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!