By Anny Gao, Cultural Engagement, British Council

08 March 2024 - 15:00

A body of water with some boats, buildings and trees in the foreground, with tree covered peaks in the background.
Stanley Harbour, Hong Kong ©

Elizabeth Liang

Elizabeth Liang, an English Language Assistant in Hong Kong, tells us how her time as a Language Assistant has taught her new life skills and helped her grow in confidence.    

I moved to Hong Kong in August 2023, which was a big step in my life as I had just graduated from Newcastle University. I studied Mandarin and French with a Spanish subsidiary, but due to COVID, I could not do my year abroad in China. So, when the opportunity came to move to Hong Kong I jumped at it! I barely had time to say goodbye to the people I loved before I arrived on the other side of the world. I won’t lie; it was scary and daunting, but it was worth it! 

What made you decide to take up a post in Hong Kong? 

I’ve always loved learning languages, and they are hugely important in fostering global connections. Through language learning, we not only develop an appreciation for a diverse range of cultures but also gain a deeper understanding of one another. I studied Chinese because I wanted a deeper understanding of Chinese culture and language. Although my dad is from mainland China, when I was younger we spoke in English, so I never got the opportunity to learn. This was the main reason why I wanted to move to Hong Kong.  

Had you visited Hong Kong before?

I visited Hong Kong in 2018 with my family during a trip around China, and I fell in love with the place. It is a melting pot of Asian and Western. I was mesmerized by the blend of vibrant city life and towering skyscrapers. What truly amazed me was the transition from the urban landscape to peaceful pockets of nature just a bus ride away. I remember staring out of a bus window thinking, ‘Is this real?’. I was on the way to Stanley Beach - picture this: a beautiful cove set against a backdrop of greenery, with the cityscape in the foreground. I decided that my future goal was to move to Hong Kong and experience life there, and five years later, that goal became a reality. 

What work experience did you have?

I was lucky enough to have already lived in France and Spain, but moving to Hong Kong was the biggest move I’ve made. I worked as a live-in tutor for a year in Spain, and I have tutored children online for three years, so I knew that teaching was a possible career path for me. When I saw the job description for the English Language Assistant position, I thought it was perfect for me. I live in a small town in the north of England, I’ve never had the opportunity to be a city person, so I was a bit daunted by the thought of moving to a big city, but I was ready for a new experience. When I applied, I wasn’t sure whether I would get the job. I thought maybe I was underqualified or not a good fit and I barely mentioned it to anyone because I didn’t want to get my hopes up only to have them crushed. Also, it is a big step to move abroad, especially somewhere 5949 miles away!    

How did you feel when you received the news your application was successful?  

When I received the email saying I had got the job, I was both excited and nervous. It is hard to leave your friends and family behind so soon and move to a completely new place. There is a lot to consider before deciding to become an English Language Assistant, and there is a small window of time to accept the decision. I thought about my relationships, my future and how well I could acclimatize to a new country and culture. I was very settled in my life at home; I had some great friendships and a serious relationship that I didn’t want to lose to distance. You must decide if you can withstand the time apart, the 8-hour time difference, and continue life as normal. It is difficult to have that conversation, but it is something to assess before accepting because you can’t leave mid-way through the process if it gets difficult. I decided it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience which I couldn’t turn down, so I accepted the job.   

How did you prepare yourself to relocate to Hong Kong?  

In the weeks leading up to leaving, I was extremely emotional, and like every other language assistant I know, I cried a lot. The admin process of moving to another country is long, and every step is more difficult than the last, but once it is done, it feels like a weight is lifted, and all you have to do is pack! I brought with me plenty of photos from home, Tetley teabags, and a lot of skincare products! It is important to pack things that will make you feel at home and help beat random bouts of homesickness. In hindsight, I think that I should have had some form of leaving party, so I could say a proper goodbye to my friends and family because the days disappear so quickly, and there were people I didn’t get the opportunity to see before I left.   

How did you prepare and manage your culture shock once there?  

You have to adapt to culture shocks and language barriers that, at points, make you feel hopeless. But once you start to overcome this, you will see yourself growing and your confidence increasing. My first panic was when I completely forgot where I was living. So, I got off the plane and went into a taxi, but had to get back out because I had no clue where my accommodation was. My second panic was locking myself out of my room and not being able to say my door number. I decided I needed to be more organised and learn a few words of Cantonese to survive. I learned the numbers 1-10 first, which became particularly useful because I could now say my room number to security and hear when my food order number was being called out! 

What worried you most about becoming a teaching assistant? 

I come across as a confident person because I’m very chatty and good at communicating with people. However, I struggled with my nerves and public speaking. I used to dread exams, especially speaking exams and job interviews. All the confidence I knew I had completely disappeared, panic stations kicked in and my brain became empty. The thought of people watching me was terrifying. I wanted to challenge myself and try out for a teaching assistant role because I knew I had the potential. I just needed to push myself, but I worried that my lack of public speaking skills and nerves would affect me.   

I realised that if I had spent my entire university experience feeling this way, it’s highly likely that others felt the same. It fueled my desire to work directly with students who were embarking on further education or entering the workforce, with the intention of creating an open conversation. I was far too shy to ask for help from anyone, and I didn’t want anyone else to feel like that, so I wanted to be someone a student could rely on if they suffered from a lack of confidence.  

How have you developed personally and professionally as a Language Assistant? 

I currently work at a vocational institution, and from the day I arrived, I realised that public speaking was essential. In my first week, I presented a PowerPoint introducing myself to all the new students in a big hall with a microphone. That was a big step for me. Although the lead-up was nerve-wracking, by the end of the presentation, I felt a bit more confident. This continued as I started having class visits to the Centre for Independent Language Learning where I work and met more students. I got into the swing of solo presenting, and the more workshops and activities I did, the more confident I felt. I’ve tried to integrate myself as much as possible into extracurricular activities and as a result, I have forged stronger relationships with my students and colleagues. My friends at home find it hilarious because they’ve never seen me out of my comfort zone so much, but in Hong Kong, I’ve joined flash mobs singing on open day and played football on the staff team, despite not having exercised for two years. Being part of the school community has helped me improve on a professional and personal level as a Language Assistant, because around these people I feel comfortable being my confident, happy self and can grow into a better version of myself.   

Can you name a time when felt that you had overcome your fear of public speaking?   

When I tell my colleagues that I was a nervous wreck in the past, they don’t believe me. I try to be as open as I can with students about my confidence struggles, so they know it is possible to conquer self-doubt and emerge stronger. It was December when I really felt I had almost overcome my fear of public speaking. I was asked to be the MC at the graduation ceremony, which meant I was the narrator for the whole ceremony. I was so excited but equally nervous, but the day arrived, and there I was, standing on stage speaking to a huge audience with a smile on my face instead of fear. A few months before, I was terrified to go on stage at my graduation for a handshake, and now I was public speaking at an important event for the institution I represent, in front of students, staff and the chairman. I’m proud of how far I have come.   

How do you intend to use your new skills in your future career?  

I think without this job, I would not have overcome my fear of public speaking. Being constantly challenged in my role means I look forward to what is to come and how it can help me to improve. It is a constant learning experience, not just as a Language Assistant, but as a person in general. The skills I have gained and will continue to develop will help me in my future career for sure. In every job interview and job role, you will need to speak in front of people and have the confidence to present the best version of yourself. These skills will not only enable you to effectively communicate thoughts and ideas, which is crucial in professional settings but also help build meaningful professional relationships. So, you will be better equipped to connect with colleagues and clients, fostering trust.   

Three people walking along a street in Hong Kong.
Elizabeth Liang (left) and friends ©

Elizabeth Liang

Find out how you can Teach abroad as an English Language Assistant.

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