Non-Teaching Jobs in China: The Perks and Drawbacks

Non-Teaching Jobs in China: The Perks and Drawbacks
May 02, 2011 By Jessica Larson-Wang ,

Non-Teaching Jobs in China: The Perks and Drawbacks

If you’re a teacher in China chances are you’ve probably fantasized, at some point or another, about finding a nice office job, of improving your Chinese and finally making some “real money,” of getting out of teaching, any way, anyhow. Teaching English in China is low on the totem pole of prestige and after a few years in the classroom most teachers, especially ambitious young teachers with decent Chinese language skills, start thinking of ways they might be able to improve their lot in China. However, the truth of “getting out of teaching” does often not stand up to the fantasy. Non-teaching jobs in China are not only difficult to obtain, they bring with them only dubious and often intangible benefits. Still, misconceptions abound; based in part on the existence of true expat-packages, that everyone knows about yet few truly understand; part on rumor; and in large part on the general myth that China is the next big thing, and that opportunity here is ripe for the taking. Here we take a look at a few of the alternatives to teaching and help to tell the truth from the too good to be true.

1) Expat Packages

The lowdown: Expat packages are usually given to employees when their existing company posts them to a foreign country. Usually these postings last a year or two and then the employees will be posted elsewhere.

The Perks: Since packing up your family and moving to a foreign country is considered a hardship, employees who are sent abroad are given handsome salaries and lots of perks – cushy housing, drivers, paid education in international schools for their children – the works.

The Drawbacks: Expats work long hours and their jobs are often very stressful. What’s more, the nature of expat posting is such that there is generally very little stability. While you might like China and want to stick around for the long haul, your company may have other ideas. Most expats cite constant moving around as one of the main reasons they eventually opt to return to normal life back home.

Your chances: Expat package jobs are generally not given to “local hires.” What’s more, even if you went back home with the intention of looking for a company to send you to China, overseas postings often only happen after years with the same company. In other words, don’t hold your breath. Unless you’re willing to return to your home country and invest many years of your life into one company, a true expat package is probably out of your reach.

2) Half-Pat Jobs

The lowdown: Many companies save money by hiring foreigners locally to fill positions that might otherwise require importing someone from overseas at huge expat package costs. People who are hired in-country are called “local hires,” or “half-pats.” This class of job is by far the most common type of non-teaching employment for foreigners. Half-pat positions run the gamut from marketing to technical writing to consultancy. Usually companies need foreigners in these positions not necessarily because of the foreigner’s greater expertise, but because they need a native-English speaker with added experience in a specified field, or the ability and potential to grow and learn with a new company. Many employers hiring half-pats are willing to consider people whose experience and background might not exactly match the company’s profile, simply because it is cheaper for them to train someone new than to hire an actual expert.

The Perks: A half-pat job can be a good resume builder. It can give you a stepping stone out of English teaching, and, if you’re lucky and find a good and stable company, they may be willing to help you develop professionally. For a lucky few, a half-pat job can offer a salary that, while not as high as that of the expat package folk, is higher than that of an English teacher.

The Drawbacks: The depressing truth about many half-pat jobs is that they do not pay very well for the amount of work that is expected, especially when compared to teaching jobs, which often offer low hours, good vacations, and high salaries (at least in 1st tier cities). While high paying half-pat jobs exist, they usually require a combination of native or near-native levels of English, good Chinese skills, as well as a technical specialty such as IT or engineering. However, without these specialized skills which will make you highly desirable, more often or not you should expect to work long hours, do lots of overtime, and wonder quite often whether or not leaving teaching was really worth it.

Your chances: If you speak good Chinese, are good at marketing yourself, and have a good solid resume with several years of work experience at a single school/company, your chances of finding a half-pat job are good. Your chances improve if you have managerial experience; say a stint as a DOS (director of studies) or lead teacher.

3) Freelancing translation, editing, and writing

The lowdown: Freelancing sounds like the perfect job. Many companies, individuals, and schools require the services of a translator or editor. Freelancers are paid by the hour or by the word, usually work from home, and can choose which projects they’ll take. Technical translators are probably the most in-demand although marketing, real estate, and academia all require translators. Official translation, that is, translations that are given an official seal of approval, will require you to have a translation certificate, but most freelance translation does not fall into this category. As for editing, editing is often a natural extension of teaching as their schools often require editors for textbooks or school publications. Some wealthy students also hire editors to help them with their applications to foreign universities. Travel/expat writing is also an option for those with strong writing skills.

The Perks: What could be better than choosing your own hours, working from home while sipping a cup of coffee, utilizing your Chinese and honing your writing skills, and being your own boss? The perks of freelancing are obvious.

The drawbacks: It is tough to make a living as a freelancer and work often comes in spurts. You may have too many jobs to handle one month and the next month – nothing. Translation, especially non-certified translation, is not terribly well paid and it can be hard to get started and building a portfolio may require you to take many unpaid or low-paid jobs when you’re just starting out. For writing and editing, the competition can be tough – editing seems easy, a no-brainer, but successful editors will need to be able to work quickly and meet deadlines. If you’re not super organized and able to manage your time carefully, it will be difficult to keep track of your jobs and do them on time. Further, a big drawback to freelancing is that you’ll need to figure out your visa on your own.

Your chances: If you can read and write Chinese fluently you can get translation work, although using this work to supplement your other work is a better idea than trying to make a living as a translator alone. If you’d like to be a professional translator then consider becoming certified, which will allow you to be an “official” translator and you’ll be able to command higher wages than you would otherwise. As for editing and freelance writing, while the competition is tough, if you are a talented writer you should be able to find work. Again, this work is better as a supplement to your day job, than as a main source of income.

Overall, if you don’t intend to build a long-term career in China and if your only real intention is to make decent money, pay off your student loans, travel around Asia or support your growing family, leaving teaching might not necessarily be the best route. In 1st tier cities teaching jobs pay 10,000RMB/month and often more, which is a similar salary to what you’d be making doing 9-5 at a half-pat job. And while teaching may not be prestigious or the best way to impress the crowd at your local bar, you can’t beat paid summer and winter vacations, 20 hour work weeks, or the feeling of accomplishment when your star pupil is accepted to the college of his choice in America, or when the guy you’ve been tutoring for 6 months finally gets that 7 on the IELTS. While there is a lot of negativity out there about English teachers in China, remember that your job, no matter what it is, is what you make of it. 

Related links
Understanding Teacher-Student Relations in China
Forget English Teaching: Other Jobs for Expats
China Beyond the Blackboard: Finding Jobs Besides Teaching

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Keywords: employment myths China non-teaching job myths China getting out of teaching China Non teaching jobs China


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