What it’s Like Teaching English in China

Teaching English overseas is a great way to see the world and get paid while doing it. This week marks the fifth instalment of High Heels & a Backpack’s TEFL interview series and I really hope that you enjoy reading these stories as much as I do! This week I spoke to Ashley from Traveldrifter.com who spent a year teaching English in China.

Teaching English in China

Teaching English in China
Teaching English in China: Riding around in a rickshaw in Shaoxing

Where were you teaching English?

I taught English in ShaoXing, China which is about an hour and a half Southwest of Shanghai. At the time, I was told it was a ‘small city of 4 million’.

How long were you teaching there for?

I taught English in ShaoXing for a year and it was my first time in China!

Teaching English in China
Teaching English in China: East Lake in Shaoxing

How did you find your teaching position?

I started searching online for websites with ESL jobs and inquired about a few jobs I saw. I had some recruiters contact me about teaching in China after responding to a job posting. The process was very fast and I had a contract within a week. Teaching English is one of the best jobs in China for foreigners  because there is a huge demand for teachers. 

What was your working environment like?

The school I taught at was a private English school that had very nice facilities. Each class had about 12-15 students in it and the lessons were already developed—we just had to plan activities. Teachers were required to speak English at all times and we had Chinese support staff to act as liaisons between teachers and parents which was so helpful! However, my school was actually a franchise of the company and was under staffed at times, which meant our schedules were often overloaded.  

Teaching English in China
Teaching English in China: Some of my students and I

What was daily life like in China?

Every day, I would walk to school in the morning—usually past one of the most nauseating food trucks you’ll ever smell (ShaoXing is known for a ‘delicacy’ called Stinky Tofu) and teach a 2-hour class in the morning. I’d walk to a little food stall for lunch, order a bag of dumplings and eat it in front of the pagoda that was right across from my school. I would teach a few classes in the afternoon, sometimes wander around the streets afterwards taking pictures, then I’d go to the underground Walmart next door where nothing was recognizable and try to find food to cook for dinner!

Did you have any teaching experience or qualifications prior to making the move?

No! I have a degree in English but had never taught before. I actually went online and did a TEFL certification right before I applied. My first class in China was the first time I had ever been in a classroom!

Did you experience any culture shock?

Definitely. China was a lot different than I expected and it was a difficult year at times. It was super hard to order food and I rarely found people who spoke English! I knew zero Chinese at first, so it was hard to meet people and accomplish daily tasks. At times, I just felt like a spectacle. It is very humbling trying to figure out seemingly ordinary tasks and looking clueless while a group of very amused people are watching you.

Teaching English in China
Teaching English in China: My mom, sister and I on the Great Wall in Beijing

What would you consider as being your greatest experience while teaching English in China?

I was really lucky that my mom, dad and sister were able to come visit me in China. We went all over China and had some hilarious stories and of course, some disastrous moments. I think we missed all three trains, missed one flight during our travels, and even ended up flying into a wrong airport (conversing in Chinese is hard guys!!). It was a great adventure and we met some locals who were so kind and helpful to us. After being abroad for 6 months already, it was so welcoming to have my family there to show them around China!

What piece of advice would you give to those considering teaching in China that you wish that you had been told?

I would suggest really researching the company you will be working for. I enjoyed teaching and loved the school but sometimes felt as if my contract was being breached. I would also advise you to choose a city that matches your personality. For some reason, I chose the opposite of where I would have liked going because I thought I would step out of my boundaries (boy, did I ever!) and really immerse myself. But, you get an immersion experience regardless and I think I would have enjoyed living in one of the major cities more.

Teaching English in China
Teaching English in China: The ice festival in Harbin, China

What opportunities did teaching English in China give you to travel?

So many! I actually went to China on a year contract SO that I could have money to travel through Asia. I didn’t have the money to travel before I left the US, so working abroad gave me the opportunity to do both. I travelled a lot through China during the year but my main goal was to travel to SE Asia afterwards. When my contract ended, I went on a 3 month long solo trip to The Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand and had the time of my life!

What did you love most about the country?

The landscape. There are so many beautiful places in China to see (if you can figure out transportation and logistics to get there with a little Chinese!), from the Tiananmen Mountains (the inspiration for Avatar), to the ice festival in Harbin, to the plank walk in Huayin! It was definitely an adventure to get to some of those places but they were so worth it!

Teaching English in China
Teaching English in China: The view I had walking to work every day in Shaoxing.

Any parting advice for working as a TEFL teacher overseas?

Don’t be afraid of going places alone. It can be daunting but it is so rewarding when you get to where you’re going on your own! And keep a journal! There were so many strange things that happened to me almost daily that I wouldn’t have remembered them all if I hadn’t written them down!

Ashley Jansen is a travel writer and English teacher wandering the world looking for all the warm places. Originally from Kansas City, MO, she discovered her love of writing and traveling after moving to the culturally fascinating city of Miami. Ashley has written on food, fashion and her favorite: travel. You can read more about her travel mishaps and meanderings on www.traveldrifter.com and follow her adventures on Instagram

Get TEFL Certified!

World leading TEFL provider ITTT are kindly giving High Heels & a Backpack readers 20% off their TEFL courses. This really is the best deal that you can find. Once you submit your application, you will see the discounted price appear on ITTT’s “thank you” page. To enrol on a course and start your exciting overseas teaching adventure, click here. For further information on the courses available, click here.

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Teaching English in China


Are you teaching English in an interesting location somewhere around the world and would like to be a part of the #TeflTuesday series? If you would like to share your story, please email me at: Melissa@highheelsandabackpack.com 

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