Coming to China - Advice, Tips and examples.

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Coming to China - Advice, Tips and examples.
« on: June 11, 2013, 01:23:54 AM »
I've been asked to repost some post form another thread here for easy access for newbies.

Perhaps some stories of unexpected situations and how they were dealt with from old hands would not only be informative but also entertaining.



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Re: Coming to China - Advice, Tips and examples.
« Reply #1 on: June 11, 2013, 01:24:07 AM »
Before Coming to China

Do your homework

Obvious, but some people do take more effort in researching what computer they will buy next than where they will potentially spend the next year of their life. To do this you have to think honestly about who you are.

  • What kind of place can you live in
  • Can you handle being completely alone
  • Can you handle prejiduce and sometimes flat-out racism
  • Food (yes, many animals have bones in them)
  • Weather
  • Pollution
  • Medical needs
  • Current responsibilites.(Student loans, Alimony etc.)
  • Current relationships
  • What kind of school (public, private, training centre)
  • What age group (3-year-olds to adults)

You need to understand that you are going to an alien world. The people on the ground know much more than you do. Your assumptions may be completely off-base.

Changsha is a long way south of Xi'an and winter temperatures are much higher, so winter in Changsha will be easier for me to handle as I'm used to -20ºC and it only goes down to 0ºC there.

Ummm… wrong. You are also used to heated buildings. You are going to freeze your ass off in Changsha.

However, even after having done your due dilligence be aware that you are still taking risk so…

Be prepared to leave

  • This usually means funds

Have access to enough money (yours, family, whatever) to buy a ticket home and to live in a hotel for a month or so. If that means waiting six months or a year before coming over… so be it.

  • Sometimes it means having someplace to go.

Subletting your apartment for the year and selling everything you own might have been a little premature eh?

Prepare for 'Culture Shock'

This isn't easy as you may not have any idea how you will react. Some people are euphoric, wandering around in a daze, loving everything. These people are often the most annoying to other foreigners.

Hey, look! That farmer just hawked a loogie on your shoe! How cool is that?!

Some people get seriously depressed, even paranoid.

Read about it, learn about it, be aware of it.

Again knowing yourself is important. Most people coming here are independent, confident types. I tend to react to situations by feel and I don't like help to do anything. I had to be careful when I first came.

  • Some things that seem strange are normal in China, some things that seem normal are strange
  • That guy that you like that's been so open and friendly may not be your friend at all
  • The contract is a start, not the end of negotiation.
  • No means no right? You are going to have some girls pissed off at you if you think so.
  • Yes can mean anything
  • What does a smile mean?
  • Look all 12 ways before you cross the road
  • Staring
  • Little privacy
  • No information
  • Change with no notice
  • Crowds
  • Filth
  • Noise
  • You're the greatest/worst in the world

The list is endless.

You are not yourself for awhile. You do suffer from jet-lag whether you know it or not. Your body doesn't have the bacteria built up in it to deal with the different food for a time.

The simple is much more complex than before and even than you may know.

Your way, that you have learned from a lifetime of experience is not the only way and may not be the right way to do things. All the rights that you enjoyed in your home country that you take for granted are not yours here.

You are not at home.

Before reacting to perceived slights, seek and accept advice. Many of us confident types are not great at that.

My mother used to babble on about something when I was a kid but I never was good at sitting still long enough to listen. Once I came here I remembered.

Patience is a virtue

Then again you might get totally lucky and find yourself in a great position and none of this would be important. I have been incredibly lucky in my time in China. It seems that all the prep I have done was totally unnecessary.

I work hard and then get lucky.

Strange how that works.



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Re: Coming to China - Advice, Tips and examples.
« Reply #2 on: June 11, 2013, 01:24:32 AM »
It's interesting how difficult it can be both ways to understand cultural differences.

A couple of years ago my school president asked me to look over the new contracts for incoming foreign teachers. There were some changes made due to new regulations at the school regarding fraternization with the students. You can imagine what prompted this.

Most of my suggestions were regarding wording in the English contract but one suggestion was difficult for them to understand.

We get paid on the 1st of the month. Sometimes it's a few days late due to holidays or even just weekends. It was never more than a few days late and after 4 years at the same school (6 years now) I was never worried about it because ... well, there was nothing to worry about.

But for new teachers it's understandably upsetting when the pay is not in their account on the day specified in the contract. The tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow spiel wears thin and the foreign teacher may feel lied to and then all hell can break loose. Especially as it seems so many live pay check-to-pay check.

My suggestion was to continue paying on the 1st of the month but in the contract state that they would be paid by the 10th of the month (and don't tell the accounting office)

The concept of how this would help anything to the Chinese leaders here was incomprehensible but they took my suggestion. Since then, there have been no problems with the foreign staff. Everybody is quite happy as they usually get paid early by school as far as they know. Other issues that might arise, (say a hot water heater being broken) are dealt with by more patience by the foreign teachers as they feel this as good place to work.

Since then, the FAO has changed a few times and each time explaining to them why this works is greeted by a blank stare.

This afternoon I have to choose a new FAO form the final candidates. These ones are a little younger than before, we'll see how well they can understand this stuff.


Guangzhou Writer

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Re: Coming to China - Advice, Tips and examples.
« Reply #3 on: June 11, 2013, 01:46:53 AM »
Good show, Stil. I'm going to start a parallel thread specifically on culture shock. It's the same subject, but perhaps it's better in a separate thread.

Re: Coming to China - Advice, Tips and examples.
« Reply #4 on: June 11, 2013, 02:20:59 AM »
Stickied this. Thanks Stil!

Re: Coming to China - Advice, Tips and examples.
« Reply #5 on: June 11, 2013, 10:06:48 PM »
Hope you don't mind if I put this in here.  

How to Get Ahead in English Teaching.

Professional identity is pretty important for all of us.  We all like to feel that we are good at what we do and make a contribution to our team or organization which is valued and valuable.  When this is taken away from people they will often lose focus, motivation and self-esteem.

China can throw you for a loop in a number of ways, for example:

Quote from: [u]Scenario 1[/u]
Riley Mason, a graduate with a good academic background and experience working in education in the US, walks in to the English Department office and asks about the material for the speaking classes she’ll be teaching next semester.  She is handed a slender textbook, with the instruction “Just teach them some English words and phrases.”  Attempts to gain more specific details and information about this, or other, courses are met with polite deflection.

Quote from: [u]Scenario 2[/u]
Ron Jeremy is a frustrated English teacher.  The college where he works keeps on changing the schedule without notice and more than once he has turned up to empty classroom because of a sports day or some other event.  The FAO doesn’t seem interested in helping him solve this and he is beginning to think about leaving.

Quote from: [u]Scenario 3[/u]
Alison Angel is really hacked off about her job, which involves teaching large classes of bored CET students.  She can’t keep attendance up and doesn’t know how to motivate the students.  Recently, she decided to give up and has now stopped preparing for lessons.

Quote from: [u]Scenario 4[/u]
Lexi Belle likes where she works and her job is okay, but after almost a year at the same university she still doesn’t know any of the other staff and has never taken part in any departmental business or lesson observations.  Staff are nice to her, but she doesn’t feel that she is part of the community and really wants to be.

I am pretty sure you’ll all recognize these situations and you’ll be well aware of the frustration which this might make you feel.  After all why should it be so hard to do my job well!?

Settle petal, the only way you’re going to get out of this with your sanity intact is to work on these problems, develop coping strategies and build relationships.  Let’s take a look at how we could respond to these scenarios in more detail:

Scenario 1: Response
Ms. Mason doesn’t understand how a university could run without course and curriculum plans.  She feels excluded from the department and believes that her work is devalued and irrelevant.  She keeps on plugging away at the department for more information but gets nowhere and eventually gives up.

What Ms. Mason could do is to recognize that the primary duty she has is towards her students.  Although she is accustomed to a professional framework of planning, implementation and review she needs to remember that it is actually the teaching which defines whether or not she is worth squat.  Rather than asking for the approval and attention of her boss, she needs to get on with the business of course and curriculum planning and seek feedback about it from her peers and the students themselves.  

Depending on whether this university has previously experienced good or bad teachers, and what the general outlook of her boss is towards his own job, she may find that her efforts will result in further attention and involvement in the department.  At the very least, she can expect her students to appreciate the efforts which she is making and at best, she could have the opportunity to draft a series of courses which will be used in years to come.

Pleasing students doesn’t give you a sense of long term professional direction, so Ms. Mason also needs to build up a portfolio of her curriculum planning work to ensure that future employers have a full grasp of how much work she has been doing.

Scenario 2
Ron despairs and gives up on trying to plan full courses, his teaching becomes nothing more than a series of lesson-events – insulated from the danger of changing timetables, but less meaningful for students.

Ron shouldn’t rely on the FAO – who is clearly not helpful – but should explore the university’s website – which will be full of announcements about holidays and events.  He can help reduce the terrible burden of work which he is imposing on his superiors by requesting information in Chinese (they might no even have considered sending him this, even though it exists).  

Finally, Ron needs to incorporate a few blank lesson slots into every syllabi so that his arrangements are more flexible from the outset.

Scenario 3
Alison eventually decides that teaching English in China is a waste of time and she is only here to be a dancing white monkey.  She comes to resent the fact that “China” has made her a worse teacher by putting her in an impossible situation defined by stupid racial stereotypes rather than by practical learning and teaching goals.  

There are some pretty good ways to manage large classes and maintain student interest but the first step begins with understanding student needs – after all, if you want to make a course useful for the student you need to know what possible use they have for English.  

But beyond this, Alison’s case really is an example of poor due diligence – having accepted a job without adequately investigating teaching arrangements she has indeed landed herself in a situation in which very little useful teaching and learning can take place.

Scenario 4
Lexi isn’t in crisis, but she feels that life would be much better if she could reach out to other more effectively.  She’s a good teacher, but feels that she should really be working somewhere else.  The university would love to keep her, but they aren’t aware that she is feeling frustrated.

Lexi needs to offer her services on something – hiring new teachers for example – rather than waiting to be asked.  She might feel that she has been excluded but the FAO where she works would likely be happy to get her involved in something other than teaching.  Lexi needs to be aware that the system of staff organization in China doesn’t lend itself to flexibility, change and variety and that she may never have the same kind of relationships which she enjoyed whilst working in the US – but she can certainly cut out a place for herself in China.

From these examples we can draw a few general principals of how you can work effectively in the domestic tertiary sector in China (adapted from Spencer-Oatey and Franklin):

Independent Values – successful teachers in China often have a very strong sense of their own professional mission and values.  They will be able to recognize and evaluate the value of their own work regardless of whether they receive the same kind of professional acclaim that they previously sought.  

Problem Solvers – successful teachers will often find ways to work around problems and be willing to look for context appropriate opportunities which might lead to a solution (the Chinese language website of their university for example).

Proactive – a problem isn’t really a problem if it can be readily solved.  Successful teachers in China plan for the unexpected and have context appropriate expectations based on experience and wide reading and research.

Self Aware and Context Aware – good teachers in China need to be aware of how their environment is affecting them and take positive steps to improve a flagging attitude or level of commitment.  Good teachers will also be aware of their context and be seeking ways to understand and influence that context.  

All of these points mush together in an ongoing process of negotiation which involves working out how to minimize, accept, adapt to, integrate or alter differences.  

If you let China tell you who you are, then you are going to become a depressed dancing white monkey.  If you are able to bring a set of professional values with you and then decide how to realize some of these in the context in which you work (and which of these you should realize) then you’ll be much happier about who you are and what you do.

Also Do the Due...diligence.
« Last Edit: June 11, 2013, 10:17:21 PM by bobrage »



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Re: Coming to China - Advice, Tips and examples.
« Reply #6 on: June 12, 2013, 12:25:46 AM »
Thanks bobrage.

This racket is tough. Better off becoming a porn star.

Re: Coming to China - Advice, Tips and examples.
« Reply #7 on: June 12, 2013, 12:34:03 AM »
^ ahahahahah

I've been through most of them while working abroad in six different countries. Experience can teach you so much.

Re: Coming to China - Advice, Tips and examples.
« Reply #8 on: June 12, 2013, 08:27:25 AM »
^ ahahahahah

I've been through most of them while working abroad in six different countries. Experience can teach you so much.

Porn stars or teaching?  afafafafaf

Re: Coming to China - Advice, Tips and examples.
« Reply #9 on: June 13, 2013, 12:57:10 AM »
Execellent post..but..I...well...I read "Ron Jeremy" and "Teaching English" in the same sentence and my brain kind froze.. ahahahahah ahahahahah
"Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination." Oscar Wilde.

"It's all oojah cum spiffy". Bertie Wooster.
"The stars are God's daisy chain" Madeleine Bassett.

Re: Coming to China - Advice, Tips and examples.
« Reply #10 on: June 13, 2013, 01:08:37 AM »
This racket is tough. Better off becoming a porn star.

Harder on the knees, easier on the self esteem.

Re: Coming to China - Advice, Tips and examples.
« Reply #11 on: June 13, 2013, 04:42:56 AM »

Please keep this thread on topic.  It is about advice for teachers coming to China.
Be kind to dragons for thou are crunchy when roasted and taste good with brie.