If you love the idea of new cultures, new languages and new food, then China is the place for you! I didn’t plan on going there so soon, maybe later on in life after the Bali/Thailand craze had passed. But I ended up there in 2016 after I graduated from University. I had a small ‘like’ for Chinese and Asian cuisine, an appreciation for martial arts and cultures in general. Thankfully, I had a small affinity for going and possibly seeing some of what I grew up watching in our family kung fu movies with dad. Had it not been for my dad, I wouldn’t have had some historical knowledge of China and what it was like now to an extent with their bubble in place by the government.
How I got the opportunity
I chose to go because of a friend that I had met. We met at a summer camp in Spain, and he told me that he and his girlfriend were planning to go for a few years, the salary was excellent and he could recommend me in a few months. They both had some camp and teaching assistant experience as well as a TEFL qualification (usually the 120 hours is good enough). I watched his social media and asked some questions, then he recommended me to the company and the process started there.
My mom reinforced that with all my travels, China would be a great opportunity wherever I went in the world as employers would ask about it and it would show a lot about soft skills like empathy, inclusion and adaptability. She was right because every interviewee asks about it and I play it to my strengths! The process took a few months as I awaited my Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults (CELTA) credentials, then my visa, saving money, sending forms back and forth to be signed and discussed, etc. I had a good recruiter from the company and could email questions or ask them frankly in Skype calls as he was a Westerner. I felt confident in the future and the savings targets that I would reach: I was young, with the typical dream of a house and an Audi.
China, not a typical place
China is not a typical place and is the most different country that I’ve been to (nearly 30 countries deep as an adult). It varies from city life to rural life and what happens in one city that may seem unusual, I had to remember, was how they would’ve grown up in a rural town in the East. A quick example is that I’d see grown men “pop a squat” on the side of the road, it was the strangest thing that I had seen beside the squat toilets in major malls!
I did a lot of research in preparation for living arrangements, food, sickness and insurance (street foods are hit and miss), shopping or ways to get Western products to me and more. They don’t have much access to things that we take for granted, a quick rundown:
- The movies that they get are late and specifically chosen
- You need a VPN to access social media (which isn’t necessarily legal I think, it’s a grey area)
- They will throw you out without the correct documents (I had to register at a local police station within days to sort my full working visa)
I knew all of this and still chose to try something new, wildly different with a huge potential of stories for my future grandbabies!
Teaching in China
I worked in a Chinese after school Training Centre and learnt a lot about the business of children! School children usually had a class every day after school, we were one of their extra-curricular activities. I must say that if you don’t like this “after school” type of work then you can easily find jobs in Primary schools and have your own class of children as an English Foreign Language (EFL) Teacher. For me, it was a good way to get into China and explore the possibilities, of which there are many.
Training Centres have different days off and for us, that was Monday and Tuesday, with Tuesday morning’s being the slot that we had our free Chinese classes after a month of being there. We taught evenings during the week and all day weekends, to fit around the student’s busy schedule. We had a Chinese teaching counterpart paired with us where they would teach the grammar and the structure in Chinese mixed with some English for lesson 1. In Lesson 2, we would reinforce all of it and recall previously learnt language to make it real and practice real-life situations. It was high energy, fast-paced and filled with games: I made English fun, by running up and down the classroom getting them all engaged and interacting with me. There were open house days for parents to watch their child in class and for potential recruits to come and see if this is the school or branch for their child. Most of my office hours were filled with planning, marking and responding to parent comments.
Looking back, it is still the highest-paid job that I’ve done for 20 hours/week (part-time). It left room for day time tutoring that could start from £15 and go up to £50 if you were that good and confident. There were opportunities to move into other job spheres like training material writing, public school teaching, journalism and media etc. Once you were in with the working visa, you could try all the other things that your heart desired once you sorted your paperwork with the new company.
Tips if you want to live and work in China
- Finding jobs in Asia can be found via job boards such as tefl.com and LinkedIn.
- Read your contract carefully: holidays and sick pay, airport pick up or housing help, can you get a housing stipend, bank account help or sim cards, are there late fees (pay reductions for signing in late), how do the taxes work, bonus and returners pay, etc.
- Make friends, seriously, make them. From the UK, I was 8 hours forward and had to arrange to speak to my parents on Sunday’s. Having long conversations with friends was a myth, as my mornings were their evenings, this affected my long-distance relationship but he still stuck with me after!
- Get a good VPN. The free trial is okay but when the time runs up, activating it may be tricky as the internet companies pick up that you’re on a VPN site. Try NordVPN or Express VPN in the first instance.
- Feel out the housing areas and ask all the questions that you would typically ask when moving in to or buying a home.
- Have WeChat and Baidu downloaded on your phone beforehand. These are your first points of life!
- Get a good sim card with data- pay your bill on time, or not as some of my friends got away with that for months.
What say you? Care to try working and living in China for a few months?
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Kirah is a blogger, educator (special needs) and traveller. Her passion for seeing more of the world increased after qualifying to teach English to Adults (CELTA) where her journey began in Spain. She is presently on country 32 (of 25 independent territories) and is always ready to catch flights and experience new cultures.