As most people know, my time in China has been a complete rollercoaster. I’ve decided to write about my experience finding a job here, so that anyone thinking about teaching English in China can learn what not to do. However if I wrote one post about my experience it would be well over 2000 words long, so I’ll be splitting it into four posts.
Six months ago I was sitting in my apartment in Chiang Mai, and after one too many margaritas, I was contemplating what I was going to do for the next year. As much as I loved living in Chiang Mai, I wanted to be able to save some serious money so I could travel full time and support myself while I focused on becoming completely location independent.
I decided teaching would be the way to go, since I’m pretty good with kids and I know many travel bloggers who have done the same. There was just one problem: I had no degree, and I didn’t even have a TEFL certificate. Not to be deterred, I booted up my laptop and Googled “best places to teach without a degree”.
A quick search brought up Daves ESL Cafe. This was full of companies hiring foreigners for jobs in China. I sent off a couple of enquiries, and heard back from both of them the next day. The first had incredibly bad grammar, and asked for a photo and copy of my passport. Stupidly, I sent both off, before reading an article stating that you should never send a copy of your passport to an agent in China.
Rookie mistake number one.
Next, I heard back from a Canadian guy from a company called Expertise Education, which is a teacher placement service. Basically they contract to a bunch of different kindergartens around Beijing, and help you find a job. In return they take some of your salary each month.
They promised me a free apartment, working visa, and 7000RMB a month ($1140 USD). I was concerned about whether this would be enough to live on as well as build up my savings, and they sent me a sheet with a bunch of items and the average cost of living. This looked great, so I had a Skype interview with the Canadian guy, and he sent me a contract half an hour later. The company sponsored me for a business visa, and I was instructed to tell the Chinese embassy that I would be doing an “internship” with Expertise.
Two weeks later I was on a flight to China.
I arrived in the early hours of the morning, and waited in the airport for a couple of hours before being met by an Expertise representative. She took me to an apartment in the middle of nowhere, while I dozed in the back of the taxi.
Beijing is a huge city, and my apartment was located on the very last subway stop on the West side. I walked in, jetlagged and freezing, to an apartment that stunk of cigarette smoke. There were two other roommates, both guys, and both chain smokers who obviously refused to smoke outside.
My room was filthy, and Expertise hadn’t even ensured that it had been swept. The walls had handprints all over them, it stunk of stale smoke, and the pillowcase and blankets were stained with sweat and god knows what.
The photos don’t even do it justice. I wish I had taken photos of the bathroom, but at that stage I was barely able to walk into it. The smell was overpowering, and it wasn’t just the cigarette smoke, but it also smelled like something had been rotting in the apartment for a few weeks.
I took one look (and smell) of the disgusting room and nearly cried. I was tempted to head straight back to the airport, but I knew I’m useless when I’m low on sleep (I get weepy and unreasonable) so I decided to take a nap in the nasty bed and figure out my next move later.
Look, I’m not a clean freak by any stretch of the imagination, in fact I can be a complete slob. But there’s a huge difference between a bit of mess and pure squalor. I can stay almost anywhere for a few days, but I was looking down the barrel of a year in this grimy apartment, which was over an hour and a half of travel by subway from the main parts of Beijing.
I went for a nap, and then wandered around the neighbourhood, eventually finding a supermarket and buying some thermal underwear. After six months in Southeast Asia, I was absolutely freezing.
The next day I started my first day of “training”.