Some of the best advice I’ve ever received about teaching English in China is to expect the unexpected. To the vast majority of people, China is a place of mystery, and if you believe the news, a pretty scary place. Some expats in China have mostly good experiences, and other expats have mostly bad experiences. Yet truth be told, China is neither a good or a bad place; it’s just a place that is different from your home country. Whether you see the good or see the bad depends a great deal on your worldview and if you view life as a glass half empty or half full.
For a moment, forget your preconceptions of China. Imagine a country the same size as the USA with almost five times as many people. A country that has the mind of an old sage and the body of a teenager that has recently gone through tremendous growth spurts as it closes out the developing stage of its legacy.
You remember your teenage years. You were primarily focused on all the changes you were going through and were the center of your own universe. Life was unnecessarily complicated and people often told you no; but as you grew into your own, you realized you didn’t need other people’s permission to get things done. You consumed a lot of junk food and didn’t think twice about it because your growing body just needed the energy. Only later on, would you realize the toll that would take on your middle-aged self.
China may not be the most popular kid on the block, but they are one of the smartest. China’s thousands of years of history has taught Chinese people endurance and patience. One of the worst things you can do in China is assume because of the awkward growth spurt you see around you, that they aren’t in full control of their future. You may laugh at the nerdy kid in school, but after they become President you realize perhaps you should have tried harder to understand them and be friends with them.
Being in a country that you know nothing or very little about can be not only intimidating but downright embarrassing. You can’t speak the language, you can’t do basic tasks such as filling out a form to open a new bank account or buy a cell phone plan.
You have no idea that leaving your chopsticks upright in your rice bowl is a bad omen or that pointing the front of a teapot at someone is impolite. You’re unaware that your cool phone number that ends with four 4’s makes people think you want to be cursed. Basically, you’re a walking faux pas, and your only saving grace is that you’re blissfully ignorant of your cultural gaffes most of the time. However, at the same time, that ignorance also keeps you from truly understanding and accepting your home away from home.
In addition to being confused on a daily basis, you’re far away from people you know and everything familiar. This makes living in China not so fun, and, as a result, your tolerance levels diminish. This is when you start to dwell on the bad things that surround you in China. Keep yourself busy at work while you learn more about Chinese culture to keep the bad from turning ugly.
Perhaps one of the best things about China’s ongoing teenage growth spurt is that you will have endless career options in China. Perhaps the jobs up for grabs are not your dream jobs, but the options available to you are unbelievably diverse. For example, let’s say you start working for a school, but for whatever reason you hope to work elsewhere in the near future. Guess what, as an English teacher in China, you have your pick of companies and work schedules.
You could be a tutor and set your own hours or you could work part-time at a weekend training center. You could work “full-time” at a business and only teach during their lunch hour while the rest of the day is for “lesson preparation”. You can teach any age group you prefer from two-year olds in diapers to fifty-year old CEOs in Lamborghinis. Whatever job you want to have in China, whether you’re an English teacher or you work in a completely different industry, you will have options. Welcome to China and enjoy the good, the bad, and the ugly.