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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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Culture Shock in China

Is it a thing? The short answer is “YES IT IS!” However, in my experience, it wasn’t in the way I thought I’d experience culture shock. Let me explain why.

Culture Shock because of Other Foreigners

ESL TeachersPicture this. You are at your office. There is a bunch of Chinese folk on the one side, and then there are the foreign teachers on the other. Teachers come from all over the world. My fellow colleagues come from Canada, various different states in America, Ireland, England, Australia and New Zealand. On nights out, I’ve even met foreigners from Brazil, Norway, Iceland, Russia, Serbia, Malaysia, Tanzania, Ghana and so forth and so forth. You spend a lot of time at the office lesson planning so obviously you will be chatting with fellow teachers, getting to know more about one another. They are also the first people you go to when arranging plans for a night out or a weekend trip outside the city. As you get to know them, you realize just how vastly different you all are in terms of your little habits and quirks. People from different states in America have a different way of going about things! We don’t always understand the why’s, how’s and what’s of each other’s different cultures and backgrounds, but somehow, a bit of magic happens. What do I mean by this? The magic is that regardless of your differences with others in terms of these fundamental aspects such as culture, lifestyle and background, your relationship with other foreigners is a very harmonious one most of the time! Learning about one another person’s “Point of View” won’t ever take anything away from you and who you are as a person, but will only add so much more to what you’ve already got and know about the world!

Culture Shock because of… Well, China

Teacher Nadia in China

Surprise! China is weird, man. However, I’d like to rise to the defense of its weird inhabitants. I have been treated with nothing but kindness here, and it is something I’m truly grateful for.  They are still in many ways so much more different from what I expected them to be. It’s quite the task to try and explain this in words, but as a colleague of mine said today “Sometimes you’ve just got to let go and let China.” In certain areas, China is way more advanced than I would have thought them to be, but in other, they are extremely traditional. The great thing is that when you are open to experiencing the traditional China, it’ll amaze you! Chinese folks are quite set in their ways, and as a foreigner it’s practically impossible to try and have them understand your point of view.  Homosexuality is a sensitive topic and when discussed, the idea of a same sex couple loving one another is so strange and incomprehensible to them. Cue the daft expressions and furrowed brows trying to understand this wild concept.  You’re a vegetarian? Wait…really? You really don’t want any meat or animal product in this dish? But…how? Any Chinese Person in China Ever. Being a vegan in China has its ups and downs. I don’t pay as much at a restaurant for buffets as my meat-eating diners do which is pretty cool. However, when going to order food at the food court in a shopping mall, jaws drop and brains fog up when I order a dish with no meat. 85% of my dishes were meat-filled and my specific instructions completely disregarded, because according to the Chinese folks, not eating meat is as good as trying to kill yourself. So I suppose that this is my main point – have patience and understanding for the Chinese mindset.  Once you understand that you cannot always change their customs and opinions, you’ll have a much easier life here. Then again, they’ll make up for this in many different ways (freebies with purchases being one of them!)

Overwhelmed?

Well, that is what you should be to a degree, of course. Once you get the hang of things and you know what the term patience means, you’ll have an absolute ball here! China has shocked me into total delight. I cannot wait to explore more of what this country has to offer!

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A Good Choice for First Time EFL Teachers in China

China – The Right Choice for First Time EFL Teachers

So, being TEFL certified, you have a strong theoretical background and a few hours of practical teaching behind you. Now the job search begins. I incessantly began comparing countries and each one’s pros and cons. The thing is, I could not make a decision based on information published in 2011. Times change and policies in countries regarding EFL with it. In an attempt to help those of you in a similar situation, I have compiled some handy information mainly regarding why China is a great choice when you are a first timer.

Why the Country You Choose Matters

As a first time EFL teacher, one of my main concerns was finding a school or institute that would be willing to spend enough time on training me in their various systems and make sure that I understand and am able to implement their specific approach to teaching. If you look at the different policies and approaches ESL/EFL countries have, you will find a big difference between what each country looks for and regards as a native English Speaker. There is a consensus between natives from USA, UK, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand. China, Thailand, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Cambodia, Vietnam, private schools in Korea and UAE consider South Africa as another native English speaking country, while Japan and Korea have strong objections against hiring South Africans. If you find that your country and company only hires USA citizens and you happen to be from New Zealand, tough luck, because they will most probably treat you as a second-class teacher.Nadia in China

Hence, the fact that you need to make a choice regarding which country you want to teach is a crucial decision that most teachers fail to properly research.

China’s Attitude Towards EFL Teachers

As one of the biggest producers of TEFL jobs, China has a big demand for native speaking English Teachers. The pressure to supply this demand makes for competitive salary packages, added benefits such as health insurance and travel insurance, housing benefits and school loans and much more. As a first-time teacher, you want to know that you will be offered a good deal that is secure and offers you a comfortable living in a foreign country. Packing up your bags to move to a completely different setting is a big sacrifice on your part and usually companies in China know this. In general, there is a high regard and respect towards foreign teachers here, so if you follow the right routes, such as making use of a good recruiter such as On the Mark Education and researching the schools and institutes in your own time, you will be sure to land a comfortable job with a good infrastructure. This is especially concerning training, mentor-ship programs and senior teacher who are available for guidance.

One of the goals of the Chinese government is to ensure that each child in the school system gains access to English conversation and language learning every day. This is quite the task to achieve. The market for recruiting and appointing qualified native English speakers is clearly still very strong.

It’s Who They Are That Matters Too

Apart from the fact that there is a high demand for native speakers, it is the Chinese culture that also makes a big impact on why this is a good choice for newbies in the EFL world. As a nation, they show understanding, honesty and are open to new experiences. My Chinese colleagues are extremely helpful and always try to correct me in the nicest ways possible. They are generally soft-spoken with foreigners (even though they can be INCREDIBLY LOUD AT TIMES) but that just comes with excitement and amazement at some event or such.

Other EFL teachers that I have met have previously taught in other places before coming to China. The thing that struck me was the behavior of employers in other Asian countries towards non-USA teachers. These teachers had to adapt an American accent and were told to be dishonest about their backgrounds. In China, while there is some preference towards UK and USA teachers, being an English teacher from neither of these countries does not matter as much as long as you are a qualified EFL teacher who has proven proficiency in English on a native level.

Therefore, if this has not made you want to pack your bags and head on over here, then I have failed miserably. That is okay though. I am in China and enjoying every second of it!

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Traveling and Exploring Your New Home

My Different Life

If I had to sum up my time in China with one word – It would be different! Different from the life I had experienced before; different from the life I had in Africa and different in every place you visit in such a vast country. The sheer size of China makes it almost inevitable that things will not be the same as you travel around its many provinces, but nothing could quite prepare me for the unique, strange and exciting things I would come across in my Chinese adventure.

I was based in Beijing throughout my year teaching English in China, I was lucky that I could travel within and outside the highly populated country extensively. Beijing is a city that is truly at odds with itself. Travelling into the old parts of the city (known locally as the Hutongs) you feel as if you have transported into a distant past. The almost impossibly narrow streets wind their way around the city like an ancient maze; but hidden amongst these cobbled paths are a range of trendy micro-breweries and coffee shops that reveal your first taste of how modernized and western China has allowed itself to be amongst its truly Eastern façade. The range of European designer stores and super cars driving around the CBD shows this ‘new’ China even more; but the past is unescapable here and a visit to the iconic Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City and The Great Wall reminds you exactly where you are!Disneyland Hong Kong

One of the first places I visited upon reaching Beijing was of course, The Great Wall of China. There are many different places within Beijing you can go to to experience the Great Wall… I say experience because its not just a place for iconic selfies which appeal to modern tourists but also to actually climb and stop at intervals to enjoy the rich views which consist of nature at its best…trees, hills, sunrises and sunsets. Many tourists don’t know of the various “Great Wall” options and opt to visit the insanely busy “Badaling”; I visited the more beautiful (scenically) and quieter “Mutianyu”.

The other mega city in mainland China is Shanghai, another place that shows the differing sides of China. While Beijing might be the political capital of China; Shanghai is definitely the fashion, social and modern cultural hub. The way the Bund River winds through the city with its unique architecture on either side, is reminiscent of any modern European city. A walk down the riverbank is enough for you to forget exactly which country you are in; though you are soon reminded as soon as you get a whiff of the street markets serving traditional Chinese street food; which do consist of body parts in animals you would rather forget existed, citywide. A 20 minute bullet train ride took me to a smaller, quieter part of China called Suzhou. I woke up to the beautiful serene sight of Jinji lake and spent my days walking around, visiting parks and temples and taking boat rides in Jinji lake exploring other parts of the land and forests. I spent my nights visiting bars and restaurants and thoroughly enjoyed this solo trip.

My Amazing Hong Kong Trip

Disneyland Resort Hong Kong

Taking a short trip of the mainland brings you to Hong Kong and Macau which I enjoyed with a guy I was dating at the time. It is the playground of the rich and hopeful souls trying their luck on the tables of Las Vegas style Casino that line the main strip. While Macau is a place to chance your luck; Hong Kong is a place to celebrate it. It is a spectacular sight to see some of the most powerful financial institutions and hotels in the world line up against the backdrop of the night’s sky. A short trip across the harbor there is an absolute must for anybody traveling to this part of the world.

During my time in China I have had battles with taxi drivers; difficulties with ordering the simplest of items and times. Not one to give up though, I learnt how to navigate my way through the city and jump into taxis and learn the very basic words and phrases to get around and order food!  Being able to order Pizza to my home was a triumphant moment for me!I have also had a unique insight into real Chinese life. I got to know the people and its culture and the many delights it has to offer; this includes their love for “hello kitty”, selfies and occasionally eating a pigs brain in their traditional dish called “Hotpot”. My experience in China is something I will treasure and something I will always take with me in my adventures to come. Apply English teaching jobs

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.