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Teach Abroad at Any Age

The Rewards of Working in Shanghai for a 60-Year-Old

Candace with Children in Shanghai, China
The author and two of her students at the Pinghe International School in Shanghai, China. Photo by Mary Smith.

For me, my “senior moment” occurred when I actually decided to accept an opportunity to teach English in Shanghai, buy the ticket, and go. There were times when I almost backed out. The reason was fear. But, in the end what was there to fear? I had a round-trip ticket and could always come home if it didn’t work out.

Living and teaching in Shanghai has been wonderful. And, for an older person (I’m 60), there is a great feeling of camaraderie with the other teachers and a feeling of being needed at the school.

Last summer, a Canadian-Chinese woman who teaches here was visiting her brother and just happened to come into a place where I was working in the Seattle area. We talked and I said I had always wanted to teach abroad. She said come to our school. “Okay,” I replied, but wasn’t sure if I meant it.

We met later for coffee and she answered all of my questions about the school, gave me the website address and the email of the person to contact. It took six months to secure the job, mostly because of my own dithering. But soon into this new year I knew I was going and everything fell into place.

First of all, Shanghai is, in my opinion, the best place to dip your teaching toes into China. It is Western enough so you can adjust more easily than if you were out in some rural area. It has many Western places to eat and lots of interesting things to do. It has a great subway system with directions and stops posted in English.

One challenge in a new place is finding your way around. But that wasn’t too bad either. Taxis are very cheap; you can always jump in one and get home. The most that has ever cost me was $10. I made index cards with my home address, the nearest subway stop, and other places I visit frequently. I have the address neatly typed in English and the Chinese address neatly printed beneath it. I just pull out the right card and show it to the taxi driver and we’re off.

There also are a lot of Westerners in Shanghai so it is fairly easy to flag one down and ask directions. Young Chinese people are much more likely to speak English than older ones and they are wonderfully helpful. One young man not only took me to the ferry terminal but bought me the token and wouldn’t let me pay him.

Before I accepted the job I asked for a contract. The school sent me one but it was unsigned. I was told I would get a contract after I arrived and passed a physical exam. However, in an email to me the school liaison wrote, “Everything we discussed will be honored.” So, I had to trust but I had made it clear what I would need and how much salary I would expect. The school liaison also called me and we discussed the job and the finer points. I made sure I didn’t have to share an apartment with anyone, for example.

Another thing I requested was to be met at the airport. When I met Vicky I knew everything was going to work out because of her helpful attitude. I could tell immediately that everything possible to make me comfortable and to help me adjust was being done.

I also asked for the email address and phone number of an American who taught recently at the school. I contacted this person and she helped me understand what to expect

I brought as much medication with me as my health insurance allowed, but refills and good care is available through one of the many international clinics.

Because I am not wealthy I had to consider the salary being offered. I earn almost $1000 per month and live in a nice apartment rent free.

My biggest expense has been food as I am a vegetarian and also diabetic. I still have not adjusted to traditional Chinese food, but if you like it you’ll be in heaven.

My school gave me unrestricted use of a laptop in my office or at home. The Chinese teachers have a desktop computer with many websites blocked. While this is still a Communist country, Westerners rarely feel the impact.

I’m debating now whether I will return next year. Here I have a good place to live, new friends, a decent salary, and a job. In the U.S., getting a job at my age has been next to impossible.

I recommend teaching in Shanghai. You will create more great memories and experiences to add to the texture of your life. We can all use that, regardless of age.

For More Info

For jobs: www.asiaexpat.com, www.shanghaiexpat.com, or Google schools in Shanghai and apply.

Prepare: Winters are cold and damp. It snows occasionally. Bring lots of warm clothes and dress in lots of layers. While the classrooms and offices are heated, the hallways may not be and the Chinese have an odd habit of opening windows in the winter and sitting around in coats.

Enjoy: There is every amenity you could ever imagine in an American city, including theater, dance and music of all kinds, sports, and museums. I found some excellent and in-expensive day tours through the Shanghai Community Center (www.communitycenter.cn).