Overall, I would highly recommend anyone to travel and work in China. After meeting many travellers in China, myself the true difference between travelling and working is the true levels of integration. From my personal view you cannot truly integrate yourself into the Chinese culture unless you live there for a longer period. From my experience the more you integrate the more you find yourself in true awe of how amazing the people and the culture of China really is. China is not a country that exposes its true self straight away, you must understand it before you can truly experience it. For me this is why I recommend working as an English teacher to anyone I meet, no matter your experience, your views or even your language ability. The best metaphor to truly enjoy this experience is to jump first and ask questions later.
Tell us about your city in China/ What was the shopping and daily life there like?
I was based in a city called Xiangyang and when you look on the map it’s almost in the centre of China. The city is what is classified as a tier 2 city but maybe it was verging on a tier 3 city. There were around 5.4 million Chinese residents in Xiangyang, but for China this is relatively small. The city itself didn’t speak that much English due to it not being a capital. However, I would say to anyone don’t be discouraged by this, it pushed me to really try with Chinese. Furthermore, it also allowed me to get into some amazing conversations with locals who were fascinated by foreigners. If you do want to feel a little bit like a celebrity everywhere you go, the lower the English ability the better.
Xiangyang itself had a lot to offer. It was a central military base in the Jin dynasty. So, still to this day it has the surrounding military walls, which is one of I believe 3 cities with its walls still standing. What you will notice in all of China is that due to China’s vast history most cities you live in or visit will have a long and fascinating history.
I will admit Xiangyang took a bit of getting used to, I came from London; a Mecca of cultures to Xiangyang; a Mecca for Chinese culture. I will not lie to you the first month was scary, everything was loud, all hours of the night there was something going on and there wasn’t a lot of structure. However, remember what I said when you live there you start to understand. After a month a started making friends and finding out that yes it’s loud, but that also meant there was always something to see or do. Yes it was busy, but that also meant the street food vendors were open until 3am, if you haven’t had BBQ at 3am with friends after a heavy night of drinking you haven’t lived. I think for anyone contemplating working out in China I will confess it will be scary and a big culture shock. But, I think as long as you understand that you will not be disappointed.
Daily life in Xiangyang wasn’t too dissimilar to daily life back home. I’d meet my friends, play cards, go for drinks and just overall have fun. The difference between daily life there and daily life in England was that if I was bored over there, there was always something new to experience. I got Monday – Wednesday off so I’d always be travelling or going to new places. Everything was new so daily life there pushed me out a lot more. Similarly, Chinese people are super friendly, so most Friday / Sunday nights we’d end up randomly meeting some Chinese people and we’d just go for food. Those broken English / Chinese nights out were some of the randomly best nights I’ve had.
What was the scariest moment you faced?
I touched on this a little above, but the scariest moments for me were In the first few months, at that point I didn’t know much Chinese, so even going to a restaurant was a little scary. Communication in a new area was the scariest, for me it did feel that I had left every safety net at home. I remember one-night thinking what do I do, but then after you start to think like that always remember you are not alone Thankfully the city I was in had a few super helpful foreigners, so one message and they’d be there. Never forget that if it’s your first time in China you are not alone, there are many people who are doing the same thing as you.
Furthermore, despite this being very scary, for me it was what I came to China for. I wanted a challenge and trust me China is one, but I needed it. Whenever you feel scared or down (and trust me there will be times) never forget why you went to China in the first place.
What was the highlight of your placement?
A true highlight of this placement was because Xiangyang wasn’t a huge city I actually got to learn what China was truly like. I finally felt like a local. As I’ve said above China is a country that doesn’t reveal itself unless you go searching for it. For me living in Xiangyang was one of the best experiences of my life. This is the city I found myself and pushed myself because I wanted to not just because I needed to. Living like a local in China is the best experience you can get, if you truly immerse yourself into the Chinese culture and the people I am sure you will love it too.
What was your apartment like?
My apartment was a lot nicer than the tiny box flats I was used to in London. It was huge, a big living room, a balcony, a bathroom (with a western toilet) and two big bedrooms (I was sharing with a flat mate). The room is spacious and rather airy. China does go through extreme weather conditions throughout the year but the room was ok, not perfect but nothing ever is. Over there, there is an obsession with wood and wooden floors when it is cold is not great. Nevertheless, the flat was nice for a flat that you don’t have to pay for you’d think it was amazing.
Did it feel isolated living there?
At times you do feel a little isolated, it’s not home so you will always feel a little weird. But, what I did was to make it feel more like home put up some pictures, get a good duvet set and put up a little bench. I think, the flat is just a flat, it is what you make of it. We tried to make it more of the social space for everyone so every time I’d come out of my room there was always a new person there. I think if you are willing to let people in, you will be able to combat that isolation feeling.
What was the best part about your apartment?
There were two amazing parts, first was if anything broke / went wrong with the flat it wasn’t my problem. In China you will usually have someone that will take care of everything you need. Most people taking on this job probably won’t speak Chinese fluently, so the school will make sure all the issues are taken care of. This means any problems day or night you can call or message them. Coming from London where all the problems seem to end up costing me money this was a god send. Secondly, we had a balcony, so myself and my roommate brought a Barbeque and on most Sunday’s nights would just cook and invite people over. This was amazing, after a weekend of work just to sit back and relax with a beer and BBQ.
Where was your school?
My school was based in Xiangyang, this is a tier 2 city based in the Hubei region. Xiangyang is a city that I would say flutters on the line between tier 3 and tier 2, the city is big but the level of English was relatively low. Prior to coming to China, I would highly advise researching yourself on the level of English in that city as a rule of thumb the smaller the city the lower the English level.
What were the working hours like?
The working hours were very relaxing. The majority of the work was completed on the weekend, so these were the only two full days that I had. A full day (weekend) tended to be either 8am / 9am until 5-6pm with a 2-hour lunch break. If you have ever been to China you will know that every Chinese person likes to take a nap at lunchtime. My other days were Thursday and Friday. On Thursday I worked at public half of the year which was 9am – 3pm and once our curriculum had finished I worked in Kindergarten which was 8am – 10am. From personal experience the Kindergarten was more rewarding but a little more tiring. My Friday was just evening classes and occasionally a few one on one classes during the holidays. Evening classes usually started at 6pm and finished at 9pm. Going from this to a full time working week, I now realise how relaxing my working week was. Yes, Saturday’s and Sunday’s were hard but that’s just two days a week compared to the 5 I have now.
How was your commute to work?
My commute was the easiest I have ever had, it was just a 5 – 10 minute walk from my door to the school. This meant that there was no excuses to be late, but it did mean I was able to go home at lunchtime and enjoy some peace and quiet. I know some of my colleagues had to take a bus to work but again this was longest of 20 minutes, but bus times can be a little sporadic. I would highly advise when speaking to the potential school to ask how long is the commute to work going to be and see if you can get them to confirm exactly what school you will be at. The group I was in was called Aston English and they had 3 schools in the city all in different locations. So do not be afraid to ask the question.
What were you students like?
My students were amazing. At first you will find that your students do not warm to you straight away, but take some time get to know your kids, be patient and most of all be understanding. Learning English for Chinese children is very hard and a lot of them are forced to do it by their mothers or grandparents. So always go into every class thinking let’s make it fun so they want to learn. Chinese children get no time off if you meet a child that is 14 most likely their weekly schedule will be school Monday – Friday until 8-9pm, Piano on Monday, Dancing on Tuesday, English on Wednesday and Thursday and Homework from Friday – Sunday. At the start I tried to understand this by focusing less on the core words which most of the time they already knew, but, on the sentences this gave a great chance to have fun and make the kids laugh. If you are an understanding person I am sure you will become like this too. Just remember if you seem like you are having fun the kids will do too.
How were the school facilities?
The school facilities were standard as I guess they are across most schools. You had toilets and a lot of classrooms. The classrooms in my school were equipped with whiteboards and a few electronic whiteboards (but don’t expect anyone to know how to use them). If you are a teacher who has got used to modern teaching please learn how to teach the old way using text books and a board. The school will always say it will provide toys for the kids, but bare in mind every teacher uses these so just make sure to have some easy to play games in which you need no toys, in the back of your mind.
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