Caught in a Sea of Dark-Haired People
Teaching English in Southern China
Caught in a sea of hundreds of dark-haired people, all moving in different directions, I was wishing over and over that my backpack did not weigh the full 25 kilograms (55 pounds) that the airline gave me permission to bring aboard.
I was in Donnguan City International Airport in the Southeastern corner of Mainland China, waiting for the “Agent” to pick me up and whisk me away to a new life for the next year, as a Conversational English teacher.
After spending six months in that very challenging role I have some tips to share with you.
Looking for a Job in China
The Internet is flooded with teaching positions in China.
Some positions require you to hold an advanced degree in TEFL or the like, but requirements slide down in scale to just being able to speak good English. That was my selection as that was where I fit in.
The most important thing is to do lots of research before you go. Then decide which part of China you would like to live in. If possible, make contact with at least one person who has been to China and taught English. You can save yourself a lot of grief if someone else has paved the way for you and can recommend a School, Training Center, or Agent. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will send you in a safe direction.
Do I Have to Take and Pass a TESOL Course in Order to be Able to Find a Job and Teach?
No, you do not have to. There are literally thousands of jobs out there that do not require you to have any formal or informal training. The person in China who is hiring you will decide if you have enough qualifications and/or common sense for their needs.
I did not take any courses and opted for the extremely steep learning curve instead. If you do decide to get some training look at www.tesolcertification.net.
Wherever, in China you decide to go, always check to see how extensive their resources are. Do they have enough English books for you to develop your own lesson plans?
Do I Have to Pay my Own Airfare?
Most likely you will have to pay for your own airfare, though at least half is usually reimbursed at some stage during the course of your contract. But this is a key element which needs to be negotiated and clarified before you go.
What Is the Pay Like?
Payment varies a great deal. When I was in China, the money compared to Australian wages was poor, but it is extremely cheap to live in China, so the yuan goes a long, long way. Most jobs include accommodations, electricity, Internet access--and sometimes even food. It all depends on the arrangement you make with your prospective employer. DO get all the finer details in writing (Email) BEFORE you go.
Are the Accommodations Satisfactory?
Based upon my experience they were great. I was given a shared fully furnished apartment, with Television and Internet facilities. My apartment block was in a secure, gated enclosure with security guards.
What Distance are my Accommodations from my Classes?
That varies. I had some morning classes less than a kilometer from my apartment so I often walked during the day. Some of my night classes were an hour’s drive away, in another town. There was always a car and driver at my disposal to take me to classes.
Is China Safe?
In general, it is safe but I would not recommend you walk anywhere alone at night and never carry an obvious “handbag.” There are thieves and pickpockets in China much like anywhere else in the world.
Do not get on a motorbike taxi alone unless you are familiar with the rider. Arrange price with the driver/rider before you get into ANY taxi or mode of transportation.
Where I teaching in Southern China, there were no helmets, so do think about getting on a motorbike taxi without one. Do you really want to take the risk? The traffic is chaotic and I saw many squished people on roads, lying next to their mangled motorbikes.
Are the Chinese Friendly?
Yes they are generally friendly people, generous, and they love to interact if you take the time.
Expect the Unexpected
You may arrive in China with a picture of how your experience is going to be, only to find out that your Agent has other ideas.
Your Agent may try to “sell” you--a precious English speaking commodity--to the highest payer. Be firm about the arrangements that were made before you left your country. You may have arranged to teach high school children, but when you arrive they could have you lined up to teach anyone from a tiny eighteen month child in a kindergarten, who is crying for her mother, to a senior management executive in a factory.
Is the Work Easy?
No, teaching is hard work, tiring, challenging, and scary but what is life without challenge?
I chose Qxingi, in the heart of Southern China amongst thousands of factories. It was crowded and the air was thick with pollution. So many experiences, both good and not quite so good were crammed into my six months of living there, that I could fill a book.
Would I Recommend it?
Absolutely! I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone who wishes to experience a very rich and diverse culture. You have nothing to lose and what an unparalleled opportunity for personal growth. If you love a challenge and have the courage, then it’s for you.
It was one of the steepest learning curves I have ever experienced. Be prepared to get thrown straight into the deep end…without a life raft.
Once I got over my panic attack and realized that there was nowhere to run to, I prepared my lesson and waltzed into my first class like a seasoned teacher. “Hi my name is Rensina and I am from Australia.”