This is part four of a four-part series about my experience finding a job and teaching English in China. To get the full story you should start at part one. I’m also planning a post titled “How to Find a Job Teaching English in China”, which will include advice on visas, agents, pay rates, and insurance.
Looking back, I can see why the situation hit me so hard, and I can even laugh at the crap I went through. The problem was, in the back of my mind I still expected life to be fair. I had been raised in a country where employment laws weren’t broken on a daily basis, and people treated each other with respect. I was experiencing severe culture shock, combined with the realisation that China was a whole different ball game, and I needed to readjust my expectations and quit whining.
And oh did I whine. I complained to my new friends, who by this stage must have been wishing they hadn’t met me. I complained to my mother, who’s main solution was that I should go home, and I complained to anyone who would listen, taking pleasure in one-upping them with my tale of woe.
Eventually I paid my rent, and made a deal with myself. I would give it another three months, and if I was still miserable I could leave. I started at the new kindergarten, and was completely unprepared for 25 toddlers who didn’t speak a word of English.
I had four Chinese teachers to help me out.
Imagine 25 toddlers who are brand new to kindergarten, want their parents, and can’t understand the weird white girl who keeps talking to them. This class had already had two foreign teachers who had quit and been fired, and it had only been open for a month.
I quickly learned that there would be no real teaching in this job. In fact it was really glorified babysitting. Sure, I would have circle time and sing songs with the kids, holding up blocks and trying to get the kids to learn the colours, but the majority of my day was spent wiping noses, spoon feeding, and breaking up brawls (two and three year olds are vicious).
There was constant crying, in fact bawling became the background noise of my life. These kids would scream for their mums, and some genius had designed our classroom with a glass swinging door, so a group of kids would cooperate with each other long enough to push the door open and then split up, running madly in different directions.
Don’t get me wrong, these kids were pretty cute. I quickly got used to always having a toddler on my knee, and at least once a day a kid would do something to make me laugh.
There were a few that I’m pretty sure were trying to torture me though. One of them liked to poop his pants and show me, cackling madly as I heaved over the trash can. Another liked to blow her nose without a tissue, shooting snot out of her nose while I would gag and one of the Chinese teachers would laugh at me and wipe it.
Unfortunately, the worst part was the boredom. I wasn’t learning anything, I wasn’t being productive, and I was going out of my mind. I was also exhausted from working six days a week, spending three hours a day on public transport, and getting home at 9.15pm.
So when my friend offered to pass my CV to her boss, I took her up on it.
I got a job with an American company that has a bunch of different campuses and programs, most of them dedicated to Chinese students who want to study abroad. Most universities require foreign students to pass an exam called the IETLS, which is a test that covers reading, writing, speaking, and listening.
I’ll get into this further in another post, but I basically had a few days of IELTS training, and then they asked me to go to another campus and teach the General English level 4 class, which is the class before they start IELTs.
These kids are aged anywhere from 14 to 24, and it’s obviously completely different from teaching the babies. All of a sudden I was using my brain. I had to learn grammar points I couldn’t remember learning in school, and I especially enjoyed teaching the writing and speaking classes. My salary had gone up to around 16-17000RMB after tax (remember when I first got here I was expected to work for 7000), and my students were so much fun.
I love teaching older students. I finally feel like I’m making a difference. Chinese students have a limited outlook of the world, largely due to the “great firewall of China”, which gives them limited access to any information the government deems inappropriate.
We have great discussions about gay rights, Japan, politics, the environment, and their favourite: money. While I sometimes feel like I’m banging my head against a wall, occasionally I’ll see a student open their mind to a new idea, and it’s an amazing feeling.
So there you go. It took close to four months, but eventually I found a job I love that also pays me well.
While my first few months here sucked, I’m proud of myself for sticking it out. The fact is, most foreigners have similar problems when they move to China, and it really is a hostile environment for foreigners. If you don’t speak Chinese, and you don’t know your rights, you can end up in some pretty shitty situations.
I made it through though, and came out the other end a much stronger person. I also made some incredible friends who were there for me during all the crap, and helped me to eventually get on my feet.