- Latin America
- Middle East
- TEFL Certification
- Job Search Guidance
- Teach English Online
- Diversity Abroad
- Video Library
Being Free, Even in China - Teaching English in China
Written by: International TEFL Academy
Last Updated: December 11, 2019
By: David Chen
Now who would’ve thought? Growing up as effectively the only Asian American in small-town homogeneous Central Montana, and then going to a highly diverse, intellectual, yet still small-town liberal arts college in Western Massachusetts, I had thought that I had experienced as much as I needed in order to live and succeed in this world. After my year in China, facilitated by a TEFL/TESOL certificate I earned taking the Online TEFL class of the International TEFL Academy, I can now understand why people who studied abroad in college keep saying it’s a life-changing experience.
My name is David Chen from Lewistown, Montana, and I had graduated from Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts with a degree in Biology. Having spent pretty much my whole life studying for school and not (yet) particularly excited about moving forward in my designated career path, I decided it was time for a break. A break, from America.
Though my ethnic and cultural heritage are indisputably Chinese, and even after my parents warning me and prepping me for the differences I was going to experience, it was still a huge culture shock for me, even more so than my going to college. Even the Chinese that I had learned for two years did not prepare me for living and breathing in the country itself. These differences were exposed with both positive and negative aspects.
However, I bet that many of you want to start hearing about my teaching experience. I’ll get to that. In fact, my experience teaching is innately intertwined with how I experienced the country’s culture. For one thing, and I know this may not be the most politically correct thing I’ll say (though there were certainly a lot more politically incorrect things I had observed), as a Chinese American I definitely noticed a difference in treatment compared to non-Chinese. Coming from America where everyone at least tries to treat everyone else equally regardless of race, gender, religion, ethnicity, etc., this very blatant, though not necessarily malicious, discrimination was a huge shock, and in many ways it was disappointing.
Nevertheless, this did not substantially hinder my experience there, and in many ways it enhanced it. Think of a foreigner, like a person from Britain, or France, or Nigeria, or, yes, China, and how you would appraise their sometimes “eccentric” behavior. More often than not you would excuse their eccentricities to their being from a different country. That is what I got to experience, even as a Chinese-American, while working in teaching English in China. Given that my accent’s not very good, once the people there realize I’m a laowai (foreigner), all their societal expectations of me evaporate. It is a freedom that many of us are not able to experience in our own native countries, where our understanding of societal norms constrains how we appear to other people.
In China, that restraint was gone. I walked around wearing whatever I wanted, eating whenever I wanted. This is the one big freedom that I do sorely miss now that I’m back in the United States.
As for teaching, the students were a delight, though they tended to be a bit hesitant at first, expecting someone with a far lighter skin and hair complexion. International TEFL Academy prepared me well here, though there were still many things I had to learn in order to work within the Chinese system. The most infuriating aspect I thought was the bureaucracy and just how bureaucratic and formalized even supposedly simple requests were. Regardless, I enjoyed myself teaching, and I hope the students did as well.
There are many other things I could talk about here about working and living in China, like how absolutely cheap and delicious the food was, how comfortable my apartment was (high-speed internet and cable TV!), how nice and cheap the bus system was (approximately $0.30 USD/ride), the types of interesting and sometimes sketchy characters I met. However, I feel that these details you, the reader, can learn about yourself by going to China! It was an absolutely amazing experience, especially in regards to the freedom (in China? Ironic, I know). I highly recommend teaching there, and I hope you decide to as well!
David Chen grew up in small-town Montana and studied biology at Amherst College in Massachusetts. Following college graduation, David spent a year teaching English in China.
For more on David's experiences in China, check out his other ITA publications:
Founded in 2010, International TEFL Academy is a world leader in TEFL certification for teaching English abroad & teaching English online. ITA offers accredited TEFL certification classes online & in 25 locations worldwide and has received multiple awards & widespread recognition as one of the best TEFL schools in the world. ITA provides all students and graduates with lifetime job search guidance. ITA has certified more than 25,000 English teachers and our graduates are currently teaching in 80 countries worldwide.
Want to Learn More About Teaching English Abroad?
Request a free brochure or call 773-634-9900 to speak with an expert advisor about all aspects of TEFL certification and teaching English abroad or online, including the hiring process, salaries, visas, TEFL class options, job placement assistance and more.
- 5 Tips On How to Find an Expat Community in Suzhou, China
- 10 Best Countries for Teaching English Abroad in 2020
- Teaching English and Racism in Spain
- Teaching English in Oujda, Morocco: Alumni Q&A with Latisha Springer
- Teaching English Online to Students in East Asia - The Three Month Mark
- 10 International Celebrations & Festivals You Need On Your Bucket List!
- What Are The Basic Requirements to Teach English in Japan?
- Top 10 Things To Do While Living & Teaching in Yakutia, Russia
- 7 Reasons Why I Love Teaching English Abroad
- Teaching English in Yakutsk, Russia: Alumni Q&A with Kristine Bolt
- 10 Companies That Let You Teach English Online Without a Degree
- What is TEFL and What is TEFL Certification?
- 10 Companies Where You Can Teach English Online to Adults
- 7 Companies That Hire Non-Native English Speakers to Teach English Online
- No Degree, No Problem: The 6 Best Countries to Teach English Without a College Degree