Christian Saunders

I didn’t have a clue what to expect when I initially signed up to teach English in China for a year. To say I was slightly nervous would be an understatement, especially as until then my travel experience had mainly been limited to package holidays on the Med. The position I took was at BUAA in Beijing, which is generally considered the cultural and historical capital of China, the latest world superpower in virtually every sense of the word, so I at least knew that I was in for the experience of a lifetime.

The adventure started around 3 months before I actually left, when the decision was made and the pursuit of visa’s and other necessary paperwork started. The people at TEIC and BUAA helped every step of the way, explaining what I needed to do in detail and leaving nothing to chance. The best advice I can offer about this part of the journey is not to put ‘journalist’ in the occupation box of the visa application forms. You may as well put ‘spy’ or ‘international hit man’. However, my application was eventually approved and soon I was winging my way to Beijing, via Shanghai. I was met at the airport by BUAA representatives and whisked off to my on-campus living quarters.

I did some research before I left, and found that the TEIC programme is one of the few that work with schools and universities that actually pay for your services. Many don’t, and some even expect you to pay them for the privilege of giving up a year of your life in some far-flung destination. In fact, with TEIC you are paid quite well, around 2 or 3 times the average annual income in China, which makes for a very comfortable lifestyle. You also get a free furnished apartment and a lot of free time, which you can use to travel or pursue other interests. I was only asked to work a total of 18 hours per week, had 3 full days off a week, and was given generous holidays, which my colleagues and I used to travel. Travel in China is inexpensive and reasonably straight-forward.

The only complaint I had concerned the job description. I was under the impression I would be a classroom assistant, and would help teachers with marking and other menial tasks. But having arrived on the Saturday, I was shown around on the Sunday, attended a welcome meeting Monday, and asked to start teaching bright and early the following morning. I had no relevant qualifications and absolutely no training. However, the students I was teaching, who were training to be commercial airline pilots, were great and helped me settle in quickly. Some were better than others, in both attitude and ability, but that just made the job more interesting, and being thrown into the deep end certainly helped my confidence.

Some things took some getting used to at first. The Chinese don’t always run things in a comparable way to what we are used to in Britain and in certain areas, bureaucracy laced with a kind of inherent inefficiency reigns supreme. As we were constantly reminded, ‘China is a developing country, so patience is required’. The problems, however, were minimal.

All things considered, I had a very positive experience in China. I found the teaching role rewarding and fulfilling, and I met some fantastic people and saw some amazing things. It is a beautiful country and living in Beijing in the run-up to the 2008 Olympics certainly made for a vibrant and exciting atmosphere!