The Pros And Cons Of Teaching English in China
I’d found myself doing the same thing at work for three and a half years and it was time for a change. I’d heard of a few friends who had done TEFL courses already and I wanted to get involved myself. I wanted to try a new career, see new places, challenge myself and have a whole new experience that I couldn’t have at home.
The initial plan was to complete my TEFL course, teach online for half a year and then when I had a bit more experience I would teach abroad. There was one problem; it was somewhat difficult to find work online with no experience. Sure I could sign up to a few teaching websites fairly easily, but getting the students was the hard part.
I started to look on a few websites for ESL jobs and I noticed one thing immediately. China had so many more jobs than any other country! I was already interested in Asian culture and so I started mulling over the idea of teaching in China.
There are so many jobs in China that it’s not a question of whether you can get a job, it’s a question of where you would like to work and finding a well-fitting school! China is no small place, which means deciding where to go is no easy decision. I did my research on things such as cost of living, pollution, nightlife etc. Numbeo was an invaluable tool for this. After a while I decided that Chongqing was where I wanted to go. It has nightlife, things to do, low cost of living and plenty of jobs.
After speaking with a few companies and having a few interviews, I found one in particular that stood out, “UkuEnglish”. The thing that made them stand out was their emphasis on using music to teach. I am a musician and the idea of being able to use my musical side was a big yes for me!
The first interview was with one of the Chinese staff. She seemed a little quiet and politer than the others I’d spoken too and this sincerity made me feel more trusting. It felt like she cared about getting the right teacher rather than the first native speaker she could find.
The second interview was a bit more interesting. I had to prepare a demo class (5-10 minutes) which is a somewhat common practice in interviews. This time the interview was with the boss as well as another foreign teacher. I was very nervous as I was quite new to teaching, but it went well and they gave me some more information about the school etc. After a few more emails back and forth they told me they wanted me!
It was my first journey abroad alone so I was quite nervous, but after a long journey over (16 hours+) I arrived in one piece. Both the boss and another foreign teacher were at the airport to welcome me. They drove me to my new place and I found a welcome gift, a collection of toiletries, food and other goodies. It was a very nice touch.
For the first few weeks there wasn’t a great deal of major work to do. I mostly shadowed the other teachers, learnt the demo class routines and practised music in my spare time. They helped me get set up with essentials like a mobile service, bank account etc and I started to settle in.
I would say the “honeymoon phase” lasted around 2-3 months. During this time everything was magical and it felt like that “holiday feeling”. After this time things started to normalize a bit. I found my routine, got used to work and started to increase the number of lessons I taught.
Around 4-6 months in I started to develop some health problems. I think it was the combination of accumulative bad sleep and pushing myself too much with work and exercise etc but my body and mind seemed to tell me that was enough. My company was very understanding though, they helped me with reducing my workload during this time so that it was much more manageable. They also offered me advice on how to reduce stress and build my energy back up.
Now back in the UK, I started off teaching a few students online and that has built to the point where I have pretty much a full schedule each week. Overall, Chongqing was a lot of fun and I wouldn’t change it for the world.
Salary to living cost ratio was one of the big things that drew me to China (and particularly Chongqing). Most teaching jobs (for foreigners) pay around 13000 RMB monthly so you can live comfortably while being able to save money as well.
Convenience of eating is another thing I loved. As well as being incredibly cheap, there are restaurants everywhere and it is much more common to just “grab some food”. You can also get food delivered from most of these places and the delivery is so cheap. (I could get enough food to last lunch and dinner delivered to me for a total of around 50 RMB).
Celebrity status is something mentioned by a lot of expats, especially in places like Chongqing where foreigners are less common. Strangers will smile at you, say hello and even sometimes want a photo with you. You will be stared at a lot! If you are somebody who wants to blend in then this isn’t for you but if you are happy to stand out and be the centre of attention then a place like Chongqing is ideal.
The scenery in Chongqing is breath-taking (especially at night!) The skyline of the city lights up and decorates the skyscrapers, bridges and anything they can decorate. There are also areas that reflect its traditional roots such as parks and the shopping area Ciqikou.
The culture is incredibly different to the west (this goes without saying). There is a lot of Western influence with things like clothing style and consumerism but expect things to be quite different with things like food, health and medicine. Some things can frustrate you if you are used to things being a certain way, but there are a lot of things that can open your eyes.
I was able to do things I couldn’t do back home quite often in China. It felt like there was always some new event or something happening to be a part of. An example is the shopping centre I worked in; it felt like every week when I walked through it there would be some new event set up. Sometimes it would be a farm (with ostriches and goats), events for children, celebrations etc
The number of jobs in China is high! The demand for foreign teachers is astounding. There is a lot of investment in children. Middle class parents want their children taught by foreigners and this demand means that there are a lot of jobs – just ensure you do your research and work for a reputable school/ organisation.
The people are friendly and helpful for the most part. As said before, they are usually quite curious and those that have learned some English are very eager to practise with you (as they don’t get a lot of opportunity to usually).
China’s growing economy is one more thing to consider. This country has a lot of money and is growing more and more powerful as the years go on. If there is one place that is worth investing in and making a few friends, this is it.
Cheap accommodation. Depending on the city you could pay between 500-4000 RMB at a minimum for an apartment. Get a local friend to help you find a place so you can avoid paying the “foreigner price” (where someone charges you more because you are a foreigner and they assume you can afford it).
Cheap transportation. In Chongqing the transportation price is dirt cheap. I noticed this was the same in a few other cities in China.
Underground ticket = 2RMB
Taxi (15-30 minute ride) = 20-50 RMB
Language immersion. When I first arrived in China I was learning mandarin and being able to use the language all of the time helped me improve massively compared to when I was learning in England. Being forced to use a language is massively motivating if you want to improve your language ability!
Tropical weather. At some points the heat can get a little high (also listed in the cons section). During spring and Autumn however, the weather can be pleasantly warm. If you are the kind of person that loves tropical, humid, warm environments then this could be right for you!
The pollution can be a bit of a problem in Chongqing. This is something that depends on where you work in China, but Chongqing is one of the not so great places for this. As well as air pollution, expect noise pollution (cars beeping, music played loud in shops etc).
There are A LOT OF PEOPLE. In the urban area alone there are over 8 million people living there. You will never run out of friends, but if you need some space and are not a fan of being surrounded by people all of the time then this is something that needs to be considered.
Hygiene is something brought up often by expats in China. Be careful where you eat as some restaurants can give you an upset stomach. The interesting thing is that having an upset stomach from eating bad food seems to be a somewhat ordinary thing. Be aware as well that regardless of where you eat you will most likely have an upset stomach for the first few weeks as your body adjusts to the new environment and foods etc.
The heat in Chongqing can reach staggering heights. At its peak it reached 42 degrees Celsius while I was there! On the plus side it does get cooler in the winter (around 10 degrees Celsius), which can give you a break from sweating!
Mandarin. In the previous section it was mentioned that if you are looking for immersion and to build on your Chinese ability then this is the place to go. A large majority of the people you encounter will not speak English and therefore if your Mandarin isn’t up to scratch then you could struggle in more complex interactions. That being said, when I arrived there I knew basically 0% Mandarin and managed to survive just fine picking up a few key phrases!
Communication restriction can be particularly irritating and also a little isolating. China blocks a lot of foreign websites that are used daily in western culture (YouTube, Google, Facebook etc.) In order to access these websites you either need a VPN (often slow) or you need to use alternatives (Bing is a very common search engine).
I couldn’t leave without mentioning the roads! I don’t think I’ve experienced roads scarier than in China. Indicators are non-existent and are replaced with beeps (which you will hear incessantly). You do get used to it after a while but be prepared to be in for a bit of a shock at first.
As I said before, although I felt the experience was quite exhausting after a year, I don’t regret it and am really glad and grateful that I could go over and experience the lifestyle of living in Chongqing. I still am friends with quite a few people who have lived there for many years and it completely works for them. If you have the energy and have a love for all things hot and spicy then Chongqing may just be the ideal place for you to teach.