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A Sideways Look at the Five Most Amazing Things About Teaching In China

Features, China

Never before has teaching English abroad been more exciting than it is today. Now English teachers have the opportunity to teach abroad in China. The chance to travel to the People’s Republic of China and live and teach among its people is an unparalleled career option. China’s rich and exotic history remains shrouded in mystery for most, but a TEFL job allows you to step behind the veil and become a part of China’s ongoing saga. If you are a teacher with an adventurous spirit, such a journey to the third largest country in the world could lead you to astonishing discoveries many people will never know about China. You could learn amazing things, such as:

  • In the late 1300’s China invented toilet paper. At first it was for emperors only. Fortunately, Chinese emperors soon saw the benefit of an entire nation of clean bums, rather than a nation of one clean bum. Toilet paper is now widely available to all the inhabitants of China, even those who are in China to teach English.
  • It is common knowledge that martial arts are widely practiced throughout China. What is not so widely known is that the martial arts were largely developed from ancient farming and hunting techniques. All this time the world was under the impression those chops and kicks were to prevent some mugger from overpowering a victim. The reality is that those chops and kicks were to protect a person from dangerous wheat and dairy cow encounters.
  • The most important holiday in China is the Chinese New Year, or, Lunar New Year. These celebrations generally last fifteen days. Traditional belief is that a person turns one year older on the New Year. All Chinese enjoy the same birthday. The advantage for the English teacher is having two birthday parties each year while teaching in China. The down side, well, you’ll be twice as old when you return home from your TEFL job.
  • China is sometimes a day ahead of the United States. So, if you call your mom back home in Toledo today, you are talking to her yesterday. That confusing tidbit of information may not be explained in your “Teach in China” manual. You’ll have to figure that one out on your own. China also has only one time zone for this vast expanse of geography. You could start a 6am day as a teacher in the dead of night or at sunrise. It all depends on where you are.
  • Every year 45 billion chopsticks are made available to over one billion Chinese by cutting down 20 million 20-year-old trees. Don’t just be a good English teacher abroad, be a memorable English teacher teaching abroad in China. Start a trend. Save a tree. Recycle a set of chopsticks, or, better yet, pack a fork.

If these interesting facts don’t spark your interest further, then perhaps the thought of having a career that helps to improve the lives of others is what will appeal to you. Over ten million Chinese populate four megacities in the People’s Republic of China. This is just a fraction of the population that numbers well over one billion. The experience of teaching abroad in China will not only change the life of the teacher, it will change the lives of many Chinese.

As you get to know these wonderful people, whose lives you are helping to transform, it’s important to understand social etiquette. If you are eating with a group, be polite. Don’t begin your meal until everyone is seated and has been served. Do not light up a cigarette while dining. That is a big no-no. If someone offers a toast in your honor, stop eating and drinking as you receive the toast. As a teacher among students, it is important to recognize your social status as being senior. Therefore, upon greeting one another, it is customary for the person of senior status to offer the handshake first. A custom for educated people during the time of the Tang dynasty was to greet or say goodbye in poetic verse composed on the spot. It may be centuries later, but, if you really want to impress, brush up on some poetry. So, don’t forget, “TEFL jobs are enhanced by a rhyme. If it is delivered at just the right time.”

As you live and teach in China, naturally you will begin to converse in Chinese, if you are willing to put in some practice time with friends and colleagues. You may be invited to visit a Chinese family. This should be done by appointment. Your arrival should be punctual. It is polite to bring gifts. Suitable gifts are bouquets of flowers, candles, wine, candies, and toys for children. Taboo items would be clocks, especially in the case of gifting the elderly with a clock. Old folks do not need to be reminded that time is ticking away. For obvious reasons, intimate apparel is not a suitable gift. Giving medicine as a gift is not only inappropriate, but would just be awkward. Enjoying many social visits will deeply immerse a person into Chinese culture. This can result in great improvement of Chinese language skills. With such a skill, you may then want to enroll in what is certainly one of the most absorbing academic studies of all time. In China a person can major in Bra Studies. Yes, that is “bra”, as in “brassiere”, the fashion apparatus that provides that special support for lovely ladies. The statistics of the male/female enrollment ratios must truly be intriguing. Arrive in China a teacher of the English language. Depart from China an expert in all things “bra”.

Questions about diet are a very common concern. Just as “Tex-Mex” is nothing like authentic Mexican food (imho!), authentic Chinese fare is distinctly different from its foreign imitators. Be prepared to enjoy an unbelievable variety of delicious cuisine, even such curiosities as green bean flavored popsicles. Since half the world’s pig population resides in China, you should have no trouble getting a side order of bacon or a ham sandwich. China’s eight provinces of Shandong, Sichuan, Guangdong, Jiangsu, Zhejian, Fujian, Hunan and Anhui each produce their own characteristic cuisine. Urban areas will have an abundance of restaurants where a person can sample dishes from any of these regions. If homesickness has a person longing for a hamburger or pizza or fish and chips, western-style food is easy to find as well. Many hotel restaurants will have western features on the menu. Popular fast food outlets also offer a taste of home for the visiting English teacher. Places like McDonald’s, Pizza Hut or Kentucky Fried Chicken can easily be found. But just remember, fortune cookies are not a traditional Chinese custom. They were invented in 1920 by a worker in the Key Heong Noodle Factory in San Francisco. Keep that in mind and don’t get in a huff when you finish your meal and your customary cookie is not delivered.

Do not concern yourself with visions of boredom wondering what to do with your free time in a strange place. Teaching abroad in China transplants an individual into a fascinating and diverse culture. The end of the work day is not the end of the adventure. Enjoy learning Tai Chi in a beautifully landscaped public park. Take ballroom dancing lessons or join the fun at a karaoke bar. Since China is the world’s second largest economy, I have only one word, shopping. The world’s biggest mall can be found in China. However, if you are a regular on social media, be sure to get your fix before you arrive. Facebook and Twitter have been blocked in China since 2009. The Chinese social scene more than likely involves paddles and balls, since table tennis is China’s national sport.

Imagine you have become convinced that teaching English abroad in China is the opportunity of a lifetime. You start on your journey, arrive and unpack your bags only to discover that you forgot to pack socks. No worries! One in every three socks in the “World Sock Market” today originated from the Datang district of Zhuji, China, also known as "Sock City". As you teach in China, you will have no excuse to have poorly clothed feet. And don’t forget to pack fabulous fashions of red. Red is considered a lucky color in China. First impressions count. Arrive in the classroom on the first day decked out red.

Teaching abroad in China would most certainly include a visit to the Great Wall. If you pack a picnic to take along on your tour, you won’t have to pack the rice. The mortar used to bind the Great Wall’s stones was made with sticky rice! So, surely the Great Wall could spare a bowlful. You don’t want to finish up your teaching tour without visiting The Forbidden City. This palace complex in Beijing contains 9,000 rooms. And one must not pass up the opportunity to see The Summer Palace in Beijing. Built in 1750 by Emperor Qianglong, the vast expanse of the gardens can easily take half a day to enjoy. Be sure to wear your comfiest walking shoes.

Not only is China rich in historical places to visit, but there are modern marvels as well. Hong Kong has more skyscrapers than any other city in the world and, on average, China gains a new skyscraper every five days. With all that construction going on, every English teacher in China should pack a hard hat. An interesting architectural feature of Beijing that can be appreciated at night is known as the “Big Egg”. This cultural island in the middle of a lake is the National Grand Theater of China. Visiting at night enables one to see from the outside the movements within the theatre. If you are of the daredevil spirit, pay a visit to the architectural marvel of China's Bailong Elevator. It carries visitors more than 300 meters up a cliff's edge.
Yes, that’s a “bail-ly long” elevator! Just another perk a TEFL job can offer.

Famous, of course, for its pandas, China has a wonderful diversity of wildlife to enjoy. There are the Yunnan snub-nosed monkeys who live at a higher altitude than any other primate. Bet you never dreamed a TEFL job might require oxygen! Beautiful white dolphins can be found off southern China, but keep in mind that they are actually pink. And if you have the chance, dear English teacher, don’t miss the opportunity to see the Asiatic golden cats. Just remember not to engage in conversation. They prefer to communicate by spitting.

Transportation within China is easily facilitated with efficient high-speed trains, inexpensive flights, subways and mini-buses. The railways system of China could loop around the earth twice! Transportation will definitely be the least of your worries. If your driving skills abroad match your skills teaching English abroad, and you are brave enough to rent a car, remember that some routes are best left for the locals to navigate for you. Between mainland China and Macau is a bridge where cars switch from left to right-hand drive and vice versa. If travel to your teaching or sightseeing destination requires this route, I’d recommend a taxi.

Do you hesitate to become an English teacher abroad teaching in China because of fear of the unknown? Are you concerned how interacting with your students will play out? The Chinese want English teachers. They put into practice what Confucius said, “When three of us walk together, one of the others can be my teacher.” This philosophy demonstrates the open-minded nature of the Chinese people and their receptiveness to learning from others. You, the teacher, are welcome in their land. Loosen things up and have some fun with your students. People are the same no matter where you go. Introduce a little fun and enthusiastic students will be your reward.

Michelle C taught in Sichuan Province in 2011 and has been writing about it ever since!

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