This week’s post comes to you from Tom Saunders.Tom has lived, worked and traveled throughout China since 2009. He currently splits his time between Hangzhou,the UK and US, supporting graduates and teaching professionals to secure their ideal teaching position in China. Read on for some useful information,or download a pdf of useful links by clicking on the button below.
With the recent excitement about Chinese New Year and the continual focus of China in the media, the idea of teaching in this fascinating country may have drawn you in. Here I explore a few key aspects of teaching in China, and why it could be the TEFL career move you’ve been looking for…
We all know that China is one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, the planet’s most populous country, and a mysterious place with a very different culture than we. It’s a country that a short holiday to tick off a few top tourist destinations would barely scratch the surface of. However, living, working and teaching in China allows you to really dig under the skin of this intriguing culture, get a grasp of the language, and make friends with a warm and welcoming bunch of people.
Standard of living
The food is undoubtedly one of my favourite things about living in China – it’s fantastic! Think spicy Sichuan dishes, delicate Cantonese food, Beijing Roast Duck, Chinese vegetables (I guarantee you will never taste aubergine/eggplant like they make it in China!), Shanghai dumplings, Shangdong Seafood dishes, noodle soups, hot pots… all beyond tasty, very cheap (think no more than £2-3 in a local restaurant) and much healthier than the Chinese takeaway you may be used to! Given the size and geographical differences of the country, each city and locality has its own delicious specialties which the locals will be very pleased to proudly explain and share. Mealtimes are really social and a great way to bond with new colleagues and make friends.
An exciting aspect of living in China is the ease with which you can travel not only around China but all around Asia. Public transport is excellent and epically inexpensive- a 10-hour train ride from Guangzhou to Wuhan costs around £13, internal flights throughout the country can be found for less than £75, and a fairly nice hotel is typically around £32 per night. More widely, think casual weekends in Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Hong Kong, Singapore…all of which can be reached quickly and easily!
*Top tip – if you‘re considering travelling during your Chinese New Year school break, then ensure you book any tickets months in advance, as it gets seriously busy!
When it comes to the teaching job role itself, carefully consider whether a public (government) school position or a private language centre position will be most suitable for you – it could hugely impact your overall experience. Public school teachers may be the only teacher in their school, have a class of 30 students, and sometimes slightly dated classroom facilities. On the flip side, they will only work Monday to Friday teaching 20 hours a week focusing on oral English, enjoy long school holidays, and really immerse themselves in the community. Private language schools, by contrast, will usually employ a larger number of English teachers meaning a ready-made friend/ support group, have small class sizes, and higher pay. Weekends are the most hectic days of the week though, and you’ll usually work a few afternoons of the week, with Monday and Tuesday off.
Be careful when selecting which school you work for – it’s a good idea to look for jobs via a reputable organisation so you only consider schools that are set up and have experience of managing international teachers, which should ensure that you have a great experience in China! They’ll also be able to assist with navigating the minefield of the Chinese work ‘Z’ visa, give advice on contracts as well as how to prepare for your arrival.
No matter what your future career goals are, gaining experience teaching in China will aide your professional development. If you continue a teaching career, you’ll have a personal understanding of the most important developing country in the world, and will bring new ways of teaching into your classroom – whether that’s at home or abroad. You’ll develop as an educator by experiencing a new culture which brings wonderful opportunities to personally develop.
Looking to go down a totally different path after a teach/travel adventure in China? A global perspective, language ability, and excellent presentation skills are likely to make you stand out from the crowd to any employer!
Really think through whether China is the right TEFL destination for you, as the cultural differences are dramatic and can be a challenge at times. It goes without saying that the language is a major challenge for most, and it can be frustrating to achieve the simplest of things – plus accommodation is likely to be more simple than what you’re used to. A taxi journey can be hair-raising, the spitting is not exactly pleasant, and cities can be hugely overcrowded. Surrounding yourself with others and throwing yourself into the local and expat community really helps combat culture shock, and schools are typically so helpful in helping you to settle into your new life in China.
So whether your interest in China is cultural, language-based, travel-focused, career-oriented or all of the above, my advice is to go for it. It’s a fascinating country full of warm, friendly people, which for sure has its challenges, but overall has so much to offer!
Please check out the resource by clicking on the button below for valuable links and other information to help you find out if teaching in China is for you.