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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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Hear from Our Teacher in China – Kirsty van Schalkwyk

Before Coming to China

Why did you want to teach in China?
To earn good cash and save money. Also, to explore the culture. Big things happen in China, this place plays a huge role in the economy. It’s great to be a part of the culture.  Also, my partner and I got TEFL certified and we would like to practice what we have learnt from the classroom.

How was your experience finding a job through On the Mark Education?
Fantastic. On the Mark Education is just fantastic. They were very thorough and honest. They helped us follow up on the visa process and communicate with the school. It took a few months for visa because of our nationality but it all came through.  I would recommend their service every time.  

How long did your visa process take? How was the communication with the school during the visa process??
From my end (my country), rather long, South Africa is like that. But from this side (China), it was very easy. The company sorts out everything for you. You don’t have to lift a finger. And when something is required of you, they write explicitly each detail; of the requirement.

What website did you use to book your ticket to China?
The company bought the ticket for my partner and I. We flew with Emirates. It truly was a lovely flight.

Teaching Life in China

What was your first impression of China upon arrival?
Cold, VERY cold. We arrived in the heart of winter in Beijing first. We stayed there for 2 weeks and moved to Nanjing. Apparently this was the coldest winter experienced in Nanjing too.

What was the biggest culture shock about China and/or in your current city?
People spitting all the time in public. Children wear pants without underwear and the pants have slits in. Exposing their front parts, as well as back-parts. This is used for potty training. Also, people do not stand in queues, cutting in front of people is tolerated.  

What’s your favorite memory to date of life in China??
Receiving my second paycheck. The first paycheck essentially goes to your landlord, because in China you have to pay 3 months rent up front. The second one was when I could start paying off debt. I’m in China for 6 months now. I’ve been to: Beijing, Nanjing, Shanghai, and in 2 weeks I go to Hong Kong. The opportunities are endless.

My students in Nanjing

What do you like most about working for your school?
The promotion! I’ve been promoted already at my centre, I’m now the mentor.

What three things do you wish you would have known or brought with you before you arrived?
– Bring more vitamins or at home medication, for cold, flu, chest infections etc,
– Bring warm clothes. We didn’t know China could get this cold.
– You will be started at everywhere, video recorded too.

Did you have the opportunity to save any money? What percentage of your salary were you able to save?
I would say 40% of my salary could easily be saved or go toward savings, depends on how you want to live. I like to travel, shop, invest in good laptops, cameras, etc.


The 3 Most Important “Teaching in China” Life-hacks You Need to Know

Teaching English in China at school is becoming easier and you are getting into the flow of things, especially regarding lesson planning and creatively making materials for class. As always, somewhere, somehow in some of your classes, you will face a problem or two concerning some of your students.

Teaching Skills in China


Whether it’s behaviour-wise or translation services being needed, you need your Chinese assistant in class to help you out.

From what I’ve experienced, most of them feel like pure translators and the go-to person for when parents have questions or comments. Sometimes their lives can be incredibly stressful, and as they do not always have the advantages foreign teachers have. One day off a week from work can be a very normal thing in certain places. Imagine having only Saturday to rest and being back at work on Sunday! How crazy is that? Would you feel happy and content knowing other people around you are experiencing more benefits even if they are not from your home country? I know I would not be too impressed.

He or she will be the one listening to you moan about Jason who needs to complete his homework before coming to class and “Remember to tell his parents they need to help him review, please!”. Usually, when you develop a good working relationship with your Chinese assistant, problems are sorted out much quicker and they are more eager to engage and assist you with the lesson and the students’ learning. They are more than just simple translators. They are a security blanket for young learners and for parents who do not speak any English. They need to be able to manage kids, parents and teachers all day, making sure everyone is happy. Engaging with them and being friendly and helpful will only help you in return!


At my institute, we have an open lesson for parents to come and observe what their children have learned thus far every couple of months. I always ask parents to observe closely and leave me constructive criticism so that I can work on improving my skills and know what they are looking for when it comes to their child’s language development and learning.

The parents are probably paying quite a sum of money to have their child attend extra English lessons. Apart from letting them watch a few open lessons here and there every couple of months, it is a good idea to involve them a bit more and make them feel like they are being listened to and that their opinion is important too.  If you involve them and ask for constructive criticism from their side, I can almost guarantee that you will receive good advice and positive feedback, especially if you are still new in the teaching world.


How is this possibly a teaching life-hack? You will soon realize that the Chinese folks are extremely active when it comes to academic development. All those Chinese memes on the internet about parents being angry at a child for not achieving 100% on test scores – it’s a real thing.
If you understand your students and their busy schedules, you will learn how to cultivate your lessons in a specific way for them to learn while having a bit of fun at the same time. Making English-learning fun is probably the greatest tool an ESL teacher should have in his or her toolbox. FUN – all kids need it, especially Chinese kids.

So there you go. In my three months here, I’ve learned these three important concepts very quickly. Implementing them has made my classes more enjoyable not only for the students, but for myself as well. I know I have a lot more to learn about teaching during my contract here, but I cannot wait to jump right into it and delve a little deeper!

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Hangzhou – A Chinese Paradise on Earth

Living and teaching in Ningbo, Zhejiang Province, I’m a 1-hour speed train away from Hangzhou and 2-hour speed train from the great, bustling Shanghai. Saying that I’m in a prime location at a great second-tier city would be a shameful understatement. I have been quite entranced with Ningbo as a city and during my first 3 months, it’s been an amazing adventure seeing what this city has to offer. I would not be exaggerating if I told you that I discover something new and wonderful about this city and Chinese culture as a whole every week. However, sometimes a little break from the bustling city life is just the thing to do. In that case, Hangzhou proved to give me the breath of fresh air I was after.

West Lake, Hangzhou


As mentioned previously, Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang Province, home to about 21 million people in Hangzhou and its surrounds, this place is nothing short of everything you’d expect of a capital city.  After snuffling around for places to stay on the popular Chinese website C-trip, I asked one of our Chinese Assistants to assist me with booking the room for a friend and I on an even cheaper Chinese-only travel and booking site. We payed 120RMB for two nights through Alipay and thought we had landed a sweet deal!

Booking the train tickets was a much easier process as I mentioned before. Once again, a Chinese Assistant helped us book the two tickets, and on the night of our departure, we fetched the tickets at the ticket office and off we were! Our train departed right on time, to the second, and one hour later we were breathing in the air of a different city.


After a laborious wait in the line for a taxi, we hopped in and off we were to our hostel. Our taxi driver obviously took note of our youthful radiance and so he kicked our trip off with some “sick” tunes and showing us the best party places to go on our way to the hostel.

40RMB taxi-ride later, we booked into the hostel and finally, we plonked our bags down in the cupboards, itching to start exploring. Please take note that we arrived at 23:30. Barely 20 minutes later, my companion and I took to the street and walked to the well-known franchise restaurant and bar, Eudoras, just 10 minutes down the road. We enjoyed a very late dinner and some wonderful live music from the resident band. The band members, also expats, came and introduced themselves and before we knew it, we had made new friends.  Shortly before closing time, we all headed off to G+ club. I’m not even going to say anything about this place, except that you have to go experience the madness of it yourself! Chinese clubs are CRAZY! Around 4:30am we stumbled into the room and dozed off happily until 9 o’clock.

The morning promised fine weather and we headed off to a Belgian bakery 7 minutes down the road and had a wonderful breakfast (still very Chinese-style) and that’s when we realized we were in a prime location. We could practically smell the water and fresh air from the famous West Lake scenic area. We took 20 steps across the road and then we were instantly immersed the moment we entered one of the garden parks surrounding the lake.

I was instantly at ease and felt like I was being whisked away into a magical world. We walked around the whole lake for 5 hours that day, which included an hour boat ride on a big golden Dragon Boat, fruit ice creams, greeting touring school groups in English and just being in a daze on one of the benches surrounding the water source. We saw sunset roll around and monks take their evening walks and decided that it was a day well spent. We ended up taking a quick walk home and worked in a very short nap before heading off to Eudoras again to meet our new friends. It was good night!

Hangzhou city


Morning came and we packed our things and checked out. We stopped at our “Belgian” bakery one last time for breakfast and met a lovely Swiss family touring China and spoke about what we did in Hangzhou and how relaxing it was to be there. It was a sad moment for me to say goodbye to such a beautiful place, but I knew it wouldn’t be the last time. Two hours later and I was back home, greeting my fur ball cat, Amber, and happily went back to work later that afternoon. If you ever consider teaching in China, Hangzhou is a must-see!

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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!)


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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