Teacher Guest Post: The Benefits of Gaining International Experience by Working in China
Two years have passed since I finished teaching in China and moved away from Hangzhou. I have worked several jobs in different sectors, lived in two more countries, and as I continue to explore my career path, I am amazed at how valuable my time in China was. When I signed on to be a Middle School Teacher, I had dreams of working in politics, journalism, or pursuing further education and was unsure how living and teaching in China would benefit a career other than teaching.
However, it is clear that what I gained from working in China was not just teaching experiences, but an international experience that has aided me in every job I have pursued since leaving Hangzhou.
The Value of International Experience to Employers
In our globalized world that becomes increasingly internationally minded in business, politics, social justice, and education with every year, it is hugely beneficial to have meaningful international experiences. Usually, this means spending significant time in a foreign country either working or studying. Research has consistently shown that these experiences have an overall positive impact on employability [reference], and the Erasmus Impact Study found that 64% of employers grant more responsibility to candidates with an ‘international background’ [reference], while 92% said they look for ‘transversal skills’ when hiring graduates.
International experiences give you a chance to learn a new language, immerse yourself in a new culture, develop verbal and non-verbal communication skills, problem-solve, and personally develop into a confident, independent individual. Many students will take the chance to study abroad to develop these skills, as I did by studying in Seoul during my third year of University, but working abroad develops them even further as it requires you to be more independent and self-sufficient.
Working in China is a multifaceted experience that can lead you into any career path, especially if you take the initiative to learn Mandarin and better immerse yourself in Chinese society. 62% of UK citizens cannot speak a second language, yet employers increasingly desire candidates with linguistic skills – having the chance to be surrounded by Mandarin for a year and become conversational will open doors in any employment sector.
Improving Communication Skills & Learning Mandarin
Learning Mandarin does not just expand your vocabulary and the number of people you can speak to, but improves your memory, builds multitasking skills, and expands your worldview. Languages form the foundations of societal values and structures. You are not just learning vocabulary and grammar, but how language shapes relations between people. For example, it was commonplace in my school for teachers to call each other ‘sister’ or ‘brother’, and I quickly learned the relationship between coworkers at my school was more familial than professional. Resultantly, I worked to adapt my approach towards work so I could fit into the school’s community better, which helped me get along better with my peers and earn more respect from my students.
Of course, learning how to speak Mandarin made it easier to communicate with my coworkers and students, but understanding the social structures underpinned by the language made communication more effective and meaningful. In any job you undertake, you will be working with people from different backgrounds. Gaining an appreciation of how social values differ and translations cannot always convey true meaning is invaluable in making you a more thoughtful and effective individual.
Navigating a New Culture
Living and working in China is no easy feat, especially in the early days. You have to get used to new ways of communication, new types of social and professional relationships, and new surroundings to navigate yourself through. When I first moved to China, some of the biggest challenges I faced at the start were the most basic of tasks – buying groceries, going to the doctors, navigating buses, and ordering food at restaurants. However, even before I learned Mandarin, I was able to use problem-solving skills to figure these things out. At pharmacies I used non-verbal methods of communication to express I needed cold medicine, or at bus stops, I would scan the characters I did not know to find the few I did, namely those of North (北) and South (南), to ensure I was going in the right direction.
While this may sound benign, I found after leaving Hangzhou that having a year of problem-solving skills made me more patient, understanding, and able to tackle whatever challenge came my way. NACE Statistics found that 91.2% of employers want problem-solving skills, and certainly, living in China has adept me with the ability to get through any problem in my way.
Post-China Career Path & Employability
Since leaving China I have pursued further work in the education sector, the non-profit sector, journalism, and editing, all of which have been greatly helped by my time abroad, which you can read about in this blog post.
However, in China, I met other British immigrants who were either working or studying for a year and have since ended up working in various sectors. One of these individuals was Tyler Rickard, who was on a Scholarship in Hangzhou. Tyler was inspired by the impressive economic growth China has achieved in recent years and decided to apply for a job in the UK civil service, where he now works as an Economist.
I spoke with Tyler about what he took away from living in China. Tyler immediately noted that “the main skill [I learned] is the ability to communicate in Mandarin, which is the most commonly spoken language on the planet. While most Mandarin speakers are in China, there are large communities across the world, such as in Malaysia and Singapore. However, the biggest takeaway from my time in China is an ability to tackle any challenge. When you move halfway around the world and learn a language that you can’t even read yet, nothing scares you!”
Tyler went on to discuss how living in China impacted his employability: “My employability has improved thanks to my time in China. Even if a role does not require a Mandarin speaker, it will always help you stand out in a job application. In my current role (which is not directly related to China), I helped a colleague prepare for a conference in Shanghai; providing cultural knowledge and logistical planning for her trip.”
Gain the Confidence & Skills to Pursue Individual Goals
Working as a teacher in China is about so much more than teaching – it is about gaining an international perspective and experience that is invaluable in any job you undertake. The independence you gain from navigating a foreign country without a strong familial or institutional framework to assist you, as you would in a homestay or study abroad year, makes you more confident about going to work in any career.
If you take the initiative to learn Mandarin and become a more thoughtful, internationally-minded individual, you will be able to tackle any job with more patience and understanding by nature of thinking about problems from two cultural perspectives. Regardless of your career path, teaching abroad in China will give you the international experience to pursue any goal you have with more conviction and understanding.
Author Bio: Zeena Starbuck graduated from Exeter University in 2017 before departing on her China journey in the city of Hangzhou on China’s East Coast. On return to the US Zeena took on an exciting role within a New York Non-Profit organization and will soon embark upon a prestigious joint Master’s degree at LSE (UK)- PKU (Beijing).
If you’re inspired by Zeena’s experience, learn about the Teach China Graduate Program
Read our Teach China Graduate Program Alumni ProfilesShare: