My tefl Blog

10 things to know about TEFL in China

So, you’re thinking of TEFL in China? Great news! This enthralling land of Taoist shrines, tea fields and throbbing cities promises to be one to remember. But before you go; just a few pointers to remember:


TEFL in China
China | © M M/Flickr


China is massive


Okay, so you might already have a buddy teaching in the historic city of Xi’an, where they spend their weekends biking around the centuries-old walls and glowering at the Terracotta Army. The chances are, if you’ve chosen anywhere else in the country to teach, you’re going to have to make a hefty journey if you want to join them on said rides and heritage trips. That’s because China is huge – 3.7 million square miles huge to be exact!


Where you go matters


Precisely because China is such a massive place, it’s really important to think long and hard about where it is you want to go the most in the People’s Republic. For beaches and tropical waves, Hainan is the place to head for. For modern cityscapes and energy there’s Shanghai. For the Great Wall and other relics there’s Beijing, while other towns like Chengdu and Shenzhen offer totally different experiences in their own right.


TEFL in China
Wuxi, Jiangsu, China | © Thomas Depenbusch/Flickr


Urban China can be chaotic!


There’s no question about it: China’s cities can get pretty darn hectic. In massive megalopolises like Beijing and Shanghai, traffic whirrs this way and that, street bazaars throb on all the corners, and business high-rises glimmer and glisten in the haze. There’s rarely a second of respite in these parts, but then there’s rarely a dull moment either!


Rural China can be really sleepy


Just as the cities are hectic and frenetic, China’s backcountry can be pretty darn quiet. That’s because decades of growth in the People’s Republic has drawn more and more people to the towns, rendering the bucolic hinterlands of places like Yunnan and Sichuan pretty empty. It’s more likely you’ll be working somewhere urban, but just in case you’re not, be ready for a chilled time – with some awesome scenery, of course.


TEFL in China
Chinese foods | © Run Mizumushi-Kun/Flickr


Chinese food is diverse!


Yep, with flavors from the Far East, Central Asia, Japan and even the colonial age all fusing in the Chinese kitchen, it can be difficult to pin down exactly what the food of the People’s Republic is. While you might have your favorite dish in your local takeaway, it’s worth remembering places like that typically sell westernized versions of oriental food. That means those coming to do their TEFL in China will just have to get used to a whole new range of tastes, and the huge (and we mean huge!) regional variations, going from the tingling peppers of Sichuan to the salty soy of Canton. 


Know your schools


Teachers looking to TEFL in China will have a whole host of possible roles open to them. Two of the most common come in state schools and in private ESL institutions. The latter means less hours typically at unsociable times (to coincide with pupils’ own time off), while the former can mean big class sizes but a guaranteed position for the whole year. Be sure to get to know the pros and cons of both before you apply.


TEFL in China
Wuxi, Jiangsu, China | © Thomas Depenbusch/Flickr


Getting home might not be easy


One of the things that makes TEFL in China such an attractive prospect is the fact it promises an adventure that’s far, far away from home and the comfort zone. Don’t forget that also means hopping long-haul flights and whole oceans whenever you want to visit the folks. That can be draining and expensive, so be set aside cash and time to plan those nostalgic returns.


Cultural nuances


China is a place far removed from the western world, and, as such, it’s got its own rich culture and lifestyle that folk coming from the US, UK and Canada might find a little difficult to grasp. Take the idea of ‘face’ – a sort of indefinable pride in work and living. Things like that are really important for forging friendships and working relationships; crucial to understand if you’re looking to fit in seamlessly. 


TEFL in China


It’s not all mega cheap


Don’t come to China expecting to live like a king. Swelling ranks of middle class folk and even big wig business people have created a place that has all the same pay scales and price points as the west. Yep, you can pay an arm and a leg for a fine-dining meal or five-star hotel if you want to, but you can also discover cheap hostels and bargain food stalls on the roadside. In short: just be sure to keep an eye on that budget!


The experience is best for those who embrace it


China can be hard. China can be tricky. China can also be one of the most amazing places you’ve ever visited. Just like all teaching destinations, from Thailand to Vietnam, Colombia to Argentina, the place is what you make of it. So, be open-minded; delve into that Han history; hike to the mountaintop temples; sample those spicy Sichuan noodles – the more you do the more unforgettable TEFL in China promises to be!



If you can think of any more pointers that would-be teachers in China should know before they go, be sure to add them in the comments below. Or, if you’ve decided that TEFL in China is for you, be sure to check out myTEFL’s range of opportunities there

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