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Staying in the Shenzhen Shade - Teaching English in China
Written by: Armand Diab
Last Updated: July 19, 2021
Since graduating from the International TEFL Academy in Chicago last spring (March 2013 class) and learning invaluable lessons from my two in-class instructors – Gosia and Jan, you continue to be both an inspiration and an influence to this day – I started applying for teaching jobs overseas almost immediately after receiving my diploma.
Because my teaching experience was limited (I only had 10 hours of in-class teaching curriculum experience, nothing more), so were my countries of destination: I could go to either China or South Korea (because I wanted to travel to Asia for the first time in my life, and not Europe, where I’ve been several times before). After an online job search which lasted for more than a month, I was finally offered a teaching position by Penergy Education, a Canadian owned company.
The position was for a primary school English teacher in Shenzhen China (across the bridge from Hong Kong), where I was to teach grades 1 through 3. Their offer was very fair (free 2-bedroom apartment, bigger salary, less than 20 teaching hours per week, etc), much more so than any other offer I received from other schools in China, so needless to say, I accepted it immediately. The rest is history, or should I say, Shenzhen sun cover!
Having spent the last 21 years living in Chicago, since arriving there from war torn Bosnia (where the climate is more or less the same as Chicago’s) back in late 1991, I’m naturally not used to extreme heat year round. Sure, Chicago has warm summers, but those days are few and far-between in the Midwest. And I’ve spent time in the western part of United States (California, Nevada, Arizona) and have even been to Florida a few times, so I know how hot those states can be. Shenzhen, however, is a whole other story. Here, the sun is so fierce and brutal, especially during midday summer and early fall hours, that’s it’s literally painful to stay underneath it for more than 30 seconds at a time. Most Chinese who live here carry umbrellas with them everywhere they go just to shield themselves from it. And for some reason, sun-block is a rarity in China, so unless you want to get fried on a daily basis, here are a few tips on how to keep your skin safe if you ever travel to Shenzhen.
If you must go out during the day, try not to be out between 11am and 3pm, if at all possible. I learned this lesson rather quickly, when on my third day here, I ventured into the local neighborhood to buy some groceries. It wasn’t a particularly hot day – if you stayed in the shade, that is. The store wasn’t more than about 100 yards from my apartment, but to get to it, I had to walk out in the open street, where I received no cover from above – not from clouds, nor any of the store awnings. It was the longest 2-minute walk of my life, and believe me, I won’t be taking it again during midday hours.
Shenzhen has quite a large downtown area, friendly and accommodating to foreigners of all kinds. And this downtown is especially exciting at night. So if you find yourself in this booming city – which I hear is one of the fastest growing cities on the planet – then do try to go out and experience it during evening and night hours, for it will be easier on your lungs (air is easier to breathe) and on your skin (sun sets here pretty early in the fall).
Or if you’re more of a day-time person, and prefer to spend your evenings preparing lessons and dining quietly at home, then get an umbrella, the kind that the locals use, and carry it with you when walking the streets in midday. That way at least you won’t be treated for heat-stroke during your first week in this extremely warm city.
Now, I don’t want people to misunderstand me: I love Shenzhen. The children I teach are a lot of fun to be around, and all the teachers I work with are friendly and very helpful at all times. After spending more than a month here, I can honestly say it is a great, exciting and booming city, one that even mirrors New York in size, number of skyscrapers and population, and the people here are a lot friendlier than the citizens of the Big Apple – another big plus. It’s an international city as much as it is a Chinese one, and there is little doubt that in two decades’ time it very well might be the most populated city in China, judging by how fast it’s been growing (in 1981, it was nothing but a small fishing village).
There is so much to see and do here, that even if I spent ten years in Shenzhen, I may not get to see or do it all. I’m pretty sure that I’ll be visiting Shenzhen in the years to come, long after my gig as an English teacher here comes to an end. Anyone looking to experience China in any capacity should certainly make it a must on their places to visit list. Just be sure to stay in the shade, and you’ll be fine.
Armand Diab is a former Corporate Video production freelancer who graduated from Columbia College Chicago in 2002 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Film & Video Production. He took his TEFL class at the International TEFL Academy in Chicago in the spring of 2013, and shortly after moved to Shenzhen, China to teach English for a year.
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