Hear from Our Teacher in China – Amber Rollins

Before Coming to China

Why did you want to teach in China?
I was a teacher in the US, but I wasn’t enjoying it much. I’ve always liked Asia, and thought it would be interesting to come teach here instead. There are many jobs in China, in all different areas of the country and in many kinds of institutions, compared to say, say Vietnam, where the teaching is mostly for children. I left Asia for awhile and went back to the US. I got my MA in TESOL. I also taught in other countries, such as Mexico, South Korea, Thailand, and Vietnam. But I liked teaching in China the best by far. My heart was here, so I wanted to come back again.

How was your experience finding a job through On the Mark Education Consulting?
It was very good. On the Mark listened to me and had the kinds of jobs I wanted (no kids!). They communicated well, which is very important when finding a job in a different country. China’s process can be especially complicated.


How long did your visa process take? How was the communication with the school during the visa process?
I was in Vietnam when I was getting everything together to come to China, so it may have taken me longer than some to finish the visa process. I got a good recommendation for a service to use in order to get all my papers authenticated, and the service was great. Altogether, it took about a month to get everything taken care of, including going to the local Chinese embassy.


What website did you use to book your ticket to China?
I usually use Expedia or Travelocity, but in this case, I went to a local travel agent and consulted with them. I was glad I did, because they found me a better deal than the sites I usually use online.

Teaching Life in China

Can you tell us about your impressions of the city? What do you like most about living there?
I’m in Mianyang, in Sichua province. I like it very much. It’s clean and modern. There are not many English speakers, but the local people are kind and always try to help, even though my Chinese is limited. I love to bicycle, and I can get around the city on my bike. The traffic isn’t too bad, especially compared to Hanoi. The weather is also great. In the US, I lived mostly in Texas, which is very hot much of the year. Mianyang is also warm most of the time, and the winters are supposed to be pretty mild.

What has been the biggest culture shock about China?
It’s always a challenge when you move somewhere and can’t communicate well in the language. I miss easily being able to explain myself, especially when I go shopping. I was also shocked about how everyone pays for everything with WeChat or AliPay. We have Apple Pay in the US, but it is nowhere near as widespread as WeChat Pay is here. It still feels strange to me to pull out my phone when I buy something.

What’s your favorite memory to date of life in China?
There is nothing really big, but I love all the small things that are an adventure: finding little shops that sell vegetables in back streets close to my apartment; taking the train all by myself to Chengdu; riding my bike by the river in Mianyang.

What do you like most about working for your school? And can you tell us about your typical day teaching English at your school.
I work at a language school, so we work evenings and weekends, mostly. I get to school around 12 and classes start at 1 pm. The schedule changes depending on the students, so I might have three classes or I might have six. They’re 55 minutes long. Some of the classes are one-on-one sessions and some are bigger classes. Even the biggest class has no more than 20 people, and this does not happen often. We have a dinner break at 5 pm. I’m done at 9 pm and I bike home.

What I like most about teaching at my school are the students. Since they are all teenagers and adults, most of the students are motivated and want to learn. There aren’t any classroom management issues. The students are happy to be at school and eager to learn. They are also very funny and thoughtful. They appreciate someone who takes some time to learn about them and about China.

What three things would you would have wanted to know or have brought with you before you arrived?
1. I would have brought some stick deodorant. I much prefer it to roll on or spray, but haven’t been able to find any here.
2. I wish I had known I wouldn’t be able to use Netflix. I was here before I figured that out, since I had been able to use it in other countries in Asia.
3. I probably also would have tried to bring some sugar substitute, like sucralose. I haven’t found any of that, either.

Were you able to save some money? What percentage of your salary were you able to save each month?
I’m able to save money. I have my own apartment, so I need to pay all the bills and the rent, plus food and transportation, and whatever else I want to do. Still, I can easily save at least half of my salary, if not more.

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Grocery Shopping in China

In America, if you want to eat, you need to 1) cook something yourself (unless you have a particularly generous partner); 2) go to a restaurant; 3) drive through a fast food place, or 4) arrange for delivery, which may, depending on where you live, be restricted to pizza, and what passes for Chinese food in the US. But in the Middle Kingdom, things are a little different. Grocery shopping in China definitely gives you a whole new different experience.

Grocery Shops in China

It is no secret that China is the home to many kinds of delicious foods. I have been teaching English in China for about 3 months, Some expats find the local restaurants so inexpensive and the foods so tasty that they rarely go shopping for groceries themselves. My Chinese colleagues often act surprised that I cook for myself and bring my own lunch and/or dinner every day. However, eventually you will need to go to the supermarket for something (shampoo, soap, deodorant, etc.) or develop a desire to make your food in your own way. Depending on where you live, there may be more than one way to accomplish this.

Walmart in China

If you live in a fairly large city, there may be a Wal-Mart. Wal-Marts in China are still Chinese. They won’t magically have all the foods or items you remember from home. But they are still Wal-Marts, and have a huge selection of food, baked goods (this may be the only place you find that has Western-style bread), snacks, and miscellaneous, such as housewares, all in one place when you go grocery shopping in China.

There will also be a Chinese supermarket somewhere in your city. These tend to be on the bottom floors of shopping centers, so if you don’t know where a supermarket is, it’s a good bet to seek out the closest shopping center and take a trip downstairs. You may have to leave your bags, except for a purse, at a front desk, or lock them in a front locker, so be sure you keep your form of payment with you. If you get set up to use WeChat or AliPay, no problem – just make sure you have your phone. But if you’re paying with cash, as you certainly will be for awhile after you get here, as your bank account will take a little time to get set up, don’t forget about keeping some cash on you until you have a full cart at the check-out. You may be asked if you want a bag. China is on a mission to reduce plastic bags when you go grocery shopping, so you bring your own and go ahead and take the shopping bag. I like to reuse mine as trash can liners. But the supermarkets will charge you a small amount if you don’t bring your own bag.

Shopping with Courage

Grocery Shopping in China

Going grocery shopping in China offers will vary, but in general they’ll have the usual food, drinks, and snacks. It will also have an area where you can buy bulk rice and beans, and maybe a few other things such as rock sugar, candy, little snack cakes, dried mushrooms, and dried fruit. There will be some dairy, but it will be expensive and there will not be an extensive collection. You can find Coke, Coke Zero, Pepsi, and, of course, teas. There will also more than likely be a deli section where you can get steamed bread (mantou), steamed buns (baozi), baked Chinese bread (bing), and other ready-to-eat foods such as noodles and dumplings. The supermarket close to where I live even has small pizzas and sushi!

Try Something Local

Local market in China

Finally, you will want to eventually shop at an outside market, if only for the experience. These are frequently set up in alleys or side streets. What you can buy depends on the area, but they always include stands or small shops that sell fruit (apples, bananas, oranges, pears. In Sichuan, I also often find kiwi and dragonfruit), vegetables (pretty extensive selection generally, but good luck finding avocadoes), tofu (extra firm and smoked – fresh!), and, if you’re into that, meat. Be forewarned that the meat is not going to be bloodless and packaged in plastic, though. Enough said about that. No one in the small markets has charged me for plastic bags, but if you are going to buy much, you might want to bring a tote bag to put all your purchases in since you’re going to be carrying around a lot of small bags from the different stalls.

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