I absolutely do not regret moving to China.
I know I joke about how people pee on the street and don’t wash their hands in China, but overall, I loved my time there. I enjoyed my first time being a real teacher.
I would recommend teaching in China to most people. But everyone deserves to have a glimpse of what they’re getting into. So here we go.
More blog posts about China:
The Pros of Teaching in China
1. Money, Money, Money
Cost of living is freakin’ low in China. It’s amazing.
I’ve addressed this topic before, but just to recap … you can buy a solid meal in a restaurant for three dollars, good street food for 50 cents, and a winter coat for 15 or 20 bucks.
Of course, those numbers vary depending on where you live. I lived in Shenzhen. Certain parts of China are more expensive than others, but your pay is usually adjusted to match cost of living.
Oh, and let’s not forget that most agencies or schools give you a stipend to pay for your apartment! Not having to worry about rent gave me enough money to splurge on experiences. And, well, lots and lots of food.
Keep in mind, you have two options for finding a job: using an agency, or finding a school without an agency.
I plan on delving into these two options in a later post, but here’s the gist of it: You can find an agency before you move to China, and this company helps set you up with a job. Or you can wait until you’re already in China and interview with a school directly, cutting out the middle man.
There are pros and cons to each. Keep in mind that either way, you’ll make good money based on the cost of living. However, you’ll make more (maybe even double) working for a school directly, because agencies take a cut of your salary.
Also, finding extra tutoring gigs on the side are totally where the money’s at! Those side jobs helped me earn the money to travel to Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, etc.
If you have questions about the details of how much I made/spent during my year in China, feel free to comment below or contact me.
2. Cultural Immersion
To quote my mom, “People are what make up a culture, not sights!”
You might want to move to China because teaching there is a means of traveling around Asia. And you’re right! However, I really encourage you to get to know the culture of the province you’re living in.
Spend time around your co-teachers and get to know your students. This way, you’ll gain insights into Chinese culture.
You can read a short piece I wrote for GoldStar that explores this topic here.
3. Free Time
Oh man, I miss having a job that allowed me so much free time.
If you work at a public school, some schools don’t even make their foreign teachers take on office hours. In that case, you can do whatever you want when you’re not in class. Like sleep!
Other schools do make you take on office hours. But when you’re in the office, you can still do whatever you want … like sleep! Seriously, it’s completely socially acceptable for teachers to lay their heads down on their desks and rest during the day.
I typically used this time to get work done, most of which included building my freelance writing career. That’s because I’m one of those “work, work work” people who feels guilty relaxing. It’s a sickness, really.
My husband played computer games during his office hours. A lot of my friends watched movies. Do whatever you want!
The Cons of Teaching in China
1. Lack of Communication
Chinese people’s communication style is very different from Westerners.
For example, saving face is a big deal. So they don’t want to embarrass you by criticizing you. For this reason, all your Chinese co-teachers could disapprove of your teaching methods and never even tell you.
It’s also a very last-minute culture. Instead of telling you two weeks ahead of time that you have a meeting, they might tell you two minutes beforehand!
It can be infuriating, especially if you don’t know this aspect going into your year teaching in China.
These confusing interactions don’t necessarily mean your co-workers don’t like you or are trying to do you dirty. That’s just how Chinese people are, and we Westerners have to learn to not take it personally.
For this reason, I made myself ask a lot of questions. I sought feedback, asked about upcoming events, etc.
2. That Whole “Racism” Thing
First, let me say … not all Chinese people are racist. Please don’t make that assumption about them!
But the culture as a whole definitely has a negative outlook on foreigners who aren’t white.
I taught private lessons to six children Monday evenings. One student’s mom, whose English name was Alley, spoke English fairly well, so she was my contact person. She is a lovely person overall.
Near the end of the year, the students knew I was leaving to live in America again. So Alley wanted me to recommend a foreigner I knew who would be a strong replacement.
Our texting conversation went something like this:
Me: Do you only want someone with an American accent? Or are you OK with people from England, Australia, Canada, etc.?
Alley: Any is fine. Just no negroes please! [smiley face]
I was shocked. Granted, I was aware of the country’s racism by this point. And the true issue in this conversation is the racism. But seeing the word “nergroes” just made it so much more cringe-worthy.
I gently told her she shouldn’t use that word. She apologized and told me she had used a translator app to find that word. (That sounded like a lie, but I checked the app later, and yep! The Chinese word for black person translated to “negro.”)
Then she sent me money to thank me. (Or … hush money?)
Anyway, all that to say, minorities can have trouble getting hired sometimes. I have friends who have struggled with it and others who were hired immediately. But everyone deserves a heads up.
3. What’s the Point?
Every school is different.
But many schools don’t care too much about the quality of foreign teachers’ lessons. Especially at primary schools.
As I said before, face is a big deal in China. Hiring a foreign teacher is all about the status. It makes their schools look better than schools who don’t have foreign teachers.
I loved, loved, loved the school where I worked. My co-teachers were amazing, and they really made a point of making sure The Husband and I knew we were valued members of the staff.
At the same time, even though I felt valued, I didn’t feel valuable. I wasn’t sure my lessons were doing much. Sometimes, that got discouraging.
So there you go! As with any job/travel experience/ordinary day, there are pros and cons to teaching English in China.