Photo of Emma Andrews teacher at EF Shanghai

In Pursuit of China. Teaching at EF in Shanghai.

I remember sitting on the beach during sunset in my old home in the countryside of Hawaii. I was gazing out at the horizon, pondering the vastness of the body of golden water before me, and marveling in just how little I knew of what was out there. Sometimes, in a moment of contentedness, one is overcome with a strange paradoxical desire to shed this feeling of peace and seek something beyond that horizon. This moment for me changed my life, for it was this very moment that I decided to accept my recent job offer and move to Shanghai, China to teach English.

In 3 months my life was flipped upside down. I packed up all of my worldly possessions, rented a storage unit, wished goodbye to my best friends, and hopped on a one way flight to China. Just about everyone thought I was insane. I thought I was insane. But those willing to sacrifice for adventure will occasionally be rewarded for their insanity, and over the next 6 months, this rang true.

TEFL teacher Emma with her students at EF Shanghai

Living in Shanghai

Shanghai is a hidden gem, full of extravagant wealth paired with the history of ancient China. It is posh, bustling, and exotic. It will constantly leave you guessing. In Shanghai, one will never experience boredom. This I will firmly attest to. Out of all of the major cities in China, this is the easiest to navigate as a westerner. The expat scene is quite large, and English is spoken throughout the city. One might need to learn several words in Mandarin, such as the words for “this one” and “I don’t want that” and “thank you” (all essential phrases for the expat scene). However, many of my friends and colleagues do not know much Mandarin, if any at all. I have been studying Mandarin for roughly 6 months now, and found it extremely useful for travelling around China. If you want to travel within the country, I would highly suggest doing likewise.

Apartment showing bedroom of EF Shanghai TEFL teacher

My apartment in Shanghai

My apartment is nestled in the heart of the city in the district of Jing’an. I could not be more pleased with the location, as it is central to just about everything. When considering an apartment in China, be sure to craft a wish list, as most places will not include things like a dryer, dishwasher, or oven. If you find these necessary, be sure to mention them to a housing agent when looking. I had found a posting within my company when moving here for a girl who was moving out of her place and needed a replacement. This was quite convenient, as it was on the same metro line as my work, and had roommates that were working for my same company.

Apartment showing living room of EF Shanghai TEFL teacher

My EF School in Shanghai

I teach at a school in Xujiahui, which is about 16 min by metro from my apartment. It is the old financial district of Shanghai, and is full of businesses, shops, and restaurants. Due to the fact that I teach English lessons to children after their regular school, I have quite odd hours. On the weekdays I work in the afternoon to early evening, and on the weekends, I work the entire day. However, this has turned out to be quite nice as I am able to enjoy the city on the days where it is less crowded. My students are bright and have enriched my life, as kids often do. It really is a joy to be a teacher. You leave most days with a sense of fulfillment, as the job is not just lucratively rewarding but comes with a deeper sense of accomplishment. I feel as if I am able to provide these kids with some happiness, and also teach them a skill that could seriously benefit their future. I truly love my job.

Outside of House in China

Challenges in China

Now, this move and adjustment has not been all sunshine, as I’m sure would be expected. I have often experienced feelings of homesickness for the blue skies and greenery of Hawaii. Sometimes my mind will drift to my friends and family back in America, wondering what they may be up to without me. Living abroad can be lonely, however, in Shanghai, there is always a new friend around the corner. I have fond memories of just deciding to go out some nights to see where the evening takes me, and ultimately I end up meeting people from all around the world. You gain confidence in yourself and your ability to be on your own, and this is a strength that can take you anywhere.

My first month here was a whirlwind. Setting up a bank account, dealing with the visa process, figuring out how to navigate the city-all these things were mentally taxing. However, it’s a steep learning curve, and in no time you feel like you could go anywhere in the city and figure out how to get home. Also, everything is pretty dang easy here in China if you have a smartphone. Basically, you can do ANYTHING with your phone-pay your bills, purchase movie tickets, unlock one of the public bikes around the city, use your metro card…the possibilities are endless. You will need a WeChat, as this is how everyone communicates and pays here in China. This app can function as Facebook, Venmo, Instagram, Twitter, and iMessage all in one. It truly is the most ingenious and convenient invention. Be sure to set one up with a Chinese phone number, however, in case you are locked out of your account (this happens on occasion, due to the app being highly monitored). If you have a WeChat and a Chinese bank account, your life here is pretty much smooth sailing.

On a rowing boat on canal in China

Although the experience is going to be strange and stressful at times, it can also be the most exhilarating time of your life. In my time in China, I’ve traveled to distant corners of the earth, met people from wildly different walks of life than mine, learned a new language, tried hundreds of different foods, and witnessed the simple miracles of living abroad that I would have never experienced otherwise. My life can been completely enriched, and I know that if it had not been for my decision that one sunset to shed the comforts of my old life, I would not be the person that I am today. If you are reading this and considering making the jump to change your life, I will just remind you that for great risk comes great reward.

“Life is banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death!” – Rosalind Russel

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