I have been living and working in China for the last three years and I love it! My life has changed a lot in this time, and I am sure, overwhelmingly, it’s for the better. But when I speak to my friends and family back home, I get tons of questions, they want to know what it’s like working in China. The best part is, I like to feed their curiosity with some of my five favorite stories and examples, and here they are.
They say that travel broadens the mind. Being able to meet new people, experience new cultures and see new places can shape how you perceive the world and your place in it. I’d heard all of these clichés, but I didn’t expect them to have such an impact.
Since I started teaching English in China, I have met Americans, Canadians, Australians, South Africans, and Europeans. As well as people from South Korea, Japan, the Philippines, India and Indonesia.
I never imagined that I would get to know people from around the world in such an open and friendly environment. It’s arguable that all of this is available in the UK. But when you live in your own country, it’s too easy to stick to your own circle of friends. Moving abroad forces you to move out of your comfort zone. To learn more, to do more and to see more. It’s a scary prospect at first, but one of the best experiences that you may ever have. I’d say that my world is a whole lot bigger than it was three years ago, and for that, I am eternally grateful.
Thinking back, I can’t remember how long I got for lunch in the UK. All I remember, is that I used to have a small box with a boring lifeless sandwich. I ate at my desk, and I had half an hour.
In China, lunch often feels like more of an event and a rite of passage. Often, you find a buddy and head out to a small local restaurant and try some local delicacy like Xioa Long Bao, or noodles and vegetables. It’s rare these days for me to eat at my desk, and I feel much better for it!
Another aspect of working in China that I completely didn’t expect, was work socials. In England, it is common to go out with your colleagues now and again. Maybe even enjoy the work Christmas do. But in China, we seem to have a lot more opportunities to mix with coworkers from different parts of the company, and not just other teachers.
So far, I have been to some decent restaurants, I have been go-karting, hiking and to banquets. It’s nice to have friends outside of work, and it’s great to have friends at work.
In the UK, we love a bank holiday. Those three day weekends throughout the year where we can have a barbeque, go to a music festival and take a city break if we can.
When working in China, there are no Bank Holidays, but there are lots of national holidays. The cool part about these, is that every holiday has a cultural and historical meaning. For example, my favorite is the Dragon Boat Festival. Usually in May or June, this festival celebrates the death of a famous Emperor who drowned himself in a river. Upon seeing this, the locals raced out in boats to try and save him. Unfortunately, it was too late. So the locals dropped balls of rice into the water so the fish didn’t eat his body. Today, the celebrations involve racing up and down rivers and lakes in boats, and eating balls of rice wrapped in bamboo leaves.
There are a few other national holidays, all with a story, a different food to eat and a great time to learn more about the culture.
Most of us want to find meaningful work. A job where we are appreciated by the people we work with and for. I am not saying that I didn’t get this in the UK, but I feel I have some more respect in my job.
Teaching in the UK isn’t considered a noble profession. Most students take teachers for granted and don’t respect them. Most parents may respect teachers, but often think they work too little and are envious of their lengthy holiday times.
In China, it’s the opposite. Across society, teachers are held in high esteem. Parents respect you, students respect you, and in most cases the schools and companies respect you. Although there is no extra “power” in the role. It is nice to know that you are making a difference and your students are grateful for having you there. This to me is deeply meaningful, and I know, if I go back to the UK, I will miss this.
After reading this, I hope you understand a little more about what it’s like working in China. Honestly, I think everyone’s experience is very different, but I know if you go in with an open mind, you’ll have the time of your life and never look back.