Teaching English in China can be a risky venture, especially for inexperienced teachers who might fall victim to the more unscrupulous schools and administrators out there. Here we take a look at several horror stories which should illustrate what can happen when innocent English teachers fall into the wrong hands. And what you can do to keep yourself from becoming another victim.
Horror Story #1: “Illegal Immigrants”
Two teachers signed contracts with an agency working with a primary school in Northeast China, part of the contract stipulating that the teachers were to come to China on tourist visas and that the school would arrange proper work visas and residence permits within a week of the teachers’ arrival. However, after the teachers arrived, one week turned into two, two weeks turned into a month, and soon the teachers found their L visas about to expire and still no proper paperwork was in sight. At this point the agency told the teachers they could get them business visas through a connection – for a price of 4000RMB each, which the teachers would have to pay themselves. It turned out that neither the agency nor the primary school in question was authorized to hire foreign teachers and had lured the teachers to China under false pretences. The teachers eventually left this school, but not without harassment and threats from the agency.
The Moral: The only way to be sure you’re going to get the correct visa is to leave your home country with a Z visa already in your passport. Legit schools are perfectly capable of applying for a Z visa before you leave, and if they tell you otherwise, be very wary.
Horror Story #2: “When Is Payday Again?”
A young British teacher and all of his co-workers at a private language training center in Beijing were forced to storm the headquarters of the school in protest after the school failed to pay the teachers at least three months in a row. The teachers were afraid to quit their part time jobs at the school, fearing that if they quit, the school would simply never pay them. Yet even though they continued to show up and do their work, month after month their bank accounts remained empty. Finally, after the teachers united together and showed up in force to demand their payment, they were paid partially. In a similar story, the owners of one Beijing private language school packed up in the night and emptied out the office. When teachers – Chinese and foreign – showed up for work the next day, the school was closed and the boss’ cell phone was turned off. The owners had fled, taking tuition money from the students and leaving its teachers unpaid.
The Moral: The majority of these sorts of stories happen to teachers working under the table at unlicensed schools. If your school is unlicensed, work at your own risk!
Horror Story #3: “The Wrong Side of the Tracks”
One university in Hainan was recently relocated to a “village” (actually an abandoned wood mill) outside of Sanya, a locale so sketchy that even taxi drivers refuse the fare, claiming the area is just too dangerous. Foreign teachers walking to and from campus have been attacked in broad daylight, to the extent that they required hospitalization, and a female student was raped and committed suicide as a result. Despite the dangerous environment, the school has no guards posted at the entrance, nor is there any safe transportation provided between the school and Sanya city. Since the area is remote and there are no shops or supermarkets nearby, students and teachers must frequently leave campus and wait for public buses which only run every 30 minutes or so.
The Moral: Check out the location of the school thoroughly before you agree to anything. Find out if the campus is in the main city center or if it is located outside the city in the boonies. If it is in the boonies, find out if the school provides regular transportation to the city center from the university.
Horry Story #4: “Exploitative Practices”
One Filipino foreign teacher was contracted to teach 20 hours a week but found himself teaching 35 with no overtime pay. He made a call to the agent who had arranged the job for him and she promised to talk to the school on his behalf, but nothing came of it. With the school having sponsored his visa and his family in desperate need of the income the job would bring, he did not want to lose the job. Even worse, the school had taken possession of his passport so that even if he had wanted to quit, it wasn’t an option, he was effectively a hostage of the school. Another teacher found that while she wasn’t scheduled to work any more than her required 16 hours, she was constantly being scheduled for English corners, judging English contests, recording work and promotional appearances. Her resentment built up to the point that she was ready to quit, but the school threatened to withhold her pay if she did not complete the contract and invoked the breach of contract penalty to scare her into staying.
The Moral: Never give your passport to the school to keep for you. It is your property and the school is not entitled to it. If your school has taken your passport in order to process your visa or residence permit they should have it for no longer than a few weeks, a month at most. If your passport has been out of your possession for more than a month threaten to contact your embassy. While the embassy is not always effective in cases like these, usually invoking the embassy is enough to scare most schools into returning your documents.
Horror Story #5: “Extortion”
A young American woman was just finishing her contract at a university in Kunming when her foreign affairs officer told her that they had mistakenly overpaid her for the last month and asked that she give half of her salary to him. Her passport was in the FAO’s possession as he’d been changing her work visa to a tourist visa in preparation for her to leave the country. The FAO said that if she did not give him the money he would not return her passport. In a panic, the teacher began to make a scene in the office, attracting the attention of the dean of the foreign language school, who told the FAO in no uncertain terms that the teacher’s passport should be returned right away and that she was not required to pay any more money to the school. The teacher later found out that this particular FAO was known for these sorts of shenanigans and many years later he was fired from his job and prosecuted on a corruption charge. Other teachers have been hit at the end of their contract with outrageous phone bills for calls they supposedly made or charges for utilities that they never used.
The Moral: Do not agree to pay any extra charges or fees without a written agreement and a receipt. If the school claims you owe them money or try to dock your paycheck at the end of a contract, refuse to pay unless they are willing to write you an official receipt. For utilities, demand to see a record of the bill in question and do not pay anything unless a record can be provided.
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After living in China for five years, I have heard similar horror stories from other teachers. Thankfully, nothing has happened to me. Let me offer this observation about those who have told me their horror stories. The majority of them either brought it upon themselves for not educating themselves enough and doing the research about the process and requirements, or they were the typical egomaniacs who thought their crap did not stink, while Chinese are all idiots. Are there bad situations here in China? Of course. But, you will find this to be true in any country. Some people are looking to get rich off the backs of others. The odds of a person falling victim to this kind of corruption is very low compared to the number of teachers that work in this country every year. As I mentioned, more times than not, it is the foreign teacher who is to blame for not doing their due diligence in research, or they are just a douche bag to begin with. In most cases, we only hear one side of the story. We usually hear from the complaining foreigner and never get the story from the school's side.
Jun 28, 2017 21:24 Report Abuse
"The odds of a person falling victim to this kind of corruption is very low compared to the number of teachers that work in this country every year. As I mentioned, more times than not, it is the foreign teacher who is to blame for not doing their due diligence in research, or they are just a douche bag to begin with. In most cases, we only hear one side of the story. We usually hear from the complaining foreigner and never get the story from the school's side" Very very true. It's six of one and half-a-dozen of the other. There ARE a large number of good teachers here who do come in and plan to do their jobs to the best of their abilities. There are also a very large number of illegals who come here solely to pick up a paycheck and party. Education takes a very distant back seat to their concerns...or is left out all together. To be sure, many schools contribute to this general malaise, but that's not an excuse for not trying to do your job properly.
Jul 05, 2017 11:47 Report Abuse
Don't forget about the biggest and worst story of all: Hangzhou DD Dragon school refuses to pay transport fee for dead American teacher's body. 64,000 RMB is so easy to come up with. http://shanghaiist.com/2012/03/12/school_refuses_to_pay_transport_fee.php
Jun 28, 2017 19:17 Report Abuse
Hi all, My 18 year old son has been contracted by a "recruiter" offering him a teaching job in China.He will pay for my son's flight there, and my son will be given a English teaching job at Bond School with accomodation. My son does not have a teaching degree or any teaching experience. Is this a scam, and what are the dangers?
Jul 14, 2016 19:49 Report Abuse
Okay. I have taught TEFL and TESL since 1998. I earned teaching credentials in the US (long since expired), in addition to a CELTA. I have taught in Vietnam, South Korea, Indonesia, and China. Far and away, the worst teaching experience has been in China. Whether it is requests for additional teaching hours, late payments, shifty contracts, abusive and inept management, or a variety of other issues: there is always a headache. While it is problematic for teachers, the ones who truly suffer are the students. Students are routinely overpaying for a slip-shod education. No matter if the blame rests completely on the schools, or on the shoulders of the teachers, the results are the same. When one attempts to make improvements, schools are resistant, even if students are supportive. When a teacher arrives in China, he may be a happy, dedicated and able instructor, but within a few short months, one of these characteristics will disappear. After a year, teachers are lucky to keep one -- and by the end of two years, all three will have vanished. What remains is usually a bitter, lazy, and lackluster teacher: One who is more interested in updating his WeChat's Moments, than being productive at work.
Jul 13, 2015 15:52 Report Abuse
Any disrespect of Contract should be reported to SAFEA (Foreign Expert Bureau) in the city/Province your school is located. Address and contact numbers are available through SAFEA's web link posted on Answers site. Enter 'SAFEA' in the search to get the web link for SAFEA's offices around China. I contact SAFEA at every Contract disrespect (fairly often), and I always got advice and help, either with Release letter and FEC Cancelation Certificate or with last salary. If you'll call Gov. (SAFEA) the best is to be polite and ask for advice and help.
May 21, 2015 19:00 Report Abuse
I just read all the comments, though took me a while ;) It's is very helpful of you guys sharing your comments and ideas, it really something to be aware of before applying to any job out here in China. I know most of these agents would do anything to get their dirty hands on your pay or whatsoever. I am glad that expats out there are sharing such comments. Keep it up guys !!!!
Dec 10, 2014 23:30 Report Abuse
this is a scary article, true though, I have heard many stories like this. there are good schools in China, but also a lot of recruiters, prepared to make dodgy offers. I have had several very dubious offers of work recently. some comments seem to suggest that there are problems, but the same problems encountered in any job abroad. this is untrue, I have worked abroad many times, many in the EU. there are some problems , but EU law is applied and native laws, this tens to protect most workers who are under contract and leads to closure and prosecution of fraudulent schools or recruiters.
Oct 28, 2014 20:51 Report Abuse
Well after reading all of that, Ive DEFINITELY got my eyes wide open! I appreciate hearing your stories and even better getting advice on what to do if it all goes BAD!!!! And i agree that is does seem like a wonderful fairy tale job on holiday, reality is a Bu*()*()!!!! THE ONE THING I DO LOVE is working with the children, the majority of them are great!!!
so far for me I am getting what I have been promised, but from what I can tell they have some Illegal things going on, and had me come in on the L visa which we know is a "NONO:"
my biggest complaint so far is getting NO lunch break??? working straight thru the day without a break, Hmmmmm, that sounds a bit strange!! definitely was not in the contract!
Sep 01, 2012 07:32 Report Abuse
"when you get here, find a kung fu teacher, and start practicing - out in the open for everyone to see! Practice with weapons. Make sure they all know! It's a subtle, but effective, form of intimidation! If they know you've got the skill, and the willingness, to end a confrontation (verbal or otherwise) physically, they'll be more likely to acquiesce. Also, just per chance, if that's not enough, you know you'll have some very handy friends - if needed!" Very very dumb advice. Who do you think you are? Bruce Lee? If there are any problems and you start any intimidation, they will simply call the cops and have your butt deported out of China. As for your "handy friends" are they going to stand up for you against the cops? Never get involved in a brawl in a foreign country. Worse yet it is foolish to practise martial arts with the goal of picking a quarrel with your employer. That just reinforces a 'me against them' mentality, making it more likely for misunderstandings to occur, than if you had kept an open mind. Yes I DO realize this was written a few years ago...but I just want to warn anybody else who is new to China and might be reading this for the first time.
Jul 05, 2017 11:38 Report Abuse
I am one of those people who thinks I am on a holiday in China. But I have money and some other reasons. But what you say is true about working illegally. The contract is worthless. People forget that. I have been fortunate that I have run into a situation once. It was already the end of the school year, but the PSB told me I couldn't teach because the school didn't have the proper documents to hire me. I'm sure they were in on it because they let me teach the whole year and treated me like a king.
Jun 29, 2017 01:00 Report Abuse
If your working here legally and your taking crap, you can report problems to your local PSB (Public Security Bureau) and watch as nothing will happen. reporting problems with pay and living difficulties to your embassy will make you feel better, but wont help, most cases they will note it and do nothing as its "Chinese internal problem" and in some cases i know of, when the embassy does get involved it's time for the FT to move to another city, province, country, planet as the boss will have lost face and will hunt you down, seems extreme, it happens here.
Even if you join a big ESL player such as WEB, EF, WALL ST, you will face problems, my advice is cover all bases BEFORE you sign anything, what might seem a simple or even stupid question to ask, may save your time and stress and blood pressure in the long run, avoid recruiters, contact places directly, google the school or centers name, if your not worried about money then the safest option is Government schools and Universities.
I work for a huge corporation in China, i am not treated unfairly, they do nothing to make me feel unsafe or worried about anything, i am paid well and the benefits are excellent, but like with any employment there are personal issues, but they are personal, so before you try to remove your bosses head in any job in China, think about if its you or them thats the issue.
Jun 09, 2011 17:54 Report Abuse
YES A RUN ON SENTENCE!!! AND WHAT A PITY, MOST OF US ARE ENGLISH TEACHERS????? SO GOOD AT GRAMMAR ETC. SO BRILLIANT WE ARE` - actually, we're so pissed we are rambling on for therapeutic reasons lady, are you kidding, proper paragraphs?? who cares about proper paragraphs, after what we have been through, we will, talk, write, communicate to anyone who will listen because we feel victimized! who cares about grammar at a time like that!
Sep 01, 2012 07:19 Report Abuse
Many people don't know how to use paragraphs, but I do agree with you. It makes for easier reading and establishes the subjects within the subject. However, most posters here are not Native English speakers. I should also point out that many North Americans also do not know how to write. You will know what I mean if gone to school in North America.
Jun 29, 2017 00:39 Report Abuse
KALI i think you are smoking the kali, or have access to some of the meds... at the med school!!!! it's okay to be honest about China, these people and thousands more have experienced some really corrupt crazy stuff living here! It;s okay to "let it out" here is an open forum for venting, connecting, and even helping each other to overcome! I love the honesty of these stories, I have been here one month and just found this forum 2 hours ago and I am on a laughing streak, it actually feels good to know what others are going through, but it is also therapeutic! and anyway share some of the kali with us so we can see your relaxed point of view,
that could help all of the foreigners relax a bit more - and experience a "one love" kind of perspective!!!
Sep 01, 2012 07:06 Report Abuse