Hear from Our Teacher in Beijing – Shannon
Before Coming to 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!
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!
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.