Teaching English in China or That Time I was an Illegal Immmigrant

16 December 2012

So, I've alluded to it in the past but I've never talked in depth about my summer internship in China. Yep, all those pictures I've shared of myself jaunting around China were taken in between working for the company New Oriental, teaching English to high school students. Are you considering running off to Asia to take advantage of the English teaching market? Here's what you need to know:

After class snapshot
When it comes to the good, the bad, and the ugly, the actual job is what I would consider the 'good'. In fact, I loved my job. Most of my classes I worked as a co-teacher which meant a Chinese instructor would lead the class and I would add in bits of knowledge to supplement the class. I'd talk about American culture (what's college like, holidays we celebrate, do the chickens that KFC use really have 6 legs???) or help with pronunciation.

If I wasn't co-teaching, then I was doing functional classes which means I led a class all by myself. Talk about pressure! It was really scary at first to stand up in front of all those people (many my age or not much younger) and tell them what to do but it ended up being a great learning experience for me. I found that I truly could be confident and lead a class, successfully teaching lessons and sharing ideas. Suddenly a new career path had opened up to me that I had never previously considered.

Other than co-teaching and functional classes I would also partake in 'English Corner'. This was different each week; sometimes we would just sit and chat to practice English, other times we would sing (side note: why do the Chinese love to sing so much???)

Also falling under the 'good' is my students! They were all so sweet and such diligent workers. I've never seen so many kids dedicated to their studies. I mean, these were optional, summer classes! They were all so nice! I would often spend my days off hanging out with students, going to museums or having meals. And they bought me lots of presents! I'm still in contact with several of my students.

And the bad?  Well, let's just say that the Chinese business bureaucracy is not very fun to work with. I only ever met my boss on the first day of training and from then on, any of my concerns and questions had to be filtered through a myriad of people before I could get a response. With all the back and forth, things often got confusing.

Also, my schedule was very tough. For the first month I worked every other day for 12 hours a day (permitting lunch and dinner breaks). Later my hours were reduced but they also lost their structure and pattern. Sometimes I'd be out clubbing and get a text saying I had to be in for work at 8 am. Needless to say, I was not a very effective teacher on those days.

Oh, yeah, also I was an illegal immigrant for the first month I lived in China. Yeah, my company didn't want to do the extra paper work for hiring foreigners so they told us to get tourist visas and not mention to anyone that we would be paid while we were visiting China. Too bad their scheme didn't work this year because one morning I woke up to an e-mail saying the Chinese government had become aware that we were working without the proper visa and that we had one week to correct the situation or we would be deported.

In case you don't know, Chinese visas are not cheap. I argued with my coordinator and eventually they agreed to pay for our new visas (only after several interns quit, though).

But even through the trying ordeals of working with a Chinese business, I had an amazing summer. I created so many friendships and promoted cultural exchange. If anyone is thinking of filling a gap year and making some money at the same time, I would definitely suggest teaching English. You'll have a great time and learn about yourself and your abilities at the same time.

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  1. Still a great experience eh? The business side is never easy from what I hear. Are you going to teach english anywhere else?

    1. Yeah, the business side was lousy but I'd do it again. There's no other way to say it with out sounding cheesy but teaching does feel really rewarding. After I graduate I'm thinking of doing private English lessons as I travel to make some money. Hopefully that works out!

  2. This is interesting. I've been offered a job in China to start next year, slightly different as it's working in a business centre teaching English and some other business courses to people who need it for work.
    But they've told me to come on a tourist visa and then apply for a proper working visa when I get there, this was bothering me because I've experienced how strict the Chinese immigration can be. They interrogated me once for three hours because I was trying to transit through China on my way from Hong Kong to Vietnam. I had a single entry tourist visa in my passport that I'd already used as I travelled around China before going to Hong Kong, and they accused me of trying to sneak back in illegally, even though I had the boarding card for my onward flight to Vietnam.
    The last thing I want to do is get on the wrong side of them again, I'd rather not end up being barred from the country.

    1. This summer the Chinese government put some new laws into effect and they're getting very strict about visas so I'd say ignore what your company said and INSIST that they give you the paperwork for a work visa from the get go. Some of the other interns did that this summer when they were told to get a tourist visa and the company eventually did give them the papers to get the proper visa.

      Also, sorry to hear about your border experience! I would have been scared senseless!

  3. I enjoyed reading this article. I didn't know that they would sometimes be sneaky with the paperwork.