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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!


Language Barriers in the Classroom

Language Barriers are Expected

One of the challenges of Teaching English as a Foreign Language in any country is the language barrier. And I’m not just talking about the language barrier I experience with the children, as that is to be expected. That is the reason that we have Chinese Teachers in the classroom, especially when dealing with the youngest children who are being exposed to English for the first time. It is very helpful when teaching a group of three-year-old’s what the rules of the classroom are. For some of the children it is their first time in a classroom, and it is primarily conducted in a language that they don’t yet speak. While we try to avoid direct translation when possible, it is sometimes necessary with the youngest/lowest level students. However, sometimes the language barrier also comes up with my Chinese teaching assistants, and finding ways around that is sometimes the most challenging part of working at my school in Beijing.

I really admire the Chinese teachers I work with, because I have never been challenged in quite the way that they have chosen to challenge themselves. They all live in their native country where the majority of people speak their native language and they choose to work in an environment where they are required to spend a good part of their day communicating in their second language, as the majority of Foreign Teachers don’t speak that much Mandarin. Some of them do it as a way to improve their own English levels so that they may eventually go to university or get jobs in the USA, UK, or Canada, while others have different motivations.

Chinese Teacher in Beijing

Relationships with Chinese Teachers

So far, I have had very positive experiences working with my Chinese Teachers in the classroom. They are delightful people who really care about their work and want to help you however they can. One of the biggest parts of their job is talking to the students’ parents, so it is very important for the Foreign Teachers to communicate well with the Chinese teachers about what material will be covered in a class and when. Depending on your relationship with them and how you both feel the class functions best, you can co-teach with them or they can function more as an assistant in the classroom.

English Levels Will Help Determine that Relationship

Sometimes this will depend on the Chinese teacher’s English level vs the English level of your students. CTs with a relatively high English level have an easier time helping teach higher level students, but when you get to the really high level classes, they tend to struggle to be active in the class and will take a more passive role. This isn’t really a bad thing considering that in these classes the students’ level of English is high enough that they can communicate easily with a Foreign Teacher. 

Chinese Teacher in Beijing

In one of my classes, the students’ English level is actually higher than our Chinese teacher’s so she and I have worked out other ways that she can help me in the classroom. She provides a lot of the materials I need and assists with making sure all students stay on task.

Good Communication

Good communication is key to doing this job well, and I have found a few ways that help communication between people who have a very high language barrier. One is to keep the language simple. Sometimes you may feel disrespectful by dumbing down your language, as you may feel like you’re treating them like children. But if the situation were reversed, they would have to do the same for you. Also, try to avoid using idioms, which can be hard because as native speakers we often don’t realize just how many we use in our everyday speech.

Teaching Children in Beijing

It’s no secret to those who know me that I have limited experience with children, and I have to admit that I was a bit nervous that my first TEFL job would involve teaching them. My teaching experience had previously been with university students or older adults. After a few months, I have to say I have acclimated to teaching young learners easier than I thought I would. Teaching children is quite fun once you get into it and get to know the students.

Into The Fire

I ended up being thrown into teaching rather quickly. On my first day working at my school in Beijing, after about ten minutes of being there, I was asked by one of the Head Foreign Teachers to cover a class of pre-school age children because their regular teacher was running very late.  I didn’t even have a uniform yet but I wanted to make a good impression and be helpful so I agreed.

He could tell I was worried as I had no preparation, and told me if I got stuck the Chinese Teacher would help me, and that when it comes to that age group, you can always just put on songs and sing with them in a pinch.

Teaching Children in BeijingWhile that was far from the best class I have ever taught, it was good for me to get thrown in so quickly. I covered a few classes my first week, and then I was given my own classes to teach, of all different age groups. With the help of my Chinese teaching assistants I got to know the children in classes quickly and found that I was good at adjusting my lesson plans to suit their needs during class.

One of my classes had a “Parent’s Day” about a month after I started teaching them. This is when the school invites the parents to watch about thirty minutes of a class so they can see how the teacher interacts with their children. I was pleased that the majority of the parents gave me very high scores and no one gave me a low score.

Language Barriers

The most common question I get from friends back home is “how do you deal with the language barrier?” This is most challenging with the youngest children, of which I only have one class.  It involves a lot of TPR (Total Physical Response), repetition, and sometimes the Chinese teacher has to translate for them. Many of the children at that level have also never been to school before, so they aren’t used to following a teacher’s instructions, so you have to teach them that. This is when the Chinese teacher was very helpful, because even if we try to avoid resorting to translation, they can model following the directions so the children can copy their example.

Teaching Children in BeijingIn my classes of even slightly older children, their English level is high enough for them to understand basic instructions. My Kindergarten and First Grade level students can carry on a basic conversation, and they understand classroom instructions. The Chinese teacher is available to help them if they are trying to make a sentence and they don’t know one of the English words they want to say.  For instance, my Kindergartners were practicing asking “Do you like…?” and they understood what the sentence meant, but sometimes they would want to ask the question about a word they didn’t know, so the Chinese teacher could help them with that.

Don’t Be Afraid to Jump in!

My advice to any other new teachers who have limited experience with kids would be to just jump in. You will learn best by doing it. While my training with my school was informative, it only prepared me so much for what teaching children would be like.  By jumping in and just starting to work with the children, as well as observing classes and talking to other teachers, you will adjust to the new environment quickly and have a great teaching experience!

Hear from Our Teacher in Beijing – Shannon

Before Coming to China

Why did you want to teach in China?

I had recently received my TEFL Certificate, and was eager to begin my journey teaching abroad. I was open to going almost anywhere, and the programs in China looked promising as they hire year-round, as opposed to Europe and Latin America where hiring happens during certain times of the year.
I had friends who were teaching in China or had in the past who said they had a great experience so I thought, well, why not give it a try?

As it turned out, an old high school friend was already working at this school, so when I got the offer it seemed almost perfect!

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

On the Mark made finding a job very easy! I had applied to quite a few programs with little to no response while looking, and On the Mark communicated with me promptly and walked me through everything, going as far to set up interviews with companies for me. I found a job to teach English in Beijing within a week of working with On the Mark, and they stayed in touch with me after as well!

ESL Jobs in Beijing

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

Getting a visa turned out to be a bit of work, but my school worked with me throughout the process, making sure I was able to get anything I needed. I ended up going over on a tourist visa due to my documents not being available in time to get the visa before my start, but thanks to the Chinese government changing the visa policy, it will be possible for me to transfer to a work visa. I had to go to Washington DC to apply for it, but it gave me an opportunity to visit a good friend who lives there as well as my sister. You can apply at any Chinese Embassy or Consulate throughout the USA. Allow at least three days for them to process it.

What website did you use to book your ticket to China

I did a Google search first, as I find Google Flights helps me find which airlines give the cheapest deals, and who may offer direct flights or reasonable layovers. I found out through the search that Hainan Airlines does a direct flight from Boston to Beijing, and that during the week the price was actually less than some of the airlines that you’d have to have a layover. Then I booked directly through the Hainan Airlines website.

Teaching Life in China

ESL Jobs in BeijingWhat was your first impression of China when you arrived?
My first weekend I noticed that although Beijing is a very large and widespread city.  It is actually quite easy to navigate once you figure out the subway. I was struck by how ordinary of a city it seemed to be, which made me feel a lot less nervous as I went out exploring. It was no worse than trying to figure out New York City for the first time (easier, I felt), because many signs used English as well as Chinese. I was also struck by how friendly most of the people I encountered were at the different shops and places I stopped in. I was also struck by how cold it was, but that was only a shock because I do come from a cold climate and didn’t realize that cold in Beijing didn’t feel the same as cold in Boston. 
What has been the biggest culture shock about China or your current city?
When I first started teaching pre-school age children, I was told by the Chinese teacher I worked with that she thought the parents would like me more if I was more physical with the children. I wasn’t sure what she meant at first partly because of the language barrier, but it turned out that in China it’s perfectly acceptable for teachers to be very physically affectionate with the younger students.  
I have never taught pre-school in the US so it may not actually be frowned upon at home or anything, but it wasn’t what I was expecting to be told. I have no problem hugging children so I quickly embraced the idea but that was the biggest surprise I’ve found so far. 
What’s your favorite memory to date of life in China?
Oddly enough, finding an apartment has been my favorite memory because of the leasing agents my now roommate and I found through a search on The Beijinger (great website to find lots of different stuff in the city). They took us around some neighborhoods on their motorbikes to look at the different apartments they wanted to show us, and it was so much fun seeing parts of the city that way! We did find a place we like, and thankfully those agents were willing to work with us on a rent schedule.
What do you like most about working for your school in Beijing?
I like the cooperation between the foreign and Chinese teachers in the classroom, because I find it helpful with young learners particularly. It also gives me a chance to try out new teaching styles as I am still new to teaching, particularly children. I also really like how the hours are set up so I actually still have a lot of time to enjoy exploring a new city and culture while having a full time job.
What three things would you want to have known before you arrived?
1. China than in the US. In the US, you pay rent month to month, and give a month’s deposit in addition to first month’s rent. In China, it’s often expected that you will pay rent three months at a time, and when you first rent you will also owe and additional month’s rent as a deposit. If you go through an agency (which is recommended for foreigners as many landlords don’t speak English), they charge a fee that is usually equal to one month’s rent. If I had realized that, I would have brought more money with me to start so I wouldn’t have had to use my US debit card.
2. I wish I had known just how cheap things like toiletries and basic necessities were, because I would not have spent so much money at Target and Walmart beforehand. I would have saved a lot of money by waiting to buy them in China (although if you prefer particular brands, then this advice will not apply to you, as you may not find them here).  Not to mention, I could have brought some other things with me, like my favorite tall boots that I had to leave behind, and nice shoes cost a lot more here than some shampoo and soap. However, there is one exception to this rule for women: I recommend bringing as many feminine hygiene products as you can, as the ones here are not as good as the ones in the US. I use reusable, so I don’t have that issue, but if you use disposable, bring a lot with you.
3. I wish I had realized that being able to expect a taxi driver to know where they are going, or at least be able to figure out how to get there, was something I had always taken for granted in the US and times when I had taken taxis in Europe.  
I have never experienced a taxi driver trying to ask me how to get to the place where I wanted to go, and that was because I had a Chinese speaking friend in the cab with me. Often times taxi drivers in Beijing will not pick up foreigners because they assume (often rightfully) that we won’t be able to tell them how to get where we want to go.
I have been kicked out of cabs for not being able to tell them properly. Since my Chinese is still pretty weak, I am relying on the subway for the time being (which is very convenient and easy to navigate, the only drawback is that it doesn’t run very late).
As my Chinese improves, I believe I will have better luck with taxis, but that is definitely something I wish I had been aware of before coming.


5 Top Reasons for Choosing an English Teaching Job in Beijing

Do you want to travel and teach at the same time?
Do you wish to explore China but can’t afford it?

If you wish to experience the length and breadth of Chinese culture and way of life, there is no better city than Beijing to live and teach English. The demand for English teachers has grown exponentially ever since 2008 Olympics were held here.

Considered as the main hub of political and cultural life in China, Beijing offers unparalleled opportunities for people looking for TEFL jobs in Beijing. It is the city where all the action takes place, where cultural activities mesmerize locals and tourists alike.

Beijing is the melting pot of China’s rich past and progressive future. Taking up an ESL job in Beijing is a great way to earn good living and at the same time gain access to one of the most fascinating and historically rich cities in the world. Let’s have a look at some of the reasons why you should teach English in Beijing:

1. Epitome of Modern City

Epitome of Modern City Beijing

Beijing is one of the ancient cities of China but it is in no way under-developed. Beijing is a truly modern city in every sense of the term. With skyscrapers, cafes, cinemas, restaurants all around; you can have a great time in the city. Besides the city has well-laid out public transit system with high speed trains that connect to other provinces. Working and living in Beijing will be a breeze for you!

2. Hub of Chinese Culture

Chinese culture

Beijing is the main cultural center of China. Take up an English teaching job in Beijing and you can get to explore the rich Chinese culture up, close and personal in your free time. Take a Kung Fu lesson, visit museums, watch the Peking opera, check out the Acrobatics show, participate in the tea ceremony at a Teahouse and so much more.

3. Places of Attraction

Great Wall of China

Moreover Beijing is home to China’s most treasured historical monuments – Visit the Great Wall of China, explore the Forbidden Palace, Temple of Heaven, the Ming Tombs, Tiananmen Square, and much more. In your free time, you can explore the various monuments and national landmarks.

4. Entertainment

Entertainment in the Capital City of China - Beijing

There is no dearth of entertainment in the capital city of China. Beijing boasts of a colorful nightlife. It is brimming with upscale nightclubs, Karaoke clubs, bars, opera, teahouses, theatres; there is so much to do and see for all kinds of people with different interests and preferences. The famous pub streets such as Houhai is a haven for shopaholics, food and party lovers.

5. Cost of Living
The cost of living in Beijing and throughout China is quite lower as compared to western cities. An ESL job in Beijing can earn you competitive salary and various perks. You can easily eat out regularly, travel and enjoy a comfortable life.

Apart from good monthly salary, schools also offer flight allowance, free accommodation, insurance, visa, airport pickup and much more.

With good packages, perks and so much to see and explore; Beijing is the perfect city to pick up an ESL job.

On the Mark is now looking for enthusiastic new and experienced teachers to join our team in Beijing, China. Check out great TEFL jobs in Beijing!