What were your expectations prior to leaving the UK? How has the experience matched your expectations?
I guess I would say I had mixed expectations prior to leaving the U.K. I wasn’t really too sure what to expect. However, after having been in China for almost 12 months I have definitely had a good and worthwhile experience. The teaching is fairly easy and enjoyable and on my salary I can live comfortably and also save half of what I earn most months.
What do you like most about China?
One of my favourite things about living in China is the price of food. From the supermarket all local food is extremely cheap in comparison to the U.K. Dairy products and imported foods are slightly more expensive but still cheap in comparison. Eating out is very cheap too if you go for Chinese food, again Western food is more expensive. Here in Nantong a bowl of beef and noodles costs around 80p.
What has taken a bit of getting used to?
One thing that has taken a bit of getting used to is the lack of organisation. Both in work and out of work. For example people don’t turn up on time and there is not really a concept of how to queue in China. Sometimes parents bring their kids in up to half an hour late and consider this to be fine. Traffic as well took a short time to get used to, the horn is frequently used here and drivers are very impatient. Taking a taxi can sometimes be an interesting experience.
What’s your accommodation like?
My current accommodation is very very good. A modern 4 bedroom apartment with hot water (most of the time). However, I have stayed in a less modern apartment with no hot water and a poor excuse for a mattress. From speaking with other teachers here in China I am under the impression that most schools provide their teachers with quite high quality living quarters.
How have you got to know people socially (both Chinese and other ex-pats)?
It’s quite easy to meet people. Pretty much every city in China has expat bars predominantly full of foreigners. Nantong has quite a small expat community but the bars are friendly places mostly with English speaking staff. I work with a number of Chinese staff that I have become friends with and most Chinese people are quite friendly. I have also met a lot of people from joining the gym, many Chinese people that can speak English are very interested in talking to a foreigner.
What have you found to be the major cultural differences? Have you made any cultural faux-pas?
One major cultural difference that I still have not got used to is the spitting. Its socially acceptable in China to spit everywhere and its very common for men, women and children to clear their throat as loud as they can and spit on the floor in public. I will never get used to this. Apart from this I can’t say there has been any major cultural differences that I’ve had to adapt to.
How have you accessed the internet?
Internet access is very easy. I have Internet at work and my apartment and most bars and restaurants also have wifi. The problem is actually accessing websites. Facebook, twitter and youtube are all banned in China. To access them you need to buy a VPN. The website I bought mine from is www.strongvpn.com. It was about 50 dollars for a year, which I think is about 35 pounds. Its definitely worthwhile buying one.
What is your favourite Chinese food?
I would have to say probably beef noodle soup. It’s so cheap from restaurants and very filling.
What places have you visited whilst working? How did you travel?
I don’t get much time off work because I work for a private company so I have done all my travelling during the public holidays. I have so far managed to visit Shanghai, Suzhou, Hangzhou, Ningbo and Beijing with planned trips to Nanjing and Xian for the upcoming public holidays. All these trips have been quite short no more than a few days. Travelling by bus train and plane is fairly easy. I usually get my friend from work to pre book my tickets. It’s quite straight forward to get around.
Do you manage to save any money each month? If so, how much on average?
Yes, I save every month. I get paid quite well at my school with my accommodation paid for as well. Most months I save 600 pounds, however this is slightly less if I am going on a trip. I think the least I have saved in a month is 300, and that was Chinese New Year month, so a lot was spent on a trip to Suzhou and Hangzhou.
What advantages may you have over other graduates when applying for future jobs?
I like to think my year here has taught me among other thing how to be flexible. I have also picked up a small amount of Mandarin, which I’m sure will look good on my CV. I also think that moving abroad to work for a year shows commitment and an ability to adapt to a diverse environment. Finally, I think just being able to talk about my experiences in China during an interview will my make stand out from the crowd.
What piece of advice would you offer to future applicants?
I would say go in with an open mind. If you arrive and things aren’t what you expected don’t panic, just stick it out for a while and see how you feel after a few months. I’ve found as well if you want something you have to be very direct and almost come across rude, because if you need something done and don’t stress that its important it can be forgotten about. A favourite word of many Chinese people is ‘maybe’.