My Worst Expat Colleagues as an ESL Teacher in China

My Worst Expat Colleagues as an ESL Teacher in China
Nov 08, 2023 By

Since starting an ESL teacher in China almost eight years ago, I’ve lost count of the number of foreign colleagues I’ve worked with. Probably 200 at a rough guess. Most were decent people. But some, for whatever reason, just didn’t seem to adjust to life in China very well, leaving a trail of burned bridges and destruction in their wake.

My Worst Expat Colleagues as an ESL Teacher in China 

This sounds like the perfect opportunity to trot out the old ‘Losers Back Home’ trope, which suggests the riffraff that can’t make it in Western countries come to teach in China, leaving only doctors, engineers and billionaire playboys behind. But the truth is that the vast majority of the teachers I’ve met are smart, perfectly normal people. They all had college degrees. Some had Masters. Some taught in regular schools back home, while others gave up good jobs and middle class lifestyles to teach and travel in China. 

That said, there are a few teachers that I was more than happy to see the back of. If you’ve worked as an ESL teacher in China, perhaps you recognise them?

The loud one

I once worked with a British guy that I’ll call Harry, who introduced himself to me as “Edgar from Holland” (accent and all) when I first started at the company. Because I was brand new and barely knew this guy from a chunk of Edam cheese, I believed him and called him Edgar for a week before he finally came clean.

He was also extremely loud. Sometimes we’d be teaching at opposite ends of the centre but I could hear him as clearly as if we were in the same room. He also didn’t seem to enjoy the students’ company much. When break time came, rather than allowing students to approach him with questions or concerns, he’d count at the top of his voice and give them exactly 10 seconds to get out of the classroom. Although he was quite intelligent and better company outside the office, he wasn’t an easy person to work alongside.

The troublemaker

In that same team was an American teacher that I’ll call Kylie. She could talk a hole through a wall and had strong, polarising opinions on pretty much everything. She seemed to have no off switch and would just keep talking, oblivious to whether or not the recipient was engaged or offended.

Every week a Chinese teacher would come to our school to give all the foreign ESL teachers free lessons. Kylie was there for almost every class, talking in English at 1,000mph for the whole hour so even the teacher couldn’t get a word in. Eventually I stopped going, as even when I angrily told her to shut up, it made no difference.  

On top of this, she was overly emotional, difficult to reason with and often started fights in the office. It therefore surprised precisely no-one when she wasn’t invited to another teacher’s going away party. Not one to take a slight lightly, Kylie found out which restaurant we were in and turned up anyway, letting us all know what she thought of us in no uncertain terms. Things got so heated that she challenged one of us to “step outside” with her. Kylie had her own going away party a few months later for which only two teachers showed up. As her final parting shot, she sent a nasty, vindictive email to everyone in the school.

After she’d left, some teachers took her photo off the staff board, stuck it up in the office and amused themselves by throwing darts at it. That is until our horrified manager ordered them to stop.  

The sicklies

There were two memorable American teachers that I’ll call Linda and Jim. I’m lumping them together because they both had the weakest immune systems I’ve ever encountered. I didn’t realise it was humanly possible to get sick as often as these two did, but clearly I was mistaken.

Neither of them could cope with the food, the environment or the lifestyle in China. They both got food poisoning at least twice a month, and although Jim usually held it together and managed to teach most of his classes, Linda was calling in sick almost every week. In the end, it wasn’t a case of whether she would call in sick, but what day she would do it. Many times I sauntered into school with a coffee on a morning, looking forward to nothing but office hours until lunch, only to be told with 15-minutes’ notice that I needed to cover one of Linda’s classes because she was sick.

Linda’s final demise came when she went on holiday to the Philippines and caught a horrible infection that saw her spend almost her entire time in the local hospital. She remained too sick to come back to work and so I saw her just one more time when she returned to the office to collect her things. As for Jim, he finished his contract and signed a new one just before going back to the States for a holiday. He, however, decided not to come back to China “for health reasons” and my boss had no choice but to tear up his contract.

The know-it-all

Finally, there was Thomas, who immediately made himself unpopular thanks to his bad social skills and superior attitude. When he first started and was simply charged with observing other teachers’ classes (he was just supposed to sit there and watch), he often interrupted and started telling the teacher what to do. One time while observing a class he was set to take over, he just walked out and started wandering aimlessly around the centre, going into the other classrooms and making a nuisance of himself. He was fired in his first week, to the joy and relief of everyone. 

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, I've met many fantastic, professional people while working as an ESL teacher in China. Thankfully, the few troublesome colleagues I've mentioned here are the exception, rather than the rule. 

Sound familiar? Tell us about your worst expat colleagues in the comments section below!

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Keywords: ESL teacher in China


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Ignore the above whiners. I'm a white western English teacher and had a good laugh. Keep it coming.

Nov 23, 2023 13:46 Report Abuse



Dear ECC, I would not publish articles like this disparaging the people who it is trying to attract, and this is something that ECC seems to do on a regular basis. There is no balance showing the different 'worst Chinese colleagues' and believe me they are much more dangerous and vindictive that the lazy foreign stereotypes often portrayed on this site. This is lazy click-bait writing at its' almost worst. If I was thinking of working in China, and possibly looking at the 'jobs' section here, I would decide not to use this site. In fact I would probably not want to work in China at all, if the best you can do is use cliches to bad-mouth foreign workers. Slow hand clap for the racism on show here.

Nov 09, 2023 01:34 Report Abuse



Got to agree with this assessment of ECC articles. If they are not racist about non-Chinese, they are misjudged in tone in other ways. Clearly ECC does not know their audience.

Nov 09, 2023 21:28 Report Abuse