8 Bits Of Advice For Foreign Teachers

8 Bits Of Advice For Foreign Teachers
murphy903 Feb 16, 2014 08:08

I've been teaching here in China for almost 2.5 years. I think I've experienced every shocking aspect of Chinese culture and life here. I've traveled to 26 countries. I know how to travel and best of all, I know how to adapt. I'm amazed at foreigners who come here who think they still live in the West and have the same privileges, rights and same laws to adhere to as in the West. Here are 10 morsels of advice for anyone coming to China to teach.

1. You don't have the rights you have in your own country - You are a visitor here. You must have an invitation to come here. You will abide by the same laws as the Chinese must. You will have less rights than they do. Accept, adapt to it or, don't come. I might add that it isn't that hard to adapt to if you can act and conduct yourself maturely as a world traveler. You'd have to do the same in any country you visit.
2. If you hate Communists, stay home - If you hate communism and are vocal about it in the West, don't come to China and think that you can continue that. Politics and government aren't any of your business. If you come here to teach, then, teach. You are required by law to keep your opinions about government, religion and law to yourself. 
3. Expect change (sometimes hourly) - This isn't a big slam to Chinese people because they are used to it. But, please note that things here aren't organized or scheduled much in advance. My impression of Chinese used to be that they were highly organized and disciplined people. In some ways, they are. But don't expect it in scheduling or organization.
4. Expect to get stared at - Especially if you are in an area like I am in Henan Province. Let me give you some stats. Beijing has a population of about 22 million with more than 20,000 foreign teachers. Zhengzhou, where I live, has about 12.5 million people (a little more than half as many as Beijing or Shanghai) with about 600 foreign teachers. There are less 1,600 foreigners in this city. I can go for weeks and not see another foreigner. We stand out and people stare. If you don't like getting stared at (it doesn't bother me) then go to Beijing, Shanghai or Guangzhou.
5. Learn some basic Mandarin phrases - you need to know enough to get what you want in a restaurant and how to tell a taxi driver where to go. I have never had a problem in a taxi. I tell them cross streets where I want to go and I always get there. Only one taxi driver ever cheated me. He purposely drove slow to make his time clock run up the fare. I've taken taxis several hundred times. Just learn how to say where you want to go.
6. Get used to squat pot type toilets - It might sound quite primitive, but, there are squat pot type toilets nearly every where you go. Now you'll likely have western toilets in your apartment or most hotels. But they still have, not only squat pot type toilets but toilet trenches. It can be disgusting and quite smelly. But it is how it is here. Also, take your own toilet paper. There won't be any supplied in the toilet.
7. Learn the bus routes or get an e-bike - you might not want to buy an e-bike right away. You'll spend no more than $650 for a good one. I've had two. They are very convenient and far better than taking the bus. I found that before I got an e-bike, I stayed sick a lot with colds. I'm confident I caught the colds from others on the crowded buses. Taxis are also cheap where I live. But I like the convenience of any e-bike. They cost almost nothing to maintain. I put mine in a underground parking garage at night. I can recharge it there. It costs me $4 a month to keep it there. Very cheap.
8. Be punctual and dependable - You'd be shocked at how many foreign teachers show up for classes late and just simply aren't dependable. It's an embarrassment for those of us who take what we're doing here seriously.
I'm sure I can think of other things to share but that's about it for now. I'll share more as I think of them.


Tags:Teaching & Learning Expat Rants & Advice Expat Tales


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I think Murphy's advice is a very good place for a newcomer to start. I found my problems with taxi drivers ended when I worked out the shortest route to the new site of the university and give simple directions like zhi zou or yizhi (straight ahead), zuo guai (left)or you guai (right); my mnemonic trick is it is a right hander's world and "you" sounds like yes it is, and zuo sounds like no way. I have got used to "Can you be a judge at the English Contest tomorrow night?" Or the announcement can arrive that afternoon. "Can you give me the marks for the postgrad English by Wednesday?" "Wait a minute, I get my first class on Monday so this means I prepare the final exam on the weekend?" "Yeah, 'fraid so. Just ask them 20 questions." At the entry/exit office they have the little green book of laws which apply to foreigners but they won't let you keep it. It is against the law to criticize Chinese institutions. I find it hard to get my English majors to state an opinion in writing anyway, so I simply use exercises to try to get them to think - as my starting point. China is moving very fast through the Industrial Age; workers are better treated, wear hard toes and hard hats and sometimes use eye protection when chipping, blasting or drilling stone and cement. Ten years ago you could smell a toilet facility 100 yards away, so they installed cheap spring-loaded flushing devices no one used but overcame that with automatic devices that blink in the walls. Many students play basketball yet garbage lands within a meter of the trash cans. China has come a long way.

Mar 14, 2014 20:55 Report Abuse



I can't agree with the "You're a guest, so just shut-up if you have anything negative to say". When you look at China's life from a *Chinese* (but honest, non-self-serving) point of view, things are not pretty. Shutting up about anything political or negative is precisely what's keeping the life of most deep in a grey puddle. You lived here for a while, right ? Don't you feel the restrained anger here ? Where that anger comes from ? No outlets for expressing grief, no influence on how things goes, anger at the by-gone morality. Yes, I'm a guest, but I'm also a human being with compassion for my fellow humans. And as a human with compassion, I feel like I've to wake up zombies out of their torpor, even it might sting a little. China to do not need silence.

Feb 25, 2014 11:31 Report Abuse



Yeah that kind of..."you can't criticize them, it's their culture and we're guests!" mentality doesn't sit right with me either. I agree people here are generally miserable...one big reason why I think trying to live 'local' is misguided at best.

Feb 25, 2014 12:06 Report Abuse



I absolutely agree that being professional is a big responsibility but I think this is a little too fatalistic…”You’re in China so better just accept every negative aspect!” With good planning and executing a lot of those nagging China things just aren’t issues. Yeah, some locals stare and it’s not the biggest deal, but it does reflect poorly on them and we shouldn’t make excuses for them. Let people make their own excuses. I understand “they don’t know better” but at the same time that doesn’t make them fun or interesting people. I think the toilet thing is a good example of that too. Barring emergencies (Happen to the best of us!) I do not use squat toilets, and I also don’t carry toilet paper with me at any time. I mean frankly if an establishment thinks I am a trashy thief who will steal toilet paper…then I don’t have one red cent (brown jiao) for them. Likewise if thieves shop there that’s a good indication to me it’s not somewhere I belong. I mean I’ve done all the Chinese bazaar stuff. It’s really fun…as a holiday. As a day-to-day lifestyle? Give me nice clean bathrooms and comfortable seating. I never liked the argument that “If you don’t like ____ than just go home!” I’ve built a really solid career in banking here and no intelligent person would walk away from that (in this job market) over something silly.

Feb 25, 2014 10:55 Report Abuse



the last word i would use to describe China is 'communist'. This implies that the state takes care of the people, especially the poorest. Whereas the reality is that China is literally a 'dog eat dog' country.

Feb 25, 2014 08:22 Report Abuse