes, I was learning a lot. I had learned how to make Chinese dumplings, navigate the subway system, find where the best markets are and even take exercise classes in Chinese, but the voice was not satisfied.

Private Tutoring Sessions

I then started individually tutoring adults: enormous life change #2. It started as a friend of a friend who was going to study in Australia and want to practice conversational English, and grew to 3 students who I met with individually twice a week. My schedule was full and my wallet as well, but I realized how much more I looked forward to working with my older students rather then the children at my kindergarten. Although my 3 adult students were far less adorable and paid me less, I probably would have taught them for free. Why? Because they had what the voice wanted. They radiated ambition. They had an insatiable hunger for knowledge and excitement for learning the unknown.

They continued to surprise me with their dedication to improving their English. Almost every lesson my students would arrive with a list of words he/she heard on the radio or television, which they wanted me to explain. They had questions like, “Are dear and deer the same thing?” “How about whine and wine?” or “Can you show me how to make the th sound?” Those were the fun easy questions, but sometimes they really stumped me with things like, “Why do you say The Netherlands or The USA but not The China?” or “When is it correct to use a comma?” It was the later type question that I liked most because they also made me think. I found myself somewhat relearning my own language through teaching it to others. It was marvelous.

When the end of my contract was approaching, I had one of those big life-overhaul decisions to make: continue teaching or go to graduate school. Both had pro’s and con’s and in the end I decided to return to The USA for a few months to organize what and where to study: enormous life change #3.

Grad School

So I found myself researching and Googling once again, this time for universities and masters programs around the world. Due to my love of language and culture I chose to study International Communications and settled on a University in Holland. Naturally I was nervous. I wondered if I had made the right decision to give up such a pleasant job in exchange for student loans and hours of essay writing. I felt like a teenager again, starting all over in a new field with little experience; however, shortly after arriving in The Netherlands I realized it was one of the best decisions I had ever made. The culture suited me as if I was always meant to be there and I found myself saturated with classes that fascinated and thrilled me. I thought, “Yes! This is what I have been missing for a few years!” I felt so alive and the voice was finally silent.

Teaching in China was a memorable experience and I would never change even a minute of it, but what sticks with me the most is through being an educator it encouraged me to continue my own education and that is something I will cherish for many years to come. Perhaps I will go back to teaching later or continue my education even further. Who can say, but what I do know is that even though those big tough transitions are scary, they are usually worth the effort.

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