What our teacher says

aileen as ET

How I Became An ESL Teacher

If you had told me this time last year that I would be living and working in China, then I probably wouldn’t have believed you. Fresh out of university and enthused from a week-long design festival in London, I had my post-university plan all sketched out.

Life, on the other hand, had a completely different path in the works for me and, I didn’t know it yet, but it was exactly the path I needed to be on.

After a summer of applying for jobs and either getting a polite rejection email or (even worse) no response at all, I was starting to get itchy feet. I have always had an interest in travel and I had even looked into taking a gap year between school and university, but settled on just three months volunteering in South Africa during my summer break instead.

As October last year came around, I was still no closer to finding my dream grad job in London. It was cold and miserable outside, and I found myself daydreaming of that summer I spent in South Africa. If only I could have that same kind of adventure again… Turns out I could, and by the end of the month I booked myself onto a TEFL Internship in China. The plan was to spend six months there, six months in Vietnam, and then to move to Australia and work my way around the coast.

If being an adult (because technically, even if I don’t feel like one all of the time, that is what I am now) has taught me anything, it is that you can plan and plan and plan…you can plan your whole life, you can decide exactly what is going to happen when and where it is going to happen, but when it comes down to it, these plans are almost always subject to change! Well mine are, anyways.

I fell in love with my school and I fell even harder in love with China. Everything from the colour of the sunsets to the quirky little cultural differences between the U.K. and this beautiful country made me want to stay another semester, just one more. I still have so much to see and so much to learn.

So, my plans changed; no longer was I off to Vietnam for six months but I was moving into my new apartment on campus and being handed a new timetable, with a new set of students and a new challenge: teaching teenagers!

Why You Should Teach English In China, Too!

There are so many reasons that I can give when I recommend teaching English in China, but I will try to narrow it down to just five because we don’t have all day!

  1. Experience a Culture So Different From Your Own

If you decide to move abroad to any country, of course you are going to experience a completely different culture, but you won’t experience anything quite like China anywhere else in the world. This country has so many weird and wonderful things to encounter; you will find yourself having about ten new experiences a day!

I love everything about Chinese culture, most of which I had no idea about before I came here. From dancing in the street to disagreeing over who will pay the bill, this country has a way of making you feel all warm and fuzzy inside every step of the way.

  1. The Cost of Living 

The cost of living in China is so much cheaper than back home! I can do a weekly shopping trip for around ten pounds at my local supermarket here in China – fruit and vegetables are so cheap it feels like stealing. I always try to take away plain rice from the canteen to use when I cook my evening meal because it’s free – and so easy to chuck some vegetables and an egg into after a long day of work.

Eating out in China never costs more than ten pounds at a time – I’ve even found places where we can have a meal for two for under five pounds! Everything is cheaper here, even alcohol; a cocktail can cost as little as three pounds, and there are no entry fees for clubs or bars. I get my nails done every few weeks, something I would never be able to afford back in the U.K. but here it only costs about six pounds for a full gel manicure!

  1. Learn the most spoken language in the world!

I think learning another language is probably a plus side no matter where you choose to live abroad, but Mandarin has the most native speakers of any language on the planet and it’s pretty cool to say you can communicate with the majority of the human population!

Don’t get me wrong – it is not exactly the easiest language in the world to master (don’t even ask me to read the characters) but living in China almost forces you to learn. I have never been the best when it comes to learning languages despite really wanting to be able to, so when I pick up on random words or phrases that Chinese people around me are saying, I feel like I have really achieved something.

My conversational Mandarin skills might not be 100% yet, but I can communicate the general idea of what I’m trying to convey. The longer I stay here, the more I pick up and it is definitely one of the best things about living and working in China.

  1. The People Are So Friendly 

It is impossible to walk anywhere in my town without someone saying (or shouting from across the street) “hello” to you. If you smile at someone walking past you, they will smile right back at you. Maybe this is just because I live in a relatively small town, but I don’t think I have been anywhere in China where the people aren’t genuinely friendly. It is such a contrast to back home where in most places smiles are met with a blank face at best and a suspicious look at worst. It’s just the British way, but I much prefer to walk through life smiling outwardly and receiving smiles in return.

  1. Every Day is Unique

Teaching English as a foreign language to a group of kids might sound like a daunting task – sometimes there are days where I feel like I have no idea what I am doing, but then one kid will get it and suddenly I’m on a roll again!

No two days have been the same since I started teaching in China. I may teach the same lesson twenty-one times a week, but each and every class is a unique experience because each and every one of those kids has their own personality to bring to the lesson.

Last semester I taught first grade and I got to sing songs and draw pictures every day. Now I teach eighth grade and I get play word games and have conversations about zombies and aliens on the regular! Every day is unique and every day reminds me exactly why I love teaching in China.

Teaching in China Gives You So Many Opportunities

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China has so many amazing opportunities to offer! If you are feeling like I was this time last year – stuck in a rut and eager for a new adventure – then I cannot recommend enough that you can visit: www.jobspiara.com and just see what happens from there!

English Teacher in a Team

Teaching English in China as a Football Coach

American Football is booming in China! Learn more about teaching English through coaching Football in China.

Embracing the Quirks of Chinese Culture as an English Teacher

I’m an American who has been in China for three years! Read more about my adventures here: www.rachelmeetschina.com

Embracing the Quirks of Chinese Culture as an English Teacher

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When you first move to China, you’ll encounter a number of habits and customs that seem really strange at first. After living here a few years, these Chinese oddities have somehow become (almost) normal to me, and I’ve even adopted some of them!

Here’s a look at some cultural quirks in China that will have you scratching your head.

Drinking Hot Water All Year Round

In China, drinking boiled water is not only a way to stay safe from bacteria in unfiltered water, it is also an integral part of Chinese culture. Chinese people will drink hot water all year round (even in the summer) because they believe it is good for food digestion and overall health. Whenever I have a problem of any kind my Chinese friends always tell me, “Drink more hot water!”

When I first moved to China I would bring cold water everywhere because restaurants only offered hot water or tea. After months of eating at Chinese restaurants and being invited to my student’s houses where only hot water was available, I became more accustomed to hot water and don’t mind it now.

Drying Clothes

Chinese people don’t have clothes dryers – they hang everything up to dry! This isn’t really a problem in the summer when it’s very hot and things dry quickly. In rainy and cold weather, however, you have to be clever in planning your laundry schedule ahead of time.

Chinese People’s Bluntness

On the first day of school, one of my university students introduced herself to the class: “Hi, my name is Mary, but my friends call me Fatty.” I was shocked – she wasn’t fat, and I couldn’t believe she would tell everyone in the class something like that!

Chinese people are very straightforward and blunt when commenting on physical appearance. It’s very normal to hear conversations pointing out weight gains, big noses, and other beauty features. They are also not shy to ask about how much money you make, why you aren’t married, and when you will have a baby.

Squatty Potties are Normal

The rumors about squattys in China are true – if you’re at a train station, a restaurant, a Chinese friend’s house, or any other public place in China, this is the usual toilet you’ll find. You’ll quickly become adept at using these (either by choice or necessity).

You will also want to carry toilet paper with you everywhere because you won’t find any in public bathrooms (unless you’re at a Starbucks or a nicer restaurant). This will become second nature after a while. Before I leave my apartment, I always run a mental checklist – phone, keys, tissue paper.

Chopstick Etiquette is China


To be honest, I was terrible with chopsticks before I came to China. I figured it out quickly though and felt pretty good when I could eat at the same speed as my friends – Chinese people can eat really fast! I soon learned food culture is very important in China and there are many rules involved when eating with chopsticks. Don’t stick the chopsticks straight up in your rice. Don’t point your chopsticks at someone else at the table. Don’t hit the side of your bowl with your chopsticks or make a lot of noise with them. The list goes on.

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No Personal Space

There are more than a billion people in China, and naturally this makes things a bit crowded. When you’re riding a bus, you’ll be jostled and pushed around. When you’re crammed like a sardine on a metro and you think there can’t possibly be any more room, just wait – a few more people will squeeze in. You have no personal space and you have to be assertive to keep the little space you do have.

I realized I had picked up some Chinese public transportation mannerisms when I traveled outside China and took the metro in Tokyo. I was ready to push onto the metro but had to stop myself when I saw everyone else was politely lined up and waiting patiently. Whoops.

Haggling at Shops

In America you would not dream of telling a store, “Sorry, that is too expensive! How about half the price?” But in China, this is very normal! Bartering is a big part of the Chinese culture. From buying fruit and meat at outdoor markets to selecting clothes and goods at bazaars, you have to become adept at haggling or pay much more expensive prices.

I was a little intimidated by this process when I first came to China because I didn’t know what a fair price to pay was. After living here awhile, though, I came to really enjoy it! One of the difficult things about being a foreigner, however, is that sometimes no matter how good your bartering skills are, you will still be charged a higher price than the local people.

Walking Backwards

Early in the morning you can spot elderly Chinese people in parks practicing tai chi, exercising on playground equipment…and walking backwards while clapping their hands. While that last one may seem a little unusual, this is a normal habit for Chinese people because it is said to promote healthy blood circulation. Give it a try!

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Don’t Worry…You’ll Get Used to It!

Some of these Chinese quirks are easy to adjust to while others may take a little more time. Don’t worry though, you’ll get used to them. Drink some hot water and you’ll be just fine.