My name is Rachael and I am currently teaching English in Shouguang, China. I would love to share some of my experiences as an English Teacher in China.
My experience with China Plus
I did not really ‘come up’ with the idea to teach in China. I always had the dream to travel the globe one day and to see the world before I am buried beneath it. In May 2016, while I was on holiday in Sorrento, Italy with my little sister, I received an email from Aixia Li (the Managing Director) saying that I was a qualified candidate for the English teaching program and that she’d like to arrange a Skype interview. Okay! Actually, I totally forgot I applied to teach in China and this also never happens to me! So, after the shock, anxiety, denial and my sister’s encouragement I emailed Aixia an interview date.
China Plus has made this crazy, other worldly and, half the time, confusing experience and process very clear and fulfilling. Aixia is very supportive, helpful and welcoming. My first conversation with Aixia erased all my fears and doubts about my ability to do this job. She was happy to answer any questions (and I mean any questions 😉) and did not leave any details out about China or teaching. What was supposed to be a twenty-minute interview turned out to be a forty-five-minute chat, (a quarter of the time was us fan girling over how much we love Game of Thrones). The company is very patient. For many of us this was our first experience teaching and moving to a whole new country on the other side of the world. I remember emailing Puck Stamps and having a complete melt-down over how confusing the visa application was. My thoughts were if I can’t figure out how to fill out a bloody application form, how the hell can I be smart enough to teach little Chinese children the wonders of the English language? Luckily, Puck was very responsive and reassured me that they’re there to fix any problem and how normal it was to feel this way.
In October, Aixia came to visit the school I was placed at. I thought that it would be nerve racking to have your boss watch your classes. As it turned out, she was extremely supportive and was very happy to be there watching me enjoy my new life and doing well in my new profession. Afterwards, she took us out for dinner and got us all a little too happy on Chinese rice wine and Qingdao beer. Some of us were in much worse states than others but I will leave you to experience the wonders that Chinese rice wine can do to your body. Overall, my experience with China Plus has been better than I could have hoped for. Aixia is always there to contact with any queries to discuss or just to have a good old catch up. The company is enormously supportive and welcoming to its new teachers. 😊
As with every place you work at, there are ups and downs, the good, the bad, the ugly, surprising and just plain weird! My experience at the school in Shouguang was at first scary. Not only am I starting a new job, I am also starting a new job on the other side of the world. As soon as we arrived in China the company settled us in to our new apartments (which were a lot more glamorous than the photos) with a welcome message, fruit and croissants. All of our Teaching Assistants took us out for dinner, made us laminated cards with the address of the school on and local supermarket for us to show to taxi drivers. They also showed us around the local supermarket and helped us shop for food we were used to at home. It was a kinder and warmer welcome than I ever could have hoped. For them to take the time out of their busy day and family lives to help us like they did told me from the beginning I did not make a mistake moving here. Admittedly, being introduced to the company was scary as I’d never done anything like this before and was questioning myself as to whether I could do a good job. However, I quickly became comfortable as almost everyone is approachable and willing to help with any issue inside and outside of the school (and I mean any issue! 😉). There are times when there are disagreements but we all know that our main job is that our students receive the best grades possible and have fun learning.
My experience with the school
I cannot talk about my experience at this school without mentioning the Major Babe that is Nancy. Nancy is the team leader of the East Campus of the school where I am based. I know when people say that they cannot get through a day without someone you think to yourself ‘really?’ or ‘your days can’t be that difficult?’. When I say this about Nancy, I literally mean it! Moving to another country/culture completely different from your own is something I cannot describe to you. You’ll have to get out here and feel it for yourself. Having someone to be your constant support in work and personal life really helps you to settle in and feel confident in what you’re doing. Nancy does not have to do the following things but simply does them because she is the Chinese dictionary definition of a Major Babe; she takes us to the hairdressers, dry cleaners, books drivers when we’re going on holiday, invited us to her home for Chinese New Year for dumplings and for fireworks for the lantern festival, showed us around the local park, helped me to buy a bicycle, helps us to put money in our English accounts, shares her snacks when we’re in the office, takes us to the doctor when China tries to destroy our bodies, took us on a hike and showed Cheri and I around a beautiful, historic Chinese village. My experience at this school is so much better by having this amazing woman that I am proud to call my friend and I know if I ever leave China she will still remain a friend for life ❤
First week in China
If I’m going to be honest, I can barely remember my first week in China. It was such a rush to recover from jetlag and getting my head around the fact that I now live in China. What sticks out the most is remembering how long that week was; not only was I adapting to China everything was unreadable and the only Chinese people I could communicate with were my work colleagues. Baring that in mind, I was also getting to know my colleagues as they were getting to know us, (for most of them we were the first white people they’ve ever met). This made time go slower but once we all figured out everybody’s own quirky personalities the time started to go faster and the weeks/months flew by. I’m writing this in May and it feels like this morning I turned to Cheri and said ‘Babe its already April!’. The first week is to basically gather your surroundings and getting to know the people you will be working, exploring and partying with (maybe not in that order 😉).
I did not initially experience a ‘culture shock’ as I have been to China before on a school trip in Year 11 for two weeks. I can’t really remember any ‘shocks’ from seven years ago (Christ saying that makes me feel really old), the only thing that sticks out is that Chinese people don’t think it is frowned upon to spit in the street. When I think about it after eight months I find it kind of liberating and ‘I don’t care’ kind of approach to life but when I hear or see it I feel my whole body riles in disgust. At about three weeks, once the shock of moving away from home settled in, I only started noticing and appreciating how different the small things are 😊.
Another best way to deal with ‘culture shock’ is stepping outside of your comfort zone and not attaching yourself to western comforts. Get introduced to weird things and they quickly become the norm. But don’t get me wrong, you will first arrive here on high excited that you’ve begun this journey, but you will feel stages of homesickness from time to time, but this doesn’t last forever. It does pass. You need to work with what you have. Go for a McDonalds or to the cinema, anything to take your mind of that you’re in China. Keep remembering why you’ve done this and be proud of yourself!
When asking my fellow work colleagues about what they found the most interesting cultural differences, they obviously had a lot more to say than me. They’re experiencing China for the first time. Cheri and Cheyenne, who are from South Africa (at least that is what they tell me as we’re all sure they’re from another planet since they pronounce yogurt wrong), found that their most peculiar difference is that how Chinese parents’ potty train their toddlers. Chinese babies basically have a spilt in their trousers so you can see pretty much everything! The street food is another huge difference from the U.K and South Africa as it is everywhere you turn. I would suggest not eating any of it as it will give you food poisoning (it happened to Cheyenne and she would kill me if I told you the gross details). The Chinese also serve the whole animal to show that your food has not been tampered with, for example, if you order a chicken in a restaurant or the local supermarket you will receive it with its head, beak, feet and eyes staring at you to make you feel guilty about eating it.
Also, when you hear fireworks at 6:30am in a morning don’t worry it’s not North Korea. In China, it is common for weddings to be performed at this time in a morning because it is considered good luck and the Chinese are all about fireworks (no health and safety guidelines included). China in a wonderfully weird way lets you be a celebrity during your time here (this maybe a good difference depending on how you take it). In lesser known cities/towns/villages most Chinese people have never seen or met a Western person before so they will most likely want to take a photo and/or video with you. However, bear in mind some will do it without your permission. Likewise, if you’ve done your research already you’ll know that the Chinese use squat toilets in most public places. Don’t panic! The apartments you’ll be placed in will have western toilet (but ask beforehand just in case) and also some public places will have western toilets. In my opinion these are the main cultural differences. They are obviously lots of others that spring to mind but you need to jump on a plane and discover these for yourself 😊
Adam (another work colleague) mentioned to me his most favourite cultural difference and his many reasons for living in China was how communal is it. Everybody is so approachable, sweet, helpful and everything is a lot cheaper than most Western countries. China makes you feel that exploring this whole globe is achievable.
Teaching in China
Okay, let’s get one thing clear! I cannot describe to you what teaching in China is like because every day with your students is just pure madness (well that is with my students). No two days are the same but what I can tell you is that it is so much fun, surprising, stressful and you learn so much. I can’t even really describe a full day teaching as half the time with my students and often last minute changes (get used to the latter by the way the Chinese love telling you important stuff at the last minute so just roll with it) every day is different. But I can run through the basics 😊. I wake up at 7am to be in at the office for 8:30am. At the school, there are seven lesson periods per day, with the exception of Friday when the students go back home at lunchtime. I only teach at the most four classes per day Monday to Thursday. Fridays for me are for lesson planning from 9am-11:30am and 2pm-4:30pm. Cheri does have two lessons on a Friday morning so she only has the Friday afternoon to plan lessons, but Friday is essentially the day where we discuss with our teaching assistants what criteria we’re teaching and the games we’ll do with the students. I have at the most a three-hour lunch break which is absolutely awesome for napping!
I have five classes which I teach three times per week and they’re 30-40 students per class. Thus, I teach roughly 150-200 students (don’t ask me to name them all because you know I bloody well can’t). I have too many memorable teaching experiences but there is one memory that will always be at the front of my mind when I’m asked what is the best thing about teaching my students. When my Grandma asks me over Skype every Wednesday and Sunday how I’ve been, I always mention how I still can’t believe how enthusiastic they are to learn English and how excited they get to see you, play games and sing songs. I’ve honestly never seen anything like it and I will always be grateful for the love and dedication that they show ❤.
When I was teaching the names of pets I had the students split into six groups and make a pet out of play dough. One boy after finishing his groups pet decided to make me a play dough engagement ring (aww!). I can officially say I am off the market people (jokes! I’m still waiting for you Michael Fassbender). Also, while in that class the group who was making a bird gave it a proper early 20th century ladies hat was insanely good and cute 😊 If you’ve already watched YouTube videos of people teaching in China you already know that Chinese students love high fives and hugs (my Grade Twos’ love to do the Baymax fist pump). They always notice if you have new clothing, jewellery, nail polish, you’ve worn different make-up or you’ve worn your hair differently.
In my Grade 1 Class 4 there is my little heartbreaker called Jenhot. He is the typical handsome, popular boy of the class and he always shouts ‘fire in the hole’ at me. I haven’t the faintest idea where he learned that from but I know it wasn’t me. I wasn’t sure he knew what it meant but earlier this week he mimicked gun fire then shouted ‘fire in the hole’. He also the other week pushed me into another class while it was still in session! Then he just ran away and laughed when the teacher looked at me as if to say ‘what the heck are you doing?’. It was so embarrassing! But I can’t stay mad at him for long, he’s too cute and is one of my smartest students.
Also in Class 4, there is a girl called Calla. She is so clever and always runs up to give me a hug. However, for some strange reason she likes to pat my boobs. I know weird right? I look at her as if to say ‘Why Just why? Why are you doing that?’ and she just looks at me and giggles. She knows its inappropriate but she still does is anyway just to annoy me. Class 4 also love to stick little gems and stickers to my face as soon as I walk into the class room. Every time I walk back into the office Cheri doesn’t need to ask which class I’ve just had and just laughs at me wincing in peeling taking the stickers of my face. Another boy called Joe in the same class started giving me Oreo cookies after I’d joined the local gym. I was like ‘seriously? Now you start giving me these?’.
One of the funniest experiences I have to admit is when my students in their review lesson ‘slightly’ pronounce a word wrong. I’m talking about when they say ‘f*ck’ instead of fish, or ‘kiss’ instead of kick. I can promise you that nothing is more hilarious than a room full of forty cute children shouting ‘f*ck’ and your teaching assistants looking absolutely horrified.
I have a beautiful girl in my Grade 1 Class 3 called Emma. Like Jenhot, I know she’s going to break some hearts when she older. I’m not kidding she’s insanely beautiful for a seven-year-old! (Not jealous at all). She’s always hugging me, showing me how she can do the splits and giving me a kiss on the cheek. She is my little princess and I’ll love her always ❤.
One Sunday evening, I came back from my local night market with some strawberries. I had to carry them in my hand as they didn’t have a lid. I have to walk across the sports field to get back to my apartment and my Grade 1 Class 2 were all there playing after they’ve been dropped off by their parents for the week. Because of the way I was holding the strawberries they thought I was offering it to them. They stole all of my strawberries!! They just ran away saying ‘Thank you Rachael’. All of my strawberries!! But, I couldn’t stay mad at them the next day because they’re all too bloody cute.
If you have very young students, you will most likely get loads of drawn pictures. I have more pictures on my fridge than I do food. My Grade 2 students five minutes before our lesson, always comes up to the office to fetch me. They think I don’t know that we have a lesson in five minutes. I’m like ‘Guys! I know we have a lesson now, I’ve never missed a lesson thus far. My timetable is stuck to my desk and I have it as the front cover of my work folder! I know when we have a bloody lesson’. But I don’t mind 😊 It’s adorable that they want to see me as soon as possible and have a noisy at my desk.
I have two gorgeous and intelligent girls in my Grade 1 Class 1 called Zery and Johan. They’re the best of friends but they also try to beat each other in class. Don’t worry, I’m not talking violently! When the word is shown on the PowerPoint the student who calls the answer correctly first is given the point for their team. It is always either Johan or Zery and they’re in different teams. When the other one gets the point, they look at the other one and give a cute little smirk. It is honestly the most adorable and hilarious thing I’ve ever seen. They’re both little Hermione Grangers and I couldn’t be prouder of them ❤.
Still to this day since September, my students pronounce my name wrong. Instead of Rachael, they say Rach-A-el. When I told my Grandma this she laughed and then said ‘well I think that is actually the proper way because of the extra A in your name’. I said ‘are you kidding me…. my whole life has been a lie?’ Little Chinese children know how to pronounce my own name better than I do!! To be honest I think I now prefer it pronounce like that 😊.
However, not all you’re experiences with your students will be stickers, Oreo cookies and play dough engagement rings. You will have a few students who are not euthanasic to learn. Jack in my Grade 2 class was one of my most difficult students. He would always mess around, make fun of myself and Nancy and distract the other students. So, Nancy would always have to drag him outside, yell at him and send him to the Grade 2 teacher’s office. Consequently, he would then receive poor marks in his English test. After he was given back his test paper, he tore it up and started to cry. This really made me change my perception of him. I saw that he truly did care and was disappointed in himself over his bad grade. From then onwards, I started to choose him more for game activities, high fived him every time he got a question correct and always before the class started I asked how he was doing and gave him a hug. Two weeks ago, in his English Test he received a Grade A+. He looked so happy with his result and has not been disruptive or noisy since. I’m so proud of the progress he has made. This taught me that showing compassion, kindness and patience towards a difficult person instead of discipline can bring out the best in them 😊.
But hang on everybody! This next one puts all of these to shame! I have to talk about the superstar that is Belinda. She is my favourite out of all of my students (I know you shouldn’t have favourites but if you met this glorious creature you would understand why 😉). Belinda is in my Grade 2 class and lives in the apartment opposite Adam, Jon and Marzio. So, out of work we see her quite often. The best way to describe Belinda is that she is an old, beautiful, wise and strange soul inside the body of a ten-year-old girl. She’s a tomboy and class clown. My first memory of her outside of school was in the local shopping mall. She jumped up behind me and scared the life out of me. Subsequently, I proceed to chase her around the shopping mall with her laughing her face off. She’ll always be the first to high five and hug me when I walk into the classroom. When I’m walking back to my apartment from the office at the end of the working day she’ll be on the sports field playing football and always try and get me to join in. I’m awful at football so she laughs when I try to kick the ball and it goes completely in the other direction.
I love the fact that she lives across the hall from the guys because she gets to harass and annoy them when I’m unavailable to do so. She’s always knocking on their door, snooping around the western boys’ apartment and playing Marzio and Jon’s ukuleles. Jon has now gotten to the point where she knocks on the door at 8am on a Saturday morning and he just leaves her to sit on the sofa on his ukulele while he sleeps until 1pm. She’s learnt a few cords from Marzio and picked them up really quickly (she’s so bloody smart, I could never learn that fast). Belinda and I have that kind of relationship where we can just look at each other and laugh. When she told Jon his new haircut made him look ugly (she didn’t mean it, she only said it to get a reaction out of him), he looked so shocked and offended that it made us laugh so hard. I’ve never seen Jon with such a sour look on his face (HAHA!). It was one of her many shining moments.
Her mother has me over for dinner every once in a while. The first time I went for dinner (her mum is an amazing cook by the way), she was taking cheeky sips of her mum’s red wine, throwing sweet potato balls at her older sister across the table and after her parents and sister went to bed we stayed up and watch old episodes of Arthur eating walnuts and M&Ms’. You know when you have one of those instances when you think to yourself, ‘Wow, this moment is really special and I’m happy’. In that living room with my little superstar binge watching old cartoons made me feel content and weirdly safe in my situation and where I was in life. She’ll never know how grateful I was to her for that special moment, it meant a lot ❤.
Shouguang I would depict as an upcoming city in China, although to a countryside town girl like me it’s practically Manchester. It feels really good to learn about this city before it becomes huge. It’s quiet from China’s perspective. It’s cheap and easy to travel with frequent bus times and taxis all over the place. It’s very relaxing and the people are so welcoming and nice. The clubs and bars are sick!! A small tip would be for you to find a local place where you can hang out because you will feel more comfortable when you have a place to escape to.
This teaching experience has defiantly benefitted my future teaching career. To be honest, when I came to China I saw teaching as secondary because my main goal was to travel. During my three years at university where people constantly ask you what you want to do with your life, I never thought I could be a good teacher so that was never an option for me back then. However, I fell in love with my new profession (mainly thanks to my students), and want to pursue teaching as my career. I learnt so much about how to teach. I accomplished a TEFL Grade A certificate (I never get A’s so that was a massive shock!) and watching my students receive amazing grades thanks to me really has boosted my confidence and I believe in myself more.
Why teach in China?
If I haven’t convinced you already that teaching English in China is the experience of a lifetime then don’t bother reading any further. It is such a fulfilling job and you’re not going to get another experience like this. Teaching makes you feel like you are doing good work and that you’re giving something back. The students are always happy to see you. You’re testing the waters when you first arrive here but you won’t feel nervous after one month. You’ve got the benefit of travelling more of this beautiful globe before we’re underneath it. There is that much to focus on that you rarely feel homesick. I can only say so much, get out here! China will show you how it rolls 😉
Forming a bond with the people around you, the students, your teaching assistants, the people who work at your local, the girl on the cashier and your gym trainer will help you out a lot as you will feel more connected with where you are. Learning numbers is also a good start and saying hello 😊. People will really appreciate you making an effort if you learn a small amount of Chinese. Be open minded, if you’re not willing to take on new challenges or making changes for the better then you will seriously struggle. What you’ve probably heard about China it’s not true (they do not eat dogs!). You’re moving into another culture. I know that sounds scary I was in your position a year ago but the cure is to embrace the moment and just laugh the trials of life away.
For tips regarding preparation for coming out to China get your phone unlocked!! Like an idiot I forgot to do that before I came out here. Make copies of important documents, research the places in China you really want to go and make a travel plan around your teaching schedule. Get a Chinese colleague to write down your address, the school’s address, the local supermarket and key destinations as this will help you enormously with catching taxis. Download a translator onto your phone as this will help immensely. Say your goodbyes! Don’t go to China and forget to say goodbye to people in person as you don’t know how long you’ll be out here for.
Buy VPN!! This will help you access Google, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube as these are band in China. China is cheap so any winter/summer clothes you can buy out here. Spices from home will help if you want to cook some food that is similar to home. A hard drive full of entertainment is a must and practice using chopsticks. They look difficult to use but it becomes second nature after a week. Medication if you have a specific type you need to take. Things that remind you of home such as photos, stuffed toys and books.
When being asked to write this for the China Plus website, what was on my mind constantly is that what I’ve said is similar to what you can find of people’s experiences online. I did not want to be boring, generalised and my voice to go unheard. What I really wanted to address was not what is out here in China but what maybe inside you reading this on the website page as someone interested in travelling or more importantly escaping. What I’ve said to you has probably made you think ‘Wow I want to do that’, but you still haven’t gotten that kick to make you click the apply button. I don’t want anything holding you back whatever your circumstances might be. I don’t want you to take any unnecessary baggage along with you because you will be on the first plane home.
That’s all 😊.
Written by Rachael, English Teacher