You’ve probably already read around a few guides about teaching English in China, the truth is, there are always things that are unexpected or unheard of when you are actually there. If you are wondering, read on to find out more, from a real teacher’s life experience.
1. You don’t need teaching experience
While certified teachers might have some more opportunities in China for higher pay, as long as you have a university degree, you can teach in China. Most teachers arrive with minimal or no experience, including myself.
This also means most likely have to do TEFL (Teach English as a Foreign Language) training once you arrive, which is partly for your education and partly for visa reasons.
This is a bonus for experienced teachers, as it opens up wider options to teach different subjects like history or chemistry, and also can get you higher-paying jobs right away.
2. Getting the “right” visa is complicated
The requirements for getting a Z-visa, the official work visa, in China are constantly changing. In most cases, people don’t come with one, they apply once they are already in China, instead of coming with a tourist or business visa.
This, however, means that most people, upon arrival, are technically working illegally. This is standard practice for most companies and schools because it’s really hard for new graduates (you need 2+ years of work experience in most cases) or non-TEFL certified employees to get a Z-visa.
Basically, this process is complicated, but just make sure to ask questions. If your company isn’t specific and clear on the timeline to get your Z-visa (1-3 months is normal), then it might be cause for concern.
3. You won’t just learn about Chinese culture
You will learn about Chinese culture from your new coworkers, friends, students, and everyday life. But through work, and more so if you choose to run in expat circles, you will meet a lot of people from all over the world.
I’ve met expats from pretty much everywhere, and it’s exciting that just by choosing to move abroad, you get to learn about the ways people live everywhere, and what motivates different people to move abroad.
4. Many companies set you up with accommodation
This can be good or bad, depending on your preferences. One of two things will happen with most companies: you get a housing stipend, or you just are given an apartment near work.
Apartment hunting in china can be a hassle, so being handed one may seem great! But also means you don’t get a lot of say over the layout or size of your personal living space.
If your personal space is something you care a lot about curating, having someone else tell you where to live can seem annoying. If you’re up for it, choosing your own place means having to haggle and getting the runaround from housing agents which can be stressful when you first arrive. Considering which you personally prefer can be really helpful in deciding what to look for in jobs and negotiate about.
5. Students are super motivated
If your personal memory of classrooms include sleeping teenagers and passing notes, you may be really surprised by the atmosphere in Chinese schools. Chinese people value education a lot and put a lot of pressure on students to do well, which means they, on the whole, are more well behaved and willing to work.
Of course, this isn’t always true, but still notable. That being said, due to the high pressure, especially if you’re teaching older kids, you will likely encounter burnt out teenagers who are afraid to get answers wrong, which brings us to…
6. Students may be hesitant to answer open-ended questions
This has to do a lot with the culture surrounding education and collectivism. Being correct is super important because of the value of education, so when there isn’t a clear right or wrong, many students clam up. An emphasis on collectivism and like-mindedness mean that discussions you may have been used to in your classroom back home aren’t common in Chinese classrooms.
Questions that ask for individual critique, judgment, or creativity may be met with blank stares at first. Part of your job as an educator may be to help students develop the critical thinking skills necessary to feel comfortable answering these types of questions.
7. You may have unusual work hours
There’s a really good chance you won’t be working a 9-5 in China. Especially if you’re working in a training center. It’s not uncommon to have evening and weekend workdays or to have changes in your schedule week to week. This means you can choose to find a job that fits your preferences and preferred lifestyle, but also means that your other expat friends are doing the same.
This can get frustrating when you end up always working Sunday mornings, or when all of your friends want to get together but don’t have the same off days. But it can also be awesome if you’re not a morning person and can manage to never have to work before noon. It takes trial and error to find the right company and school that fits you, but ultimately it’s great to see how many options there are.
8. It is so rewarding
Among the stresses and steep learning curves, ultimately the result is seeing success from your students. When I see my students’ faces light up because the finally know how to say something the couldn’t express, it’s unparalleled.
My personal favorite is teaching students the nuances of jokes and sarcasm. I love it when a student can quickly come up with witty retorts, which are some of the hardest things to do in a new language.
Those moments are worth all the other stresses you’ll encounter teaching English in China.