LIVING AND WORKING IN CHINA

What is it really like to live and teach in China? Two former TEFL teachers share their experiences with us.

Alex

  

Q 1 When did you decide to go to China? How long did you live there?


I first went to China for a holiday in 2004, and as I enjoyed my time there so much, including the culture and food. I decided to go and study Mandarin for one semester the following year in Beijing! This was followed by 2 spells as an English teacher in two different cities, adding up to more than 2 years. 


Q 2  What made you make such a big decision?


My initial trip had a great influence on me, as it gave me the chance to experience China, and I really wanted to return. I also had several close Chinese friends who I worked with in the UK, and I went together with one of those friends on my first trip to China.

 

Q 3  What did you feel like when you got off the plane on your first day there?


I felt slightly tired, excited and curious to know what the culture would be like.

 

Q 4  How was your teaching job?


I feel that teaching English as a foreign language is very fulfilling. You get to meet really enthusiastic students, many with amazing language skills. I felt that teaching ESL gave me a platform to exercise my creativity, and I designed and contributed to lesson plans. Whether it was working with students in groups and implementing fun social activities, listening to students in interesting debates, or one-to-one classes where I could really focus on an individual’s needs, each aspect was fun and rewarding.

 

Q 5  Did you experience any difficulties when you were teaching in China?


It was challenging at times when I was unable to understand an entire conversation in Mandarin. For instance, while communicating at a bank or with my landlord. However, Chinese people were always patient and kind enough to help, and I didn’t feel rushed or vulnerable in those situations.


Q 6  What was the most difficult thing when you lived in China? How did you solve it?


During my early teaching days, I had some difficulty teaching in the beginning. However, I spent much more time planning my lessons trying to find ways in which to prepare for them in the best way. I was not shy to ask for advice from my colleagues, and lesson planning became easier as time went by. I also feel that this is one of the more interesting aspects of teaching English.


Q 7  What was the most amazing thing you found in China?


During my first stay in China, I was amazed by how many cyclists there were on the roads. However, I was very impressed by the fast pace of modernisation - through innovative building and city design. I was also impressed by how many new trees there were to be found in Shenzhen, so many that from a bird’s eye view it almost looked like you were looking down at a forest!


Q 8  What was the most unforgettable thing about China?


I won’t forget my reactions to the cultural differences with regard to the lifestyle and attitudes. During my first trip to China, I expected that most of my own interests would be similar to those of Chinese people. I began to really appreciate and learn from living in a different environment. It felt fresh to listen to different ideas and take part in different pastimes.

 

Q 9  In summary, what would you want to tell our students about teaching in China?


Teaching English in China was a great experience for me, not just from the teaching aspect, as there are always many things to do for entertainment. Personally, I liked to be active through the day, and often played football on my days off. I found no difficulty in finding friends or places to play, and the weather is generally drier and more encouraging to exercise than in the UK! Chinese people are culturally warm and welcoming as a rule. One should have no difficulty in finding delicious food with the vast cuisine, and the seasonal fruits are great too. It’s easy to make friends there as Chinese people are very sociable. Transport is more convenient and affordable compared to the UK, living costs are too. My decision to travel and work in China was definitely an important one in my life. It has left me with so many great memories, and I am eagerly looking forward to returning to relive the experience after completing my degree.

  

NATALIE

  

Q 1 When did you decide to go to China? How long did you live there?


I first went to China in 2001 after I had completed my management degree. I taught English and business for a year in Yantai, Shandong, before returning to England. After a year working in an office though I soon became bored and was itching to get back to China. I found a job teaching spoken English to trainee teachers in Henan and went back to China again for another year. There I met my soon to be Chinese husband whilst studying tai chi. After we married, we settled in England but went back to China again for two years with our son before he started primary school in the UK.


Q 2  What made you make such a big decision?


I was keen to teach English abroad before I even finished my degree and was fascinated by Chinese culture. I was a huge fan of Jet Li and Chinese martial arts back then. The opportunity presented itself to teach in China through a link my university had with a Chinese college and I jumped at the chance to go.


Q 3  What did you feel like when you got off the plane on your first day there?

Incredibly excited, I couldn’t wait to explore Yantai city. 


Q 4  How was your teaching job?


All three of my posts were very different and challenging in different ways. I especially enjoyed teaching marketing and also teaching English to children. Teaching children is very fast paced and interactive, they certainly kept me on my toes, but it was a lot of fun and I found it very rewarding.


Q 5  Did you experience any difficulties when you were teaching in China?


Of course, no end of them…but don’t let that stop you going. When I first went to China there were not so many foreigners living there. People would often shout out ‘hello’ at you in the street and ask for photographs with you which was a strange experience but now there are so many foreigners from all over the world living in China you would have to go somewhere quite remote to get such a reaction. Obviously Chinese teaching styles, business etiquette and social norms are very different from those in the UK and I made many faux pas but Chinese people are very hospitable and forgiving of your mistakes. 


Q 6  What was the most difficult thing when you lived in China? How did you solve it?


It took me a long time to get used to the direct, blunt nature of Chinese conversation, people commenting on my weight, appearance etc directly to my face. I used to be quite anxious and sensitive but living in China toughened me up to criticism which is no bad thing. I think I am a lot less easily offended now and more able to go with the flow. You have to be able to adapt quickly in China. Plans often change at the last minute.


Q 7  What was the most amazing thing you found in China?


Apart from my husband ha ha? There are too many to choose just one! I saw some amazing places, temples, sacred mountains and ancient sites. I travelled to the Yungang grottoes in Datong, and Maijishan, near Tianshui. They are both Buddhist cave art sites and were pretty spectacular. 


Q 8  What was the most unforgettable thing about China?


My Chinese wedding was unreal, with lion dancing, traditional Chinese red dress and a sedan chair. It was a surreal experience, very loud and riotous, not the serious affair that a wedding is in the UK. I was the first foreigner to marry in my husband’s home city so many strangers came to watch and we even made the local news.


Q 9  In summary, what would you want to tell our students about teaching in China?


Just go for it! Teaching in China will open up many unexpected opportunities for you. It will be an amazing, unforgettable, life changing experience. You will undoubtedly experience many problems and frustrations along the way but in learning about another culture and people you will learn so much more about yourself.