Many people consider teaching English abroad but they’re not sure where to go – there are so many countries with great programs and opportunities! How do you choose?
If teaching in China isn’t on your radar, it should be!
The idea of moving to China to be an English teacher was daunting at first – I only knew a handful of Chinese words and I had never been a teacher before, let alone a teacher in a foreign country.
I’ve been a teacher in China for 3 years now, and while it was challenging in the beginning, teaching in China has been one of the best decisions I ever made! I would highly recommend it to anyone wanting to try something different in a new country.
Here are some of the best things about being a teacher in China.
1. LEARNING ABOUT CHINESE CULTURE
Before moving here, the extent of my knowledge about China basically came from Disney’s Mulan. I didn’t know that different provinces and cities speak different dialects, that sticking your chopsticks in rice was bad luck, or that you should never give a clock to someone on their birthday. China has a long history full of so many interesting traditions and it’s really exciting to learn more about them.
2. CHINESE FOOD
When I first moved to China I wondered how I would handle eating Chinese food everyday, but I was overjoyed to discover that food in China is diverse and so good. Every province in China has different foods to offer – spicy, sweet, and everything in between. I never knew so many kinds of noodles existed. It’s also possible to eat great food very cheaply in China!
Read more about Chinese food here: What Do You Eat In China?
3. TRAVEL OPPORTUNITIES
As a teacher in China I have lots of holidays: one week off in October for National Week, 4-6 weeks off for the Chinese New Year, two months for summer holiday, and several smaller holidays throughout the year. Your holidays will depend on the kind of school you work for, but you can generally expect these kind of days off.
This allows for lots of time to travel! There are so many beautiful cities in China to see – Beijing and Shanghai are awesome, but some of my favorite cities are places I had never heard of until I got here like Yangshuo, Xi’an, Chengdu, Suzhou, and Hangzhou. Mountains, temples, pandas, modern cities: China has it all and more!
You can also spend time exploring places outside of China – it’s very easy to travel around southeast Asia! During my three years teaching in China, I visited Thailand, Japan, South Korea, Australia, Vietnam, Singapore, Cambodia, Malaysia, and Indonesia.
Here are some places I’ve been in and out of China:
4. CHINESE STUDENTS
One of the biggest reasons to come teach in China: the students! My experience in China would not be complete without the students I’ve taught.
I’ve taught all ages from kindergarten through university students to adults, and they’ve all enriched my time in China. Many of my students became my close friends – we would eat dinner together, go to the movies, and share things about our different cultures with each other. You’ll find the students are so welcoming and excited to meet foreign teachers.
5. EMBRACING LOCAL TRADITIONS
I’ve eaten duck blood, pig ears, cow intestines, donkey meat, and more. I’ve been invited to my student’s homes in the Hunan countryside and drank homemade bee wine (it’s the polite thing to do). Living in China will expose you to some new and bizarre situations, and the trick is to say YES to everything.
6. LIVING THE D CELEBRITY LIFE
When you live in China, especially a smaller city, being a foreigner makes you stand out. This comes with some perks – you get asked for pictures on the street, you get free drinks when you go out, and people want to learn more about you. It’s easy to make friends and get connected with the city.
Of course this comes with a few downsides – you are no longer anonymous. Anything you do differently stands out. People will constantly stare at the grocery store, trying to glance in your basket to see what a foreigner buys. When you’re tired you still have to answer questions from strangers that you’ve answered many times before. (Do you like China? Do you like Chinese food? Can you use chopsticks? Do you have a boyfriend?)
But it also means you might make it onto the Chinese evening news.
It’s definitely a unique experience to be noticed everywhere you go!
7. MEETING FRIENDS FROM ALL AROUND THE WORLD
People have often asked me about what the daily life is like in China – can you make friends? Are there other people to speak English with?
These are all great questions – it’s not easy to pack up your life and move halfway around the world away from your friends and family, and it’s nice to know you’ll be able to settle in and build relationships in a new place.
You’re not the only foreigner living in China, I promise! You’re going to meet so many other awesome people from all around the world. In the first city I lived in there was a group of foreigners that met up frequently with people from the U.S., England, Italy, Ukraine, Australia, Ireland, and more! It helps to meet other people who understand what it’s like settling into life in a foreign country.
I wrote an article for Career China about this: 6 Ways To Meet People While Living in China
8. GETTING OUT OF YOUR COMFORT ZONE
Whether you move to a big or small city in China, you’ll encounter totally new cultural norms, language barriers, and strange Chinese traditions. You might see old men spitting loudly, babies wearing split pants and going to the bathroom on the street, women killing chickens and preparing food right outside your apartment. Embrace the bizarre! You’re in a new country and have the opportunity to soak in a new culture and get outside your own routines and comforts.
9. SALARY AND BENEFITS
Another common question I’m asked about teaching in China – what is the pay like? Can you afford daily life as well as traveling?
Foreign teachers in China are in high demand, so the teaching salary in China is very good, especially compared to salaries for ESL teachers in other countries.
My first two years in China I worked at a university where the salary was much lower than other private schools, but this was enough for me to live very comfortably, travel quite a bit, and make student loan payments. When you work with younger students the salary will be much higher – working at a kindergarten, I made almost 3x the amount I made working at a university.
Most schools will also have extra benefits like housing allowances, flight reimbursements, and end-of-year bonuses.
I’ve written more about the salary and different types of schools here: How To Find a School To Teach At in China
10. TRY NEW THINGS
Living in China gave me the opportunity to try so many things I might never have done. I started taking Chinese lessons. I learned how to play Mahjong (and then forgot). I became a pro at Chinese KTV. I started traveling solo. I learned the ukulele. Be it Chinese related or not, you’ll have time to explore different hobbies and interests.
TEACH ENGLISH IN CHINA
Every teacher has different experiences and stories to tell about China. It can be challenging and difficult sometimes, especially when you first start teaching and you’re trying to figure out life in China. But once you get the hang of things, you won’t want to leave!
Do you have other questions about teaching in China? Send me a message or follow me on Instagram! And be sure to check out these other posts for more information:
- A Day in the Life of a Kindergarten English Teacher in China
- 10 Tips For Living In China
- Meet My University Students