China is quickly becoming the go to destination for people looking to teach English abroad and that for good reason. China’s rapid economic growth resulted in a need for more English teachers and a comparatively high salary. Combine that with a relatively low cost of living and you got yourself a winner. But how do you go about finding a teaching job in China and what is life like over there?
That and more will be answered today by our friend Chris who has extensive experience teaching English in China.
Tell us about yourself and how you got into teaching English in China?
I first got into teaching abroad when I took a leap of faith and relocated to Gwangju, South Korea in 2007. It was my first time abroad and I immediately fell in love with the expat life. After two and a half years there, I decided to try my hand at being a grown up back in Australia, but jumped at the chance when a friend invited me to come and teach at his school in China.
I first came to Nanjing to work at the Jiangsu College for International Education back in 2012 and stayed for two and a half years. It was at once a return to the life I’d loved in South Korea as well as being an entirely new experience. Over the course of two years teaching in China I ran a pub crawl company, filmed the pilot for a Chinese sitcom, acted as brand ambassador for local businesses, and saw lot of amazing things. Teaching in China isn’t just an opportunity to make money – it’s an opportunity to have a whole bunch of adventures too.
What are the requirements for teaching English in China?
China has recently cracked down on its teacher requirements. By the letter of the law, Bachelor’s degree (in any discipline) and a TEFL/CELTA certification is needed to apply for the teaching visa. There are still schools willing to bend the rules and take people with only one (or even none) of the above, but you run the risk of being caught and deported when working under such circumstances.
Experience is not required, but it obviously puts you in good stead to land higher paying jobs with longer holidays, more flexible hours etc.
What does teaching English in China actually look like?
Teaching English in China varies depending on what kind of institution you’re working in. There are IELTS (International English Language Testing Systems) training schools for teenagers looking to study abroad, kindergartens, universities, and public schools – all of whom hire foreign teachers.
The IELTS training schools are where I have my experience, and I found them to be an often stressful but rewarding work environment. You’re working with 16-20 year old students of varying motivation to help them in passing the IELTS test that is required to study in most foreign universities. I taught them how to take the test (specifically the writing and speaking elements) as well as teaching classes on vocabulary and Australian culture for those heading to my home country to study.
We worked generally 8-5 from Monday to Friday, but only taught 10-20 hours a week with occasional office time. I had plenty of holiday time to get out and explore, so I really enjoyed the work environment.
Kindergartens tend to require the longest hours and least reward from speaking to my many friends teaching in them. While the Wednesday to Friday workload is only 4-6 hours a day, their weekends are usually 8-6 and there are a lot of additional requirements such as demo classes to recruit new students etc. Holidays are virtually non-existent, but the pay is generally better than at an IELTS training center.
Universities tend to pay the least, but the trade off is that you’re working less (sometimes only 10 hours a week) and have lots of holiday time (2-3 months). They’re usually located a bit farther away from the action than other schools, but provide on campus accommodation. You’re also working with 18-24 year old students, so it’s a good way to meet and interact with locals.
Primary schools are something I have only limited experience in, having taught in a few for a couple of months each. These tend to be more far flung as well – sometimes out in smaller regional centers rather than the big cities. The level of English spoken by your students (and co-workers) is going to be much lower, but you’re not generally working a lot of hours. You’ll often live on campus, and the absence of distractions like bars and other foreigners can be a great way to immerse yourself in learning Chinese.
Did you find it difficult to relate to the students you were working with due to cultural differences or language barriers?
The language barrier issue is one that, again, depends on where you’re placed. If you’re in a sizeable city, chances are you’ll have other English speaking colleagues and the level of your students is likely to be a bit higher. I taught kids who came to me without a word of English all the way up to kids who spoke as if they were native speakers.
There are always going to be communication issues when you’re in a new country and don’t speak the lingua franca, but after my time teaching in South Korea, I’ve become an expert at frantic mime.
How much money can one make teaching English in China and which teaching job are the best?
Salaries in China can range from 5,000 RMB (~$750 USD) a month at universities all the way up to 20,000 RMB (~$3,000 USD) + at exclusive private schools. On average, I’d say that the 10,000 RMB (~$1,500 USD) mark is becoming the average. Most schools also include your return flights (often not paid until you’ve completed your contract) and an accommodation allowance. Those that don’t provide an allowance for accommodation will generally provide on campus accommodation.
The cost of living in China can be quite cheap if you’re prepared to eat local and eschew some of the luxuries you might feel tempted to go out and buy, but for those who just want to lead a comfortable life – it’s perfectly affordable to do so. While western food can be just as pricey as it is at home, Chinese cuisine and Chinese products can be had for a fraction of the price.
How does one get a job teaching English in China?
Recruiters are becoming an increasingly popular way to find a job in China, with sites such as Dave’s ESL Cafe being joined by a whole pile of others. It can be daunting having to weed through the dozens of daily job postings to find something that looks like a good fit, and China’s immense size can make this all the more difficult.
I’ve always found work through friends or acquaintances, but many of my friends either use a recruiter or just trawl through pages of job postings to find something that suits.
What is like living in China and what did you do in your free time?
China is one of the safest and most affordable countries I’ve ever lived in. While it might not be as cheap as a Thailand or Cambodia, it makes up for this with more amenities such as transport, airports, western conveniences etc. While day to day living can sometimes be stressful due to the crowds and pollution (and that ever present language barrier), it’s not hard to carve out a pleasant life here in China.
Regardless of where you live, travel is always one of the best ways to fill your time. China is serviced by a pretty exhaustive network of airports, buses, and trains – so you’re never far from somewhere new.
If you’re on a city of appropriate size, there’ll doubtless be an expat community you can join for all of your partying and exploring needs, but don’t overlook the potential to make connections with locals. I didn’t make as many Chinese friends as I’d have liked on my first stint in China, so I’m making an effort this time around to meet new people.
Many of my friends have taken up activities that are popular with locals such as tai chi, martial arts, badminton, or hiking. It’s not only a fun way to pass the time, but tends to be a good way to meet locals as well.
What advice do you have for teachers looking to find work in China?
China, much like Korea a decade ago, is the brave new world for ESL teaching. The standards of schools continues to vary wildly. I’ve had friends walk into absolute nightmares, but I have friends who have worked at and loved the same school for more than a decade now. Do your research ahead of arriving, read blogs, reach out to people on the ground, and don’t rush into anything.
You can learn more about Chris on Aussie on the Road where he shares his adventures, and inspires you to lead a life less ordinary.
Have you taught English as a foreign language? What was your experience like?