I recently completed an email “interview” with John Bardos of http://www.jetsetcitizen.com/, about my experience as an English teacher in China. I thought I’d share a copy of my responses to his questions:
How long have you been teaching English in China?
I’m now in my 4th year in Chengdu, Sichuan.
How did you find your first teaching job?
I found my first teaching job in China on the internet, through AbroadChina.org. I also spent two years doing research about China and about teaching abroad, reading forums such as those on Dave’s ESL Café, and finding all the information I could about various cities and universities.
How easy is it to find teaching jobs?
One of the reasons I chose China is because of the high demand for English teachers there. Once you register your resume on a job website, for the first couple of months your inbox will be filled with job offers or advertisements for schools. Most jobs will tell you that they require a TESOL certificate and teaching experience, but in practice many teachers are hired without these credentials. I didn’t even have a phone interview for my first teaching job here. As times goes by, however, if you’re a serious teacher looking for a professional environment and high standards, you will become much more discriminating in your search.
Is it necessary to have teaching certificates or training to find employment?
In theory, yes, in practice, not always. I completed my TESOL after I’d arrived in China and had already started teaching. The universities I’ve been associated with base their pay scale on your education level (B.A., M.A., Ph.D.) rather than years of experience.
How did you get your first work visa?
The procedure is to have a job offer in hand; your future employer will send you a certified letter of employment, which you take to the Chinese consulate in your home country. You’ll be given a temporary visa, and once you’re in China your school must apply to the local Public Security Bureau within a couple of weeks for the official residence permit.
Is it possible for teachers to arrive without a work visa and look for a job?
I haven’t tried this.
What is the cost of living in China? (Expected expenses on rent, food, going out, etc.)
It depends on what kind of job you have, where you live, and what your expectations are. I teach in a university, which provides a furnished apartment and utlities in addition to my salary. I live simply; my monthly budget is about 2,000 RMB [about $300].
How much money can the average teacher expect to save?
Once again, it depends. I save about 50% of my monthly salary. During my first 3 years in China I was still paying off my U.S. credit card debt; that was difficult, and I don’t recommend bringing your debt to China with you. Now, whatever I don’t spend on monthly expenses (food, clothing, books, etc.) goes into my travel fund. At the moment, it’s almost impossible for me to contribute to a retirement fund or a savings account.
What is the typical number of teaching hours per week?
At a university, expect about 14-16 classroom periods (45-50 minutes) a week, with overtime paid for extra teaching hours. At a private, for-profit language school you may be expected to have 30-40 hours per week; the salary may be much higher but I have no desire to work that hard.
How many weeks of holidays per year can teachers expect?
Depending on when the Spring Festival holiday falls, I have 4-6 weeks of paid winter vacation each year. You also get paid for the standard Chinese holidays – National Day, Spring Festival, etc. Summer vacation [July-August] is unpaid.
Did your employer provide you with medical Insurance? If not, was it expensive?
My employer requires teachers to buy medical insurance; I paid about 200 RMB for 10,000 RMB [$1,300]worth of coverage. I hope I don’t get seriously ill.
Do you recommend China for other English teachers?
That depends on a lot of factors. The culture shock can be extreme; I came here with no knowledge of the language, and many people are immediately put off by the vast differences in cleanliness, sanitation, living conditions, or other factors. If you read the message boards online, there’s a vast amount of bitching and moaning about teaching environments, salary, and lifestyle that you have to take with a grain of salt. Do your homework before you come here; be sure to get contact information for at least two or three current or former teachers at your prospective school. Know what you want: are you coming to China for a one-year teaching “holiday” or for the long term? Do you want to spend the rest of your working life being a “Foreign Expert,” or do you plan to return to your home country to work eventually?
What advice would you offer for others thinking of teaching English Abroad?
As I said, do your homework. When I came to China I made a complete break: got rid of all my possessions, left my job and apartment, gave away a lifetime accumulation of books, put my cat up for adoption – to basically make a new start in a country I’d never even visited before. I spent 2 years saving money, getting teaching experience in Los Angeles, paying down my debt, and doing research. Have practical goals: save some money first, take language classes, know about the differences in education, etc. For example, in China you may have large classes, up to 50 students for “oral” English; there’s a huge emphasis on rote learning in the country’s education system; education is controlled by the single political party; there are “forbidden” topics – Tibet, Taiwan, religion, politics – that can’t be discussed in class. If you are gay or lesbian, don’t expect the kind of openness you would find in urban environments in the U.S. Know about health issues: pollution levels in Chinese cities can be deadly; Chengdu is about twice as polluted as Los Angeles. Choose your country carefully; if you want to save piles of cash, China might not be for you. If you want a different or challenging experience, maybe it is.