Teaching English in China gives you the opportunity to save money and gain valuable work experience while exploring 6000 years of Chinese culture in a way few others can. Whether you’re exploring the Great Wall, sipping green tea, or shopping in Shanghai you will experience stories to last a lifetime.
Here you will learn what it’s like living in China, one of the world’s largest ESL markets, from housing, to transportation, to food, etiquette, and culture.
What’s it like living in China?
China is one of the largest countries in the world by area, and is the most populous. Its history dates back over 6,000 years. The yin of Imperial structures, calligraphy, Tai Chi, the Great Wall, and green tea is balanced by the yang of bright, bustling cities and the production of much of the world’s electronics. China has a lot of great sites to offer, explore the Forbidden City, landscapes like the Three Gorges of the Yangtze River, or the volcanic dishes of Sichuan.
Technology and Advancement
China is a leader in international technology industries such as computer technology, space travel, and information technology. Juxtaposed to this is the fact that the Chinese government is a strong opponent of free speech on the Internet and other media. It may be hard to access popular websites like Wikipedia, BBC, the New York Times, as well as social media like YouTube or Facebook.
Enjoying modern technologies such as high-speed Internet, cable television, and cell phones will not be an issue in urban China, yet could be problematic in rural areas.
Apartments in China
Most English teaching jobs in China will include an apartment. Apartment costs vary depending on the school and location. Contracts that do not include housing may compensate with higher salaries. This information is usually included in the job posting, but be sure to clarify these details after receiving a job offer to ensure that this is fully addressed in the contract.
A teacher’s apartment is typically located on or near a campus, and often shared with a roommate. For the most part, English teachers will find western amenities such as a bed, table set, tv, refrigerator, desk, laundry facilities, and toilet.
Most schools provide an allowance for partial flight costs; however, teachers often must pay the initial cost. The school will then reimburse them or provide a bonus at the end of the contract. You should keep any of your airfare receipts in case they are required for this benefit.
Healthcare in China
Medicine is an interesting and important element in Chinese history. The Chinese have always used a combination of herbal and food remedies as well as massage, acupuncture, and preventative care to treat many ailments and injuries. Today, medicine in China is a hybrid between the traditional Chinese practices and modern medicine imported from the western world.
Much of the healthcare system’s resources are devoted to large urban areas such as Beijing, Xi’an and Shanghai. Getting professional medical attention when living in a rural area or small city can be slightly more challenging.
The amount of healthcare coverage an English teacher receives varies between schools. If there is any confusion about medical coverage after reading a contract, be sure to ask the school to specify this information. In most cases, it is highly recommended to couple the school’s benefit plan with private health insurance to cover any medical, dental, or prescription costs.
Retirement age is a constant source of debate in China. Currently, women working for the government or a state-run company must retire at 55 years of age, while men can retire at 60. Women working a blue-collar job must retire at 50; while men can work an extra five years. As a result, older ESL teachers may experience a more difficult job search than a younger teacher would. However, the situation can vary across the nation with rural areas seeing less stringent restrictions than major urban areas.
Transportation in China
Many people find taxis safe and convenient. Most cities, towns, and even villages have a taxi service. however, there are very few taxi drivers that know how to speak English. It is recommended that teachers carry a business card with their work and home address in Chinese, or have a local write down their destination.
Train and Subway
With concerns over air pollution, China is encouraging the use of public transportation. Most urban areas have subway systems. The train is one of the cheapest ways to travel across China and to other countries. There are four ticket options:
- Hard Seat: The cheapest and most popular way to travel. Unfortunately, it is often very uncomfortable and crowded: not recommended for long trips.
- Soft Seat: The soft seat is more comfortable than its discounted counterpart. There are usually plenty of seats and it is still inexpensive.
- Hard Sleeper: For longer trips, you will need to think about sleeping options. A hard sleeper ticket is the cheapest long commute fare. The compartment has no door and includes six very small beds with little padding. There is a traditional Chinese toilet on each train car.
- Soft Sleeper: If you want to travel in comfort, the soft sleeper is the best option. Each compartment has a door for privacy. There are four bunks in a room with larger, padded beds. Commuters will often have access to a western-style toilet.
Like the train, the bus is an inexpensive way to travel within the city or across China. Buses travel to many remote locations and smaller towns inaccessible by train and tend to fill up more slowly, making it much easier to get a bus ticket and to find a seat.
The bicycle is the most popular form of transportation in China. The streets and roadways are loaded with cyclists making their way to work, shopping, or just out for a leisurely ride. During peak hours there are often crowds of cyclists.
If time is an issue and money is not a concern, traveling by plane is a fast and comfortable alternative to land travel. Most areas of China are accessible by plane. Many airports are small and only offer domestic flights, but some do offer international flights as well.
In recent years, automobiles have become more popular and accessible for many in China. In addition to purchasing more cars, the Chinese are also buying motorcycles and scooters.
Getting a Chinese Driver’s License
There is no set protocol in place for converting an American driver’s license into a Chinese one. However, for around 300CNY (around $45USD), you can take the driver’s test. If understanding the Chinese language is a concern, bring someone to translate for you. Remember to bring your passport, your current driver’s license, and a cash payment.
Before taking the exam, applicants will need to fill out an application form and have a basic eye exam. Teachers can take the test in one of nine languages, including English. A score of 90 percent or better is a pass. If the test is passed, a Chinese driver’s license will arrive within a couple of weeks. If the test is failed, a rewrite is included with the fee as long as it is taken within ten days of the original test.
Etiquette Tips for Teachers in China
Proper etiquette is very important in Chinese culture. Below are some of the prominent customs, which may vary by region.
- It’s considered improper to discuss religion.
- Always be early or on time. Being late could harm a business contact or a friendship.
- It’s extremely rude to discuss business during a meal.
- The most common greeting in China is a handshake, but some still prefer the traditional bow. It is important to pay attention to a person’s greeting and respond with the same gesture.
- Avoid touching anyone in public.
- It’s considered rude and unnecessary to gesture while speaking.
- It’s nearly impossible to do business without making an appointment. Be sure to plan business meetings in advance.
- Don’t be alarmed if it takes a long time to get feedback after a proposal. The Chinese like to take their time and carefully evaluate their decisions, especially when it comes to business.
- Many Chinese people do not do business with people they don’t know. Develop as many contacts as possible and tap into their network of connections.
- A person’s rank in a company carries a lot of weight, so be mindful of who is in the room and what each person’s role is within a company.
- In the workplace, men are expected to wear subtle-colored suits while women are expected to dress conservatively and avoid high-heels.
- Being invited to dinner at someone’s home is considered a great honor. Avoid turning down the invitation at all costs.
- Always remove any outdoor footwear before entering a Chinese home.
- Be sure to try all food offered; not tasting something is considered impolite. No one will be offended if you don’t finish your food. A Chinese host simply expects guests to at least try everything.
- Never take the last portion of something, no matter how good it tastes. Simply leave it on the table.
- When eating meat, bones are placed in a designated dish, or simply left on the table.
- Food is served in dishes placed in the middle of the table for all to share. Don’t fill your plate with samples. Take one item at a time.
- The most important rule of dining in China is to always use chopsticks when at someone’s home or when dining in public. If you are unsure of how to use chopsticks, be sure to practice before you arrive in China.
- Be sure to put the chopsticks down on the table on a regular basis and always set them down when talking or drinking.
- Only use chopsticks for eating; do not play with them in any fashion.
- While eating rice with chopsticks it is normal and expected for diners to hold their bowl close to their face to avoid making a mess.
- Never stab food with chopsticks. This is a sign of hostility and is extremely insulting.
A Trip for Your Taste Buds: Eating in China
Chinese cuisine is one of the most popular foreign foods worldwide, but much of the food is simply an Americanized adaptation. Chinese food can be separated into eight regional categories which each have their own style, ingredients, and flavor.
Some of China’s more popular dishes include:
- Peking Duck: One of China’s most famous dishes, it consists of duck glazed with maltose syrup and served with Chinese-style pancakes and vegetables.
- Wonton: Wontons can be found in various dishes in traditional Chinese cookbooks. A wonton is a dumpling that is filled with shrimp, pork, and other ingredients.
- Chinese steamed eggs: Like an American omelet, eggs are mixed with various ingredients. Instead of frying the eggs, this dish is steamed.
- Kung Pao Chicken: Kung Pao Chicken is considered a delicacy in China. Marinated chicken is mixed with various oils, spices, peppercorn and chilies.
Climate in China
China’s climate varies greatly depending on the region, ranging from deserts, to fertile grasslands, to snow-capped mountains. Northern China has hot summers and frigid winters, while the central area is more temperate, and the south has very hot summers and warm winters. Be sure to research the weather in the region of any offered position. See the list below for cities and climate zones:
- Cold-temperate zone: Jiamusi, Harbin, and Qiqihar.
- Temperate zone: Hohhot, Shenyang, Dunhuang.
- Warm-temperate zone: Jinan, Taiyuan, Xian, Luoyang, and Zhengzhou.
- Subtropical zone: Guangzhou, Jiujiang, Zhenjiang, Yichang, and Wuxi.
- Tropical zone: Guangdong, Yunnan, and Macau.
Our Job Placement Service Helps You Find a Job
Available exclusively to Oxford Seminars TESOL/TESL/TEFL Certification graduates at no additional cost, our Job Placement Service provides assistance with finding teaching jobs at ESL schools in China and around the world. We have formed partnerships with language schools worldwide that are searching for certified ESL teachers. Our Job Placement Advisors provide timely job placement assistance to help make your experiences abroad as rewarding as possible.