Tag Archives: English in China

Hear from Our Teacher in Beijing, China- Avashnee

Before Coming to China

Why did you want to teach in China?
I was interested in having a really new, challenging and exciting life experience and China appealed to me because I believed it would give me just that. There was no doubt that it wouldn’t be an easy transition from a Western country to an Eastern one where there would be a language barrier and a different culture altogether so I was interested to experience it. China itself has always been of interest to me and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to teach in China.

How was your experience finding a job through On the Mark Education Consulting?
On the Mark Education was very efficient and of the highest quality in terms of the recruitment process. This was my first experience in teaching abroad in a foreign country and based on how effortless everything was in terms of being presented with the opportunity and the interview process that followed; I am optimistic about doing it again.

How long did it take to get your visa? How was the communication with the school during the visa process?
It took me about 2.5 months but this was due to the fact that getting a criminal check in South Africa takes about 2 months. The visa itself came within 3 weeks. The communication with the school during the visa process was very efficient with prompt responses and feedback from everyone involved. The company I was placed with was very professional and the team I worked with was very helpful and friendly so that made the whole process very favorable.

What website did you use to book your ticket to Hong Kong?
I used the google flight and ultimately had a travel agent book everything for me.

Teaching Life in Beijing, China

What was your first impression of Beijing upon arrival?
It was very overwhelming. I was in Beijing, which was so busy with so many people! However, it was a great experience when I first arrived. Everyone was very friendly and although I am South African; I am of Indian descent and Chinese people hardly if ever see Indians so they found me very intriguing. I cannot count the number of times selfies were taken with random people even on the subway. Finding food I recognized was a bit difficult and getting a taxi was one of the biggest challenges I had to overcome.

At first, taxi drivers may just drive past you or stop and then shake their heads and drive off when you speak to them in English. I quickly learnt to download the right apps; learn my home and work address in Chinese (and how to say it correctly) and be able to learn how to direct them by saying (left – “Zodwa; Right – Yorjwa; straight – Izhadao; I know the way – Wozhidao etc.) You quickly learn that if you’re friendly and people like you then they are extremely helpful and you will always find your way or whatever you are looking for.

What was the biggest culture shock about Beijing?
The spitting! People spit everywhere and they make a loud warning sound before they do sometimes and for people who are not used to that.  Its obviously considered to be gross.

The language barrier – I was once lost in a Hutong in Beijing and no one around could understand me or direct me to the right place – my battery was dying and eventually did die and it took me almost 2 hours to find my way.

Teaching in BeijingWhat’s your favorite memory to date of life in Beijing?

There were so many – but my favorite will always just be the people. The people I worked with, the students I taught, a boyfriend I had for almost a year there – together we traveled to Thailand, Hong Kong, Macau, he came to South Africa to meet my family and I went to England to meet his and then together again to France and Netherlands. Despite the many goodbyes I had when I left China, the people that I met and the experiences that it led to will always be a favorite!

What do you like most about teaching at your school?
I like the fact that it was so organized and that they invested in their staff with consistent programs and training for development. There were also many opportunities to grow and be promoted if you were interested in staying longer.  I really enjoyed teaching in Beijing at my school.

What do you do when you have days off in Beijing?
Initially, I spent them touring the city and ticking off all the must see tourist spots. Eventually, there were some favorite places to go to to get my nails and hair done or shopping and meeting friends. Once you get familiar with the place and learn how to navigate your way through the city – there was always something to do!

What three things do you wish you would have known or brought with you before you arrived?eiffel tower 1. I wish I had realized how difficult accessing social media would be and had downloaded a VPN before-hand. I struggled to get it when I arrived but eventually did and was able to connect with the world again.
2. I wish I had taken less clothes, shoes, bags and accessories. There were so many places to shop from and cheap online stores to easily order and have stuff delivered to you. I had to leave a lot of stuff back in China when I left.
3. Painkillers! It can be difficult to get tablets you recognize in China as almost everything was in Chinese at the pharmacy and they don’t understand English. I communicated with my pharmacist via an app and the medication she prescribed didn’t really help with pain. 

Tip: The cure for most things according to the many Chinese ladies I met was Hot water! 

Do you have the opportunity to save some money? What percent of your salary were you able to save each month?
Yes, I was able to save a lot of money and I travelled to: Shanghai, Suzhou, South Africa, Hong Kong, Macau, Thailand and Vietnam within 1 year contract. I also travelled to the UK, France and Netherlands shortly after my contract ended with money that I saved.

Ex-Pat Social Life in Beijing

How Will I Meet People?

One question many people ask when they are deciding whether or not they want to teach English in a foreign country or city, is what their social life will be life. Introverts and Extroverts alike wonder what the opportunities are for meeting other people like them, and who speak their language. For some people, this isn’t their biggest concern, while for others it can make or break their decision to move to a certain country or city.

Where to Start

If this is of all a concern to you, the first thing you should do is find out if the city or town has any areas popular with foreigners. This may involve internet searching, or trying to find people online who can tell you. In my case, I found out an old high school friend was living and teaching in Beijing, and was more than happy to show me her favorite places. If you don’t know anyone already, some cities have ex-pat group pages on Facebook and other social media platforms that you can find and ask questions. The Beijinger website is a great place to start looking for events throughout Beijing.

Ex-Pat Areas of Beijing

While Shanghai is probably the best known city in China when it comes to a popular ex-pat environment, Beijing also has a lot to offer it’s very large population of foreigners, whether they be from other parts of Asia, or the Western part of the world. There are a few major neighborhoods in particular where there are many popular foreign bars and restaurants. Many of these are more expensive than the Chinese options but if you are looking to meet other foreigners or live near them, these are the primary areas to look: Sanlitun, Gulou, Wukesong, and Wudaokou. You can find many different cuisines all around you and plenty of bars and other venues to meet more people.

Your Colleagues Are a Great Resource

Everyone’s experience is different, but one thing that seems quite common among the TEFL community is that your colleagues often become your main social circle. That is sometimes true in the States, but I wouldn’t personally call it the norm. But while teaching abroad your fellow teachers can become not only a great professional resource but also your family away from your family.

Most of the ex-pat community will also be happy to help you start learning your way around your new home. Even if they’ve lived there for years, they remember what it was like for them when they first arrive. They’ve been through everything and will have great advice for you, including their favorite places to go and ways you can get involved and meet more people. Some of my colleagues are involved in music and their band plays at different bars during the week. One of them is also involved in a hockey league. Some of them take Mandarin lessons in the city not sponsored by their work and meet other foreigners there. I found a group of fellow fantasy nerds who play Dungeons and Dragons every week! You can have whatever type of social life is the most comfortable for you.

Teach in Beijing

Put Yourself Out There

There are many different opportunities to find your social niche when you decide to move abroad, as long as you put yourself out there to find them. As an introvert, this is something I tend to struggle with, as I am just as happy being at home reading and often need alone time to recharge my batteries so to speak. However, I also knew that part of what would make this experience personally worthwhile is meeting new people and having new experiences.

If I wanted to stay at home and read all the time, I could have stayed in the US and kept working at the soul-crushing customer service job I was doing before this. So, to any introverts reading this, know that if you choose to do this, it’s okay to take care of yourself and have some alone time, but make sure you experience everything else your new home has to offer!

How to Prepare For Life In China

Did you just land your first TEFL job in China? Congratulations, you’re in for a wild ride. Your career just might take off. Your social life may explode. And your wanderlust may finally be satisfied. That was my experience at least.

The list of benefits that surrounds your new job is perhaps longer than The Great Wall. But, moving to China takes some getting used to.

In fact, life in China is something you may want to prepare yourself for. So, while you’re getting your visa sorted out, and trying to decide how to condense your life into a single suitcase, here are a few others things to think about.

Google and Facebook Don’t Work in China

That’s right my friends. Both Gmail and Facebook won’t work while you’re living in China. You won’t have to rely on snail mail to talk to your mom though. Before moving to China, make sure to get a VPN (Virtual Private Network.) You can pay for a year’s subscription (it’s very affordable) and use it to get on any website you want. It works by tricking your computer or phone, making it look like you’re using the internet from a country outside of China. I used one called Astrill, but there are quite a few to choose from.

You’ll Actually Need to Learn Some Mandarin

Life in China

If you’ve traveled before, you know that it’s relatively easy to get around relying on only English. In China, not so much. They speak their local language (as to be expected) and don’t stray away from it too often. Street signs, packaging, and restaurant menus will typically not have any English. So, you’ll actually need to study up on some Mandarin. I ate stuffed buns for every meal during my first three days in China. I could point to them at the stall near my apartment and didn’t have to worry about speaking. Learning how to say a few dishes is really helpful if you want a diverse diet. Also, it will help you avoid eating pig brain soup (honestly, it was an entire brain…in my soup) and other dishes that may make you cringe.

You’ll Need to Practice Your Balance For The Squat Toilets

Squat toilets are not a thing of the past in China. In fact, you’ll find them even in the nicest clubs and restaurants.  While your apartment will usually have a western toilet, out in public, you’ll need to squat. Bend your knees and get low to the ground. The toilets even have two spots for your feet. It may take a few tries, but you’ll figure it out. And, you may just learn to love them. I know that I did. Not having to sit on a public toilet seat seemed pretty great to me.

Life in China

You Seriously Have to Learn to Use Chopsticks

At home, I ate sushi all of the time. So, I learned how to use chopsticks pretty well before moving to China.  In fact, I thought it was pretty obvious that chopstick skills were a necessity before agreeing to take the job.  However, I found that a few of my co-workers had never used chopsticks before. And, some of them admitted to thinking that the restaurants in China provided forks (just in case).  Let’s just say that these coworkers of mine struggled. A lot. One of them couldn’t eat much during group meals, and ended up buying a little baby spoon to help him out. He carried that thing with him everywhere he went.  Learn how to use chopsticks; it’s worth it.

There are some pretty bizarre things you’ll need to prepare for before making your move. These are only a few of them.

Want to know more? Check out this post for 11 more ways to prepare for life in China.

Author: Shannon started her life abroad when she got a teaching position in China. After seeing her life open up to new opportunities, she decided to inspire others to do the same. You can visit her at Lives Abroad for more inspiration.

Dining Out in Beijing

I spent my childhood in the United States restaurant environment as my family owned small restaurants, and I have found in my travels that one of the ways you can first start integrating into a new culture is by eating at local restaurants. Dining out norms can differ between cultures and it’s usually these times where we see the smaller cultural differences that sometimes take us by surprise.


Let’s start at the beginning of the dining experience. In the United States, at most restaurants, you enter and tell a host/hostess how many people are in your party and they will either take you to a table or put you on a waiting list. In China, you will tell them how many people you have, and they will usually simply gesture to whatever tables are open and you can seat yourself. They will bring you the menu after you sit down. They might only give you one menu for your table, or two if you have several people.

In the USA, they will give you the same amount of menus as you have people, and then will walk away while you look through the menu. Chinese servers will stand over you as you look through the menu, which took me awhile to get used to. Sometimes it’s still a little off-putting, but I’ve learned not to feel rushed. If we want to really look through the menu, the server will usually leave after a few minutes and come back when you call them.


Dining Out in Beijing

Which brings me to the next difference. In the United States, servers will periodically stop by the table to bring different parts of the meal and to check how you like it. They will take orders for drinks and sometimes appetizers 

first, and then come back later for entrée orders. This works very well for the US dining experience as normally, everyone orders their own meals. However, in China, while I am teaching English in Beijing, I realize that it is more common for dishes to be served what we think of as “family style,” so they are big enough to feed multiple people. When you order your food at a Chinese restaurant, you order everything you want all at the same time, including drinks and dessert.

And also unlike in the USA, there is not necessarily a specific order that the food is served in. Normally it’s drinks, appetizers, soup/salad, entrée, and then dessert. In China, it is not uncommon for entrees to be served and then for your rice to come after the entrée, and sometimes desserts are served first. The food is brought to you in the order it is ready. Because of this, it is a perfectly acceptable practice to call out to the server if you need something additional. You can simply put your hand up and call to them and they will come to get you something else you need, or bring the bill.


Dining Out in BeijingTypically in the US, the server will drop the bill on the table and tell you there is “no rush,” (not true, but let’s pretend) and leave you to divide up cash, decide whose card to put the check on, or split the bill. In China, they will not bring you the check until you ask for it, or if you approach them to pay. And for payment, it’s almost unnecessary to bother splitting the bill, because most restaurants will except WeChat Wallet. WeChat is a smartphone app that China basically runs on and WeChat Wallet is similar to ApplePay, and most places in China will accept it, even taxis and street food vendors. You can transfer money to people (similar to PayPal and Venmo) so when my friends and I go out, usually one person just pays the bill while everyone else just transfers money to the person.

All in all, while I’m still getting used to certain aspects of dining in China, in general I find it enjoyable and easy. Getting a Chinese phone number to be able to use WeChat Wallet made it even easier, and the servers are usually willing to be helpful. And even at the fancier and/or Western restaurants, the food is usually pretty well priced when compared to expensive places in the big cities of the USA, so it’s no surprised that I eat out a lot!


Healthcare in China for Foreigners

One of the most important factors in making a decision on whether or not you will be coming to China is the cost and quality of healthcare, especially as a foreigner.

Drink hot water – Traditional Chinese Advice

So, let us start with the not-so-nice side of healthcare in China. If you happen to start feeling ill here, and you tell any of your Chinese colleagues about it, they will begin with “Oh no. Drink hot water!” and then proceed to give you a cup of hot water. Telling you to drink hot water is a genuine effort in trying to help you (even though after hearing it for the fiftieth time, you want to blow up). So what does one do when confronted with the “drink hot water!” advice? Politely inform them that you have tried it (even if you have not) and request that someone accompany you to the local hospital to be checked by a doctor.

General Chinese Healthcare

When I say general Chinese healthcare, I am talking about the cheapest form of healthcare in the country, which is extremely basic, as well as cheap. There are a few limitations such as the certain hours one can come to consult a doctor. At the hospitals in Ningbo, one can only see a doctor during these times: 8am – 10:30am; 1pm-4pm and then after that you will have to make use of emergency services.

Usually it will cost about 15RMB to visit a doctor. You will have to register yourself first, so be sure to bring your passport and let a local help you register yourself at the hospital. You will get a medical book and card with your details and your medical history will be recorded in both the book and on the card. Doctors will load prescriptions onto the card, which will then be taken to the dispensary and you will receive your medicine there at the hospital as well.

Chinese Hospital

The only thing is, as they are so incredibly busy, it is usually a 5 minute consultation and then there are no questions about your medical history. The quicker you can get out of there with a few scribbles in the blue medical book, you won’t exactly be getting premium healthcare. It is true that you get what you pay for.

The good thing about this is that if you have a chronic illness, such as asthma, and you know exactly what kind of medicine you use back in your home country, paying 15 RMB for a doctor’s appointment to renew your prescription makes it super convenient. I usually just go to the doctor once a month, get my prescription renewed for the month, fetch it from the dispensary and within 20 minutes, I’m off again.

VIP Chinese Healthcare

Now, if you feel like you are developing some serious illness and feel like you just need a normal doctor who actually looks at you and follows normal healthcare protocol, then you will have the option to receive such healthcare! Phew! However, a more expensive price tag comes with it. When I was stricken down with laryngitis and flu, the visit to a proper English-speaking doctor in the “Foreigner Outpatient VIP Clinic” cost me about 200 RMB. However, the peace of mind I had was priceless.

Chinese medicine

She made sure to get a good medical background check and noted everything in my blue medical book. She was also the first doctor that did not advise me to drink hot water. However, I did have a bit of fun with the nurses who took photos of me with the doctor for the clinic’s social media pages. I guess you could say I’m an official poster girl for Ningbo International Health Care Clinic.

To be honest, if you know where to go and who to ask, you’ll be fine. I was up and going within a few days of visiting the doctor at the VIP clinic and plan on going back to her if the need ever arises for me to go. I visit the general doctor for 15 RMB to renew my prescriptions. China is different, and I’d be silly to expect anything else, but they have their systems in place and somehow it works. I hope this will put some of you at ease with regards to any of your healthcare concerns you have.

Taxi Trouble Solutions in Beijing

The Subway is Great

There’s a lot of great things I can say about the subway system in Beijing. It is extremely cheap, it runs frequently, and since (like most things in Beijing) the signs are written with the Roman alphabet as well as Chinese characters, it’s very easy to navigate. I use it every day to get to work and whenever I go somewhere in the city during the day.

Beijing Subway

The operative phrase in that last sentence is “during the day.” There is one major flaw I find with the Beijing subway system, and that is its opening hours. If you want to go out at night and then take the subway home, you will have to stop having fun and leave around 10pm, as all trains seem to shut down between 10:30-11:00pm.

Taxis are the Nighttime Option

So, if you’re like me and you want to go for a beer or several with your co-workers after you get off work at 8:30pm, you will have to rely on taxis unless you are within walking distance from your home.

Now, you may be asking, why is that a big deal? Well, aside from the fact that taxis are more expensive than the subway (which is no different from any other city I’ve travelled to), there’s a few things about taking a taxi in Beijing that are different than what I was used to in the US.

Things to Be Aware Of

Typically, in my experience, as long as you have some way to tell the taxi driver where you need to go, they are happy to take you as long as you are polite. However, in China, taxi drivers often don’t want to take foreigners because

  1. They assume you don’t know where you’re going
  2. They assume even if you do know, you can’t tell them

It’s the second one that I had a hard time grasping when I first got to China, especially in the days of smartphones with GPS. Everyone in Beijing has a smartphone, and the entire country basically runs on the WeChat and AliPay smartphone apps. In spite of this, the taxi drivers in Beijing will often ask you to tell them how to get there, even though they have GPS. If you don’t speak the language, this is obviously quite difficult to do. Sometimes if you are close and have been there before, you can just point them in the right direction, but if it’s a new place, that can be very hard.

I have been passed by and downright refused rides during my first few months. When my roommate and I were trying to move our suitcases from our hotel rooms to our new apartment, it took nearly an hour to get a taxi to take us there.

Subway in Beijing

Tips for a Pleasant Taxi Experience

Thankfully, I have now figured out ways to ease the drivers’ minds about picking me up and have a few tips for newcomers to Beijing.

Chances are good you won’t be able to tell them the exact address of where you are going, unless you have it written out or translated beforehand. So, know which subway station is closest to where you are going. The majority of taxi drivers in Beijing will be able to find subway stops. Make sure you know the word “subway,” (pronounced dee-tee-ay). For instance, if you need to go to Wudaokou, don’t just tell them that as Wudaokou is a large area. If you tell them to take you to the Wudaokou subway station, it will be much easier for them to know where to take you.

Try to verbally ask them first if you are able, but have a translation ready just in case they need to clarify. Many of them don’t mind reading it on a phone app if you try to speak to them first. It shows them that you know where you are going, and if there are issues when you get close you might be able to use hand gestures to tell them where to turn and stop.

Language Skills

As a side note, know the word “stop” (ting). Once, a taxi driver drove me a good distance past my house, and then I had to walk further home because I couldn’t tell him to let me out. He was probably trying to get extra fare, but ever since I learned how to tell a driver to stop I haven’t had the problem since.

Obviously, the more of the language you learn, the easier time you will have with taxis and all other aspects of life in Beijing. But no one can learn a new language overnight, so if you start off with a few essential phrases and go from there you will be fine.