With a 16-hour work week…a month-long winter vacation…a huge number of well-paid jobs …and all the Chinese food you can eat…it’s no wonder so many people of all ages and backgrounds are heading to teach English in China. Demand for teachers is high as China is a world player and millions of college students and adults enroll in English courses to help them get better jobs.
34-year-old Richard Draeger, of Wisconsin, started his teaching career in China up in Ningxia—a province in the northwestern part of the country, 15 hours by train from Beijing. Later he moved to Zhejiang province, just two-hours from Shanghai.
“I get to interact with Chinese from all over the country, since Zhejiang Yuexiu University of Foreign Language International College attracts students from all provinces,” says Richard.
Living in the small city of Shaoxing in Zhejiang province, Richard enjoys the light workload “My contract only obligates me to teach eight, two-hour class periods a week,” he says. “I don’t need to keep office hours, so I can do lesson plans and correcting at my leisure. Aside from teaching, I do have to give an English-related lecture to the student body once a semester.”
The university provides textbook-based course material for the listening courses he teaches, but Richard infuses the lessons with plenty of Western-style teaching methodology including role-playing games, teaching songs and showing film clips so students get to see and use English in real life situations.
While his school only encourages the foreign teachers to facilitate or attend English “corners” (periodic gatherings held to give people an opportunity to speak English), some contracts will stipulate that teachers must participate on a set basis. But Richard embraces this extracurricular activity.
“When I’m not doing anything work-related, I spend time getting to know my students and other Chinese friends better,” he explains.
They enjoy frequenting coffee shops, singing karaoke or eating the Chinese version of barbecue—grilled mutton and vegetables on sticks, sprinkled with cumin and chili powder—street-side with a dirt-cheap, ice-cold beer.
Richard is also impressed with the medical care he receives. “Health issues have landed me in the hospital three times during my five years in China,” he says. His international medical insurance paid for his care, which included being seen by highly-skilled Chinese doctors who had either studied or worked abroad. For monthly checkups he simply goes to the hospital “because the fees are usually between $5 and $8, which isn’t much, and not worth the hassle of dealing with my insurance company.”
China is, of course, a huge country. And the experience that you’ll get varies greatly depending on the area to which you go. Large top-tier cities—like Bejing, Shanghai, and Tianjin—have large expat communities which are a huge help when you first arrive and are feeling homesick. While the cost of living is higher there, you’ll enjoy a bustling entertainment scene, shops that stay open past dusk, and higher salaries.
Average monthly starting pay is around $1,143 for first-year teachers at public schools and almost $2,000 for teachers with advanced degrees and experience. Private schools and English training centers have a more rigorous work schedule— working evenings, weekends and holidays to accommodate busy students—but pay runs between $30-75 an hour.
Moving to any new place requires some adjustment, and China is no different. “You must be patient,” says Richard. “You’ve got to be patient enough to find a good friend who will help you out at a moment’s notice. Having just one person who knows you will make a world of difference in coming to terms with another culture.”
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