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A Review of Echo English, Hangzhou

They lied to me, to get me into places like Tiantai – a tiny town with no foreigners and nothing to do –  then they tried it again with Yueqing.

One of their employees sexually harassed me within hours of my stepping off the plane.

The school pays Echo between 13,000 – 16,000 RMB a month. I only see 6,000 of that.

They refused to move me from Tiantai when I was genuinely considering suicide due to months of miserable isolation, instead threatening to blacklist me so I would never get another teaching job in China again.

When I eventually fought my way out of there, they called me an asshole.

They constantly told me my lessons were bad, and didn’t tell me why or how to improve them.

It says in the contract that they’re meant to cover the cost of my work visa. They don’t. Instead they get the schools to pay for it. This act of incompetence forced me to leave in January instead of seeing out my contract.

They threatened to fine me $1500 when I said I wanted to leave.

Welcome to Echo English.

Before I give my honest account of my experience in China and expand on the above points when dealing with Echo English, I want to make a couple of brief statements. Firstly, this review isn’t born out of a malicious act of petty revenge against a callous English teaching agency or against China itself. I have seen more and more teachers on the ‘China TEFLers’ Facebook group getting ready to fly over, and I want to write this honest review to warn them, that the problems they may encounter in China could amount to far more than a few minor cultural barriers. Secondly, I hope that anyone reading this will become wise to any agency that wants to cheat them and take advantage of them, like they did to me. There are some out there that don’t care for the children’s education or for your wellbeing as a foreign teacher. Their only concern is profit and to them, you’re little more than a commodity. Thirdly, there will be some ‘inside information’ in this review which I was not allowed to know. Rest assured that I’m not pulling it out of thin air – my information comes from several disgruntled Chinese employees that have left the company – who will remain anonymous.

After my first few days of training in Hangzhou, Echo suddenly dropped the bombshell that I’d be teaching in the city of Taizhou. Given that they’d told me over Skype interview that I’d be living and working in Hangzhou, I was quite taken aback. I’d done a fair bit of research into the sights and experiences that the city had to offer as well as the expat community, so I’d been pretty excited to settle in and get started! I voiced this concern to the girl delivering the news. ‘It’s fine’ she assured me, ‘There are lots of foreigners there, lots of things to do and you won’t notice the difference.’ I was directed to my bus and off I went. I had no idea where I was headed and I only realised that I was not in Taizhou when I stepped off the bus. I was in a small town called Tiantai, a settlement that would soon become the source of one of my blackest memories in twenty-three years on this planet.

That was my first mistake. I put my trust in Echo and allowed them to ship me off without a word of protest. I found out later that Echo’s employees are encouraged by their manager to lie to our faces. Their team leader literally peers over their shoulders when they’re communicating with you via WeChat (Chinese WhatsApp) or email, to check that they are indeed feeding you the information that the company wants you to swallow.

In terms of facilities, Tiantai was in no way a bad place to be stationed in. It was just really not the right fit for me for the following reasons;

When you move to a country like China, facing the cultural transition with another foreigner makes the experience a hundred times easier. In Tiantai, there were no other Westerners, no one who shared my language or culture for hundreds of miles. I can’t put into words the loneliness and isolation I experienced for months. It was crushing. It felt like there was a physical weight on my shoulders, an invisible python around my chest that constricted my breathing. There were days where the resulting depression sapped my spirit so much, I never left my bed for days. I was finding out the hard way that isolation by language is probably the worst types of loneliness in existence. Eventually I began dreading the weekends, where I would go from teaching Chinese students to having zero human contact whatsoever. I’d have killed for 10 minutes of Western company. Eventually gaining contacts through Tinder (Yeah, I know) made it worse – it was like watching everyone else have the time of their lives that I’d signed up for – while my apartment began to feel more like a prison cell.

It didn’t help that there was absolutely nothing to do there either. There’s a KTV, a KFC, a Pizza Hut and a Starbucks. Oh, and a temple, which was the venue for all the local teachers’ plans every weekend without fail. It was a pretty cool temple admittedly, but to go there every weekend for your entire life really wasn’t for me. While every other teacher and expat was sampling the nightlife of their local town or city, I was making daily pilgrimages to Starbucks purely to give me a reason to leave my deathly silent apartment. I love to meet new people and the hermit lifestyle imposed on me is sadly all I can really remember of my China experience.

Also, I came to China to learn Mandarin. If I’d been posted in Hangzhou, Shanghai, Wenzhou etc. then I’d have regular access to teachers and Chinese natives fluent in English, who could hopefully help me make sense of this confounding language. There was nothing like that in Tiantai. I struggled to make any progress learning through a smattering of phone apps and YouTube.  Learning Chinese isn’t like learning French or German. With those languages you can at least tell when one word ends and another begins. Listening to Chinese is like a wall of noise. Despite trying my best, I left China still barely knowing any of the lingo.

Long story short, I finally reached my limit in Tiantai and cracked. I just couldn’t take it anymore. No more of the British ‘stiff upper-lip’ approach, I didn’t deserve to be left to rot out here and had to get out for the sake of my mental wellbeing. Naturally Echo ignored my pleas and refused to move me to another school and proceeded to threaten me with a $1500 USD fine (good luck getting that from me, you human-trafficking fucks) and with a place on a ‘blacklist’, so I’d never be able to teach in China again. It turned out to be an empty threat, as I discovered when I forced my way out of the school. Their employee (the same one who sexually harassed me) called me an asshole. For the first time in months, I grinned ear-to-ear.

When my time in Tiantai came to an end, Echo tried lying to me again. ‘We have a new job for you in Wenzhou’ they said eagerly. ‘There are a lot more Western comforts and a foreign expat community. Much better than Tiantai.’ I wasn’t going to be fooled this time. I demanded the address of the school they wanted to send me to and they eventually gave it up, somewhat reluctantly. One quick Google search exposed their barefaced lie – the school was a two hour drive away from Wenzhou – and by the look of it on Google Maps, it was smaller and even more remote than Tiantai! Furious about being bullshitted again after they knew full well what I’d been through, I told them where they could stick their offer. Their mask of friendliness was instantly cast aside. It was this or they they would suspend my pay and refuse to provide any accommodation for me. A clear attempt to strong-arm me into taking the deal. At this point I have to give a shoutout to Ben Noon, who suggested an alternative plan of action over the phone, when I had no-one to turn to.

As it transpired, Echo’s incompetence was their one redeeming feature. It stipulates in the contract that all teachers sign, that Echo are required to pay the visa costs of every teacher and be held accountable for the paperwork and process. This led to some people being put on student visas, working illegally as it worked out cheaper for the agency. I should have learned this when one foreign teacher had to fly to the nearest British Embassy in Hong Kong (Echo refused to reimburse the cost of the flight) because Echo messed up the paperwork. So it should come as no surprise that Echo don’t pay the visa costs. Instead, they impose them on the schools that you work for. My school was too poor to afford my services for a whole year so they only paid for one semester. Thus, my visa was only valid till January. A blessing in disguise, I left China for a teaching job in Vietnam and never looked back.

I’m in a rare position where I can compare life in these two Asian countries. Vietnam is beautiful, it has great weather, great cheap beer, great nightlife and there are tonnes of expats wherever you go. China is so polluted, you’d struggle to see 500 yards ahead of you, which caused me and some other teachers serious health issues. It’s wet and freezing. Their beer is expensive and gassy 2.5% urine. There’s a real possibility you’ll never meet anyone. There are people who’ve had a great time in China and I have to say, I’m pretty damn jealous of you guys! I’d be perfectly happy with never setting foot in that country ever again.

I’ve been watching the videos that Ben Noon has posted of various peoples’ experiences in China and every time he’s asked the question; why choose Noon Elite Recruitment? Based on the above experiences, unfortunately I would say that I wouldn’t again. Ben, you’re a really nice guy, your interpersonal skills are top notch and I have no doubt that the wellbeing of the teachers was your number one priority. I fully appreciate that Echo English put on an image for you when you visited them like the North Korean government does for any tourists that cross their border. I’d be happy to recommend you if not for one glaring aspect – our paycheque.

When I eventually met other foreign teachers in China, it was only inevitable that the conversation would turn to comparing jobs and salaries. When I told them how much I earned a month – 6,000 RMB – I quickly became used to watching their nonchalant facial expressions quickly turn to open-mouthed incredulous dismay. Responses generally ran along the lines of ‘That’s bullshit! How could you possibly accept a contract that bad?’ My answer was that I’d been told that it was a good deal by someone who’d taught in China for two years.

It didn’t take me long to discover the truth – Echo were ripping us all off. I have it on good authority that the schools pay Echo somewhere in the region of 13,000 – 16,000 RMB a month. The amount differs between schools, depending on how rich they are. But that means, if I remember anything from my GCSE maths, that Echo are taking up to 62.5% of our paycheque. If you stay for a full 10 month contract, that’s £11,574* a year each that Echo are cheating their teachers out of.

It was too late to do anything about it. We’d put pen to paper. To fly across the world to a strange country based on someone’s word takes a lot of trust. If Ben didn’t know how bad our contract was after two years of living there when I discovered it in a few months then that’s fairly naïve at best, dishonest at worst. I don’t want to seem like this is a personal attack. Instead I’m hoping that Ben will take this in the constructive way in which it’s intended and learn from it.

I’m writing this review for the same reason which Ben started his recruitment company – to stop teachers getting into shitty situations like we had to go through. If you want my brutally honest advice and you want a teaching job in China then look on www.echinacities.com. You’ll find several schools on there which are big enough to fund your visa themselves without relying on scumbag agencies like Echo. They’ll pay you a fair wage (never accept anything less than 10,000 RMB a month) and they’ll generally be in cities with an expat population. Know your own worth as a foreign teacher and don’t let corrupt, money-driven glorified human-traffickers tell you any different. Good luck.

*Number taken from post-Brexit Pound Sterling valuation. Would’ve been roughly £10,000 when I was there.

 

Interested in working in China and want to find out more? Our UK agency ensures that schools are up to top standard and provides an additional layer of protection and reassurance when negotiating issues with your Chinese school. To find out the latest vetted and quality assessed top providers in China check out nooneliterecruitment.com/teach-english-in-china.  

 

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One thought on “A Review of Echo English, Hangzhou”

  1. Hey Dan, I’m glad you used the site for what it was meant for and wrote up a review mate. Good or bad, I always said this kind of honesty and freedom of reviewing schools is exactly why we did this in the first place and is exactly what China needs and I think that its great to pick up on all of this agencies flaws so that they can be rightfully made public and corrected. I also appreciate the difficult situation I must have put you in by recommending Echo in the first place and I most certainly can emphasise with you more than most about these companies flaws. As i remember talking to you about these issues at the time and have recently finalised some of the actions taken against and then in cooperation with Echo I would like to explain the things you mentioned and also tell you what changed as a result of them. Firstly, Echo last year were in my own opinion too focussed on creaming money and not interested enough in their teachers happiness. When some of you guys went over last year I expected the same level of professionalism and care that i had seen when i visited them. Although many teachers were happy, I got the feeling that they were not up to scratch with a few of you. I know you Dan and, Simon, Alex, Blake, Callum and George, all great teachers mentioned parts from Echo that you were not happy about. I must say no small part of this was the small salary of 6000 RMB that they paid you, as all things seem to be in China, they skimmed too much off of placing you and didn’t seem to do enough to look after you to the standard that they as an agency are contractually held to by NER. As a result of this, which was bought to my attention a good 6 months ago. Recommendations to Echo were halted and i personally went out to their headquarters to see what on earth they were playing at. After I personally viewed the schools, including an interview with Richard as seen on this group page I was happy with the conditions of the teachers in Hangzhou, but yes, i know this was just hangzhou and not further affield. However with you Dan I fully agree as i said with you on the phone at the time that Echo were bang out of order and were punished by us in terms of a fine and much stricter future agreements. To be dispatched so far away in the first place was not suitable and we have since took precautions to forbid it ever happening again. So, after all this hassle I guess a question i would ask is why are so many of you about to start arriving at Echo very soon? This is because over the last 6 months of being supplied no teachers, being inspected by myself including secret interviews with their disgruntled office staff and long chats with their CEO that the schools they recommend teachers to are now at a very high standard and we are keeping a very close eye on how they look after our teachers. The entire structure was changed, salary raised to 8000 and all the old agents removed. The positions like yours Dan are no outright banned and should any teacher arriving there have any issue we can immediately find you a different school employer in the same city. You wont be bound by Echos contract as they will have invalidated their pledge to supply you what they promised. Long story short I fully agree Dan that Echo failed you and so did I for not getting you out of there immediately. I am however happy that you bought this issue up and got out of it and happily teaching in Vietnam quickly. As a takehome message from this, I would like to remind you guys considering teaching out there that you need to be vigilant of your employer and let us know of any issues you may have, however, of the 50 teachers that went out in Septemeber 2015 I’m pleased to say you stuck it through and look like you have had some great experiences. For the salary, 6000 is low and going direct gets you more but the whole reason you start low is that you don’t have any prior experience and the numerous paid positions require an average of 2 years experience prior to getting rightfully higher salaries. Note that higher salaries also have invisible charges such as income tax and insurance and if used for comparison should be net of these for a fair comparison. I hope this addresses at least some of your issues Dan and I’m glad you took the time to make public and hold Echo accountable for their mistakes. I look forward to continually getting feedback like this and hopefully together with reviews like this improving the conditions for teachers all over China.

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