Teach English in Shanghai, China: Alumni Q&A with Jennie Johnson

Teach English in Shanghai, China: Alumni Q&A with Jennie Johnson

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An Inside Look at TEFL Shanghai

What is your citizenship?

United States

What city and state are you from?

San Diego, California

How old are you?


What is your education level and background?

Bachelor's degree

Have you traveled abroad in the past?

Some international travel with friends, family, business, etc. 

If you have traveled abroad in the past, where have you been?

Mexico, Canada, Guatemala, France, and Italy

What sparked your interest in going to teach English abroad?

Very long story short, I needed a change from the day to day routine and my life in the United States. I had always wanted to study abroad in college, but was unable to for financial reasons, and then when I graduated college, I was stuck in a relationship and didn't take the leap to move abroad. After working with the SHUZZ charity that provides shoes to children around the world, I went on a trip to Guatemala to firsthand deliver shoes to these children. It completely changed my life. I knew then that I wanted to work with children and make a bigger impact on the world. I had mulled over teaching abroad years prior. I knew a few people who had done it, and their experiences were nothing short of fantastic. I made the decision to leave my marketing career and everything I knew in the United States to teach and make a difference in developing young minds, learn a new language myself, and explore a culture and country so different from my own.

Americans teaching English in China

What were some of your concerns before teaching abroad?

I have a marketing degree and had been working in fashion and marketing the past 10 years; my biggest concern was if I would even like it. During my TEFL, I did my practicum at a local night school mostly for adults who had moved (to South Florida) from Brazil and needed to learn English to acclimate to business and getting around. I really enjoyed the whole process—from coming up with a lesson plan and teaching them to answering their questions and knowing that I was making an impact on their lives. After that, I knew I would like teaching, so the next biggest concern was...am I going to like China?!

The answer is...YES!

What did your friends and family think about you moving and teaching abroad?
All of the above. My family has been nothing but supportive and excited for me and my adventures; however, my mom worries about me. I think this is just what mothers do, regardless of where you are in the world.

There was some jealousy from people and a lot of doubt that I would really do it or that I would last, but this was just fuel to the fire for me. People had a lot of questions and to be honest, I didn't have a lot of answers at the time. I was still figuring it out myself, but I started my blog in hopes to better inform and show others of my journey in China, a country we have so many stereotypes about and much of which is unknown.

Overall, my family and friends were and have been extremely supportive and excited for me every step of the way.

American English teachers living in China


Why did you decide to get TEFL certified and choose International TEFL Academy?

I know very few people who have taught abroad without a TEFL certificate so for me, the first step to this journey was getting my TEFL. I came across ITA on a simple google search and after reading through the website which provided a plethora of information, I filled out the form for someone to contact me. I did so for a few other TEFL businesses and only heard back from one. I ended up taking a call with Felicia and the rest is history.

I already knew I wanted my TEFL and to go to Asia, so I didn't have many questions there. However, she really helped me narrow it down and answer all the questions I had regarding the course, guidance, and what happens to me after.

Which TEFL certification course did you take?

Online TEFL Course

How did you like the course?

I enjoyed the online course. I was living in South Florida so I wasn't able to take a course in Chicago and the online course provided the flexibility for my work schedule. I will say it is a lot of work. It's not necessarily hard, but you need to be dedicated. From weekly readings, discussions, and quizzes to essays and lesson plans, it's a lot of work on top of a full time job and social life. I didn't have as much engagement with my classmates or instructor as you would receive in class, but this is part of what comes with an online course.

All of my advisors through my course and even after have been helpful in answering questions and providing resources. ITA provides resources to find locations close to you that are either language centers or recommended from alumni. This is very helpful and where I found the language center to complete my practicum.

How has your TEFL training helped you in your current teaching position?

I currently teach young learners, so learning techniques to apply to them was very useful. Teaching adults, teaching business English, teaching young learners, teaching one-on-one and large groups are different animals. ITA provides you with the resources and knowledge to conquer all of these various styles.

When I began my TEFL, I was so nervous about how to conduct a class and hold their attention for such long periods. One of my biggest takeaways was learning how to lesson plan. ITA provides a template for lesson planning, and you will get so much practice throughout your course. Your instructor will provide feedback; listen and apply it for your next lesson plan. I constantly refer back to my lesson plan templates I created in my TEFL for ideas for my private tutoring sessions.

Most importantly, feeling comfortable in front of your class is important which is something that you will get out of your practicum.
Which city and country did you decide to teach English in and why?

I decided to teach English in China in the city of Shanghai. I knew I wanted to experience Asia and the culture that each country could offer. After reviewing the ITA country chart, I found each country has different benefits and it came down to the two that met my needs: China and South Korea. My needs included making enough money to save, traveling, and housing provided. I ended up choosing China since I was interested in learning Chinese because long-term, I feel this will be more beneficial to me.

How long have you been in this country and how long do you plan to stay?

I have lived in Shanghai for almost seven months. I currently have a 1 year contract with my school but have no plans of returning to the United States once it's up. I will likely stay in Shanghai for another year and then possibly move on to experience another country (South Korea) or a new continent (Europe or South America) all together. The options are endless!

During which months does your school typically hire?

All year round

Did you secure this position in advance of arriving?


How did you interview for this position?

Skype/phone interview

What kind of Visa did you enter on?

Work visa

Please explain the visa process that you went through.

My visa process was a mess. However, upon arriving in Shanghai I found that my circumstance was not the norm. The person at my school that worked on my visa was not familiar with the process as it was her first time, so I was the guinea pig. Apparently there was a lot of trial and error and she wasn't aware of all the paperwork upfront that she needed to provide so I was constantly emailing and FedEx-ing her things. My process took nearly four months. This is not normal, 1-2 months maximum is pretty normal for a 'Z' work visa.

Once you've signed your contract, or even before, ask for a list of all the documents that you'll need to provide, so you can do so all at one time.

I also suggest to start interviewing once your practicum is complete and interview with as many schools as you need to until you find what works for you. Every school I interviewed with offered me a contract; I had over 10 contracts from schools to pick and choose from. You really do have the flexibility to be a little picky with what you're looking for.

Have patience! :)

What are the qualifications that your school requires for teachers? Please check all that apply

- Bachelor's degree
- TEFL Certification
- Native English speaker
- Reference letter, background check, passport photos, degree authentication, and health check

What is the best way to apply?


Tell us about your English teaching job!

My teaching job is not the norm. I got very lucky (besides the visa process). I'm thankful I didn't settle for a training school and in the end waited until I found a school that met my needs. I was open to various cities in China and was just looking for the right school that would allow me to travel on the weekends, provide housing, and still make enough money to save.

I currently work Monday-Friday at a preschool/kindergarten (the Chinese use this term interchangeably) I teach young learners from the age of 2-7 years old before they enter primary school. My students are very young, so my classes range from 5-20 minutes, and I only teach for 3 hours in the morning each day. My school provides a lesson plan each month, but I am allowed to add my own materials, songs, games etc. as I see fit, though it's not required.

My salary is on the lower end for English teachers in China, I make 14,000RMB. However, my school provides housing, breakfast, and lunch Monday-Friday, flight reimbursement, and visa reimbursement. My school runs year round and I receive two weeks of vacation in addition to Christmas, New Year's, and Chinese holidays which are often a week long :)  My school gives teachers vouchers for time off for birthdays, teacher appreciation, women's day etc. The school I work for is also very flexible in accommodating my needs.

I wasn't looking for tutoring jobs on the side but because I don't work full time, when I was approached by colleagues to tutor their children and my students' parents to enhance their English, I couldn't say no to the extra money for traveling. I tutor for two hours a week and make enough to pay for my private Chinese tutor and save an additional 2,000RMB a month.

I live comfortably, I travel every month and am able to send $1000 USD home each month.

How did you find somewhere to live and what is it like? Do you have roommates?

My school provides housing, and I live with a Chinese family.

English teaching jobs in Shanghai, China


Please explain the cultural aspects, public transportation, nightlife, social activities, food, expat community, dating scene, travel opportunities, etc...    

China is a large country, so I'm going to speak on my experiences in Shanghai because sometimes Shanghai feels like it's own little country.

Social Activities: If you are moving to China, get on WeChat. RIGHT NOW! There are various groups on WeChat. Travel groups that plan trips together, Girls Gone International groups (fitness, fashion, literature, general etc.) for expat women to connect, fitness groups like FitFam, blogging communities, expat communities, and the list goes on. When you're living abroad, you really have no social confinements, so explore your hobbies and find like-minded people to spend your time with. Shanghai offers everything. Rugby teams, fitness groups, book clubs, blogging meetups, expat picnics, nightlife, pub crawls, you name it and they have it!

Expats: Considering Shanghai alone has 24 million people, the expat community is fairly small. Once you find your hobbies and meet people (which is very easy to do here,) you will run into the same people at different events and realize just how small it is.

Public Transportation: The metro system in Shanghai is super easy to use and get around! Ofo and Mobike provide bicycle sharing, Mobike is a more western friendly app. The city is pretty walkable (when it's not blazing hot outside), and depending on the area and time of day, taxis or scooters are pretty easy to hail.

Food: Food is plentiful in Shanghai. Various types of Chinese food such as Sichuan, Shanghainese, Yunnan, Cantonese, Hunan etc. Other Asian foods like Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Thai, and Western food including: Mexican, Italian, Turkish, French, German etc. Brunch is huge in Shanghai, and there are many lovely rooftop terraces to grab a drink with a view.

Travel opportunities: Endless! Before moving to China I didn't realize how many incredible places there are just in China. I thought I would just travel around to other Asian countries (Philippines, Vietnam, Japan, Korea, etc.), but now that I've been in China there are a lot of places in this big country that are beautiful and easy to get to!


What are your monthly expenses?

Rent: Free, my school provides housing
Food: My school provides breakfast and lunch Monday-Friday, and I typically eat local food for dinners during the week. On the weekends, I usually eat more Western foods with friends. I don't go out and drink too much, so roughly I spend about 2,000 RMB ($300 USD) on food/drinks per month.
Social activities: meetups (book clubs, blogging etc), workout classes, game nights etc. 2,000 RMB ($300 USD) maximum per month (depends on the month)
Phone: 400 RMB ($60 USD) every six months
Travel: It depends where I am traveling to but after I send $1,000 USD home I pretty much save the remainder for traveling.
Shopping: 1,000 RMB ($150 USD) a month

How would you describe your standard of living?

My standard of living is the same as in the United States, but I am able to save and travel a lot more here in Shanghai.

In your opinion, how much does someone need to earn in order to live comfortably?

This is a tough one, it really depends on a few things:

Housing in Shanghai can range from 3,000-12,000 ($450 - $1850 USD) a month depending on your location and what your preferences are. Teachers typically get paid a few thousand more if their school doesn't provide housing and some schools provide a housing allowance.

Many foreigners also eat Western food which is more expensive. Local food is 10-40RMB ($1.50 - $6.00 USD) and western food is 40-150+RMB.

If you find an average apartment and eat fairly local, I think you could live comfortably off of 12,000RMB (the lowest) in Shanghai.

TEFL jobs in China


What advice would you give someone planning or considering teaching abroad? Would you recommend teaching in your country?

I highly recommend anyone considering teaching abroad to do it!!!!

It's an amazing experience. You will learn so much about yourself, learn about another culture, country, language, and have opportunities you never thought possible.

China is a large country and offers diversity between cities. I love Shanghai and recommend teaching here! It's close to many great places in China as well as easily accessible to fly to other countries.

Posted In: Teach English in Asia, Teach English in China, Shanghai

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