Other Options After the Senior Year: Teaching English in China

by Kierstin Bolton, CHC Class of '11

Last year, I was worrying all the time, trying to decide what to do following graduation.  My parents kept asking me, “Why don’t you find a job?,” friends would ask, “Which graduate schools are you applying to?” and I kept thinking, “I have to take the GRE, pay almost $1,000 to apply to ten graduate schools, fill out the applications, get at least 20 recommendation letters, all while writing my thesis,” and it drove me absolutely crazy.

Another option for something to do post-graduation is to teach English abroad.  Nowhere is the demand for English teachers higher than in China, especially Beijing.  Now you may think, “China is a second world country, I can’t speak Chinese, or I am afraid to live abroad, especially in a non-western society.”  All of these concerns are legitimate, of course, and you should be a very independent person if you want to live and work in any foreign country.  You have to learn to take care of yourself and manage your money, know where you are going, and learn how to speak (at least a little) a language that is very different from your own.  Of course, it’s easier if you can speak Chinese, or if you have been to China before. 

If you like children and enjoy teaching, then you should consider teaching English in another country.  It is a very rewarding and extraordinary experience to teach children because you can see their English improve and they truly enjoy learning English.  Before I came to China, I had no teaching experience, but it is quite easy and I have a lot of fun.  I work for a company called RiseMart, teaching children ages 5-12, and half the time I get to design my own lesson plans.  For my other classes, I design activities that correspond to the curriculum; for example, allowing the students to create their own Oregon Trail board game, performing scientific experiments such as the baking soda volcano, and baking pizza and other western cuisine.  The school I work at uses smart board technology, which is very helpful because it allows the students to be more engaged with the material.  RiseMart is neither a public nor private school; rather, it is a language training center.  Students come to learn English here for at least six hours per week, in addition to attending school.  It is amazing that they still have energy to attend an English school on top of already going to Chinese school.

This is YOUR time to do anything you want.  Unless you are in a serious relationship, you have the freedom and flexibility to go anywhere and do anything.  It is easier to work abroad and do anything you want while you are still young.  Later in life you will likely be more focused on marriage, having children, getting a Master’s Degree and/or a Doctorate.

Frankly, it’s nice to know that the only things I have to worry about paying for are some student loans, my rent, and my food, plus traveling costs.  I have no car bills, no mortgage, car insurance, etc.  I can experience a different culture and travel in one of the world’s most exciting regions.  I don’t have to worry about the ordinary stressors of life like bills and the drama that plagues so many Americans.  This is not to say, however, that going to graduate school and/or getting a job in the United States is not an equally valid option right after graduation.  The important thing to remember is to keep your options open and to do what makes YOU happy; not your professors, parents, or grandparents.  Of course, these people can provide some valuable guidance, but in the end the decision is yours.

The Joys and Benefits of Teaching and Living in China

Chinese children are very eager to improve their English.  For Chinese, it is essential for them to perfect their English, because many wish to go abroad to the United States.  The children are very energetic and it is refreshing to watch them grow in many ways.  For most of them, I am the only foreign teacher they will have, because most of the English teachers are Chinese.  Americans are regarded as special, because we come from a land of freedom and opportunity.  Chinese desire these things, as well as to learn English, because it is their ticket to success.

It is quite cheap to live in China.  I can save a lot of money and manage to start paying off my loans.  I do not have to buy a car because the subway system is very convenient and inexpensive (about 13 American cents for a one-way ticket).

There are many wealthy families living in Beijing, so I have had some good luck in finding private tutoring jobs.  Usually I am paid between 28-35 American dollars an hour to tutor English.

It is very easy to find an English teaching job in China.  All you need to have is a Bachelor’s Degree and speak English well.  You usually have an interview, but if you are outgoing and personable then you will be hired.  There is a shortage of English-speaking foreigners in China, so English speakers are in very high demand.

Even though China is very different from the United States, there are many western conveniences here, especially in Beijing.  There are many western restaurants, Wal Mart, Starbuck’s, European bakeries, and foreign bookstores. So, living in Beijing is not so confining to Chinese culture as it may seem. There is a large expat community in Beijing, which is nice.  I get to experience Chinese culture to a large extent, but I am also able to retain my American identity, which is very important

Plus, Beijing is a very international and historical city.  The Great Wall is here, as well as the Olympic Park, Summer Palace, Forbidden City, and numerous parks.  There are so many activities in Beijing that there is something new to experience every day.

Some of the Drawbacks

There is such a high demand for Chinese to practice English with foreigners that everywhere you go, random Chinese want to speak English with you.  They are usually in awe of American culture, and do not get the chance to practice English with foreigners.  This can sometimes be overwhelming, and you may feel like a celebrity whom paparazzi are following.

It is also very hard to live abroad for a few months to a year.  You will start to miss your family and friends.  Sometimes I have even wondered, “Should I even be here?” because it is hard to live in a different culture.  But, after living in Beijing for two months, I have not had that feeling anymore.  It is important to enjoy your experience to the fullest extent, so if you are only focused on the monetary aspect, then you will be miserable.

Some tips:

  1. It is best to find an agency that can find an English teaching job for you in China.  The company will usually give you money for return airfare after you complete a one year contract, and arrange plus pay for your visa to be extended.  It also helps you to find an apartment if you are living in Beijing; if you are teaching somewhere else in China then the apartment is provided for you.  I currently work for a company called ChinaESL.  Rebecca Tang, Ph.D., is ChinaESL’s HR Manager and Visa Consultant.  If you decide to teach English through ChinaESL, Rebecca is very helpful.  Her email is: chinaesl@yahoo.cn.  All you need to send her is a passport photo and resume a few months before you leave for China.  I would advise you to contact me before you contact Rebecca, just to be more familiar with the company and what you can expect living and working in China.  
  2. Have a network of friends who already live where you are going
  3. Find other foreigners who are working/ and or studying abroad like you. Internations is a reputable website to find fellow expats.
  4. Be open minded and always flexible to change.  Especially concerning China, you never know what may happen. 
  5. Learn the language, or at least some phrases to get by.  If you know some of the language, then it is easier to acclimate to a foreign culture.  The locals will appreciate you even more if you at least make the attempt, even if you cannot speak their language well.  This demonstrates that you have an interest in their culture.
  6. Travel: there’s so much to do and see outside the United States.

If you have any questions, feel free to email me at kierstin.bolton@yahoo.com.