So What is China Like

It is Different. I Can Tell You That.

I arrived in China on the 2nd of February 2017. It’s been one roller coaster of a month and from the sound of things, the second month is going to be even wilder.  Not in a bad way, mind you. No, I’ve had one of the most eye-opening experiences jam-packed into but a few weeks and if I have to answer the question on every family member and friends’ lips “So what is China like?”, I’d say the following:

It’s different. Everything about this country and its people will baffle and surprise you. The fact is, the reason that you’ve finally decided to take the leap (or you’re at least considering it) means you’re open to being completely blown away. It won’t always be sunshine and daisies, trust me. My poor Chinese skills and meager knowledge of Mandarin doesn’t take me very far in a country completely dominated by its Mother Tongue.

For example, just this morning, I received a phone call from a local Chinese number. I answered of course, thinking it might be the school looking for me; however I ended up trying to profusely explain why I can’t understand the person on the other side of the phone, hearing them talk in the background and having the phone put down in my ear. First thought that ran through my head: “Don’t they have English Speaking staff?”

No, of course not, why would they?

Language Barrier in Daily Life but No Problem!

So get ready for a hectic lack of English speaking staff in about 90% of the places and businesses you’ll encounter in your life.  

A restaurant around the corner from me has a pizza special every Monday. All pizzas are 50 RMB, which is about 7 USD on Mondays. (Bargain hunter over here, guys!) Do you know how difficult it is to order a pizza on an English menu with a waitress who only knows Chinese?  It can be a wee bit of a struggle. However, you can’t let minor things like that stop you from experiencing what China is about and seeing all it has to offer. I was assisted by English speaking staff within a matter of minutes and shortly thereafter got the exact pizza I ordered with all my trimmings added and some taken away as I requested.

This brings me to my second point about China.  Like I mentioned before, it is vastly different than what I’m used to. If I have to think back at the Chinese community in South Africa.  They aren’t exactly a mirror image of the Chinese community here in China. Growing up, I was used to Chinese folk being somewhat closed off and not so helpful if you need something.  Usually a rip-off if you’re not careful. However, I have to say that I haven’t experienced any real sour attitudes towards me or my fellow foreign teachers.

Sure, you have the odd student calling you fat every now and again, but really. I’m not in the least bit affected by it. Chinese people are so small of frame, I look like some ogre compared to them.  When back home I’m considered a normal, healthy-looking young woman.  Of course they’ll think I spend my days eating McDonald’s and Burger King (maybe I do, who knows?).

Going back to my original point, the Chinese people have been quite lovely in my city.  In Ningbo, which is a rather large city with 7 million inhabitants, I’ve been welcomed with open arms, warm hearts and tons of food! Once you’ve arrived and you constantly hear people smacking while eating, then that’s normal.  The smacking AND the eating.  Chinese folks love to eat and they love to eat together! Don’t refuse food when offered or be offended if they think you eat a lot. They just love eating with others and sharing food is one way of showing they want to include you and make you feel at home.

So far, my first month, I’ve seen quite a few differences between the world I’m used to and China. I’m definitely not complaining and embracing these differences and changes makes China a blast!

Don’t be afraid of doing something way out of the ordinary. It just might surprise you how much fun you could have!

Hear from Our Teacher in Ningbo – Nadia

Before Coming to China
Why did you want to teach in China?

I chose China as a teaching destination because of the competitive salary offers and the possibility of living a comfortable lifestyle while teaching Chinese kids and teens a valuable skill – the ability to speak, read, write and understand English.

How was your experience finding a job through On the Mark Education?

I had a very smooth experience with On the Mark Education Consulting. They regularly checked up with both me and the school and made sure everything was being done according to the correct procedures. They supplied me with good choices of schools and answered any questions I had at the time.

Ningbo City

How long did your visa process take? How was the communication with the school during the visa process?

The visa process, including the notarization of documents took a bit longer than I would have liked, but the school in Ningbo did try their best to assist me and explain the whole process to me and to simplify the paperwork for me. All in all, it took me about 6 weeks to finalize my documents and have my visa in hand.

What website did you use to book your ticket to China

I used a local travel agency to book my ticket to China after researching on the web the best prices I could find and took them to the agency to see if they could match the same price.

Teaching Life in China
ESL Jobs in Ningbo
What was your first impression of China when you arrived?
It’s so much colder than South Africa! But I think I was impressed by their friendliness and openness to assist a somewhat lost-looking foreigner, for which I was very grateful. 
What gave you the biggest culture shock about China or in your city?

I would say the fact that the language barrier is bigger than I thought it would be, but the locals always try to shout some random English phrases my way when they see me or take photos with me in the middle of the supermarket while I’m doing grocery shopping.

What’s your favorite memory to date of life in China?

A Chinese friend and I went to go grab lunch in the food court below our offices. One member of the cleaning staff, an elderly Chinese man.

Life in Ningbo

What do you like most about working for your school in Ningbo?
  • The diverse staff – they all make you feel at home very quickly and help you adjust to expat life.
  • The caring, fun-loving Director of Studies – having a DoS that understands your situation alleviates a lot of stress and worry.
  • The Mentorship-program – a senior teacher mentoring you and training you is worth gold!
What three things would you want to have known before you arrived?
  • More medicine (I did bring some, but it’s literally a MUST.) The Chinese folks believe hot water to be a cure for just about everything. Hot water sometimes just won’t make the cut.
  • The origins of the various members of staff – I think I would have been better prepared and less ignorant if I knew of all the different nationalities that work at my current school.
  • More black pants and good tennis shoes – I’ve never walked this much before and my feet really suffered the first while. Bring one pair of white pants for special occasions. Black pants will be your best friend!


Thailand, Here I Come

When I landed in Thailand, I didn’t know what to expect. All I knew was that I would be in a part of the world that was unfamiliar and unattached from anything I had ever experienced before, so anything was possible. As I arrived to my hotel that was somewhere in Bangkok, I was greeted with what is known as the “Thai Smile.’ This brought a smile to my face and warmth in my heart knowing that the Thai’s have a pleasant demeanor that is welcoming and refreshing to see. This made me realize that I had come to the right decision for my uncertainty became at ease.  

Teaching in Thailand

A World of the Unknown

Thailand was my first destination of choice for living abroad, due to the fact I had never touched the grounds of Asia before, the nature of the contract and truthfully, I wanted to see if I would be able to leave all that I knew in America for a place that was distant and unknown. I had always traveled; being the wanderer that I am but, it was always limited to weeks, so this made me ponder if I would I be able to call this place home that I knew very little about. In my heart, I knew that this adventure would be more than the norm, which is what made me jump at the opportunity.

Next Destination – Ubon Ratchathani

When I was first presented with my options for Thailand, I reviewed everything diligently to ensure I was picking the best option for me. So, after careful consideration, I accepted the offer for the province of Ubon Ratchathani in the placement at Phibunmangssahan School (PMS). I have a comfortable living arrangement, a normal salary for a foreigner in Thailand, and an area that looked promising. So, the next question I had to answer was, how was I going to fit 33 years of my life in a suitcase based on the information I had received. With no hesitation, I packed what I thought was appropriate including shorts, tank tops, skirts, sweaters, hygiene products, and pretty much the essentials to survive not knowing what Thailand had to purchase. This took no time and I was ready to go.

After spending very limited time in Bangkok for orientation, the consultants prepared all of us for our new destinations. They gave us all the details that they thought we needed and transportation options to get there. These transportation options included bus, train, and airplane. Though most decided to take the bus, me and another guy, Will  decided to pay the extra to fly. After traveling 25 hours on a plane from the states, the last thing I wanted to do was get on a bus for 10 hours when I can fly for an hour and get to where I would call home for a minimum of four months.

Here I Come!

Running In ThailandOnce arriving in Ubon Ratchathani, my new buddy and I needed to get a taxi to travel 50 minutes outside to the town of Phibun. This taxi ride seemed a lot longer due to the anxiety of waiting to see what home would look like. After arriving, I settled into my new accommodation that was very pleasant and perfect for a quick nap before we ventured out to see what our new area offered. To my surprise, the school was quite easy to locate, along with the various grocery options of Big C, Tesco Lotus, 7-11 (very popular in Asia), and an outdoor market. We also noticed a beautiful river with a running path, an outdoor gym, and the friendly Thai people that would stop to glance and smile. They seemed very welcoming to us which was comforting.

Overall, my first five days in Thailand were busy, scary, and surprising but those feelings dissipated as soon as I saw my new town and the welcoming smiles that were presented. Though I still had my first day of school approaching, my feelings of being scared became lessened by the atmosphere of a happy culture that seemed quite peaceful.

So Now You’re a Teacher or Are You the Student?

What Do You Teach?

It’s easy to look like a teacher.  You wear the ensemble, the black shoes, do your hair in a professional arrangement, pull your shoulders back, teeth displayed in a friendly manner, and voila, the students address you with the coveted title of “Teacher.”  And what do you teach, Teacher? The answer, my friend, is the best part.

Teaching in Thailand has many benefits, but my favorite benefits are the students. Their entire society is based around balance; the pendulum swings between work and play each and every day. The student body is accustomed to having a lot of days off, camp days, assemblies, and meditation time. These activities take place during school hours and will often impede class time. This does not minimize the strictness of the teachers or the importance of curriculum, it’s all there to enhance each student’s mind, body and soul.

Thai TeachersThe students and faculty want to like foreign teachers, they want to be friends and show them their homes, favorite places and make them special foods. Likewise, the people of Thailand want to glean information from the foreign teacher’s world. Teaching as a foreigner is a chance for two worlds to collide and everyone to become all the richer for it.

Uniqueness of Teaching in Thailand

In this way, Thailand is particularly unique because the students are accustomed to fun. I have taught programs with students from other countries and they are much more difficult to teach in some ways. Many students abroad are afraid to guess at answers because they are punished for inaccurate guesses, or aren’t allowed to make eye contact with the teacher. Some students aren’t even allowed to interact with the opposite sex, or that isn’t a normal part of their lifestyle. All of these variations can have their pros and cons, but one particular con is that these students don’t participate. That is not the case with Thai students.

Teaching in ThailandThe youth of Thailand love to be silly, they love to shout and act in charades. They love to laugh at you, each other, themselves. Everything is a big game, joke, comical moment waiting to happen in Thailand, for children and adults. They have a lot of energy and while that can be challenging as well, if you can harness that energy, they will do anything you want. They are slaves to rejoicing.

Teaching Isn’t Just in Books

This is a great aspect of life for new teachers because your job is not to teach perfect grammar every day, or have lesson plans that are meticulously dissected. You are not in Thailand to create little robots that speak perfect English at the end of your term. Your job is help the children of Thailand grow, learn and enjoy doing it.

Your personal fulfillment is a big part of this lesson. You too will learn how to harness abounding energy, and access your most silly side. You will live like a ten-year-old again, and it will drain you, like it does them, but you will have more fun than ever before. Pretty soon, you will be looking to your students for inspiration on lessons, both in and outside of the classroom. You will find yourself seeking celebration and avoiding activities void of pure happiness.

In an alternate universe where people sing without fear of what their voice sounds like, and people dance like no one is watching and those around you cheer no matter how ridiculous you look, Thailand and its people have saved a tiny spot in the world in which everybody belongs.

So, what do you teach, Teacher? You teach students;  and you all have a lot to learn.