There is a question that gets asked often once you have graduated from college. I mean…really often. Oh it can come in many forms, the clear cut “So do you have a job yet?” or the casual “How’s the job market treating you?” and so on. It’s usually met with an answer of “Yeah, this job market is rough” when I tell them that I’m a substitute teacher and have been looking for work. The truth is, the job market is tough, but it really depends on your outlook.
Okay, not really, because when you are interviewed for a job and it went really well but you still didn’t get the job, well, that sucks. It’s also rough, like the job market. But if you look in the right places, and couple that with a copious amount of prayer, sometimes God will land you a crazy job that you never really thought you would get.
Here is the short of it: I got a job to teach classes in English at a school in Qingdao (pronounced Ching-dow [in a Chinese accent if you wish]) China. Yes, China. Yup, that China. If this comes as a shock to you, well, then it is, because it’s pretty much a shock to me as well. Let me explain to you my journey that led me to how I got the job. And it is a journey.
It started way back in October of 2010, during my semester of student teaching at Woodstock High school. I received one of the many “spam” e-mails to my KSU e-mail account and was about to delete it until I read the subject, which read: “Would you like to teach in Japan?” and I said to myself “Yup!” I mean, have you seen some of the wacky crazy stuff that comes out of Japan? You must be thinking at this point: Clay, Japan is not China. (Don’t worry, I know). What they don’t tell you though about the arduous application process to the JET program is that there is a pretty dang small chance that you’re going to get accepted. Thousands of people from all around the world apply every year and they accept only a few. I sent my application in in October, and wouldn’t hear back until February. Once February rolled around I was eagerly awaiting how I might find out whether or not I was going to make it to the interview process. I received a card in the mail with a six digit number on it. My number. I was to go online and look through all the number they “accepted.” If mine was there, I was in. If it wasn’t, well, then I wasn’t. Well, I looked, and sure enough, I wasn’t. I didn’t get it. With hopes of teaching in Japan dashed I continued my “career” of substitute teaching at Cherokee High school.
In March (I think) my friend Derek, who teaches Spanish, convinced me to go to a teacher career fair a the KSU career services center. I totally didn’t want to go, but I figured that as a “responsible” adult, and being in the real world, that I should go. So I went, dressed in my sporty sport coat and waded through the multitudes of perspective teachers and their perspective employers. At this point I had really had enough with hearing about Cobb county and Cherokee county and all this school system drama about what is better, about the schools, about pensions yadda yadda. I wasn’t really interested. Until I saw a booth for teaching in China. I said in my mind: “Hey, that’s like teaching in Japan, but in China!” So I walked up to the booth and talked to the girl who was there for about fifteen minutes (no one else was at the booth or in line to be at the booth like every other booth in the building). I was prepared in asking her questions, questions I didn’t know I needed to know the answers to until I looked pretty thoroughly into the Japan thing. I took a flier and when I got home I started the application process to the International Schools in China. ISC, as the name implies, is an international school system with Christian values that teaches, in English, to international (not Chinese) students. This sounded much better than teaching English to Japanese kids. Since the school is Christian (Protestant) based they asked a lot of essay questions in the application, I’m talking like 16 pages in a word document long. So I did that, and in the whole process there were about 7 steps that required time for review between each step. Well, as I gradually climbed the stairs, so did my hope. I prayed about it a lot, asking that God’s will would be done. That I didn’t want to do anything he didn’t want me to do.
Everything was going really well until I got a call from David, the guy at ISC, telling me that they wanted to hire me (sure they did) but they had just filled the position with someone who had finished the application process before I did. Just my luck. I mean, I started it after I saw the booth at the fair, how was I supposed to have done it any faster.
Holstering my semi-bitterness at investing a lot of time, hope and mental energy into two international teaching positions I was pretty down. I continued substitute teaching until summer started. Subbing was good because it gave me many great opportunities to hone in my classroom management skills. It also gave me an in at Cherokee High School. I talked to the principal the day before I left to work at Camp Highland this summer and she told me that there would be at least one job opening for an English teacher. Sweet! I figured that since I was buddies with a few of the English teachers, and that a bunch of the kids claimed to love me, and that I was never late and always came in when they called would give me a good boost above other perspective teachers. So during camp I shaved my man beard off and donned a shirt and tie for my interview. It went really well. I mean, pulled out, I mean, came up with great answers to all the principal’s questions and wasn’t nervous or anything.
Two weeks and three phone calls after the one week I was quoted for receiving word about my interview my mom called me telling me I got a letter in the mail from Cherokee. Great, I’m sure they send all their new teachers letters telling them they got the job. So she opened it over the phone and shared the news we both knew: I didn’t get the job. I prayed that if God didn’t want me to have the job that I wouldn’t get it, but if He did want me to get it, then I would. I just wanted to follow what he wants for my life, even though that can be hard. So this was the third “no” in a row from three places I though in my hopelessly romantic mind that I actually thought I would get hired at.
So I had to share the bad news with all the staff back at camp. That I didn’t get the job. A bunch of them had prayed for me and for my job, so it was tough to have to break the news. I felt like I was somehow letting them down. They had all told me how great of a teacher I would be. But, at that point, in July, I wasn’t going to be a teacher at all.
I talked with Gavin, one of the full time staff at camp, about interning during the fall. Since I didn’t have anything lined up, except for more subbing probably, I figured I might as well spend time in the mountains being outside and surround myself with other people who love God. So I sat down with him and we worked out the preliminary details of what I would do in the fall.
Three days later, on July 21 I check my phone, which had previously been living in my duffle bag in the “off” mode (Phones do have that by the way) and I had a voicemail. It was David, the guy from ISC. I really wasn’t sure why he was calling, especially so late in the summer. He asked in the message if I had found a job yet and if I was still interested in teaching in China. I still was. To be honest, I felt like God was calling me to teach outside of the US for some time.
In God’s infinite humor I had received that message on the 23rd (technically) at 2am. A Saturday. That morning I called and the office was closed. So I had to wait till Monday to find out what the heck he was talking about. I told Gavin about the call and how I thought it was God opening a door for me after so many had been closed. I think sometimes we stand for so long at a closed door, the object of our fleshly desires, and try to force it open with hope and longing. But sometimes all it takes is letting that go and walking away, and the second you turn around you hear a creak, look back and the door is wide open with a welcome mat out front. I had literally given up on teaching anything in a school as my Fall job. It was too late.
But it wasn’t. On Monday I called ISC asking for David and the secretary told me he was in a meeting, that he would have to call me back (ahhh more waiting). Monday is the day campers come and our summer staff does this really cool song where I may or may not have performed a rap. I kind of needed to be there for it, so I knew when she told me he would call me back that it would be right before the intro. I was so right, so I told David I would have to call him back. He understood and I got a hold of him a few minutes later.
He told me about another school, near the one I had originally applied to, that was looking to hire a teacher for their high school. I told him I was interested, despite the fact that some of the classes he told me I would be teaching were not in my subject area. But I know that God opened this door, so I had to step through on faith that He will provide, and I know he will.
David forwarded my information to Bonnie, the person at the school that I would be in communication with. David said I might have to fill out their application and might need to do my references again. I knew we were on a time crunch, and the thing about references is that they are people. They are busy and have to take time out of their day to fill out a pretty good sized survey about me. So sometimes that takes time. This kind of made me worry a bit.
Then I got an e-mail from David saying that they would accept the application and references I did for ISC only three months previous. Wahoo! A small victory. I applied for a job three months previous that I didn’t even know existed.
A few days later I got an e-mail from Bonnie saying that she looked over my application materials and that I look like I would be a good fit and that we should have a phone interview. I called her the next day, before our weekly rafting trip down the Middle Ocoee, and had an hour and a half long phone interview in the middle of the Whitewater Express camping area amidst someone playing the electric guitar and multiple people always screaming. It was thoroughly exhausting. Bonnie told me that she didn’t have any qualms about offering me the job and told me I could take a few days to pray and think about it. I told her that God had opened a door and that I had been praying about it for a pretty good while. So when, after our raft trip, I received her e-mail offering me the job, I sent her one right back accepting it. I didn’t talk to my family or anything until after. Woops. But not really.
My mom was sad to be losing “her baby” to another country, but told me that she had been praying that I would get a teaching job in the fall. She did, however, omit the country in which that job would take place.
Since the end of camp, only a few days after I sent Bonnie my e-mail I have been in a constant flurry of filling out paperwork. One thing I didn’t know was that even though I accepted the job that that didn’t mean I was guaranteed the job. The Chinese government has the last say in that matter when I applied for my Visa. You see, they are very picky about what is on a person’s resume and how much teaching experience they have etc. So there was still a chance that I could be denied this position. That would be the ultimate closed door. Something I ardently prayed for, asking God to give me this job only if that is what he wanted me to do.
That is honestly one of the harder prayers I’ve ever prayed. Because it’s Biblical. I shouldn’t ask for what I want all the time, and God doesn’t really owe me anything. I can only ask that my will would align with his and I believe that when our will is in harmony is when He can do his greatest work. So even though I was literally saying “God, if you don’t want me to have this job, then don’t give it to me.” I knew deep down inside this is where He wanted me. I also felt deep inside that I could still not get the job. And after “letting down” all the people at camp I made sure to tell them there was still a chance it wouldn’t happen.
So, for the past two weeks I have been patiently and anxiously awaiting news of whether or not my Visa materials had made it through the three different levels of Chinese government facilities. I am happy to say that I successfully made it through all three and am for sure going to teach in China. I still have some paperwork to submit stateside to finalize my Visa, and it looks like I am going to be leaving on August 29 of this year. Yes, I know that is soon, but that’s just how God worked it out.
The funny thing about working at a camp is that when I told one person about my interview and accepting the job, about thirty more knew within an hour. However, all of their positive encouragement helped with my looming pessimism, realism, or whatever you want to call it. For you, whoever you are in relation to me as you read this, it is probably your first time hearing that I applied to teach in China or that I got accepted or that I am actually going. And part of that was not wanting to tell the world and have to face “letting the world down” like when I didn’t get the job at Cherokee. But now I get to tell you all about my blessed opportunity.
Just to recap, incase you missed all the cool connections. Applying to Japan put in my heart a tangible desire to teach abroad. Subbing strengthened my teaching. Applying to the first job in China got me the second job, both with contact with David and all my application materials. Getting rejected from Cherokee prevented me from signing a contract when this opportunity would have come along. And working at Camp Highland this summer strengthened my walk with Christ more than any time in my life. And if you were a part of that family, I sincerely thank you for being an awesome person this summer and for seeking God over yourselves.
Wow, that was long. Thanks for reading if you did. I am going to post here later some more logistical details of my stay in China. So stay tuned.