What do you like most about China?
People get just get on with things. In Mianyang, we were told by our boss that we were in the top 1% of earners. I didn’t believe it at first, but when you really look around, you can see a lot of what us Westerners would describe as ‘poverty’. But the Chinese people really don’t let it get them down. They find happiness in the smallest things. When you submerge yourself in a society like that and then return to a place like Ireland, you realize how lucky we have it. Yet we continue to complain constantly over here. It’s embarrassing really.
What’s your accommodation like?
We had a very comfortable 2 bedroom apartment. And we had a western toilet (which was vital). The rent was cheap also. All I’ll say is, get used to heights – we were on the 36th floor!
How have you got to know people socially (both Chinese and other ex-pats)?
Although you are presumably going over to China to meet Chinese people, mixing with other foreigners will make you feel that little more at home. Suss out your local foreign bar – you will meet friends for life there, both foreign and Chinese.
What have you found to be the major cultural differences?
There’s a lot of them. Things we consider rude, Chinese people might consider polite. It will take a while to become accustomed to them all. Not that it’s a cultural difference as such, but drinking warm 2.5% beer from a shot glass is a tricky one.
What places have you visited whilst working? Any highlights?
From Mianyang we travelled to Chengdu (many times), Jiangyou (twice), Xian, Shanghai, Beijing and Hong Kong. Shanghai was my personal favourite.
What is your favourite Chinese food?
The food varies depending on the region of course. For us, living in Sichuan, we used to frequent the local Muslim Noodle Restaurants, where they go easy on the spice and the strange ingredients.
Do you manage to save any money each month? If so, how much on average?
We made about 13,600 RMB a month, or something like that. If it wasn’t for a very busy social life, you could bank half of that easily – that’s including a night or two out a week. The only expensive things there were clothes and alcohol. If you weren’t into going out at all, you could save nearly 75% of that paycheck.
What piece of advice would you offer to future applicants?
Prepare yourself for the culture shock. Before I went there, I thought I’d be fine because I had travelled before, but I hadn’t really. The first week will be tough – really tough. I wouldn’t do it alone. Going with a friend or two would be great. If I went with a girlfriend, I’d still be out there, because the lifestyle really is so easy and enjoyable.
Do you have any feedback on how Opportunity China can improve its service for teachers?
Opportunity China, and Tom in particular, really gave us such great help and looked after us in every way they could. Just keep up the good work!