John Steinbeck once said that great teachers were as rare as great writers, but Shenzhen-based Canadian Sarah Li Cain has managed to carve out decent careers doing each. As well as teaching grades two and three at the Shenzhen American International School, Sarah has a web content writing business that has led to considerable exposure and more clients than she can even handle.
Since graduating with a degree in English and Visual Arts Education at York University in Toronto, Sarah’s career has taken her to Australia, the United States, and Hong Kong. She was working in Seoul when she accepted her job in Shenzhen, where she now lives with her husband in Shekou.
Sarah kindly took the time to talk to The Nanfang about living, teaching and writing in Shenzhen.
International school teacher
Sarah’s teaching is all based on the common core standards found in the US, focusing on project-based learning. Her students are currently creating a website for tourists of their own age coming to Shenzhen.
Trained as a high school teacher, this is different to what Sarah is used to, but she enjoys the challenge. “Basically, kids learn about problems in the real world and through self-discovery and guided inquiry, solve that problem,” she told The Nanfang.
Since taking this job, Sarah seems to have come to agree with what Aldous Huxley said about the child-like man. As any teacher knows, working with kids is not for everybody, but Sarah just about manages it. “When I first arrived, I was really scared about teaching little kids, and thought I had no idea what to do. It has turned out to be one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Little kids have a lot to teach adults about life,” said Sarah.
Much of her writing focuses on overcoming fear, and Sarah had to overcome two fears in Shenzhen. The first was a lack of Mandarin: “I spoke a little bit of Cantonese when I arrived, and now I can at least carry a simple conversation in Mandarin if I need to.” The second was a lack of experience with children, but she quickly overcame that: “The children I teach are some of the funniest and genuine people I’ve met.”
Running a web content business
When she is not teaching, Sarah blogs for a wide variety of clients. “I guess you could say it’s self help. I mean I write about my experiences and how to reclaim your fearlessness, and people have told me about how they’ve taken some of my advice,” she says of her writing style.
One of her best known pieces is one in Life Hack published in November 2013 titled “Don’t go into marriage if you haven’t done these things.” The piece gives a list of 20 experiences and abilities one needs to have before getting married. It has been shared over 6,400 times on social media so has obviously pushed the right buttons with a lot of people.
Another, titled “Practical ways to use unemployment to your advantage,” was syndicated by Chicago Tribune and AOL jobs. The piece puts a positive spin on the situation of long-term unemployment faced by so many in Europe and North America since the global financial crisis of 2008.
This business has opened doors both personally and professionally. “I’ve met quite a few writers how have shared their stories with me, and it really helps when I get frustrated with work or my business. Through blogging people have also recommended me resources or books which have helped me immensely in my professional life, and I’ve gotten more clients that I can handle at the moment,” said Sarah.
Bringing it all together
To some expatriates, everything they do is a side project. But some are lucky enough to have their various projects feed into each other. “Teaching definitely feeds into entrepreneurship! If you think about it, you’re left alone with a group of kids with some resources and are working towards making them successful. It’s a lot of trial and error. I feel like that’s been the same with my business,” Sarah told The Nanfang.
These twin passions for teaching and entrepreneurship could yet lead to more projects. “Just the other day I was talking to a programmer and I was mentioning how I’d love to create an educational app one day. He’s showing me a couple of things now. I’ve been asking my students a lot of questions about what they like, and what they want to learn, so maybe I can use that as part of my market research,” said Cain, suggesting a possible future project.