Personal experience of Thomas

Hello everyone! My name is Thomas, I’m 26 year old and I’m from the Netherlands. I’m currently working and living in Foshan, a vibrant city in Guangdong province, China.

The 10th of may 2016 was one of the most memorable days of my life! I graduated from university!! Finally, I received my bachelor of education, specialized in Sports and Physical education. But… what next? I knew it would be difficult to find a job as a PE teacher in the Netherlands. So, teaching in China? Honestly, I had never thought about that… and to be even more honest, I had never thought about going to China. Until my holiday in Indonesia!

While traveling through Indonesia I met quite a few teachers who had been working all over China. All of them were native English speakers. They told me about their experiences and made me really interested. They gave me some of their contacts, but unfortunately they were useless for me since it’s more difficult for a non-native speaker to find an agent for teaching in China. So when I finished traveling I started googling for agencies and soon I found China plus. I couldn’t believe it, an agent literally 30 minutes away from my hometown! I sent them a short introduction email about myself and asked for an appointment. From that moment on it all went really fast! Two days later I met Aixia (managing director China Plus) in Arnhem, again two days later I decided to go for the school in Foshan and about a week later I signed my contract! China plus sent me all the information I needed. I applied for my visa, did the medical report and got my certificate of conduct (VOG). At first it seemed difficult and a lot of paper work, but in the end it wasn’t that bad!

Aixia told me about two other Dutchies that were going to Foshan. I met both of them at the China plus office during an organized day for all of their new foreign teachers. One of them was Maarten, who is now my flat mate here in China. We would go to the same school in Foshan and we decided to travel together. Nice to have someone to start the adventure with! So in the end, about a month after I got in touch with China Plus, I was on my way to Foshan city!!

My first week(s) in China

Maarten and I arrived in Guangzhou in the beginning of September. Kirk and Christal, two Chinese English teachers picked us up from the airport, brought us to our school and showed us our apartment. They literally gave us the best accommodation at school. Very basic, but everything we needed was there. We have separate bedrooms and share a living room, bathroom, kitchen and a balcony. We have a washing machine, some simple cooking gear, a microwave and the only ‘western’ toilet in the whole school.

After a rest we went out for dinner together with Kirk and Christal. They really took care of us and made us feel very welcome! The next day Kirk took us out to get a public transportation card, a bank account and a SIM card. Basically all the important things you need!

After a few days, real life started! I got my schedule, had an appointment with the vice principal (VP) and I roughly made a teaching plan for the first term. Unlike teaching at a primary school, like Maarten does, I couldn’t use school books or other school materials for my lesson planning. The VP gave me the task to give oral English classes with a cultural twist. The main question had to be: what’s life like in my country or other western countries!

My first day of teaching was a really tough day. Have you ever heard about high school classes on Saturdays and Sundays? Believe me, in China they do and I got introduced with this the hard way. Chinese celebrate the ‘moon festival’. It’s a national holiday of exactly 7 days somewhere in September. This time it started Saturday and ended Friday. And then I mean it literally ended Friday and I didn’t know. Friday night I went out with Maarten and some other friends. We came home quite late. The next morning Kirk was knocking on my door, telling me that all the Thursday and Fridayclasses were rescheduled to Saturday and Sunday because of the holiday. So some advice I can give a newcomer is to be prepared. Be proactive and find out yourself! Probably two or three times a year, you’ll have a few weekend classes.

My job

Before coming to China, I had internships as a PE teacher at all sorts of schools and I liked them all. So, a preference for primary, middle or high school? I didn’t really have one… Foshan experimental school has it all! It’s a primary, middle (junior) and high (senior) school in one. My main job is to teach the middle and high school oral English. At the primary school I give one English corner every week and I also used to be a grade six teacher for a while.

So at the primary school I taught grade six. This was only during my first weeks at school. Two other foreign teachers arrived later and the school asked me to help them out. My task was to give an informative and oral English class. Every week the grade six English teachers provided me with a new topic and I was free to make my own plan for it. During these classes I always got an ‘assistant’, the Chinese English teacher of the class I was teaching. They helped me out when I asked for it or when they felt the need to.

My second task at the primary school were the English corners: extra English classes, organized by the foreign teachers. Every Friday afternoon the top students out of one of the six grades came together to join the English (speaking) activities. The Chinese English teachers provided us with a topic and the foreign teachers made the lesson plan. Usually fun and active activities in a different setting from the normal classrooms. You can check my video’s out to get a better impression.

At last my work in the middle and high school: oral English classes with a cultural twist. I really enjoyed teaching these students. The students are sincerely interested in the ‘western’ world and they like to practice their English. Honestly, their life is completely different from the life we had when we were their age. They spend so many hours in school and they work SO hard!! But… this hard work particularly happens during the other classes, because in their opinion: the ‘foreign teacher class’ should be fun! Even during my classes, they were secretly doing their homework for other classes. I didn’t like that, so I told them: “In this one hour per week, you don’t have to think about all the homework you need to do and forget about all the important exams you’re about to have. We’re going to have fun, talk about interesting things and practice your English.” And that’s what I’ve been trying to create in all my classes.

Teaching the juniors and seniors is very different from teaching the primary school. At first there’s no assistant teacher in class. Especially juniors still have a lot to learn, so for some of them it was hard to understand me. Since they’re also quite lively and naughty, these were the most difficult classes for me.

Secondly, I had to come up with a self made lesson plan for every class a whole year long. There was no teacher to provide topics for my classes, which is normal when working in middle or high schools. Especially in the first term I was full of ideas, but in the second term it became more difficult. Luckily I have some friends to exchange lessons with and the internet is full of useful ideas!

From what I’ve noticed, it’s really important to create a safe environment in class. The main goal is to improve their speaking skills, so they’ll have to start talking, dare to make mistakes and keep on practicing. During the speaking part of my classes I always let my students work in groups, preferably as small as possible so they’ll have more speaking time without feeling as if everyone was watching them. Tasks for these conversations variate from small games to personal stories and discussions about a certain topic.

My social life

Before I went to Foshan, I had some concerns. I like to teach, so that wouldn’t be the problem. My concerns were more about my social life after school. How would I spend my spare time? Would there be any other foreigners? Would I make some Chinese friends? A lot of questions I had which could all be answered in a positive way quite soon after my arrival.

Let’s first start with sports. What I have noticed during travelling is that playing sports has given me many new friends. In my first week one of the PE teachers at my school asked me to join his football team. All of them were really friendly Chinese guys and about half of them spoke English while the rest was trying to! We still play together at least once a week and usually go for food and drinks after the game. Exactly what I wish to have with football mates! If you’re not a football type of person, there are plenty of other sports you can do, either in Chinese, foreign or mixed teams.

Like most of the westerners here, I like to go out for a drink during my weekends. In Foshan there are many bars and clubs. Bars are the perfect places to hang out with other foreigners and meet some nice people. When you don’t know where to go or what to do, just check the internet and you’ll find loads of useful information people have placed. Even for a city like Foshan (a city popular among foreigners, but not as popular as other bigger cities) there’s enough to find!

Culture shock

It might sound strange, but I didn’t really feel the culture shock everyone talks about. Of course, I’ve seen and felt many differences. But in general I adapt easily and just take things the way they are. I chose to come here even though I knew things would be different from back home. Yes, there’s smog and yes, some people spit on the floor and yes, you’ll see some weird food passing by. But China is so much more than that!

Before my stay in China, I traveled around in countries like Thailand, Laos, Indonesia and India. Honestly, I expected Chinese cities to be like Bangkok or Jakarta. I mean, Foshan… Have you ever heard of it? Besides that, I only knew Guangzhou because of it’s football club, but it’s with almost 50 million people the biggest metropolitan of the world!! I was literally shocked by the fact how nice, modern and clean Foshan is. There are so many people throughout the city cleaning the streets, getting rid of all the leaves that fall off the trees, or busy keeping the beautiful parks in perfect shape. It’s so clean that I wouldn’t even think about throwing litter in the streets.

Another ‘shock’ I felt had to do with smart phones. If you go to China, make sure to download ‘WeChat’ and ‘Baidu trans’, NOW! These Apps are insanely good. One of the good things of using WeChat is to find your way around. If someone shares his/her location via WeChat, I can open it with Apple maps. Then you can choose how to get to the location: walk, drive or by public transport. It’ll show you exactly what to do in English and it works perfectly. Also a great option: WeChat wallet. You can link your bank account with WeChat and pay almost everything and everywhere with your phone. I hardly bring my wallet or cash money with me when I leave my home.

Then there is the ‘Baidu trans’ App. Especially when I just arrived here and didn’t speak a word of Chinese, this App really saved my life. As you probably know, there is a reason why we foreign teachers come to China: most Chinese most Chinese don’t or hardly speak any English. any English. So, while ordering food, trying to find my way in town or just having a conversation with a colleague, friend or a random stranger, I used this App.

The last/final shock I’d like to share is about life at school. I work at a private boarding school. Private schools won’t, or hardly get financial support from the government. Parents need to pay a lot to get their children in schools like these, so they also expect quality. My senior high students come to school on Sunday around 18:00 and leave school Saturday around 11:00 in the morning. During weekdays, generally seen, the students start their day around 07:00 doing their ‘homework’ and their school day ends around 22:00/22:30 in the evening. For Chinese teachers it’s about the same. When I think about it, even though I’ve been working here for almost a whole school year, I’m still shocked. Though I have the feeling it shocks me more than it shocks the teachers or students. They’re still happy and dedicated to the work they do!

I’m living at the other side of the world! Walking around the city and wondering why…. Why the heck do the Chinese do this?! I’ve seen so many differences and for me personally these things make my time so interesting and pleasant here. And while living here I’ve had enough time to talk about these differences with Chinese friends and teachers, trying and getting to understand them a bit more!

Next school year

The choice to come to China was one of the best I’ve made in life. During these 8 months I haven’t had a single regret coming here! Of course, I miss some things from home. Family, friends, the food and everything I’m familiar with. But I’m also sure that a year later, 90% of these things will still be there in the same place. So then the next choice: what shall I do next year? Shall I go back home, go somewhere else, or stay in China…?

I’m going to stay in China!

Next school year I’ll move to Hangzhou, a city in Zhejiang province, close to Shanghai. I will probably not stay in China all my life, so I want to experience another city. From what I’ve read and heard, Hangzhou must be heaven on earth and even more modern and clean than Foshan. Again, China Plus helped me to find a suitable school according to my preferences. This time I’ll be teaching at a public high school.

Why I’m going to stay in China…

First of all because of my work. It’s great for my experience as a teacher. Teaching and working at a school just suits me, even in another country with a totally different (working) culture. I also feel I’m getting better and better and also for the next school year I have many ideas on how to improve myself.

Another thing about living in China is the beautiful country with beautiful people. Even though I’m working and living here, I still feel like a tourist. Watching all the smiling and surprised faces wherever I go! Enjoying the delicious food and the great hassle of ordering it. Oh, and about Chinese food…. If someone has lived in China for a while and says not to like the food, I wouldn’t believe that person. Food is like religion here! It’s much more important to them than it is to the people in my country.

Living here is also perfect for the passion I have for traveling! I’ve had more than enough time for it. Within 8 months I’d been to Hong Kong, Macau, Beijing, the provinces Yunnan, Guangxi and Guangdong and I even had time to visit the Philippines at Christmas time.

My experience

Like I’ve been telling, my time in China has been great and I’m really looking forward to go to Hangzhou this September. Before I left to China I had some doubts, but actually I knew, and everyone around me knew, that this adventure would suit me perfectly! Though you should also know that not every foreigner I’ve met in China shares these feelings. When you’re thinking of moving to China, think carefully. Is this something for you? Things are going to be really different from back home, things won’t always go as planned and there will always be some downsides. Nevertheless, if you think it’s something for you, then stop thinking and go for it! It will be AWESOME!

Written by Thomas, English / PE Teacher



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