Blogroll: China Opening Up

Matt | Chinese Culture,Living in China,Preparing to Come,Visas | Wednesday, November 12th, 2008

I haven’t done a blogroll recently, as I haven’t been writing much recently, but here goes.

Since the Olympics have ended, I’ve heard that the visa situation has gotten a bit easier.  Then I stumbled across this China Briefing’ post Hong Kong Issuance of China Visas Easing.  This article mentions that it is for tourist visas in China and once you get onto the mainland you’d need to change it into a working visa.  It’s nice to see the visa trade is opening up too.

Lost Laowai’s You Buying the Angry Expat Ideology? This post talks about the importance of opening up our minds and hearts if we truly want to live in a foreign country.  It’s a nice idea about why foreigners get upset so often here in China.  Open your minds and hearts. has a nice exhibit to help you open your eyes: China’s Top 5 Most Beautiful Girls. has a post with pictures of an Adult hotel opening in Nanning.  The photos makes help you visualize how China’s sexuality is becoming more open in such a traditionally conservative culture. Open your minds, hearts, wallets (legs?!)

What’s a good place to teach English in China?

Matt | Preparing to Come,Teach English in China | Tuesday, May 6th, 2008

Wall Street English

Wall Street English is a large a growing private English training school in China. It competes with the likes of English First. Both schools charge a high fee to their students. Now, when I first decided to come to China I passed on these schools (WSI and EF) because of the heavy teaching hours. Now that I’ve worked at one I realize they have their benefits.

If you are planning on coming to China for 1-2 years to teach, I highly recommend you start at a university. There are many good universities in China such as… and … and … While the money will not be great to start (5,000 RMB) you will have other benefits such as an apartment, university holidays (1-2 month winter vacation, national days) plus an annual flight bonus as well as relaxing schedule 15-20 teaching hours per week. These are things that can make your first year a lot easier: not having to worry about finding an apartment, being able to travel heaps and focusing on studying Chinese as you’ll have the time.

After that first year, you may decide to get greedy and want more than 5k per month. If that is the case there are lots of training schools in Beijing that will offer you a standard package 12,000 RMB for about 20 teaching hours (travel & prep time aren’t included) and a work visa, but you’ll need to find your own place. If you work at EF or WSI, I haven’t been at EF so I can only talk about WSI, you will work more hours.

Wall Street’s standard contract is heavy, but you get used to it after a while. The standard contract is to teach 30 hours, but really it’s five 8 hour days if you include your lunch, so it feels like a 40 hr work weeks. The standard pay is about 13.5k after tax. So why would I recommend this type of work? They are professional.

When I first came to them I had a standard interview. Then they asked me back to give a demo. I was quite impressed with the fact that they actually asked me questions in the interview. Some were standard questions, but most schools I’ve been to here have been the opposite where I’d interview them. Afterwards, they gave me feedback on the interview and most importantly the demo which was constructive. This made me realize they knew their stuff.

Another reason I support Wall Street is the fact they have a system that works if students follow the method. It’s mainly a computer based system, where students study on their own listening to a story, learning vocabulary in recognizable chunks and learning in the natural way. So there is a heavy focus on student centered learning and on listening, which are two factors I think are very important in learning a language. Also there is very limited preparation time needed as all modules are pre-created with most of the lesson plan laid out for you.

They hire the best teachers. All the teachers will have a CELTA , TESOL or TEFL. They all will be qualified English teachers. You’ll work with the best.

Wall Street can legally get you a work (z) visa. This was the biggest attraction for me as I was sick of trying to deal with shady schools or visa agents.

Now, it isn’t all roses there though. Some of the drawbacks from my point of view are the hours and the lack of creativity. The hours are heavy. Personally, I think the 40 hour work week is too much to teach English in China, as I am quite lazy. But I was happy to hear they also had a reduced hours teaching contract 21 teaching hours (3 ½ days) for 10,000RMB. This was what I took.

Also, after a while of teaching the same modules one gets bored. Additionally, while they have the best teachers, the actual teaching there is different. The focus is less on teaching and more on eliciting and oral evaluations. That took a while getting used to. Fortunately, they do have English Corners and Social Club classes where a teacher’s creativity and teaching juices can flow through.

The most important things for me were: 1) the Z visa and 2) no travel time.

While the work hours are heavy you know that you don’t have to waste hours in a taxi going to and from a client’s office.

The biggest drawing card for me to work at Wall Street was that they are professional.

They just don’t understand English

Matt | Preparing to Come,Teach English in China | Monday, March 3rd, 2008

When I was preparing to come over to China to teach, I was fortunate to have volunteered at an adult ESL school in Toronto and to have watched and learned from an experienced ESL teacher. Like all great teachers she helped me learn about my subject, teaching English, in a meaningful way. The following words I repeat often to help me become a better teacher.

“Remember, it isn’t that they are stupid. It’s just that they can’t understand English.”

Often when teaching adults English, especially beginners, one can forget that the students are brilliant people in their first language.  After teaching basic and simple structures like, “Hello, How are you? I am fine. And you?” , you sometimes think the student isn’t that bright.  But, ability to speak a second language is NOT a reflection of the students intelligence.   Quite often these students are actually brilliant people, it’s only that they can’t communicate or show this to you in English (and we are not bright enough to communicate with them in Chinese and to see their intelligence).  Besides being smart these students often are quite good business people.  They likely have loads of money if they are able to afford to pay for English lessons in a private school. Lots of my students are running their own businesses or are in leadership roles in their companies.  By continually reminding myself that my students are intelligent people and it is only that they cannot speak English helps me stay focused on my job to help these bright people accomplish their language dreams to help them improve their English.

“Try to make it fun, so they don’t realize they are learning.”

If there is a mantra that I’ve followed so far in teaching English it would be to try and make learning English fun. When students are truly engaged in the activities, and enjoying themselves, you can see and feel the learning happening. Now, I don’t mean that a teacher shouldn’t have an objective in their class and should just play around. But, I do realize that learning anything can be quite BORING. And if that the first step to learning anything is to be INTERESTED in what is happening. So by making it fun, by trying to increase the FUN factor, by waking up the class with whatever means necessary and to get the students interested in the subject will make it worthwhile.

I have experienced what it was like to be on the other side as I have studied Chinese in a classroom setting and I realize how important fun is to learning. Simply reading the book and doing exercises is dreadfully boring. Reading out loud and choraling/chanting is quite boring too (the echo is interesting though). But, when the teacher played a game with us, requiring us to write down a command on a piece of paper. It was like a shot of electricity jolted us and woke up the room. The class exploded in excitement as it was a break from the boring book. As the class took turns commanding each other  do something, from opening the door, to standing on a desk, to proposing to our teacher, unbeknown to us we reviewed our ability to give commands in Chinese.

So fun adds electricity to the learning and makes you want to be there and want to learn. Make it fun so they don’t realize they are learning.

Find a Great First Job in China (part 3): Ask Questions

Matt | Preparing to Come,Teach English in China | Saturday, March 1st, 2008

This is the third part in how to Find a Great First Job in China. These are not the only ways to find a good job in China, but I believe if you follow these steps you will increase your chances of finding a great job.

So after you have used your network and told your friends about your China plans and did your own research online and in the books. By this step you are probably a few weeks to a few months into your search. You’ve probably contacted a few schools. Now comes the interview or pre-interview process.

In looking for a great job in China, I soon discovered an odd phenomenon: it seemed like I was interviewing the schools more than they were interviewing me. In China, there are loads and loads of schools looking for English teachers. Like I mentioned earlier, you need to be selective as there are a lot of fly-by-night schools that you probably don’t want to work for and definitely not for your first job. So by asking the right questions you can help improve your chances of finding a good school in China.

Ask lots of questions

Schools in China are desperate for good teachers (aka someone who actually wants to teach, has a degree and has a TESOL/CELTA/TEFL). By asking questions up front you’ll reduce the chance of getting into a bad teaching situation in China. Here are some questions you should know the answer to before you decide on a school.

School history & admin (visas)

  • How long has the school been in operation? MUST ASK THIS. I try to find a school with a minimum 5 years of experience. Definitely don’t go if it’s a start up school, less than one year in operation. You’ll likely work crazy hours, with no resources, the school might go bankrupt and you won’t get paid.
  • What about visas and documentation? Will they do all the work to get you a Z (working) visa? MUST ASK THIS. If they say no, or give a weird excuse/answer – don’t go. A reputable school that is legally set up in China will be able to get you a Z (working) visa.
  • What about accommodations? Will this be taken care of? Where is the school/apartment located? A single room apartment or dorm room is standard for most first postings. You can negotiate for everything in China. Make sure that you get your own room if you like. For two people coming together you should get a big 2 bedroom apartment or 2 single rooms (one for storage). One decent school I worked for advertised that the opened a school in Beijing that was looking for teachers. The teachers arrived only to discover this campus was in the suburbs of Beijing 1 1/2 hour train ride (not subway, but train) from Beijing. Try to find out online where the school is and how far away the apartment is from the school.


  • What are the teaching hours per week? What is a teaching hour at this school? MUST ASK THIS! This varies from school to school. Most university jobs will be 15-20 teaching hours per week (3 to 4 hours per day). Most teaching hours are 50 minutes in class with a 10 minute break to go to next class. Remember you’ll have to do some lesson preparation work on top of this and marking. Know what you are signing up for.
  • Are there any other hours you’ll be expected to be at work (ie English corners)? Some schools will only make you work 3-4 hours, but will expect you to stay at the school for a full 8 hour day. I believe they like having a foreigner in the room during working hours to show you off. I wouldn’t sign on for a school like this. Work your 3-4 hours. Do your prep work. Then go home or go out and enjoy Beijing.
  • What hours will you be working and will there be split shifts (ie teach 9-11am and then 7-9pm). SHOULD ask this. This can ruin your day by working in the morning and then again in the evening. I did this for a month summer program. It was quite awful.
  • What resources will you have (books)? MUST ASK THIS! Do the students have the books too? If there isn’t a book don’t go. It is too difficult to create your own book/teaching material especially for your first posting.
  • How many students per class? Teaching 15-25 is ideal. Some class sizes will vary from 1 to 50+ students.
  • What age will you be teaching? Teaching kids vs. adults is very different.

Teaching support & environment

  • How many other foreign teachers are there in your school? MUST ASK THIS. If it’s only you, don’t go. They may expect you to run the school. Again a bit much for your first posting.
  • Who is the director, Chinese or foreigner? From my experience I’d avoid working for a Chinese director, especially for your first job. There are lots of cheats out there who want to squeeze you for everything, while giving you nothing.
  • What’s the salary package? Look around on the Net to see what’s the norm. Now in China for a University teaching job it’s about 5000 RMB per month, with free accommodations, visa taken care of and annual flight bonus of about 10,000RMB. But this changes per city. Some private schools will pay more 10-15,000 per month, but you’ll have to find your own place which is tough to do in China.

These questions are not the only ones you should ask, but these will greatly improve your chances of finding a great school in China. I have been fortunate and have found and worked for some good schools and with some great people and amazing students. By asking the right questions up front you will be able to screen out the bad ones and increase your chances to find a great school in China. Good luck.

Find a Great First Job in China (part 2): Do Your Research

Matt | Preparing to Come,Teach English in China | Friday, February 29th, 2008

Yesterday, I started talking about how to reduce a lot of stress from finding your first job in China by doing your homework. In my last post, I mentioned how it was important to tell your friends and network of your plan. Who knows they might get you your first job. This happened to me. Besides telling your friends about your China plans, you can also

Do your research

During my preparation time, besides talking to your friends about your China plans you can also search the Internet and visit the library/ for more information. By looking at sites like and you can find out the usual package you can expect to get by working in China.

Average Teaching Package (Salary & Benefits) in Beijing

The average salary at a university is about 5000 RMB per month, paid monthly, annual flight bonus (you stay a year they’ll give you return flight home), they take care of all visa documentation (Z visa – so you can work legally), plus holidays.

On top you can find out the requirements, usually it’s a university degree (any discipline), a CELTA,TESOL, or TEFL certificate, and the fact you are a native English speaker.

By doing your research you’ll also come across some great books that can help you understand more of Chinese culture. Before I left I searched the Net about preparing for my China trip and came a across a sight that said I had to read the following two books and I’m glad I did.

Must reads:

  • Mark Salzman’s Iron & Silk -this is an older book (1987), but helps you see how much China has changed in the past 20 years.
  • Peter Hessler’s, River Town is a more recent (1997) account of a foreign teacher’s experience being 1 of 2 foreigners in a town of 300,000. It’s very well written.

Both of these authors were English teachers in China. I think the best part of the books are that they give a glimpse into Chinese culture, norms and thinking, through talking about events they had with their students and from living in China.  China has changed a lot since 1987 and even from 1997, but these books give you a glimpse as to why some strange things are the way they are.

Honourable mentions

  • Rachel DeWoskin’s, Foreign Babes in Beijing (1994), is an interesting read of a girl living and working in Beijing.
  • Peter Hessler’s, Oracle Bones – even more recent (2003ish) – Peter’s follow up book talking about more recent experiences of Beijing as well as some interesting insights into the origin of the Chinese language.
  • Matthew Polly’s, American Shaolin (1994) -is also a more recent experience of living in China and becoming a shaolin kung fu expert. A dream of most (?) young men, myself included; to leave the comforts of the US or Canada, move to the Shaolin temple, the origin of kung fu, and to to train for over a year.

Tomorrow, in part 3, I’ll talk about what questions you must ask to ensure that you can find a Great First Job in China.

Find a Great First Job in China (part 1): Use Your Network

Matt | Preparing to Come,Teach English in China | Wednesday, February 27th, 2008

Before you come to China to teach English, or work anywhere, it’s very important that you do your homework.

While I was preparing to come to China to teach English for the first time I was quite terrified as I didn’t know any trusted organizations I could join to ensure my first job would be legitimate. In China, there are many awful schools run by the worst scum of the Earth you can imagine. If you look online you’ll find lots of people complaining about lots of schools. But, just because you see lots of people complaining, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t come to China. Instead, I think if you do your homework you can avoid a lot of these problems as there are a lot of good and legitimate schools in China too.

For me, I wanted a job where I would get paid every month, have the visa documentation taken care of, my flights paid for and have a place to live (because finding my own place in China from Canada was a little overwhelming).

During the process I found out three key things that can help you find the ideal (teaching) job you are looking for in China.

1. Use your network by telling your friends your China plans.

2. Do your research online and in books to understand better where you want to go and what to expect.

3. Ask lots of questions ask key questions to ensure you know what you’re getting yourself into.

Over the next three days, I’ll look into each of these areas in a bit more detail.  If there is anything I’m missing please let me know.

1. Tell your friends

By telling all my friends that I was going to China to teach English I got a lot of strange looks, interesting questions and words of encouragement. The biggest surprise I found was I ended up getting my first decent job through my network.

From a perfect example of 6 degrees of separation I got a contact in China through my Toastmasters club in Toronto.  I told a friend, Anne (#1) that I was planning on going to China. She had a friend (#2) who through another organization knew this interesting fellow who has lived in China for the past 15 years, Ted (#3). So Anne gave me Ted’s email and we started emailing. He answered heaps of my questions and gave me great insights into living and working in China: the difference between working in a big city Beijing versus a smaller city like Yantai or Xiamen. I told him about my job concerns. He recommended a good one in China. He put me in contact with the school’s recruiter Gus (#4) who was also living in Toronto at the time. We talked for awhile. Then he spoke to the Chinese/Canadian owner Richard (#5) and I got the job.

So, by talking to your network about your plans you’ll be surprised what opportunities you’ll find as well as answers to some of your questions and more questions for you to answer during your job search process.

Tomorrow, I’ll follow on the next step, doing your research to help you Find a Great First Job in China.

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