Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Packing/Dressing for an ESL Job in HK- A guide

I have been a Children's Theatre director/ ESL through Drama teacher for over three years now. I love Hong Kong and my job. Every year is slightly different, the students are always changing, I get to work on about 10 productions a year just through my job. Something I know a lot of women struggle with when they move here is what to pack and what to wear. There are clothes here that you can never get away with wearing unless you're out for a club night at LKF, this is due to conservative feelings towards showing a woman's collar bone and cleavage here. Most companies and schools have rules barring against cleavage, exposed shoulders and collar bones. When you have reasonably sized tatas as I do, finding shirts that don't show your bra or cleavage can be more challenging.

Sizes in HK are smaller than most countries, especially the US. I wear a medium in the US when I go home for holidays and here I have to purchase an XL. (This is normally due to chest width of the garment and length.) I'm very tall for a woman, especially in Asia. At almost 6 foot I struggle to find trousers in HK that accommodate my long stems unless I go to a western clothing house such as Marks and Spencer. Shopping at M&S may allow you to find the size you desire and need (especially if you're bigger than the largest size available here at H&M- 42 in shirts, 38 in pants). You can also purchase bras up to size D at Marks and Spencer.

First thing you need to do when you have decided to move to Hong Kong for a ESL or teaching job in general. Find out if the school or company you work for has a dress code in policy. Some schools in HK still bar female staff from wearing trousers but these schools are becoming fewer and fewer every year. Most schools do not allow teachers to wear blue jeans, or shorts. Bared shoulders are a no no for both women and men. Flip flops and other open toes sandals are also typically banned. Some schools will require a neck covered policy. This means that a man cannot have a collar open during school hours and typically means tie enforcement. You will typically find this policy at a more expensive school or an all boys school. For women a "neck" school will mean you would need to wear a scarf or pashmina. Once again, I have only encountered this policy once at an all boys school.

Here are some essentials you need to bring with you especially if you are taller/wider/ or non asian sized person.
1) Black Pants
The all essential item. Bring a nice pair of tailored, nice black pants. You can still wear them if you work a physical teaching job like I do (when I teach dance) or you can wear them for normal classes. Go for cotton over synthetics because it will allow you to wear them in the summer when it's hot as hell in our fair city.

2) Scarf or Pashmina
The automatic MTR air conditioning cover up. Essential for those schools which are ultra conservative and for those days when it's hot outside but freezing in your classroom/bus. I carry one several days a week.

3) Functional Dress Shoes
Basically dressy looking shoes with a good tread on them. You can wear them to classes when you have to be dressed up for parent's meetings/performances/photos and they will still allow you to get to your school as if you were in your sneaks. Some schools also have a no sneaker policy for teachers although I have never encountered it. Bring a pair of comfortable dress shoes for all fancy occassions and for night's out.

4) Messenger Bag, Large Purse, Breifcase
Everyone here carries a bag of some sort. They carry either a backpack or a messenger bag typically if their men and women tend to carry very large utility purses to work. You need to carry everything you need for a day. This includes any paperwork you might need for your classes so bring a very sturdy, stylish and large bag for these days. You cannot work in HK and just walk around with your wallet,keys, etc. This is a town you have to prepare for, whether it be wet naps, tissues, or sunscreen.

5) Leggings
Men, this one does not apply to you. You need leggings or good stockings in HK. One, it's considered against culture to show your white ass legs here so cover them up with leggings. It also assures no student will see up your dress. They can be worn in summer and winter which makes them a perfect thing to pack. Pay for the really nice ones that hold up well in the wash, cheap market bought leggings will be destroyed by your laundromat here if you're not careful!

6) Prints
 Prints are a good way to make your self stand out against the blackboard. Go for happy prints in bright colors. Although, we all realize the classicness of solids, the print here can be truly appreciated. You can bring some with you or purchase some beautiful cheap printed tops in the market.

7) Something with a little sparkle
Hong Kong people love glitter, sparkle, studs, rhinestones, anything with bling on it! Do not be afraid to pull out that sparkled cat shirt here! It's not just kitch as it is in the states, sparkled child like clothing items are very in style and will help you identify with your students. Try to add as much HK flavor into your wardrobe. The more the kids like you (and for girls that means your style, music choices, anything) the more they will listen to what you have to say.

8) Breathable Fabrics
You will sweat here in the summer. Some people bring two shirts with them everyday in August. Most people carry a small handkerchief for the forehead sweat. Cotton is best because it handles well in rain and shine, allows the skin to breathe and is comfortable. Do not be that poor sweaty person in polyester in the summer. No one likes to sit next to the sweaty person on the bus.

9) Hoodie or Light Jacket
It never gets cold enough in HK except in late December, Early January where you need to wear a decent coat. Every other time of year from Fall, Winter and Spring you can get away with a heavy sweater or light jacket over your clothes. People in HK bundle up like their in freezing temps even though it's only 50 degrees out. Save your room in your suitcase: bring a hoodie and a tailored light jacket. You can always pull a hipster move and wear both in December.

10) Sunglasses
Needed in the summer, when you're riding the public transit. Also needed for those days when you want to be left alone on the way to work (for personal drinking related incidents.) Hong Kong is beautifully sunny a lot of the time, so good sunglasses are a necessity. Get prescription ones if you typically wear glasses, be kind to your eyes.

There is no need to wear a suit everyday as a teacher here in HK. Even as guys very few of them have to wear suits to work. Save your money and room in your suitcase: Bring one really nice outfit and a couple sort of dressy ones.

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