She Leads Africa

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From drafting contracts to drawing stars on the board. SLA contributor Alicia shares how she had a career switch. She went from being a Lawyer to moving to another continent to teach English.

The Lawyer Life

I had the privilege of doing my articles* at the largest law firm in Africa. This meant that I was tasked with substantive work from day 1. It was absolutely thrilling and I felt myself thriving on the stress and pressure of having impossible deadlines.

The days and nights were long but I was working with incredible people and the newness of the work kept me on my toes. I also found myself learning at a rapid rate given that my boss involved me completely.

It wasn’t exactly a scene out of “Suits” but it was a reality where I was surrounded by pencil skirts and cappuccinos and I loved it.

FYI: In South Africa in order to qualify as an attorney following completion of the degree, you are required to work for two years under an already qualified attorney and complete 4 exams.

[bctt tweet=”SLA contributor Alicia @aly_alice_ shares how she switched careers from Lawyer to English teacher. ” username=”SheLeadsAfrica”]

Change Creeps Up On You

When I started off, I envisioned myself staying on at this law firm and going all the way to being a partner. I was eager and ambitious and ready for the required hard work. But something changed about halfway through my articles.

I went on holiday to South Korea to visit a friend who was teaching English there. I had always thought myself far too focused on climbing the corporate ladder to ever contemplate doing something like this but the idea of visiting and being able to glimpse her lifestyle seemed innocent enough.

The two weeks I spent in South Korea definitely flipped things on their head for me. The friend I had known in South Africa and who I had studied with somehow seemed completely transformed in this new environment.

I considered us to have similar personalities and found myself jealous of the changes I saw in her – she seemed to have no stress and seemed so much lighter and happier.

I found myself considering the impossible. What if I left this life as a corporate attorney to teach English overseas?

The moment the thought was planted, it began to bloom. I realized that doing something like this would be a once in a lifetime opportunity. If I didn’t decide to do something this unconventional for me after articles then when would I ever be out of the box?

Of course, I was met with many concerned and confused looks when I announced my decision. Deciding to take a break from the law is not usual. But I knew it was the right thing for me to do because the idea simultaneously thrilled and petrified me.

What is the change from law to teaching English like?

If I consider my current day to day now as opposed to last year, it is absolutely chalk and cheese. Firstly my hours are delightful as they aren’t the typical 8 am to 5 pm.

I start work at 3 pm to 9 pm Wednesdays to Fridays and then I only work a full day on Saturdays and Sundays from 8.30am to 5.30pm. My “weekend” is now on Monday and Tuesday which works out perfectly since the city I decided to teach it is Shanghai.

Given its large population size, it is significantly easier to explore on a Monday or Tuesday rather than the weekend.

Prior to starting teaching, I never considered myself someone who would willingly surround themselves with children. So in a way, I think this was a good thing because I did not really have expectations of enjoying this when I came into it.

However, from the get-go, this job has been highly rewarding and fun and I have not regretted it for a moment. Being surrounded by children brings such a sense of fun to your day. They manage to find happiness in the smallest of things and that is just brilliant to be around.

I find myself smiling and laughing so much more! It is also incredibly rewarding when you feel like you have successfully gotten the material across during a class and see the sense of realization in their eyes.

Of course, there can and will continue to be moments of frustration. They are children after all and their attention spans are not necessarily equal to the length of the class.

But I have enjoyed the challenge of trying to make lessons more fun and interactive and capture their attention. Doing this benefits me in that it makes the lesson a lot more entertaining for me too!

Teaching English has also allowed me the flexibility to pursue my other interests such as learning another language (I am currently going for Chinese lessons) and writing. It is also incredible to live in another city that is so different from where I was brought up. This is its own “switch up” too!

A lot of change has occurred in a relatively short space of time in terms of my geography and occupation. I would not change a single aspect of it. I find myself waking up every day completely grateful for the life I have created for myself.

Teaching English has pushed me to be more patient and also be a more content and well-rounded person. I don’t know if this is a permanent career shift.

As I am challenging myself and I am happy, then Shanghai and teaching English is the right thing for me. 

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