I've found that the cost of flying can be cut by leaving from Hong Kong instead of through Changsha, but of course that means having to catch a train to a spot where I can go to the airport. The cheapest one-way flight I've seen to SFO so far is about $670. I'm playing with the idea of going to Kyoto, though I can't shake the feeling that there's so much of China that I haven't seen. Though to be fair, it's so big there's always going to be a lot of China I've never seen. If I continue as I am now with spending within 200 RMB a week, then I should have at least 8,000 RMB by the time I leave if not 8,800. I'm looking at Fenghuang but I need to move fast in finding out the exact dates for vacation in May if I want to go and spend under 800 yuan. It looks like people who are more familiar with the upcoming vacation time in May have already booked up the international youth hostels and there's only one green square for one youth hostel in Fenghuang. I could just shove it into a weekend, take a train to Changsha, get a 5 hour bus to Fenghuang, stay one night, explore, and run back. It's not a terribly big place, but I do prefer taking my time when I travel. Or since I've pretty much traveled whenever we have extra time and spent quite a bit on Spring Festival, it might just be smart to hold off and put the money away for when I arrive in the US or go on that long-dreamed of trip to Kyoto. And I just realized now too that I still get half a stipend in June (1500RMB) though I think I left it out of my original calculations so I could err on the side of caution. It's generally more pleasant to find you have extra than that you're skipping out on a few meals. I'm just not sure what packing will be like. I came here with one suitcase and one large bag that I brought as my carry on. Now I have a violin, a 485 gram cake of pu erh tea, two more shirts than I started with, a skirt, and a small air filter. My site mate says I was smart, but then I bought things so I'm not sure how smart it will be. And I hate traveling with too much stuff. I want to walk around and see things, that's usually much tougher when you pack a ton of stuff. My liaison though seems to think that my one bag must be huge. I guess it would be if I didn't keep telling myself to pack enough clothes for a week at most and to just wash more often.
I was told that to reapply for WorldTeach, I'll need to come up with an answer by April. Coming back has a lot of appeal for me and I really want to do this again and do a much better job of it. Zhuzhou's colleges often look for foreign teachers and they'd pay more. But I've also thought about going through WorldTeach again and trying for the TEFL certificate which would be something else I could put on my resume should I pursue a contract independently and I personally would feel much better knowing that I had that certificate instead of feeling like fraud even though I had to complete teacher training, teaching modules, write lesson plans and reflections, and all the in-class things as well to get to where I am now. And of course, there's the logistics of paying for a flight back. I don't think I'll be traveling too much because I really want a summer job. SF Summer Jobs has something about Ghirardelli Square and the Cheesecake factory. I think I could do those. It's about $13 an hour and if I came with WorldTeach again I might be able to come back at the end of August and skip orientation. Or of course, just fly home with the money I saved from China and buy my ticket back with that money. 8000 RMB is roughly 1200 USD after all which could get me a flight to Changsha. Two months as a cashier at the cheesecake factory would be worth being able to come back and do this again even if I don't get to stay with the same students. I thought it was strange that since my school had worked with WorldTeach for so long and was such a nice place to work that there were no independently contracted foreign teachers but I've also learned that if they took another teacher on an independent contract, they would be at the bottom of the list of schools waiting for foreign teachers. So if I want to come back it would have to be through WorldTeach, otherwise I find a college or a school licensed to employ/host foreigners and pay them a visit when I have a break. A number of people are talking about coming back and we were talking about how we qualify for deferment under economic hardship because 3,000 RMB a month isn't a lot by US standards, but given our situations it goes pretty far here in Hunan. Some schools here are advertising the chance to teach pay as much as 12,000 a month with housing provided for. Obviously, you have to be careful to find out what exactly you're getting into with the school, read your contract, see where you'll be teaching, and make sure the school is properly certified to host foreigners or you'll get into trouble. But after having managed my monthly 3000, all other jobs seem startlingly well paid. I know part of why my stipend is what it is comes down to this being a volunteer organization trying to provide quality teachers without costing the schools too much money. We were provided for during practicum, and feeding, training, and housing about 30 teachers for 3 weeks couldn't have been cheap.
The weird thing is, though I get thrown off by all the questions people ask about the cost of your room when you were traveling when you said in passing that you stayed in a hostel I haven't had too many problems being open about money. I have my limits, when my students ask about how much I make I usually tell them that foreigners generally find that question to be rude. I make less in a month than what they pay to go to school each term but it just seems like a good chance to talk about cultural differences while sidestepping questions about the cost of everything (a teacher asked me once about the cost of my college and I was pretty uncomfortable and wound up stepping around it). I haven't had too many of those questions though. I'm young enough and since the other teacher here has raised a family in the US and worked in different jobs she's more likely to get all the questions about housing and the cost of living in the US. But I guess if it helps another person looking to get some sense as to what's available to them and what to prepare for, then it's worth mentioning money.
Funny thing about my wanting to come back and try this again. I remember saying no to teaching in China for such a long time but by the time my senior year came around, I also realized it was a position that offered me what I was looking for in addition to the chance to see someplace new. A chance to work in language arts, a chance to take my own interest in foreign languages along with an earned sense of language as a highly practical tool and show students ways they can use another language to broaden their worlds, a chance to enjoy the novelty that is discovering I'm a decent public speaker and grow in that way as well. I'd still rather be TEFL certified though, it'd make me feel a bit better about having both experience and having earned a more official credential.