Dreams Coming True is a Thursday feature on my blog, a way to highlight those whose goal is to create community. The dream might be a blog, a published book, a small business, volunteering, or even fundraising for a charity. Something that makes the world a better place . . . for others.
“Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin” (Zechariah 4:10, NLT).
Currently, I am living out my dream of teaching in China! Before moving overseas, I had been living in San Francisco working at a Chinese international school by day and going to graduate school by night.
In May 2013, I received my Master’s degree and California teaching credential and had accepted a position in China. A lot of people assume I’m “Teaching English as a Second Language.” That’s not what I’m doing. I’m teaching third grade at an international school (English speaking) with American curriculum.
When did this creative dream begin?
When I was nine years old, my dad’s company transferred him to Hong Kong. My siblings and I attended an excellent international school, made friends from all over the world, and traveled to unusual places. Four years later, my family moved back to the United States. In the back of my mind, I knew I wanted to be an international teacher one day. While I was in graduate school, a position at the Chinese International School in San Francisco was offered to me and I grabbed it. That experience made me all the more interested in teaching in Asia. Coincidentally, my resume seemed tailor-made for it. Looking back, I have no doubt that God directed a path that led me to this place.
How did your blog, Pencils and Chopsticks, get started?
I’m a huge blog lover. I keep track of over 10-20 blogs each day. I enjoy reading about other people’s lives and passions and thought there might be readers who would be inspired by my experiences as an international teacher. Also, I hope to get some ideas and feedbacks and suggestions from other teachers and travelers. Finally, I felt a blog would help keep me in touch with family and friends. I don’t want to feel disconnected with loved ones back in the states. That’s the beauty of modern technology. It’s easier than ever to stay connected.
What makes your blog stand out from the crowd?
Pencils and Chopsticks is an ongoing story that, I hope, will interest readers. China is mysterious, fascinating, always changing. Living here is a huge adjustment. Teaching children is challenging, amusing, exciting, and never dull. Teaching children while in China will be a source of constant material.
What are the goals and intentions of Pencils and Chopsticks?
The goal of this blog is to share my life in China with readers and inspire other teachers through this experience. I’ve already set up a “Pen Pal” relationship with my former school in California, so that my students will write to the American students.
How does your blog create community?
I share the good, the bad and the ugly on this blog, and ask for input and suggestions. I want to glean from other teachers’ experience. Travelers’ experiences, too.
Many have creative ideas but trouble following through with them. What advice would you give to creative types who start projects eagerly . . . but then enthusiasm drizzles off?
The biggest problem was that I started with unrealistic goals. I thought I would have have multiple categories and topics and post daily on them. I quickly felt overwhelmed and distracted from the main goal of the blog: to share my life and to hear from others. So I whittled it down and made simple and attainable goals. I want to post three times a week. It’s a small goal but I know I can meet it and easily exceed, which will help me enjoy the blog and not feel like I’ve given myself homework.
Describe the behind-the-scenes effort of your project. Where do the ideas come from?
At first, I researched other blogs. I spent hours on the internet studying travel and teaching blogs, to narrow down what I liked and didn’t like. I wanted a blog title that reflected the person I was—a teacher, and where I would be—China. My friend Melissa came up with Pencils & Chopsticks. It’s playful and fun and gives a reader an idea of what the blog’s about. My family helped me narrow the scope of the blog to focus on my life in China, my experiences in my classroom, and my travel adventures.
What’s been the hardest part about getting Pencils and Chopsticks off the ground?
Decision making! I knew what I wanted the blog to be about, but then came the technical side of it. Should I choose Blogger, WordPress, Tumblr? What color scheme did I want? What kind of graphics and font? I had ideas but didn’t know how to execute it. As a graduation gift for my Master’s degree, my parents gave me the opportunity to hire a web designer. I asked a former co-worker, Jenafer Brown, who runs her own design company to take on my project. She helped me bring my vision to life.
What have you learned?
Gratitude! Through this process—preparing to move overseas, starting my blog—God has blessed me with so many individuals along the way who have helped me. People who have provided just the right know-how or skills just when I needed it. It’s encouraging to me, because it’s been a very challenging task (getting a work visa out of China is incredibly difficult!). Whenever I feel a little overwhelmed by anxiety about the future (moments when I wonder, “Now, why am I doing this?!) . . . I am comforted by remembering all those helpers and encouragers along the way.
What are some ways you promote your project?
I sent out an e-mail to family and friends to invite them to subscribe to my blog so that they could follow along on my adventure. And I’m using my social media sites to spread the word, such as Twitter and Instagram.
Creating something is one skill. Marketing and promoting it is an entirely different skill set. How has that gone for you? Shocked by the amount of work marketing takes? Or pleasantly surprised?
If content is good, readers will come. I hope through social media sites and word of mouth, my audience will grow. I also hope to connect with and help promote other bloggers who are international teachers or who live overseas.
Any marketing mistakes you would avoid?
I was sent this blog post by Frank Viola titled “Why I Don’t Read Your Blog” and I found a lot of wonderful insight from it. His article helped me see that I want my blog to be a place that has a purpose, is uplifting, has an encouraging voice and where readers are inspired.
What social network has worked best for you?
I use Blogger for my blog and like the format and friendliness. It’s easy to use and to update my blog. Twitter and Instagram have been my next go-to ways to connect socially. I can tweet every blog post I write and use photos on Instagram to connect viewers to my blog site.
What advice would you give someone else who has a creative dream like yours?
Go for it! But know that there may be bumps along the way. You need to persevere. I love Theodore Roosevelt’s quote, “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty . . .” So true! The journey may be challenging, but the result can be so rewarding.
Where do you see this project in five years?
Turned into a best selling book! A movie! A reality TV show! A girl can dream, right?
Seriously, whether I’m still teaching in Asia or in the United States, I hope that I continue to use the blog as a resource for teachers and travelers. I want my blog to give readers an insider’s glimpse at living and teaching in China.
How can we find your creative dream come true?
Follow my blog! www.pencilsandchopsticks.com Share it with others, too. And don’t forget to leave a comment now and then, too.