First things first, why China? Out of all of the crazy places to decide to live, why China?
We had travelled to China a few years ago and loved everything about it – the food, the people, the culture and so much history! We were interested to see more and experience daily life in China and then a job came up and we decided to go for it.
How much planning and how did you go about your planning beforehand?
We were lucky that our school helped a lot. I had to get together lots of documentation and the school completed a visa application on their end. We also had to have a medical check and I had send off certificates to be notarized.
We then had to take lots of documents to the China Visa Centre in London to hand over everything, sign some papers and answer some questions. We were also called back a few days later to have our finger prints scanned at the Chinese Embassy. The following day, our visa was ready to be collected in London.
Once we arrived in China, we also a trip to the police station to register, a blood test at the hospital and the HR team at my school did the rest to obtain our residency visa.
What advice do you wish you had of been given before moving to China? What advice would you give to someone looking to move to China to teach?
I would read up on cities first – we lived in Tianjin and in hindsight, we would have probably preferred a busier, more expat-friendly city. Plus, the more north you go, the colder the winters and the more pollution you will experience. It is a few things to consider when planning your future home.
For teaching, really do your research on your school or company. I am a primary school teacher and worked at an International School in China so it is a little different to English teaching. But generally, read as much as you can about your school or company, use forums to hear reviews and experiences, join expat Facebook pages and chat to people who live there or work for the same organisation and try to find out as much as you can before accepting a job.
For me, I knew I wanted to work at a British International School and I knew that if it was part of COBIS (Council of British International Schools) then it would have to have a good standard of teaching and learning.
Is teaching in China a good idea for everyone? What type of person do you think it take to love teaching in China?
No, it isn’t for everyone. I think you have to be very openminded to teach in China. There are a lot of things that are done very differently and some massive culture shocks to anticipated.
Unfortunately, after two years, we decided to leave because we weren’t the type of people who wanted to stay longer. It was an incredible experience but not for the long term. A difficulty we found was the internet and lack of. Because of the Chinese firewall, you have to use a VPN to access most social media and websites, making blogging (my husband’s job) a big challenge. It was also a struggle to stay in contact with the family.
I also think you have to be relaxed and confident to live in China. As a foreigner, you will have locals staring and taking pictures in many places, it becomes part of daily life. We learnt to accept it and just try to ignore it but it can be a bit frustrating when you aren’t looking your best and you are just trying to pop to the shop or whatever.
What is a day in the life of a Teacher in China like?
Depending on where you teach, it will, of course, be different for everyone. I know many English teachers will teach evenings and weekends but for me, I worked a typical week.
I would be up around 6.15 am, get ready and be in school by 7 am. I like to have a good hour before the children get to school to prepare for the day. My students would arrive between 8 – 8.30 am for registration then classes would start at 8.30.
We would teach for two hours, then have a 15-minute break before teaching for another hour. We then had 50 minutes for a lunch break and would carry on teaching after lunch. In my first year, it was a little nicer as the school day finished at 3.30 pm but, with pressures from parents, the school lengthened the day and we were teaching until later but were expected to stay at work until 5 pm.
I would leave once I had finished any marking and lesson planning then head home, get on with some blog work, chat to my husband, have dinner (often ordered or eaten out because China is so cheap) and then off to bed, ready for another day.
What are the pros and cons of teaching in China?
Teaching in China offers a better wage than other Asia destinations and the lifestyle is affordable. Many International schools will include either a housing allowance or organise an apartment for you.
China is also a truly diverse country with many incredible places to explore. There really is something for everyone, whether you are looking for bustling cities, stunning landscapes, mountain hikes, cruises along gorgeous rivers, trips to Disneyland (a must); there are so many beautiful and exciting places in China to explore.
The cons of living in China, again depending on where you are based. For us, the internet was a challenge, the pollution was awful in Tianjin and caused us to avoid going out when it was too bad. Hotel prices were cheap but travel across the country on train or plane was not as affordable as other Asian destinations. I can also imagine that many may struggle with the food if they have any type of allergies or our vegetarians.
From my experience as an Expat, it takes 3 months to “set up” and start to get into a routine, ironing out all the admin and adjusting. 6 months to have the routine, find friends and really be settled and a year to start feeling like you have lived there forever. How has your experience been settling into China? What was the hardest part?
I would say that is about right. We have been fortunate to have each other so the settling in process has been a lot easier. After the first 3 months, we suffered from homesickness quite a bit but by the time Christmas came and went, we were well into the swing of things.
Something I did find harder was how much China was changing. When we first moved to China, the political state offered more freedom; the internet worked, as a foreigner you could still use many apps that the locals could use etc. But, as time went on, there were more restrictions on certain things.
Something I never picked up was the language. I think learning the language to some extent would have been super helpful when travelling and, had we decided to stay longer, I would have invested some time in learning more than Hello and Thank you.
How hard is it to find a job teaching in China?
There are hundreds of schools and companies popping up in China every year. If you are looking to work in an International School, websites like TES.com and https://www.cobis.org.uk list jobs and schools in China.
For English teaching schools, companies such as English First and websites like TeachAway are great places to start.
What is the Expat scene like in China? More specifically in relation to Tianjin?
In Tianjin, the expat scene is minimal. There are two international schools on opposite ends of the city and one university. This meant that the expat scene was fairly small and there were only a few western supermarkets and bars.
Biggest frustrations about life in China?
Life I mention above, the language, the internet and the pollution were our biggest frustrations in China.
The biggest wins of living life in China?
Travel and meeting the local people. I became great friends with my teaching assistant Jessie, she helped us day in, day out in China and I will always be so grateful to her.
How would you compare your everyday life in London and China?
Although life in China did come with frustrations, it was also incredibly convenient. I used the DIDI app (like Uber) to book a car everywhere and they are super cheap. I was also able to order everything to our door – when I was unwell, I would use an app to have medicines delivered to my apartment within the hour. When we wanted some ingredients for dinner, it was at the door within the hour. If I wanted to get some flowers to freshen up the apartment, they could be at the door within the hour.
China is convenient once you know how to use the apps and that is why I was so lucky to have a friend like Jessie to show me how to do everything!
You have travelled extensively through China. Is China an easy country to travel? Where are your favourite places or places you didn’t like?
China can be an easy place to travel once you get the hang of it. Like I said before, there are a lot of cultural differences so once you have taken a step back and accepted that people don’t queue for anything and people do push and shove a lot, then travel becomes manageable.
The extensive speed train network makes travel a lot easier and using the cTrip app allowed to book tickets in advance. Most major cities will have some big chain hotels too, so if you are feeling like you are out of your comfort zone, book some time in those recognisable brands.
Every city has a starbucks, McDonalds and KFC, so if you are stuck for food anywhere, you will be able to find something to eat (if you are happy to eat from any of these western brands).
As for my favourite destination, I would have to say Ping’an Village. Near Guilin, you can visit the Longji Rice terraces; a stunning collection of terraces but also the location of Ping’an village. This is an adorable little village that sits on the terraces, with homes made out of wood and no street lights. We stayed here for a few nights and loved waking up to the sunrise over the mountains and taking the different hikes.
For cities, Xi’an is probably my favourite city. Shanghai has a lot to offer for first time travellers and Beijing has a lot of history but Beijing is also covered in smog for half the year so it can be difficult to visit. Xi’an was perfect because it was a modern day Chinese city; it didn’t have too many western influencers and has kept its traditional food and way of life. There are lots of interesting sights to see and do around the city but we found, none of them (apart from the Terracotta Warriors) were overcrowded at all.