It’s easy for a first time teacher in China to be blinded by the bright lights of optimism and excitement when embarking on a teach abroad adventure. With all the fascinating and modern metropolises to work in, a more relaxed work schedule, and the favorable cost of living, some teachers raise their expectations to tremendous levels.
Working in China is an exciting, energizing, rewarding and life-changing experience, however, it is not without its frustrations, challenges and the occasional surprise. Below is a brief overview of some of times you’ll need to cast aside the rose-tinted glasses and manage your expectations, to ensure your China experience will be as rewarding as possible.
This can be split into 2 parts; before you secure a job and contract, and after.
While searching for a job and interviewing with schools, you’ll discover many agencies and job adverts, and it can be a bit overwhelming. You will be able to discard some of these roles immediately due to poorly written adverts, or unprofessional staff – however many can appear reputable and will offer salary packages that seem too good to be true. It’s important to review your information sources at this point, do your homework and trust your final judgement.
Following an interview with your prospective employer it is important to gain a broader understanding before committing to an offer. Try to contact or be put in contact with current teachers at the school. You will find they will give very honest accounts of the pros and cons of their workplace and realistic expectations of life in China at that school.
Before putting pen to paper, it’s important to know that employment contracts will differ drastically from school-to-school. It’s important to note that China is very different to other countries when it comes to employment law, you may find that contracts have heavy penalty charges or deductions for disciplinary breaches, ensure you are comfortable with the contract, as this will be a determining factor on whether you will be able to be comfortable living within the confides of Chinese culture itself. Never be shy in putting direct questions to your school or Coordinator about your contract- if in doubt ask!
Once your contract is signed, you’ll begin the work visa application process. Every school has a slightly different process and requirements, and therefore you will need to carefully review the information they send you and keep in close contact with your Coordinator. As an example, let’s consider the medical test; some schools do not require it for the visa application, some require it completed in a very basic way, yet some need thorough information and tests completed.
Try not to get too frustrated, as the process can seem a bit complex to begin with – if you do not know the answer to something then…you’ve guessed it…just ask!
Another frustrating aspect of the visa process is authenticating your required documents. Documents needed for this process vary from region to region, so it’s important to always double check with your school exactly which documents need to be authenticated. Some government bureaus require very precise wording on notorised documents, so get as much detail as possible from your employer before starting the process.
Once you’ve collated and authenticated all the required documents, and they have been sent to the school, you’ll need to be patient – it can take as few as 2 weeks, but as many as 5 weeks for the visa paperwork to be issued. Some provinces do this electronically and provide a document with a barcode to take to the Visa Service Centre, other will send hard copies via DHL to your home address.
Again, patience is key. Things may happen at the last minute – your Chinese colleagues are likely to be some of the kindest, friendliest, most gracious people you will ever meet – however it’s rare to have a Western-style first week at work type orientation, with a full welcome brochure, schedule and a tedious health and safety briefing.
You’re likely to experience some form of culture shock, even if only very mildly. A different language, sense of humour and a very homogenous population can make you feel isolated, it’s always a good idea to build and maintain relationships with other foreigners as they will have experienced exactly the same feelings.
Learning key cultural concepts such as ‘face’ and the importance of relationships and hierarchy are absolutely vital if you want to have a truly immersive and meaningful cultural experience, not to mention making your life immeasurably easier.
Be aware that the Chinese hate to say no. Try to figure out if a long-winded answer to a request is not just a rejection in disguise. This can be a major source of irritation and conflict when it comes to cross-cultural understanding in China, again, due to a raising of expectations.
When it comes to teaching, be aware that the stereotype of Chinese students being perfect, well-drilled, disciplines and eager learn is not as simple as it seems. Using a rote system of learning, attempting to engage students in discussion and ask questions to you can be an uphill struggle and very frustrating. In a Chinese classroom the silence can be deafening! You’ll need to motivate yourself by remembering why you want to teach in China.
Staying in China for the full year, and beyond!
After a year of teaching, you’ll feel you have a good hold on what’s required of you professionally, and will have established a strong familiarity and laid some roots in your city.
Retention of teachers is a big goal for schools in China. They love to have enthusiastic staff who are familiar, happy and experienced among their ranks. You can therefore expect some bargaining power when it comes to negotiating a contract extension. Remember the importance of face though, many teachers staying a second year can inadvertently cause embarrassment to their employer by demanding a figure that they simply cannot afford to pay, damaging the all-important employer-teacher relationship.
Getting used to the carousel nature of expat life in China can be a tough adjustment for those staying longer than a year. With many close and intense friendships made in a foreign environment, it can feel like generations will come and go in just a matter of months.
In conclusion, if you are prepared before you go,, and set realistic expectations for the experience, you will have one of the most rewarding experiences of your life, exploring this fascinating and beautiful culture… even if the odd hiccup occurs along the way!Share: