Teaching English in China is not for everyone.
Many Westerners do thrive here while some rapidly succumb to the myriad of profound cross-cultural differences they encounter. Living and working in China require a huge array of psychological, emotional, and physical adjustments as virtually every aspect of life you can possibly imagine is different. Those with the clearest goals and healthiest reasons for moving to China will experience the greatest degree of success.
The most common groups of Westerners that tend to succeed here include recent college graduates or senior citizens who are looking for a short-term adventure (four months to a year), early retirees looking to stretch their Western pensions in an Asian country, well-educated middle-aged men who marry Chinese nationals and make China their new home, and highly qualified career EFL teachers (i.e., those with master's degrees in education or TESOL). Westerners who find themselves here primarily “by default" or to escape personal or unemployment problems back home, particularly those who are unqualified, will struggle the most and are the least likely to adjust over time. This group tends to be the most exploited and abused in China because the employer mind-set is "they have no place else to go."
Teaching is a vocation, a calling if you will, and despite the fact that our roles here are generally limited to facilitating the practice of speaking and listening skills, teaching English in China is still a vocation (technically, sociologists classify it as a "semi-profession"). Foreigners who have never taught one day before in their lives or who never had the inclination to do so prior to moving to China, are highly unlikely to find the experience very rewarding: either professionally or financially. This is most definitely not an "easy gig" and anyone other than professional teachers will more likely than not—in the absence of a genuine interest in teaching—be ground down by the innumerable differences in culture and day-to-day living he or she will encounter.
Although teaching salaries are relatively lower in China than they are in other Asian countries, so too are the working hours. Foreign teachers who have something more to offer than just the ability to speak English natively are often able—especially after living in a particular community for several years—to subsidize their base salaries in what results to a very comfortable lifestyle, particularly when you factor-in free housing, and, in some cases, utilities as well. Those with advanced degrees and academic experience in fields other than English can find an appropriate place for themselves at key Project 211 universities, international schools (departments), and Western universities with branches in China where they will only teach professional courses in their areas of expertise.
Most of the rewards foreign teachers enjoy by living and teaching in China are not adequately explained or accounted for by money, obviously. Despite whatever faults China may have as a developing country, it is nevertheless a fascinating and extremely rewarding place to live and work. It is very difficult to explain this to those who have never lived in China for a significant period of time, but there is a certain "live-and-let-live" attitude towards and acceptance of foreigners in China that at times approaches celebrity status and that paradoxically exists in stark contrast to the relative devaluation and disregard of our role as foreign English teachers here. Those who have a healthy degree of self-esteem to begin with—and do not require recognition and approval from their superiors—are able to find enormous satisfaction from the appreciation of their students and so they stay year after year.
I never would have guessed how well I would be received as a teacher by my Chinese students. Although I had taught in my native country quite successfully for a total of 18 years before moving to China, I had never before experienced the same level of appreciation and intimacy I have found with my students here: That alone has been worth the "price of admission" and I have made many new and genuine friends for life.
Obviously, no introductory guide can adequately address every single pertinent issue that prospective and new foreign teachers will encounter in China: It was not intended to. This guide was written solely in response to what was a very clear need for a consolidated source of reliable and valid information about living and working in China for prospective and new foreign teachers. If this guide has helped you in any capacity to reach a more informed and intelligent decision about whether teaching in China is appropriate for you at this point in time, then it has entirely achieved its goals.
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