Where do broken hearts go? To China to teach English of course!
Whilst scrolling through the socials in my then varsity resident room, the stench of hunger engraving me as I had finished igwinya no polony earlier that day. My next meal was a mystery – that’s what you get when you use your allowance irresponsibly. Mid-month chronicles had me mastering the art of intermittent fasting. The silver lining – the next move for my financial breakthrough suddenly became apparent. I was going to move to China to teach English and by so doing experience the true science of education and liberty that comes with teaching in an environment that values me as an educator for the first time in my career.
I soon forgot all about my hunger pains and dedicated that night to researching and applying at various recruitment agencies. Most of them “politely” denied my application with the same justification: “Unfortunately, our team is currently hiring natives only.” Puzzled by the meaning of this term in context, I put my ‘No.1 Ladies Detective Agency’ boots on and soon found out that it refers to either :
a) Countries where English is considered a home language or mother tongue
b) Individuals who learnt English as a home language or mother tongue
Since its difficult to prove individual histories, most institutions accept the country of origin as a rule of thumb. A simple Google search informed me that my home country, South-Africa, is included in the list of English native countries. I was beaming with pride upon this discovery but also rather perplexed by the denial of my applications despite the proof of my nationality, my academic record and my demonstration of fluency in the target language. It became apparent that the term ‘native’ was loaded with political biases and if I wanted to make it to China, I would have to find a recruitment agency that looked like me; Black.
In the struggle for social justice, it is seldom that the oppressor becomes an ally. It is up to the marginalized to form a coalition and ultimately claim their freedom.
Fast forward a whole year, I am in China, thanks to the help of my brother. My next meal is no longer a life problem, in fact, I’m contending for a position in team ‘Imali, eningi’ founded by Big Zulu, South African Hip-Hop artist. One thing remains, I’m still not considered native and as a result, I am not afforded the same privileges as those considered “native” such as a lucrative salary. I have, however, claimed my professional respect by learning to create boundaries, speak my mind and show up with a boss work ethic.
Truth is, no one can determine your value without first reading your price tag. Make sure you know your worth. Also, whether the ESL community is ready or not, the fact is: Black girls teach away too!
Lerato Mathibe is a South-African born artist of life, social justice activist and author of ‘Baby Steps’ an anthology of poetry. She currently resides in Sichuan, China, where she teaches English. She is a Masters candidate in Gender Studies in Education. Connect with her on Instagram @leratomathibe