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Teaching English in Chongqing, China: Alumni Q&A with Gary McIlvaine
Written by: Gary McIlvaine
Last Updated: January 20, 2021
What is your citizenship?
What city and state are you from?
Saint Louis, Missouri
How old are you?
What is your education level and background?
Have you traveled abroad in the past?
If you have traveled abroad in the past, where have you been?
If you have studied abroad in the past, where did you study?
What sparked your interest in going to teach English abroad?
I wanted to teach and was having difficulty finding traditional teaching opportunities.
What were some of your concerns before teaching abroad?
Living abroad and language issues
What did your friends and family think about you moving and teaching abroad?
They thought I was crazy; concerned.
Why did you decide to get TEFL certified and choose International TEFL Academy?
[My advisor] Jeff Penick's explanation and experience. He made Chicago's on-site class an easy sell.
Which TEFL certification course did you take?
USA - Chicago
How did you like the course?
It was great; both Gosia and Svetlana were very professional. Practicing was great and I loved how the school eased us in.
How has your TEFL training helped you in your current teaching position?
I always apply the sound teaching strategies I learned there.
Which city and country did you decide to teach English in and why?
I decided to teach English in China, first in the city of Chengdu, and now I am in Chongqing.
How long have you been in this country and how long do you plan to stay?
I've been in China over one year and plan to stay at least two more.
How did you secure your English teaching job?
How did you get your work visa?
The school arranged all the details; I just provided the documents.
Tell us about your English teaching job!
SCHEDULE: 23 teaching hours a week usually. I was working 29 hours a week for awhile but was paid overtime. I am scheduled 8 AM - 5:50 PM daily but I have 11:20 AM - 2:20 PM off most days except for twice a month, when we have a meeting at 1 pm.
SALARY: I make what a first-year teacher makes in New York City schools, but the cost of living here is definitely lower. I also receive six weeks off in summer paid and the three weeks for winter vacation in addition to all Chinese holidays.
SAVINGS: I save about $1,200 a month.
TYPE OF SCHOOL: International school. High school. Excellent school and program. Also, they buy round trip airfare once a year.
STUDENTS: Wealthy students 14-18 all planning to study abroad, particularly in the U.S. and especially in New York.
How did you find somewhere to live and what is it like?
The school rented an apartment and advanced the landlord the full year's rent; then I paid the school back over 3 months.
Please explain the cultural aspects, public transportation, nightlife, social activities, food, expat community, dating scene, travel opportunities, etc...
Public transport is great and cheap once you learn how to use it. I'm in a small town with no nightlife currently. I'm close to Chongqing with great nightlife, but I'm past that stage.
Food is outstanding; I never imagined it would be this delicious and healthy. The Expat community is poor here, but when I lived in Chengdu, it was outstanding. I met and married a woman in Chengdu. Dating was never easier in my life. I travel all over; it's great. China is inexpensive and the high-speed rail is a bargain.
What are your monthly expenses?
I pay 21,000 RMB for a three bedroom apartment with a western toilet. (That's $3500 for the year) but I live in the nicest complex available. Another teacher I work with pays 12,000 RMB for the year, but he lives on the sixth floor with no elevator and a squat toilet.
My utilities, including water, electric, gas, and property management fees, run about 400 RMB a month ($60 U.S.). My phone with 1.2GB of data is 90 RMB a month ($15 US).
Travel. I just went from Chongqing to Chengdu for two nights. Train and two nights in the hotel were 700 RMB.
My salary is paid monthly in U.S. dollars, then they take the exchange rate published by the bank of China on the first of the month and pay me in RMB.
How would you describe your standard of living?
Top 5% in China.
In your opinion, how much does someone need to earn in order to live comfortably?
12,000 RMB ($1,900 USD) a month in Chengdu and Chongqing
What advice would you give someone planning or considering teaching abroad? Would you recommend teaching English in China?
I love China. Be careful, though; some companies are known to take advantage of both teachers and employees. Don't be afraid to possibly quit if the company is bad. Follow the advice of the U.S. Embassy. I trusted the first company I worked for and disregarded the advice of the U.S. Embassy. Luckily because the first company had not followed their end of the contract, it made switching jobs incredibly easy. They never got me a Z visa.
Gary McIlvaine is in his mid-40's and from St. Louis, Missouri. He worked as a Director in a large grocery store prior to teaching. He now teaches Biology and English at an International school in Chongqing, China.
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