Life Teaching in China
My name is Kevin Watts and I’m going to share some of my experiences during the last 6 months that I have spent living in Yichang, and teaching in a training center.
The idea to teach in China was a very easy one, because after moving around Europe to teach, I wanted to make a big change in my life, and I had always wanted to live on “the other side of the world”. So seeing that China Plus was looking for teachers while I was looking for jobs, I sent my CV and had a phone call the next day. The massive challenge that moving to China would present was also a great incentive for me, a new life, language and culture was very appealing.
Being a part of China Plus made everything much easier. Although I wanted to come to China, I had very little idea of how to get here. I had never had to apply for a visa before, and the process would have been much more difficult and time consuming if I had done it alone. The bridge between China Plus and the school made everything much more comfortable, and gave me a feeling of reassurance in case something welt horribly wrong after arriving.
Anything I have had concerns about during my time here, they have been there to talk, and if you don’t like your school, they are able to match you with a new one in very little time. The thought of being in a strange country with no support can be quite daunting, so being supported in your time away is a nice feeling.
My first days in China
My first week in China was amazing. When I arrived, two of my school colleagues were at the city airport to greet me with a big smiles and a bouquet of flowers, which after the many flights and hours brought a tired smile to my face. I was then taken to be shown around the office where everyone was waiting to scare me with greetings as the lift doors opened.
With images of China being full of sky scrapers and huge buildings in my mind, being taken to my apartment of the 18th floor of a 30 story building was also a great surprise, so when being able to look out of the window at the night sky all lit up was a special memory.
Being thrown straight into work with jet lag was not the best feeling, dealing with health checks and lunches with colleagues and the bosses before teaching began, but the constant feeling of amazement was enough to keep me going.
My first real Chinese dinner experience was great. My school consists of 2 different departments on different floors of the building, so I was invited to meet my colleagues from the other floor. To be taken to a restaurant, with a huge spinning table, filled with endless amounts of food was amazing.
When being out of work, life was much different. Everything I looked at or listened to was impossible to understand. I had no idea how to communicate with anyone other than colleagues that could speak English.
But within a matter of days by chatting to Chinese people on phone applications, (which are the biggest part of everyone’s life here), I had made a friend which I still speak with and see most weeks when we have free time together. She gave me a tour of the city, the street food, which is unbelievable good, but also some very strange and wonderful things that are on offer. We went to some bars and she introduced me to many of her friends. It was both her Birthday and mine in the following weeks, so it was great to be taken out with a group of Chinese people to experience this.
Even now as I walk around, I still have a great feeling of excitement.
I didn’t really experience a culture shock because I came with an open mind. I had very little idea of what to expect, and reading about living in China was different for each person that had written the stories, and for each city the people were in. It’s a very personal thing, and so many people write about bad experiences. So if you come expecting the worst, you will be pleasantly surprised. Yes, people spit on the floor in public, but if anything, when a little old lady does it right in front of you it’s funny. Also parents let their children go to the toilet anywhere in the street, this was a little strange to see at first, children even have trousers which are split in the back to make this easier for them. The most annoying thing to get used to for me was the way people walk in the street, slowly and randomly cutting in front of you and just stopping when they like. So being in a rush can sometimes be difficult.
Living in Yichang and free time
Living in a “small” city of “only” 4.5 million people (Yichang), the locals are extremely welcoming everywhere, even though the majority of the people here do not speak English. Speaking Chinese will make your life much easier, but it is not essential. As in any country, body language is a great help, and paying in a big note until you understand numbers makes everything much easier, but some store assistants will even write the numbers down for you if you continue to look confused.
Also, being in a small city means that there are not a great deal of foreigners in the city, so some people may have never seen a foreigner before in real life, so there are many stares, usually just from shock there being a foreign person in front of them, but they usually smile. There are also many opportunities for a photo with the locals, in the street, bars and restaurants. They are always very friendly, it is nice to feel so special sometimes. Personally, I love the attention.
Yichang is a very nice city. Easy to get around, and many friendly people everywhere. It is on the Yangtze river so it is a lovely place to walk or cycle, and enjoy the scenery. The number of bars are limited. If you like to go to a popular place, you will spend a lot of time in the same one, but if you are more into eating then you are spoiled for choice as there is an endless amount of amazing places to eat, and it’s all so cheap. This is another great benefit of living in China, everything is so cheap compared to living in the UK or Spain, especially the food. You can eat on the street for less than £1, and completely fill a table in a restaurant for less than £20.
This is what most of my free time is spent doing, eating and drinking. But usually with Chinese friends. I have made one or two close friends with other foreign teachers, but I try to spend as much time as possible with local friends. They definitely know what the best things to eat are, and where to find them. This is extremely useful when the restaurant has a menu with no pictures to point at. Recently I have also found a pool and snooker hall near my apartment, so I have spent a lot of time there playing with both my foreign and Chinese friends. Meeting Chinese people is the easiest way to learn about their culture and how to act around others.
Making friends can be very easy if you are willing to engage in the Chinese way of life. Many Chinese people really want the opportunity to talk English with foreign people. In a small city like Yichang this can be more difficult as the amount of English speakers is less, but still not impossible, and the people that can speak English will usually come to say hello. Although many Chinese are extremely shy, so you need to be approachable.
I am working in a training center in Yichang, which is much different to a public school. Although I have not worked in a public school in China, I have in a different country, and I have friends that do.
There are definitely ups and downs to working in a training center. Some days you may only have one class, but others you may have to work for 12 hours, so this definitely depends on you if this is a good or bad thing.
The variety of classes for me is definitely the best part, although I am not fond of the kindergarten classes, to have such a great variety from 4 years old up to middle aged business people is something I greatly enjoy and is great for teaching experiences. What I don’t like as much, is the uncertainty of every week. Every week is different with new students and classes coming and going.
Another thing to consider is that although the salary is better, there are no normal weekends. I have two days off a week, which since the winter vacation are together which is great. However, most of the people I know, both foreign and Chinese, are free on the weekends, which makes meeting people more difficult. Looking at it from a different perspective, it is a good way to save money because you have less time to spend it.
Also, travelling around China was a big reason for me coming to teach here, and I have had little time to do this working in a training center. I was able to visit Xi’an, and the Terracotta Army, which was a highlight for me so far because I had learned much about this as I have a big interest in ancient history, so to see it in real life was very exciting.
I have had many great moments teaching in my school, the best two weeks were during the winter vacation, and my school winter course was based around the STEAM curriculum. For me this was fantastic as my PhD is in chemistry, so I was able to make a vinegar volcano with the students from 8 – 14 years old. None of them had been allowed to do any type of experiments like this in school so they loved it, we also made towers out of spaghetti and marshmallows, and microwave chocolate cakes. The lessons were based around each of the activities, teaching them vocabulary, and then doing the projects each day.
Chinese children have a much different life to that of school children in the UK. They have extremely long days in school, and unbelievable amounts of homework each week. So when they come to class on weekends, the focus is more on speaking English with a fun approach. This is also one of the benefits of teaching in a training center. To show the children that there is another way to learning that does not involve giving them hundreds of words to memorize each day.
The experience will definitely benefit my career as a teacher. It has widened my experience and knowledge as a teacher, different classroom environments, and different ways of learning and teaching children from a different culture. Teaching in such a different place, with children of many different levels and abilities cannot be a bad thing as a teacher. It has also given me a different perspective and look on life, to see what other cultures live like.
I seem to have fallen in love with the way of life here and want it to continue as I am trying to learn the language, which is not easy when there are so many aspects of the language to learn. I would certainly recommend a stay in China to anyone who wants to experience something different in their lives. The people are amazingly welcoming.
I also recently bought myself a pet lizard which is definitely an indication that I want to hang around. I am looking to stay in the same city, but move to a public middle school. This will allow me to experience teaching 40 students in the same classroom which is what a Chinese school is about. It will also allow me more freedom to visit china, and go to the regular cultural festivals held throughout the year.
What to bring?
I don’t believe there is anything needed to be brought from home, other than a few home comforts that you cannot live without, but definitely buy a working VPN, as things like Youtube, Facebook and Instagram will not work without, but after time I have become used to checking these things much less regularly. The WeChat application they have here can do anything from chatting to paying for electricity and ordering food. It really is a way of life. So get this before, or as soon as you arrive, everyone will use this to contact you.
The amount of known products that are available to buy here surprised me, from bathroom supplies like shampoos and deodorant, to foods that are available in the imported sections in supermarkets like Walmart, these sections are very small, but have things like pasta, sauces and other things that are usual for day to day life.
My preparation to come here was minimal, and I am surviving, but it is definitely worth while learning a few simple phrases to get you by the first days of living here before making friends, even if it is just hello and thank you.
I hope you enjoy to read about my experience with China Plus and my short time spent in China.
Written by Kevin, English Teacher