I did my TEFL course here in Barcelona in 2015 but only started working in a language school in China in 2017. I had previously worked in English summer schools and had given lots of private classes in Barcelona. I really wanted to move to China because I had already done an internship there a few years ago and I had heard that there was a lot of demand for English teachers for all age groups and it was pretty well paid. All in all, China seemed like a very attractive option: The opportunity to explore an extremely different culture, learn a new and increasingly important language, travel around China and neighbouring countries, a relatively high salary doing something I enjoyed and the opportunity to network in fast-paced cities in a rapidly developing country. Moving to China just made a lot of sense to me even though I was really far from home in a country that differs so much from my own!
In May 2017, I moved to Hangzhou, a beautiful, modern city only 1 hour away from cosmopolitan Shanghai. It was a really smooth transition for me as I had already lived there for 3 months in 2015 so I already had friends there and had already experienced the culture shock. However, I experienced some of it again. I had almost forgotten what it was like to be stared at 24/7, having randomers take photos of you and selfies with you virtually every week, being told you’re beautiful almost every day (which is a nice confidence booster, I’m not going to lie, especially if you’re having a bad day), the spitting on the street, the traffic anarchy, not understanding what people are going on about (obviously this is a technical problem that can be solved if you take the time to learn the language) and the list goes on. These are all somewhat superficial differences though, I realize that what shocked and what continually shocks me the most are the differences in our values system. I do not want to reveal too much as I think it is fun to discover things as you go along but Confucianism is deeply rooted in Chinese society, even nowadays, which means they place a great deal of importance on family, marriage and family relationships in general.
China is very much a collective society (as opposed to individualist Europe and North America) and this is where “Westerners” often clash with Chinese. In China it is very important to give and receive “face.” This essentially means complimenting someone and making them look good in front of others. The opposite is “losing face” which is very humiliating for Chinese precisely because it is a collective society and what other people think of them matters a great deal. It matters to everyone to some extent as we are social beings but even more so in China, which I find ridiculous in certain situations. Nonetheless, your social network, known as “guanxi” in Chinese, is absolutely crucial to ensure your survival in an extremely hierarchical country with a population of 1.4 billion people that has a communist political system but a capitalist economic system. As a foreigner though, “waiguo ren” or “laowai” in Chinese, you’re pretty much a VIP in the country and you will enjoy a series of unearned benefits due to your status as a foreigner. It’s not always fair but the reasons why we are treated this way is because there IS a demand for foreign professionals so the work benefits are often very attractive and most Chinese equate foreigners, particularly Caucasians, to wealth and development, something the country aspires to (although to be honest some Chinese provinces are far more technologically developed than most, if not all, Western countries.)
Regarding my work experience there, I work in a language school for adults as that is my preference, I do not enjoy teaching small children or teenagers much but there is a lot more demand for kindergarten and school teachers and therefore much more competitive salaries. If you enjoy teaching children you will have a LOT of options and the chance to make really good money in a country where the cost of living is pretty low (lots of kindergarten teachers earn at LEAST 2000€ per month working 40h a week but I know there are people earning that amount or more working 15h or 20h a week in a country where the minimum wage is 300€ and the average salary just under 1000€… and some of them aren’t even native speakers or have a TEFL certificate so do as much research as possible and negotiate!) Having said that, Chinese authorities are stricter now due to a decrease in the quality of teachers and it’s not as easy to get a visa to teach English as a non-native speaker, even with a TEFL certificate, unfortunately. But because China is growing at the speed of light they’re desperate for English teachers to compete in this ever-increasing competitive global market, so there are ways of bypassing all this.
When working for a Chinese company, I strongly advise you to remember which country you’re living in and to abide by their rules. China has a very authoritarian and hierarchical culture and as you can imagine there’s no such thing as “expressing your opinion on a subject matter at work because I have a right to do so”. Only do that if you have a good relationship with the person you wish to express your opinion to and if you have a fair bit of leverage at work (for example, if you’re renewing your contract, you can’t easily be replaced and so on.)
When searching for a job, I suggest you simply type “teach English in China” and you’ll find lots of websites, a particularly good one is eChinacities. I strongly advise you to avoid agencies like ECHO and HAIDA as you’ll earn significantly less than what you would earn if you look for a job yourself, they’re a big scam, just look it up. The average salary is around 15k renminbi before tax but you could potentially earn a LOT more (or a lot less) depending on the company.
In general, living and working in China is a LOT of fun! There will be challenges like the obvious language and cultural barriers but it is a very safe country that is a lot of fun to explore and live in. Travelling in China isn’t as democratized as travelling in Europe is which means there isn’t an array of low-cost flights but there is a very efficient and punctual high-speed train. The train stations themselves aren’t very efficient and they’re always overcrowded, buying a train ticket and getting on the train is always a bit of an odyssey to be frank but you get used to it. The metro system is very efficient in most cities as they are new and getting a taxi is super easy and dirt cheap! They have the equivalent to Uber, called “Didi.” There is an English version so you don’t even have to speak to the driver, you just enter the address.
Most large cities in China have a big enough expat community so you can feel at home at times and mingle with people from a similar background although I do strongly suggest you mix with locals too in order to make living in China easier and more exciting. Clubbing in China is a lot of fun if you’re into that; it’s a very different experience to clubbing in Europe. However, the staple of Chinese nightlife are KTV (Karaoke) bars! They are everywhere in China and it’s an authentic cultural experience, it’s a good way to mingle with Chinese while they blast away to Chinese pop songs while drinking Tsing Tao beer or bai ji, a traditional Chinese spirit.
I could go on about China for ages as there is a lot to cover and I may have missed some other basic information so if you are considering moving to China and would like to find out more or would like me to help you look for a job, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or add me on Instagram: laura.inchina