"Wish You Happy Every Day": An Expat's Life in China

Finding an EFL job in China
August 23, 2010, 1:35 am
Filed under: efl world, teaching | Tags:

A year ago today, I was a terrified soon-to-be college senior. I admit that my last summer vacation had been relatively unproductive… I spent a good chunk of time hiding out on my bed and reading these old Superman comic books that I had collected as a kid. So I seem like an unlikely person to man up and leave town all on my own.

Because of the economy, I had decided to go straight to graduate school.  But I wrote my personal statements and studied for the GREs with little enthusiasm.  Then, one day, in Literary Criticism and Theory class, I had a realization.  Senior year was, in fact, only one year (even though it felt longer at times); college was going to end soon; and I had no desire to immediately go to graduate school.  I remember sitting with my professor after class and discussing a few options.  Instead of feeling lost and limited, I realized that there was a whole world of possibilities.

Admittedly, the idea of teaching in China did not not require a great deal of imagination on my part. In the summer before my junior year, I had been fortunate enough to teach in Fuzhou for two months as part of an internship supported by my school.  So I had no illusions about the level of difficulty coping with teaching and lesson plans in addition to culture shock.

I began my search as I would begin any search in the year 2010: Google. There are a plethora of EFL (English as a Foreign Language) resources out there. I came across the China job board on Dave’s ESL Cafe (http://www.eslcafe.com), where I did most of my job searching. In fact, that is where I found the job that I ultimately decided on.  There are actually a ton of job boards out there with listings for China: check out www.eslteachersboard.com, www.foreignhr.com, or www.tefl.com.

I had been told that it is relatively easy to find a job in China. As a new teacher, however, this has not been my experience. Many schools require applicants to have at least a year of experience or TEFL/TESOL certification (or both). As an uncertified, soon-to-be college graduate with only two months of experience, this did not bode well. So, I made arrangements to earn my CELTA (Certificate to Teach English to Adults) over the summer, and I applied to schools that didn’t require teaching experience.

Even then, however, I did not receive many replies from schools. Then I read somewhere that the best way to get a response is to send a passport-sized photo and a scan of your passport (in addition to your resume).  Some schools look at the photo and passport page before they even consider your resume. Sure enough, once I started doing this, I started receiving replies.

It is important to first and foremost figure out a suitable location. Unfortunately, I did not do this, and it probably cost me time. For example, I started applying to a university in Chongqing, but never followed through because I realized that I did not want to be in a big hot city in the south where most of the food is spicy.  Why did I even start applying in the first place?

I started to make a list of things that I wanted in a place: a lively expat community, an environment where I would have to largely rely on my Chinese, a busy city and cool weather.  That eliminated the south. Dalian is ideal in this sense because it is by the shore, it has an active but not overwhelming expat community, and I’ve heard that most people do not speak English.

When I heard back from a school, I would then set up a Skype interview. I have found that interviews with Chinese schools tend to be very relaxed; typically, they wanted to me to describe my former teaching experience in China, and to explain my interest in teaching and in China itself. I think that they want to make sure that the foreigner they hire is both professional and genuinely appreciative of Chinese culture. They also don’t want you to get political. One school, after noting that I went to a women’s college, asked if I was a feminist. (I dodged the answer – “I believe that both men and women are equal.”)

The interview itself lasts 15-20 minutes, tops; then, I had a chance to ask my own questions. This is extremely important, I have found. You can find a list of questions you should ask a Chinese employer here: http://www.eslteachersboard.com/cgi-bin/china-info/index.pl?read=4064

It is hard to break into the EFL industry. To summarize, I have found that it is extremely important to acquire certification as well as some teaching experience (even if it is volunteer work). In my next entry, I will discuss my experience getting my CELTA.


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