Mark Wiebe petting a tiger on a visit to Thailand while living and teaching in China. Courtesy of Mark and Lisa Wiebe.

Stepping out of your comfort zone

Teaching English in another country

This story originally appeared in the print edition of ChristianWeek's Summer Learning feature. View it here.

Traveling to another country is the dream of many students, and TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) programs at Bible colleges and universities across Canada offer the perfect opportunity for doing so.

According to Alberta Bible College, nearly 700 million people worldwide use English as a first or second language, and the demand for certified teachers is growing around the world. This explains why many colleges and universities, including Alberta Bible College, Briercrest College and Seminary, Steinbach Bible College, Bethany College, Vanguard College, and Providence University College offer TESOL certificates.

Mark Wiebe, a graduate of Providence University College’s TESOL program, had always wanted to travel to another country to serve and learn about other cultures.

Wiebe and his wife learned about a program called Radical Journey through their church bulletin, a one-year formational experience in cross-cultural learning through Mennonite Mission Network. Through the mission, they ended up going to China to live and teach English for a year.

“Learning at Providence was helpful,” says Wiebe. “As I received the base knowledge for knowing how to teach English. The cultural classes were also useful to prepare me for understanding a new place and how to fit in.”

Wiebe says there were still a lot of surprises about living in a new country and learning a new culture.

“In China, you don’t say ‘thank you.’ They will respond with ‘no thanks,’ as no thanks are required. Politeness is just expected. Also, you don’t say ‘sorry’ if you bump into someone on the bus. I would do that and apologize, and people would look at me funny. You don’t say sorry in China, it’s just life.

“They also love making toasts to each other at meal times,” Wiebe says. “One time I was making one, but I obviously said something very wrong because everyone went dead quiet and stared. I still don’t know what it was I said wrong, but they worked with me to try to figure out what I had meant to say, and were very gracious.”

Wiebe loved his time in China and says it was a wonderful experience. Though the reason he went was to teach English, he feels that he was most impacted just by being surrounded by another culture for a year.

“I think it’s good to get to know other people from other cultures because we often have an ‘us versus them’ mentality,” Wiebe says. “Now that I’ve lived in China for a year and have friends there, I don’t think of it as ‘them’ anymore.

“There are a lot of things embedded in our culture that we don’t realize, that we take for granted. Individualism is one of them; it’s just the way things are in Canada. But in China, the good of the group is just as important as the individual. It was a different way of living that I appreciated and gave me a broader perspective.”

Wiebe says that the opportunity to travel to other countries and teach English was extremely valuable to him. “It’s a great way to get to know new people and cultures, and step out of your comfort zone.”

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About the author


ChristianWeek Correspondent

Allison is a writer, editor, and graphic designer with a BA in English from Canadian Mennonite University and a Certificate in Publishing from Ryerson University. She currently manages Area of Effect magazine and is a missionary with Geekdom House in Winnipeg, MB.