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Manage and Overcome the Challenges in a Foreign Land

The Journey Begins

While moving to a new country is very exciting and liberating; it can also be daunting after the initial honeymoon phase is over. How do you deal with it and what can you do to make sure this doesn’t scare you back home?

For many experienced TEFL Teachers/Trainers who have been doing this for a while, dealing with the difficulties of adapting and settling in a new country is more of a breeze than many new TEFL Educators. At the same time, for some experienced Teachers who have lived in more Western or modern societies, moving to a country that has a very different culture and a few more barriers can be enough to throw in the towel and opt to leave for an easier way of life. For example, a Teacher who is from a Western country may have lived in Thailand for a few years and loved it but when they move to China and live in places like Beijing or even smaller cities; they may find adapting much more difficult. There are no exotic beaches to escape to for the weekend and it may be just a little more difficult to find that favorite bar to frequent in the beginning.  For new Teachers; this could make you rethink teaching abroad altogether. It all boils down to your experience, your capacity to take on new challenges and your threshold to be able to stick out the rough, challenging times until things get better, which they most certainly will.

I start with highlighting this, because in my experience I did meet a few seasoned TEFL Teachers who started working in China (Beijing) and left a few months later because they couldn’t adapt and knew an easier way of life in other foreign countries and there were some new Teachers who couldn’t wait for their contract to be over. It was very interesting for me to meet individuals who I could identify with in terms of the challenges that all expats face and also learn and understand their different mindsets and watch their ultimate decisions…to stay or leave. I chose to stay and don’t regret my decision one bit.

The truth is teaching English in China is favorable for many reasons and the most popular one is that the package is quite high compared to other countries. Why is this the case? Well, if its isn’t fairly obvious then here are some reasons why the unfavorable living conditions lead to a favorable package:

  • finding the right apartment can be difficult without help
  • the language barrier – this affects a variety of things like transport, restaurant experiences, shopping
  • banking and general admin can be difficult to do on your own
  • access to social media

Despite some of the unfavorable conditions; many believe that the package is worth it. This is a personal opinion so it really depends on what your objectives are. With the background set; here is my experience and advice on why I chose Beijing, China and how I made it work for me. If you are considering moving and working in a new country, then it is very important to do your research and know the pros and cons for expats. Once you do, you can equip yourself better, ahead of your move, to make life easier for you. Information is key and knowledge is power so once you are well informed, you will be able to be well equipped to manage the challenges, quickly overcome them, settle in and enjoy a great quality of life. Here are some steps to manage your move and the challenges you may face with some ease.

Language barrier

  • Get an app on your phone and start practicing some basic Mandarin. Learn how to greet, say please and thank you and make a list of questions you may ask when you are just finding your way and get them translated in Chinese even if its just on a piece of paper so that you can show it to people/taxi drivers. (E.g.: Take me to ……; How much is this? Where is the subway station?) When you first arrive, you will need this mainly for directions and with taxi drivers and if you need to buy food. Once you get settled at work, your colleagues will be able to help you

Social Media and other apps (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Skype, G-mail, Google etc)

  • Most of these apps are inaccessible in China so make sure to install a VPN on your phone ahead of your move as it can be more challenging to do it when you are already there (that was my issue). Once you pay for and install a VPN; you can access these social media apps and stay in touch with the rest of the world.

Transport

  • Get an app like Uber – there are different ones in China and again your colleagues can assist with setting this up. You can get them to save your home and work address so that you can use it on your own and this makes getting around much
  • If you take the yellow cabs, then learn how to say the following in Chinese – “I know where I am going”; Left; Right; Stop; and your destination of course – get the pronunciation right because saying it with an accent may make it difficult for your driver to understand you.
  • The subway is very efficient and popular and once you learn how to use this system; getting around will be a breeze.

Banking

  • If you intend to send money back to your home country; the process can be really frustrating. In my time there; there was a daily limit set at 500 USD (you could only send maximum 500 USD a day) so if you wanted to send more then you would need to do this a few times and with bank charges and the time it takes, it makes it very
  • Another option to send larger amounts involve getting your HR department to give you documents and this needs to get stamped at the Police station in your area and so on and just getting the right documents can also be a time waster.
  • You can Western Union the money – You would need to go to your bank first and change the money from RMB to US Dollars and then go to a Western Union office and send it. Make sure to call the Western Union office first to make sure they are actually in service. Buildings and departments change frequently and you don’t want to waste time traveling to a place only to find it no longer exists.
  • The option that I used was having a Chinese friend help If you have a friend you can trust, this works out much easier because they can send large amounts of money. You would need your banking details which includes the Swift code (this may be different based on your country/bank); If you and your friend bank with the same bank then all you have to do is an inner-bank transfer at an ATM and transfer the amount you want sent to your friend. You may add an extra amount for bank charges. (For me this was an additional 200 RMB) Your friend would have to go to the bank and transfer the money for you. If you can trust your friend, they can do it on their own or you can accompany them.

Choosing an apartment

  • This varies for everyone and if you are lucky then you will get a great landlord and all will be well. Usually the landlords take 3 months rent and the deposit upfront so make sure you have enough money for this. Ahead of your relocation; ask your employers if they are able to assist with helping you find an apartment or linking you with a reliable agent who has helped other
  • When you do go looking for an apartment and find one that you fancy then here are some tips to make sure that you are happy with it long term
  • Find out about the electricity and water payments; how this works and who will be your point of contact if you need help with this

Your package

  • Aside from your salary; you need to be very clear about your other payments (Pension; Medical Insurance) and
  • For example: After asking questions and following up; I received my medical insurance card (6 months later) and had no idea what to do with it – I later found out that if I didn’t use it then I could actually draw that money and get the cash (This amounted to an additional 4,000 RMB for me) and none of my colleagues knew about it. Now they are all aware and able to either use the card for medical reasons or get the cash.
  • At my former company, your pension is usually paid within 6 months after you leave which means you will have to draw the money in the next country you will be in. As a result; find out which bank allows you to use your Chinese bank card and you will need to have your account open and active so keep at least 10 RMB in your account.

If you prepare yourself and equip yourself with some of these suggestions then your transition can be smoother. Once you settle into your work life, secure your apartment, know how to get around and make some friends then life will get easier. You will find your favorite hangouts and restaurants (and there are so many!), you will find that the cost of living VS your salary works in your favor and traveling to other countries and their exotic beaches is not far fetched. There will be other cultural adaptations to be made and there will be things you may miss but if you can get through the first one to three months and overcome the challenges; you will begin to enjoy all the differences and the rich food and culture that China has to offer. If you are friendly and genuine; you will find that people in China are very generous and extremely helpful. I was lucky to have so much assistance and guidance and no matter what challenge presented itself; there was always someone to assist and help me get through it. Aside from the external fascinations and fun that can be had in China; you will grow immensely as an individual and can adapt many good qualities and traits from the new people you will meet.

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Becoming the Best Teacher

Teaching in Beijing, China was my first TEFL experience outside of my home country, South Africa. I had an idea of what it would entail but I had no idea that within my year; I would be viewed as one of the most popular Teachers. At our annual regional charity auction with a total of 18 centers; my class was auctioned for the highest amount of 10,000 RMB. Needless to say; my center made the highest amount for the auction with a total of almost 20,000 RMB raised. This was a welcomed surprise for me but also great that the money would be benefiting orphaned children. I can’t say that I was the best Teacher as I was amongst Teachers with far more experience and expertise but I was voted the most popular Teacher in my time there. I think its important to strive to be both. The key here is to work toward being the best Teacher who gives off themselves 100 percent in their classes and to make sure every student feels that they are getting a sufficient Return on their investment.

Students pay a great deal to learn English and whilst some are doing it as a hobby; others see it as a pre-requisite for a better life and to realize their dreams. I worked at a training centre with a clientele of adult students so my advice and tips to follow are mainly from my personal experience; however this certainly can be used/adapted for kids and school environments too.

Its great to be able to travel around the world and immerse yourself in new cultures; but the reason you are able to do that is because of your job and in this case…your job as a Teacher. If you want to be really good at your job; you have to love it and make whatever circumstances you are presented with work for you. Let’s first take a look at some common complaints about Teachers:

Classroom in Beijing
Classroom in Beijing

Complaints from Students (Adult)

  • The Teacher seemed bored in the class
  • I didn’t understand the Teacher
  • The class was not fun
  • That Teacher made me uncomfortable (usually female students complaining about Male teachers)

Management Complaints and concerns

  • Adhering to dress code
  • Punctuality (this is important as in some places; your work time is monitored)
  • High TTT (Teacher Talk time)
  • Your class finished too early/too late
  • Not well prepared for the level you were teaching

Here are some observations and tips to make your classes fun and boast the highest quality.

  • Its important to be prepared for your classes in terms of the lesson plan and the material you will be using. Sometimes there may be challenges like insufficient teaching material or last minute changes – learn to adapt and take the initiative to be creative and add extra activities or material if you need to. After a couple of months of teaching; you will be very familiar with the teaching material and will be able to gauge where you can spice things up; eliminate some material and tweak it for better teaching practice – you can discuss this with your Manager first.
  • Know your students – the ages; levels; interests (you can gauge this in class) and have activities that align with these.
  • Set the rules early so that they are aware that even though this class will be fun; it’s all about learning and you wont tolerate anything other than their full attention. Here are some examples of rules set in my classes:
    • No Cellphones to be used during my class – even if it’s to research something they are learning in class (Students tend to want to look up the word/meaning in their vernacular to better understand or the pronunciation via an app)
    • If they are to take pics – then allow it before you erase information from the board or at the end of the class
    • Always have students introduce themselves and spell their names and write it on the board so that you can call them by their names and be personable
    • No talking when I am talking – they will have enough time to talk to each other during their activities.
    • If they need to take a phone call for work/something urgent- they can excuse themselves and go outside; Otherwise all phones are to be on silent.
    • No Chinese to be spoken in Class – Only English
  • Be aware if students are getting bored – this is extremely important because success of your class is also determined by how fun students feel your class is. The key here is to start your class on a really high note with lots of energy and make them all feel comfortable.
  • Change things! You can change the set up; make them do an activity that involves walking around or moving; blindfold them; get them to play a game etc. These can all be planned in your lesson beforehand.
  • Be Visual – always try to incorporate visual elements to your teaching even if that means you are drawing on the board; get pictures etc. Students tend to remember things better if they can see what you’re talking about especially if its something new to them.
  • While students are doing their free practice exercise; when you hear any common errors – make a note of this and do a group error correction at the end of the class before or after you provide feedback – they find this very useful. This may be dependent on the age group you are teaching.
  • Timing is everything – this applies to your overall class and covering all the teaching objectives set out for the lesson but also in terms of the attention you pay to each student. In smaller groups, if you have a few weaker students; you may need to give them some extra attention but do so without the brighter students feeling like they are robbed of your time or are bored while they wait for you. Always ensure that students have an activity or are practicing their speaking when you are assisting a weaker student.
  • Bring your authentic personality to your class and let them get to know you a little. When teaching; don’t be a rigid “stick to the lesson plan word for word” type of person. Tweak examples to make them relatable to you or your students. Students enjoy getting to know their Foreign Teacher and also like educating their Foreign Teacher about their lives and country. Try to use this in your class material and you will be surprised at the mutually beneficial learning experience you will enjoy.
  • Always have some additional activities – you never know when you will be presented with students who get through activities quite fast and expect to learn more so try to be prepared with some fun activities they can use to practice the target language they’ve learnt – this applies to kids and adults!
  • Work with and not against your fellow peers. I worked very well with my colleagues who were also my friends. It is important to maintain good working relationships and also help each other. You can learn so much from your colleagues and exchange ideas on how you dealt with similar challenges, students, lesson plans, activities and so on. Most of the fun ideas that worked in my classes were from other Teachers who shared them with me and vice versa. Your peers are your best resource! Then comes the internet.
  • Behave appropriately – if you are teaching adults; then you have to be aware of your behavior and body language. Teaching in China is known to be appealing for some men because of the beautiful students they will get to know; but not all these students are charmed by foreign men. Beware of getting too close to students and have clear boundaries. You are guaranteed lots of social fun and interaction outside of your classes; don’t risk your job because you can’t control yourself in class 🙂
Classroom in Beijing
Classroom in Beijing

Side note:

Depending on your teaching environment; if you have a hobby or special passion that you enjoy then you may also be able to introduce it to your students as part of their lessons. This makes teaching fun and enjoyable for you and your students. Here is an example of what I did:

At our training center; we had a class that was called an “English Corner” – this was where teachers could prepare presentations on topics of their choice (for example: Do aliens exists? Let’s talk about Donald Trump! Etc.) This was the best class for all Teachers because we got to choose the topic and went through the presentation with students who got the chance to answer questions and have discussions with each other. I introduced a 6 week TV Presenting Media Workshop for students sharing my experience in broadcasting and they got to learn and practice their English in a fun way (Interviewer and guest; Talk show etc.) and learning  the relevant English vocab pertaining to this field. Our center turned this into a campaign to improve students attendance and the overall winning students would get a CCTV studio tour and lunch.

I also hosted a wine tasting workshop as South Africa is famous for their wines and a dance workshop because that is one of my biggest passions. You can also introduce things your home country is famous for or personal things you enjoy to relieve the homesickness you may feel and make your lessons fun. Teaching English as a Foreign Language in a new country can be fun and exciting for not just your students but yourself too! Once you understand the dynamics, rules/red-tape, limitations and creative freedom within your organization; you need to find creative ways to ensure that you are enjoying your classes and by default your students will too. If you are presented with very challenging circumstances or are in an unhappy work environment; then while you work on your exit strategy, try to remember that your students should not be disadvantaged as a result of your circumstances and  be present in your classes. Your students can, sometimes surprisingly, turn a bad day into a pleasant one! Good luck!

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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

Finding Your Way and People in a Foreign Land

The Adventure Starts Here

When I knew I would be moving abroad and teaching English in Beijing as a single 28 year old, it really seemed like the world was my oyster and anything was possible. I imagined that I would have a year full of adventures and many friends and it will all happen at light speed. This was all true but not at the pace I initially anticipated.

I did meet a lot of people but finding “my people” or social circle did take some time and although in hindsight that is OK.  When I first got to the foreign land with a huge language barrier (Beijing), it was certainly daunting but this was a catalyst for me to actively go out and socialize, say yes to invites and open myself up to people; local and from afar to shape my very enriching experience.

Most Foreign Teachers/Trainers will undergo some form of training before they start working and that will be where you may meet some fellow colleagues who will become your friends. In my case; I started my training with 2 other male teachers who were placed in different areas so whilst training was fun.  We were eventually separated. This was actually a very good thing because the center (school) that I was placed in was one of the largest and seemed to be the most exciting one located in the city center. 

Do Some Research

When teaching abroad, it is important to do some research about the area you will be situated in. Thanks to On the Mark Education, that I was placed at a very well known school to teaching English in Beijing. This will give you an idea on where you want to look for an apartment (if you have to find your own), work out transportation costs and give you a glimpse of what your lunch breaks look like. I was lucky because I was situated in a prime area in Beijing, found an apartment 20 minutes away on foot and 8-10 minutes away by taxi, a short cycling distance as well. There was a Starbucks downstairs, a gym upstairs and many restaurant options nearby.

Once settled in my center, I found that the people I worked with were really friendly and accommodating and very soon my colleagues became my friends. With time and many nights out later, the excitement of a new foreigner in their midst wears out and you soon find your niche and your circle of buddies. When hanging out with Chinese locals you will learn that they are very friendly and fascinated by your culture, home country and way of life and are quite eager to share theirs. They love to ask you if you like Chinese food and will be surprised if you don’t. Chinese local food can be very different for people who are used Western food but you will always find something you like; I loved Tofu, Kung Pao Chicken and Hotpot so I would focus on naming the foods that I did tickle my taste buds favorably.Teach English in Beijing

I was lucky that my center hired quite a few new Foreign Teachers since I started and everyone became a friend. I was also the only Foreign female surrounded by fun foreign males so I quite enjoyed that. Our center had monthly socials and dinners and was the popular location choice for new Teacher training so it was a great opportunity to meet new Foreigners. I am friendly by nature and would introduce myself to new Teachers and offer help and forged some new friendships.

Making New Friends

There were times that I was invited out by a group of people and I would have other plans; I noticed that declining once or twice was not taken well and many Chinese locals see it as “losing face”; saying No or declining something may be seen as an insult so its another cultural difference I learnt after experiencing it. Coming from a world where its Okay to say no to something if its not what I want or if I was busy; I needed to be aware of when and how and who it was okay to say it to.

Eventually, I had a group of friends (who were predominantly my colleagues) to hang out with almost daily and a few other friends that I met along the way to hang out with on days off and so on.

One of my closest friends in China was actually a student from another centre who visited ours occasionally and approached me when I was walking home. She was so interested in how I looked (Indian – you hardly see Indians in China and get many obvious stares or fingers pointed at you as they shout out “Hindu Hindu”)  and where I came from (South Africa) that she wanted to take me out to the Summer Palace and get to know me better. This happened in my first 2 weeks so I was very excited by the generous offer. I loved her personality and obliged with no hesitation.

After a great day out, we became friends who later went to clubs, spas and had many “girl adventures” together. Another good friend of mine was a woman I met when I was lost in a Hutong en route to meet a friend. She walked with me for nearly 45 minutes helping me find my way; I later invited her out to lunch to thank her and learnt that she was an Executive Producer at CCTV and invited me to tour the studios and have lunch together at the Beijing Film Studio. How lucky was I?Eating out in Beijing

All of these experiences did not happen overnight. It’s important for Teachers to know that when you go to a new place, there may be hiccups along the way and if it’s your first time traveling abroad then 2.5 – 3 months in is when the honeymoon phase wears off and homesickness may hit you like a ton of bricks. It’s important to surround yourself with people and go out, meet new people, see new places and find things that can comfort you. This happened to me and I made it my goal to go out and socialize and meet as many new people as possible until I found my circle which I did and had the greatest experiences.

Teaching adults definitely made it easier to make new friends and experience the Chinese culture because I was often invited to experience authentic Chinese culture, food and lifestyle. You will find that students and Chinese colleagues and friends love to take you out and show you around, introduce you to everything they find interesting and appealing about their land with hopes that you see that too and there is no doubt that you will.

If you are in Beijing; here are some tips to meet new people and have a better social life:

  • Make “The Beijinger Website” your No.1 friend first – thebeijinger.com – This website will advertise many events, socials, mixers, classes (for e.g.: dance classes, calligraphy, Chinese lessons etc.) You can go to events and learn new skills and make new friends
  • out with a friend/friends to Sanlitun (this is the “Foreigner area”) with a very fun and active nightlife – there is always a fun place to hang out or do your nails and get a facial during the day. It is a great place to meet other Foreigners too.
  • The Bookworm – also in Sanlitun – this is a restaurant/drinks/coffee place and library. You can borrow and buy books, sit down and do your work or read while having a drink and something to eat; it also has free wifi and hosts many events. You can join their network and get invited to events. This is also a good place to meet people.
  • Be open minded and go out with people especially the locals – its the best way to experience the Chinese culture.

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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!