What were your expectations prior to starting your role? How has the experience matched your expectations?
I expected this experience to be challenging but I was excited to get started straight away when I found that I got accepted for this role. I was especially curious to see how teaching in China is different from teaching in the UK as I have taught English in Europe before. I definitely expected the classes to be bigger here in China and they are – sometimes up to 45 children in one primary classroom. Luckily, I have a Chinese Teaching Assistant who helps whenever translation is necessary and to control the class.
What do you like most about China?
I never thought I would say this as I didn’t like the Chinese food you’d get served at home very much, but I really enjoy the food here in Sichuan. It’s a mix of spicy and sweet, it can be as oily or “healthy” as you want it to be and there is just a great variety. The people here love their meals and often enjoy them in large groups. I also really like that I met a lot of people from all around the world who I can share my experiences with. I joined a Rugby club and we occasionally travel to tournaments all over China! It’s a great opportunity to see the country, too.
What’s your accommodation like?
I share a 2-bedroom flat with my boyfriend who works at the same school as I. The flat is quite nice and definitely big enough for the two of us. The location is very good, too. With our e-bike we reach a lot of places very quickly. The only negative thing about many Chinese flats is that there is no central heating in the building, so in winter it got really cold in our flat and we had to keep warm with extra electric heaters and air conditioners. Unfortunately, it’s not as comfortable as at home. In summer it gets very hot in our flat, too. Other than that, I am happy with the accommodation provided by the school.
How have you got to know people socially (both Chinese and other ex-pats)?
As mentioned above, joining the rugby team was a great opportunity to meet other people. There are plenty of social events throughout the months and I made some good friends right at the beginning of my stay. Most people on the team are Westerners but we also have Chinese guys and girls on the team. It’s really great to have a mix of both! Other than rugby I met people through my school, both Chinese and expats.
What have you found to be the major cultural differences?
What I still find hard to get used to here is that no one seems to care about queues. People would happily push in front of you if you are not careful and you will never get to take your order… Also I found that people don’t hold doors and are surprised when you do. However, once you realise it is really just a big cultural thing you start minding less. Also, different things are considered rude here. For example, staring is not really considered rude so as a foreigner you will have to accept that people stare at you a lot.
What places have you visited whilst working? Any highlights?
So far I went to Hong Kong, Chonqing, Xiamen and a couple of mountains in Sichuan. For anyone who likes hiking, Sichuan is really great. Emei mountain was my favourite so far, we went there over the weekend and hiked up the whole mountain (we even got to see wild monkeys!). My favourite city to visit so far is definitely Xiamen. It’s a beautiful coastal city with hardly any air pollution and beautiful weather almost all year round.
What is your favourite Chinese food?
yu xiang qiezi (aubergines in fish sauce) and dan dan mian (Sichuan style noodles with minced beef, pork and pickles).
Do you manage to save any money each month? If so, how much on average?
Yes, with a wage of 8000RMB I manage to save around 2000RMB every month and I am not very careful with money. I can still go on weekend trips and nights out. Unless you really buy a lot of clothes and foreign food, it is easy to save some money.
What piece of advice would you offer to future applicants?
Don’t be scared to make the move, you will get used to the different life here and probably enjoy it a lot! Also, applying with a friend/partner seems quite common and Opportunity China were very helpful putting us in the same city and even with the same school!
Do you have any feedback on how Opportunity China can improve its service for teachers?
I think the service OC provided has been excellent. Maybe I was lucky because I didn’t have any issues after I arrived. Our manager at the school has been very helpful helping us settling in in Chengdu.