in Guilin for Chinese new year


Travel Confessions: Teaching English in China

Published May 21st, 2014

Experiencing the hidden secrets of Guangzhou that many tourists don't know about was just one of the many highlights of Student Flights customer Elodie's time teaching English in China. Straight out of school, the Brisbane nursing student did a TESOL course and says spending a year in China provided her with important life lessons, some of the greatest memories of her life, and a new-found appreciation for Vegemite.


Elodie (right) and friend at the Great Wall

What made you decide to teach English and why China?

I chose to teach English in China as I wanted something different in my life. I had just finished high school and had a taste for adventure and travel. I decided on teaching English in China as it was relatively easy to find a good paying job as it was the time leading up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics. I always had a fascination for Chinese history, culture and food.


Did you complete a TESOL or TEFL course and did you enjoy it?

Yes, I completed my TESOL course at a very good company in Brisbane. It was lots of fun and wasn't very difficult at all to complete. There was a mixture of various age groups learning how to teach with most of them also interested in teaching in China.


Did you arrange the job through an agency?

I signed up for a TESOL-specific job website and got emails every day about schools that needed native English teachers. I did my research into each school and emailed the ones I thought suited me. I ended up having an interview via Skype, got the job, and headed to China 2 weeks later.


Where did you live in China and did you get to nominate the city?

I lived in a place called Panyu, which is 30 minutes outside of Guangzhou, China's third largest city. I didn't mind where I lived as it was the job I was more concerned about, but it’s definitely possible to nominate the city by only applying for work in your desired city.


What was the biggest lesson you learnt in China?

The biggest lesson I learnt was self diligence and perseverance. It was a tough but rewarding experience and, to be honest, I nearly left a few times but I'm glad I remained diligent and persevered as now I know I can conquer any challenges life throws me today.


Elodie (left) in Guilin for Chinese New Year


Did you get to travel around the country?

Yes, my school was an international kindergarten so they even had the same holidays as the Western holidays and Chinese holidays, which meant a lot of time for travelling. My friends and I went to Beijing, Xi'an, Guilin, Nanning, Shenzen, Hong Kong and Hainan. These are some of the best memories I have of my time in China.


Did you meet lots of new people?

I met so many new people who also worked at my school. As it was a Canadian-run international kindergarten, there were quite a few Canadian teachers  and also English, American, Australian, South African and Filipino. I met a lot of Chinese people as well and developed friendships with them, which was great as I got to experience the hidden secrets of Guangzhou that many tourists don't know about.


The children at the international school.


What's your favourite memory from your time in China?

Teaching the children is my favourite memory. I was teaching the 'mini' class, so the children were 2 and 3 years old. At the start of the year they cried non-stop for 1 month and it was very stressful and disheartening at times. After the crying stopped, they started having fun and playing and singing songs. It was amazing to teach children of this age as they were like a sponge and learnt new English phrases, sentences and songs so quickly it was astonishing. By the end of the year they had grown so much, it was wonderful seeing these little kids develop so quickly and the bond I was able to create with them - so special.


What's the best advice you can offer someone looking to teach English in China?

Make sure you research into the schools you're applying for! There are, unfortunately, some Chinese schools out there that scam foreigners and you have to be aware of them. Also, read your contract carefully. It may be correct in English but the Chinese version may say something completely different and you'll never know, so go with your gut instinct. When you arrive and you feel it isn't right, don't feel pressured to sign the contract because it’s your only choice. Give  a few days for your decision and have a look elsewhere for a job that is more suitable. If you're already in the country it will be a lot easier to check other schools out than it is over the internet and hundreds of kilometres away. Plus, if you say to the original school: "Give me a few days to think about it", you will probably have the upper hand in the contract deal and they may provide you with better conditions or clear up anything that is making you uneasy. China is all about bartering, so get used to it early!


Elodie (front) and friend dressed in traditional Chinese costumes.


What's the one item you brought with you from home you couldn't live without?

Definitely Vegemite! You get sick of eating chicken feet after a while!



Rachel Surgeoner

A self-confessed 'food-tourist', I take hunting for the world's greatest sandwich very seriously, my quest has taken me from Berlin to Hoboken. Stopping off only for vintage shopping, craft beers and Mediterranean sunsets.