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Joel explores Angkor Wat in Cambodia

Life Beyond Chatteris: Putting Down Roots in Hong Kong

 Chatteris’ own Alice Sherlock chats to an ex-tutor about life after Chatteris...

“The single most valuable thing Chatteris teaches you is how to survive in a new city, and that’s a skill that will serve you well throughout your whole life,” Joel tells me as we end a lunchtime natter at a Japanese restaurant on a chilly winter day. Joel, a former tutor, is able to sum up his Chatteris experience so perfectly, as years on, he still calls Hong Kong home.

Hailing from Calgary, Canada, Joel was a member of the 2011-2012 Chatteris intake, participating in the post-secondary programme. I find out early on some things were very different during his year. “We had to build our English corner from scratch,” he begins, “so it was rather challenging, but the good thing was we were allowed to be incredibly creative.”

Joel explores Angkor Wat in Cambodia
Joel explores Angkor Wat in Cambodia | Image by Joel Cummings

Nowadays, every campus in the post-secondary programme has an English area kitted out and ready for use. However, not everything has changed since his time, as he reminisces about the radio show, which is still very much part of life for current tutors. “Without a doubt, the best thing about being at my campus was the daily radio show,” he chuckles, as he recalls fond memories with his colleague, Mark.

I ponder if this very radio show has contributed to their sustained friendship as Joel and Mark are still good buddies and see each other regularly. Later, when I ask Joel the best thing about Chatteris, he doesn’t hesitate with his answer. “Friendships,” he asserts, and it gives me warm fuzzies knowing a temporary graduate position in Chatteris can carve out lifelong friendships.

Joel applied for Chatteris after studying BA English Literature in Canada. Fresh out of university, he worked for a year before coming to Hong Kong for Chatteris. “I was looking for something exciting, a little bit of adventure,” he informs me when I question the reason he applied. He’s ambiguous when I wonder if he always wanted to be a teacher, instead offering, “English teaching is a great extension of my degree.”

Nonetheless, it’s true, since he is now employed on the government Native English Teacher (NET) scheme. Before achieving his NET position in 2014, following Chatteris, he still taught in Hong Kong at a tutoring centre.

In recent years, many tutors have been successful on the NET scheme, and Joel recognises Chatteris as a vital stepping stone. “Being a tutor with Chatteris does assist in the transition to the NET scheme as it helped me understand the students and in post-secondary education as a whole,” he recognises.

However, becoming a NET isn’t the only career after Chatteris, as Joel’s wife, Nazanin, is now undertaking an internationally focused PhD with an emphasis on humanitarian intervention. Before starting her PhD, Nazanin studied her Masters in four different countries and Joel is sure Chatteris “gave her a foundation of skills to adapt to those four countries”. They met during their Chatteris placement and married last year, as Joel laughs, “We weren’t the first Chatteris couple, and I’m sure we won’t be the last!”

Chatteris is an incredible experience for many, but for Joel, I consider if the reason he loves Hong Kong so much, and stayed for seven years, is due to Chatteris. “Chatteris teaches you how to live and work in Hong Kong,” he muses. “It teaches you how to adapt to an unusual place and work with new people. You become self-sufficient and organised, since you’re now responsible for your finances and immigration status.” As Joel proves, Chatteris isn’t just a job or a temporary graduate programme, it’s personal and professional development in every sense, providing diverse and lasting skills.

“The best thing about Hong Kong?” I enquire as we wrap up our chat. “Food,” he’s quick to answer, “I love to eat.” (Don’t we all?) He struggles when I ask his favourite restaurant though, eventually suggesting a little spot “somewhere in North Point.” I value his seven years of dining in Hong Kong, so this restaurant is now firmly at the top of my list to explore.

Interested in teaching in Hong Kong like Joel? Click here to find out how you could join the Chatteris team!

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