Is ESL teaching in China the right choice for me?

Wanda plaza, changsha © Grassbek

Wanda plaza, changsha © Grassbek

Deciding to teach English abroad isn’t an easy decision, and then there’s still the question of where in the world you’ll end up living.

China can seem like a difficult choice to some. You may have heard about a complicated visa process, strange local food and customs, or an unpleasant work situation that didn’t deliver on its promises. Yet, despite these few and isolated examples, teaching in China can be an exciting and safe experience if one chooses legitimate channels and makes informed decisions. Below are several questions to ask yourself before deciding whether ESL teaching in China is right for you. 

Do I have the qualifications to get a visa?

Doing a checklist to see if you meet the criteria of acquiring a legal Z-Visa is important in deciding whether you can even work in China. Don’t be tempted by other avenues that offer a way in without the necessary qualifications. The Chinese government is very strict about the documentation required for employment (Bachelors degree and 120 Hour TEFL), and you owe it to yourself to not be put in uncomfortable situations when trying to cross borders.

blue line subway network, changsha © grassbek

blue line subway network, changsha © grassbek

Do I even want to teach English?

Some of us who take on ESL jobs overseas don’t do it because they want a long-term career as an English teacher. There are many motivations for wanting to work abroad for a year. Some just want to travel and collect memories of foreign sunsets, different foods and new friends, while others want to learn new skills and challenge themselves in a foreign work-place. Many language companies and foreign employers understand and respect these different motivations and goals, and often accommodate your own aspirations fairly.

That being said, teaching English is still a challenging, full-time job that requires responsibility. An employer will be investing in your skills and students would be expecting a dedicated learning experience.  So, consider carefully if this is something you can see yourself committing to for a whole year. The ESL industry isn’t the only way to travel or find work overseas, so it’s important you think this move through.

Do I feel safe traveling alone to China?

If you have never been in a foreign land where few speak your language, traveling alone can be intimidating. This is no less true for China. The PRC has many familiar comforts and services as a modern country, but it has an equal number of 'strange' practices and experiences, to the foreign eye.

Seeing a man lash a head-sized spinning top with Indiana Jones’ whip may just be a little odd, but then there are sights and smells that may make some uncomfortable, when venturing alone and without any reference. This is not to deter you from making China your first trip abroad by yourself, but keep in mind that it may test your own perspective and understanding of comfort, especially if you have no one else to share the experience with. But, it is very important to note that China is one of the safest countries in terms of physical security, with little to no violent crime or threats to be found.

Can I handle "city-life" and the challenges of working in China?

taiping street, changsha © grassbek

taiping street, changsha © grassbek

It is no lie; working and living in a Chinese city can be challenging. The food, hours, commuting and weather are sometimes the complete opposite to what we know back home, and not establishing a routine in new conditions can lead to burnout. If you are hesitant as to whether you can tackle the challenges of fast-paced living and sometimes unfair weather forecast, then reconsider committing to a lifestyle and place you might not feel comfortable in. However, if you have the capacity to challenge yourself and adjust to it, that potential individual and professional growth can be taken with you anywhere. Also, some Chinese companies provide progressive working conditions and contracts, for foreign employees, which often balances the above mentioned environmental stresses.

Can I live without Eggs Benedict?

I touched on food in the last question, but this is possibly the most important question you must ask yourself before journeying to China. Some of us can’t live without certain foods and it makes some of us [me] extremely unhappy not having Eggs Benedict on the Sunday breakfast menu. China’s cuisine is spectacular, varied and tasty, but it is also may be unfamiliar to some palettes. Ponder as to whether you can seriously live without Hollandaise sauce on your poached eggs for a year, before crossing the pond to teach.

So, how do you feel after asking yourself the above? While there are still a lot of topics we can cover to help you prepare yourself for your journey to China, a lot of the fun is just experiencing it for yourself. Teaching, living and eating in Zhong Guo is sometimes challenging, and things will never be quite the same as back home. But, if one prepares properly beforehand and tackles the experience head on, the middle kingdom has so much to offer.