What It's Like to Live and Teach in China (illustrated by gifs)

07 November 2013

Last summer I did one of the craziest and most rewarding thing of my life; I went to China and worked as an English teacher. Prior to this experience I had thought I had no interest in teaching. In fact, one time in high school, my teacher let me lead a lesson in Spanish class and I absolutely hated it. I was a nervous wreck. 

So what prompted me to go work as a teacher in a foreign country?? Well, other than my fear of speaking in front of people, I really had no other reason to say no. It was a job, I had no plans for that summer, and it was in a country I had never visited before. I ought to at least give it a try, right?

This has been a decision that I have not once regretted in my life. My time in China taught me so much: my Chinese got better, I learned about an amazing new culture, and I received the guidance which has affected my future career goals. But there were certainly definitely ups and downs. Here's an illustration of what it's like to move and work abroad in China:

When you first get there, you'll be a bit overwhelmed. You can't read the street signs, the food is weird, and you can only understand bits of what people are saying.

And of course, you stick out like a sore thumb. Everyone stares at you and whispers "wai guo ren" ("foreigner") when you walk by

You'll get annoyed with weird cultural differences like the fact that nobody queues. Basically, trying to get on a bus is like this:

And riding a bus is a little like this

And you'll dream of American food all the time

Work will be demanding. Chinese have a whole different work ethic and expect you to keep up with their tiring pace.

The classes themselves aren't so bad but sometimes you'll get tired of answering your student's questions, like when they ask you to define words.

Or when they ask you about your opinion on political things as if you're the delegate for America.

And going out for the night is always an adventure. Literally. With no gps and unintelligible street signs, you're constantly getting lost.

And you try to make friends but there's that tricky language barrier

Sometimes when you're out partying at 2 am, you suddenly get a text asking you to come to work at 8 am. 

And you go into work the next day like this:

But eventually you'll get used to all the idiosyncrasies of your new home country. Suddenly you won't mind when people stop and ask for your picture. In fact, it kind of makes you feel like a super star.

And you'll get over your cravings for American food and actually react like this for Chinese food:

Slowly you're Chinese will improve and you'll feel like a boss for stringing together a sentence

But eventually, your contract will end and you'll have to head home. You'll have to say goodbye to your students and all your amazing new friends

And when you get home, at first it's like:

But if anyone asks if you'd do it again:


Dedicated to my amazing summer in Wuhan, China. You will always be in my heart!

Have you visited a place that affected you as a person?

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  1. Great article! I am thinking about going to teach English abroad when I graduate, I am really considering Korea. I never considered China, I would love to go there, but I thought it might be harder to get a job there because of the restrictions. Thank you, this was very insightful!

    1. Actually, from what I've heard, it's easier to get a job in China simply because there's more people thus more demand. The Korean schools are much more competitive but you get better benefits (paid flight, health insurance, sometimes rent is even free). There are a lot of other things to consider between the two countries (such as cost of living) so do lots of research!

  2. Haha-- I love this! We went through the same things when we went to teach in Korea! It was quite the experience.

    1. I wasn't sure if my experience was unique because the company I worked for but I'm glad to see that others can relate, haha!

  3. Most of this is exactly how I feel! I'm loving my experience here and I'm learning so much more about Japanese culture, American culture (because you get to realize a lot of differences and similarities), and a lot about myself. I'm not really looking forward to the day when I have to go home, since right now I love it and want to stay longer.

    1. I agree, my time in China taught me a lot about myself and totally reshaped my career goals. Treasure your time while you're still abroad!

  4. This is incredible but possibly the most incredible of all is you used a GIF of Jai'me! Have you been watching private school girl?! Totally irrelevant I'm sorry! :-)

    1. Haha no I haven't actually watched that show before. I've seen so many gifs of it though, I feel like I've seen it, haha!

  5. I had a bit of a chuckle from reading your post. I think it's useful advice.

    1. Hahaha thanks! Sometimes I feel like gifs convey much more than I could ever say.

  6. HAHAHHA! one of the best posts ever. Too funny Aryn..... reactiongifs.com - one of my fav sites!