When I was younger I always wanted to visit China. I was mesmerised by the food, culture, language and history of one of the oldest civilisations in the world. So with the country opening its doors to foreigners in 2002, I took the opportunity to live there for a year teaching English at Shandong University of Technology in Zibo.
I returned to China in 2004 and taught at a private school and a car company in Wuhu, Anhui before living in Beijing and studying Chinese while working in a middle school part time. I absolutely loved my time there and still think China is the best place to live and travel if you want to experience something totally different to the norm.
Teaching is a fantastic way to experience living in another country. Firstly, you have a skill which can be used anywhere in the world so there are no boundaries where you can do it. You can really get involved with the local community, live off the beaten track in tiny villages or great big metropolises, learn new languages and travel around the country on holidays. You get an insight into the country which you won't get if you're just travelling through it.
To teach abroad, you don’t need to be a formally qualified teacher and you don't necessarily require a TEFL qualification (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) but I would recommend the TEFL course. With a TEFL qualification you will be offered jobs at a better wage and as more and more schools and companies see this as a minimum requirement, it shows them you know what you’re doing. There are day courses or even week-long courses to qualify as TEFL teacher, so there is something to fit the bill for everyone.
You will require a certain amount of patience and be able to think on the spot as teaching a language to new beginners when you don't speak their language can be testing! I would definitely say that you have to be outgoing and be willing to get 100% involved in the culture - the schooling system is so different to the UK.
As with every country, there are good and bad aspects of teaching in China. It can be frustrating teaching a language when you have to explain a grammar rule 25 times, but then it's worth it when you see it has been understood and used correctly!
To watch the improvement in someone's English language ability over the year and know you have had a helping hand in that is so satisfying. I have made lifelong friends as a result of working in China, and even have a couple of my students living and working in the UK now.
The minimum amount of time commitment needed for teaching in China would be one school term; 1 September to Chinese New Year, or after Chinese New Year to the end of June, with one week off as half term each term.
It can be a bit daunting trying to figure out where to start even looking for a job in China. If you have a TEFL qualification then you can use the TEFL website. This is a great place to start as you know you will be going to a respected school or business, get paid and usually also get accommodation included in the deal!
Real Gap offers a great package to teach English and also gain your TEFL qualification in Beijing, which can be booked through me. There are options to teach in kindergarten, primary school, middle (senior) school, university level or for a private company - so you can choose the age group or area that suits you best.
If you would love to experience living in China but don't think teaching is quite right for you then you can still experience China by volunteering.
I to I offers some great volunteering projects with the famous Pandas or working with kids in Xi'an. These packages are only for a couple of weeks, making it more feasible if you have a big round the world trip planned.
At Travel Nation we have even more experience in teaching in China - Roy spent 8 months teaching English in the suburbs of Beijing in 2011 on his way back from Australia. We both had great experiences and fond memories and would love to help you incorporate this amazing experience into your round the world experience, if that’s what you’re interested in. If you'd like help or advice - just contact either Rowena.
I can also book your tours around China, accommodation and day trips – just get in touch with me. This fascinating country does present a massive language barrier and heading there on a trip with G Adventures means you can enjoy and relish the country without having the hassle of not understanding a thing.
They offer a fantastic tour which takes in all the highlights of China for a first time visitor including the Great Wall, Terracotta Warriors of Xi'an and cosmopolitan Shanghai.