Teach English in China!
Teaching English is an awesome way to experience another country as a career break, a way to have a deeper experience of a country during your gap year, to fund long-term travel, or to simply live and work in a new country.
I’ve had a great time living and working in China for the past year and a half.
I’ve experienced so many things in that time, from exploring China’s sites to living everyday life here – all that I would not have been able to experience without teaching English to bring in the funds.
Living in China I’ve been able to
– See the Harbin Ice Festival.
– Get off the beaten track to see far-flung Mohe.
– Save up and go to North Korea without an expensive flight to Beijing first.
– Try lots of amazing food.
– LIVE in China.
There are so many tiny things that combine to make living in a new country so special, so interesting, so educating but can’t really be listed the same as ‘The Harbin Ice Festival’.
Little things like having your own breath freeze on your eye lashes. Laughing at your friend who has taken their half full coffee outside in the middle winter – only to have it freeze solid in under 10min.
Blinking at a girl of maybe 5, stripped naked from the waste down being held out of the car door by her mother, so that her ass was hanging outside and she could pee (I won’t say ‘go to the toilet’ because she really wasn’t).
Spluttering at my students when I ask them, ‘What colour is the sun?’ to which they answer ‘red!’ and then realizing a few days later that the pollution is often so thick that it does actually look red at times.
Ordering chicken on the menu and getting chicken heads.
Trying Baijiu – and being certain that bleach would probably taste similar.
Walking through the markets and trying every mysterious fruit in sight.
Having trouble with the door the first time you open it because you need to pull it up to open and down to shut it.
Talking to locals, being taught Mah-jong, and being told that I won’t get sick in winter because it is too cold for the bacteria. Being warned that if I have my hair cut before the beginning of March – my Uncle will die; being warned not to drink too much water, as it will make my eyes puffy.
Being told to not look at computer screens too much when I get pregnant – as they can cause miscarriages. Err?
Searching for my electricity bill on a little bit of green paper glued to the front of my apartment building.
Sending up paper lanterns at the Songhua River.
There are so many little things that combine to form the completely wonderful enriching experience that living in another country is.
There are lots of ways to live and work in another country, and Teaching English is one of the best. It is open to everybody with good English. You also will need a university degree in many countries, but in many others you won’t.
And you can live really well as an English Teacher. I studied Genetics at university (completely unrelated) and had no experience teaching, but was easily hired.
Lots of teachers go drinking 4 nights a week. Eat at higher end restaurants 2 or 3 times a week and hire a cleaner. English teachers live well. I never hired a cleaner, or made drinking a habit. I preferred to travel more.
So how do you get into this? How do you get a job teaching English?
Check if the country you want to go to needs a university degree.
Thailand, Indonesia, South Korea, Japan and most Middle Eastern countries do. Cambodia doesn’t, a lot of South American countries don’t. China doesn’t!
Technically the law in China translates as something like ‘should have a university degree’. The use of ‘should’ leads to people interpreting that however they want. I work alongside people with university degrees and people without.
Get a TEFL/TESOL Certificate
Some people do it without a certificate – and in places like China where there is such a high demand for jobs, you can still find some where you won’t need it. Generally speaking all the good ones will need it.
You can also work in more off the beaten track countries with no qualification. I hosted a couple through hospitality exchange who had taught English in Mongolia for 6 months. Neither had a TEFL certificate or any sort of teaching experience. One of them was French – and boy was his accent strong.
You can get a degree online or in a classroom setting. Online is generally ok, but I was really happy that I did an in classroom course. If you have previous experience teaching then maybe online would be perfect for you, but really valued the in classroom course.
When deciding what course to choose bear in mind:
– Thailand requires a minimum 100 hour course with another 6 observed teaching hours. That is when you must be teaching a class with someone watching you and giving you feed back, so even if you get an online course you need to make sure that you can do the observed hours locally and get them recognised in your certificate.
– Japan and Korea have a general industry standard of 120 hour courses.
– Some schools in China will require an in classroom course. Many don’t, so it is not a must, but it might give you more options.
– A course in your country of choice would give you practice teaching real students, not fake ones, with the same attitudes and difficulties that your future students will have.
Check out reviews of TEFL/TESOL courses before you choose one. TESOL Course Reviews is one place to start. I did the Will-Excel course in Harbin and thought it was pretty good when I did it. (No they are no they are not paying me to say that).
Find a job
Many people get a job from the TEFL course that they take. I got one from a partner school of my TEFL course, so that I could teach English in China. Be wary if they ‘guarantee’ you a job this will usually mean you are paid less than average. In China the lowest should be about 6000 yuan a month plus a supplied apartment. My school also supplies free lunch and dinner if it is 14 yuan or under. If it is over they will pay the fist 14 yuan. Some places will offer free internet and electricity in the apartment.
Another way to find a job is to look online at Dave’s ESL café. This is a great resource for all sorts of things from jobs, from improving your grammar knowledge to finding new games for your class.
Be careful of shady schools and recruiters. The good ones far out weigh the bad ones, but I’ve heard stories of the bad ones, and they can be bad. Check online reviews of the school; ask for an email address of a teacher that has worked there that you can ask.
If you use a recruiter, the schools will pay. You should not have to pay anything. If they tell you that you should pay – drop them.
Make sure they get you a working visa
This is quite important; I don’t recommend trying your luck and teaching illegally. You’ll probably get away with it, but just the other week the police raided schools in Harbin and checked everyone’s visas. One teacher was even taken to be held in prison because they could not produce their passport while out shopping. Honestly, be legal, and get a working visa. In China this is called a Z visa.
The steps for a Z visa are as follows:
1. Fill out the paper work. Your school should provide all the paper work but in case they don’t click here.
You will also need a passport with at least six months validity, two blank pages in said passport, and a recent photo of 2×2 square inches.
2. When you have filled it out over email and sent it away they will start applying for your Letter and Working Permit. This should take about 3 weeks.
3. When you have these two documents, fill out a Z visa application form and take them to a Chinese embassy in your home town.
Officially need to be in your home country to get a visa, but you can also get a visa in Hong Kong or Thailand. I came to China on a tourist visa and left to go to Hong Kong to get a Z visa. Another person did this as well – after they tightened up visa laws in July 2013 and it still worked. Earlier this year another teacher who had been teaching on an extended tourist visa (not recommended) left to go to Bangkok and re-enter to get his work visa.
Other practical points.
My school found an apartment for me, furnished it, and takes care of any issues that come up – like the time the flush on the toilet broke, or when the washing machine broke. That is fairly standard. They should do this.
If they don’t – and I’ve heard that some don’t, consider finding a job somewhere else. If you decide to stay, then the school should be able to put you in contact with someone and they should give you an allowance for the apartment on top of your 6000 yuan salary.
Dave’s ESL café is the main hub for teachers of ESL.
Another awesome resource that I have found to be brilliant are the blogs TEFL Newbie and Teacher TEFL Training. Anything from the practicalities of moving and teaching to tips on how to teach. Ted has worked in Botswana for Peace Corps and South Korea, Thailand and Saudi Arabia as an ESL teacher.
For my older students I often use Breaking News English and Conversation Questions for the ESL/EFL Classroom. These are good places to get started for lesson material. Dave’s ESL café has lots of games too.
I’m really glad that I decided to teach English in China, it has been a great experience and has opened up lots of opportunities. I honestly found moving over to China to be a lot easier than I thought it would be. It has been really interesting, but I haven’t found there to be any huge challenges in living here.
I think most stories that seem alarmist on the internet – are. I thought it would be a lot harder than it was and other expats have been freaked out prior to coming by the weirdest stories ever. “Don’t bring your pets to China! They will be kidnapped and eaten!” etc.
Don’t let such stories get to you. They are silly and attention grabbing. Either something happened once and no one has been able to let it go, and it has become an urban legend, or someone wanted a more impressive bar story and invented one.
China is a really cool place.
Do you want to work overseas? Where?