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5 Things to Know if You Want to Teach English in China
Written by: Havvah Holl
Last Updated: May 19, 2020
From the bustling streets of Shanghai to the rolling hills of Yunnan Province, China is a dynamic location for those interested in teaching English abroad in Asia. China's massive population makes for Asia's largest market for teachers looking for jobs and offers a broad range of travel opportunites as well. Here are five things you should know as you explore the possibilities for teaching English in China.
1. SIZE – With a long history, expansive landmass (3.7 million sq. miles - slightly larger than the continental US), and staggering population numbers (1.357 billion people), the sheer scale of China can be overwhelming. This leads to a lot of different job opportunities for English teachers, with more people in China learning English than the entire population of the US (nearly 400 million English learners in China). It also offers unparalleled options in terms of the experience of where you are teaching as well as to travelling in China.
While some people may envision going modern, with coastal metropolis’ like Shanghai, and exploring the hustle and bustle of a rapidly modernizing society. You can also get lost exploring the limestone karst landscape while teaching in Guilin. From sprawling deserts & towering mountain ranges like the Himalayas to subtropical coastlines, China - much like the US - offers a vast array of geographical diversity. Depending on what you are looking for in terms of climate & environment, the size of China has something to offer everyone. The easy access to these destinations, and the rest of Asia, also make it an ideal location for those looking to prioritize travel.
2. FOOD – Do not forget to eat! The diversity of people and regions in China make food one of the most exciting facet of living there. Once you get past the initial intimidation of not knowing what is on the menu and the mysterious street meat, you’ll discover a country serious about eating and its cuisine. Whether you are sampling spicy Sichuan hotpot, late night shao kao, dim sum, or just bowl after bowl of delicious noodles, Chinese food will surprise, delight, and (if we’re being honest) occasionally disgust you. Check out the ITA Alumni World Eats Photo Contest to get a glimpse of cuisine from around Asia & the World.
3. THE CONCEPT OF "FACE" – This complicated term will come up any time you start delving into the culture. It defies a simple explanation, but you can begin thinking about it as a form of pride. As a nation, the country is extremely proud of its history, culture, and contributions to the world. They’ll criticize it a lot, but as a foreigner, refrain from jumping in to that criticism, as you can offend their sense of pride, or the “face” of the country.
The concept of face is key when dealing with supervisors, colleagues, and even friends in China. Remember to be careful of being to direct, or critical of your supervisor or coworkers, especially in front of others. This can make them lose face in front of other people, and damage your ability to form a relationship with them.
4. GUANXI – Guanxi is the term given to your relationships and connections in China. From the process of getting a visa, getting and apartment, or going out for the evening, there is rarely a clear road map of what to expect for China, and everything depends on your guanxi. Legally it might say that you have to get a Z visa to work as a teacher in China, but the connections that your school has with the local government offices may find you working on an F visa. The cost of an apartment may completely change if you go through an agency that has connections with the landlord, versus if you find it on your own. You’ll often find that the best way isn’t always what is the most direct, rather it will be working around the relationships you have.
5. BE OPEN-MINDED! – China is a huge, diverse, and very different country. It has a lot to offer everyone, in terms of different experiences, cuisines, landscapes and adventures if you are open to it. Try that dish that looks weird to you, book a train ticket to that town you’ve never heard of, hang out in a tea house, or sing karaoke all night. Approaching your time with an open mind will make it much easier for you to get the most out of your time there!
A native Midwesterner, Havvah bought a one-way ticket to China in 2007 and ended up teaching English in Kunming for 3 years. In addition to helping hundreds of ITA students gain employment abroad each year as a senior representative of the Student Affairs Department, Havvah is an active member of ITA's Charity department.
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