If you're thinking about coming to China to teach English, you've probably seen some stereotypes about the profession—you might have even sorted yourself into one. Whether you're a free-spirited adventurer, looking for a break from the daily grind, or none of the above; the reality is that teaching in China can be a real career milestone for a wide variety of people. It's a life-changing experience that ultimately results in success and fulfilment. Here are seven different ways people can find success while teaching in China.
Right now, having the right qualifications, legally speaking, is a huge advantage. The law recently changed to require the equivalent of a 4-year degree, a TEFL certification, and a criminal background check, in some cases - notarized by a consulate. Along with these qualifications come a more competitive hiring field. However, the benefits include increased pay, nicer living accommodations and ongoing training to name a few. Going through these official channels is more difficult than it used to be, but also offers increased protection for teachers.
One of my favourite aspects of the job is the fulfilment. While I am the first to admit teaching at an after-school language centre is more comparable to a sports coach or dance teacher than a public school teacher, students quickly become a reason to look forward to work every day. You may also be the first foreigner they meet and feel comfortable around, developing a special place in their memories. When a parent tells you about how their once-shy child approached a foreigner on a recent trip, it's so rewarding. Even on a bad day, there's a lot to be said for how a classroom full of 6-year-olds can make you smile.
The low cost of living in China makes it easy to buy what you want without breaking the bank. Social activities, everything from a night at the club to KTV (Chinese karaoke) to a nice meal, are affordable on a regular basis. For example, a multi-course meal at a nice restaurant might only set you back the equivalent of 20 USD. If travel is more your thing, the train system in China is quick and efficient, while most of Asia is a short flight away, and other travelling costs will be lower than most American or European equivalents.
If you're not interested in living the high life, you will have opportunities to save money, with only a little discipline. The cost of living in China is much lower than other countries, but the salaries for foreign teachers are comparable across borders. This means that working in China, particularly in a second-tier city or below, can help build your savings. You may not eat at Western restaurants as much as your co-workers who aren't worried about saving, but joining them once in a while won't empty your pockets. On top of that, most schools offer a stipend towards rent or a company apartment.
Employers look for resumes that stand out. Even if you never decide or desire to make teaching overseas long term, the job can look amazing on a resume, especially for positions that may require travel or international relations. Experiencing a different culture shows an open mind. Difficulties can be made into memorable stories for job interviews, about overcoming adversity. Beyond an eye-catching note on your resume, living in China gives you practical experience and learning the language can be invaluable. China is relatively new to the world power scene, and opportunities flow both ways. Western companies are creating strong ties to China, while Chinese companies are looking towards international expansion.
Beyond learning about Chinese culture and people, as a foreigner in a strange country, you'll find you have something in common with every other foreigner you meet, making it easier to build friendships. Foreigners do tend to frequent the same establishments and socialise together, though not exclusively. Many cities have official English-speaking or foreigner-focused organisations and publications, while even smaller cities may have unofficial events. Despite the shared trait of being a stranger in a strange land, the diversity of these groups can represent many different countries and cultures. Even at your workplace, the other foreign teachers will come from very different backgrounds and experiences.
When you're looking to have an adventure, you're not worried about opportunities for advancement, but many times foreign teachers answer to at least one foreign teacher who is also a manager. Successful schools open multiple locations and sometimes have foreign managers overseeing the teachers at a few schools. EF being a multi-national company has even further management opportunities, as well as academic support in the corporate offices and various other departments. There is a clear career path available for those that are interested—or those that start to wonder if they might be.