The China Environment: Living and Teaching

China has been closed to the world for many years, with little exposure to foreigners. Their recent desire to expand and globalize has resulted in a thirst for progression in culture and language. Much of the school’s English curriculum revolves around the acquisition of a foreign teacher. Thus, if you were to withdraw after being accepted to teach at a particular institution, it would likely be left without a foreign teacher for the semester. Moreover, finding a replacement in only a few weeks’ time is extremely difficult. Therefore, we encourage you to plan carefully before making this commitment.

We are devoted to making your transition to living in China a smooth process, but be aware that you are entering an entirely different culture, one that views you as a representative of America itself. Though many of the schools have the same standard conditions and agreements, problems caused mainly from misunderstandings may occur. This can be a part of daily life in China. You are expected to deal with and resolve these issues professionally and diplomatically. If you are unsure of what you are entitled to, you may contact China Horizons at any time to seek advice. If you are dissatisfied with the results, we can intervene in solving the problem. You are not alone in China nor at the mercy of the school’s decision. Seldom have we encountered a school that is blatantly dishonest and unfair to a teacher. Rather, most problems arise because of cultural differences and lingual misunderstandings.

If a school leader does not understand you, he/she will rarely tell you so. The nod or smile you receive in response to your request may not signify understanding. You must always follow-up and re-explain your views to accomplish tasks. The schools, however, always go out of their way to try to please you. A foreign teacher is a celebrity at the school, and you could quite possibly be the first foreigner with whom the teachers and students have ever spoken.

The Demands of the Job

Teaching in China demands a high degree of flexibility, adaptability, and optimism. The Chinese culture differs greatly from western cultures, especially in the area of communication. For westerners this difference can be frustrating and annoying. We are acustomed to talking to the right person to get something done. In China, you may not ever be able to talk with that “right” person directly, but may have to go through the school’s established hierarchy to receive a satisfactory answer. After your first month, you will catch on to their way of life and know how things work. By the end of the experience, you will be a master at negotiations and bargaining; that is how you survive in China.

Being in another country, whether with a group or independently, can bring on deep feelings of loneliness. You should prepare yourself for this before your departure; plan activities and ideas to push you through that initial culture shock and longing for home, friends, and family. The best way to combat these emotions is to immerse yourself in the Chinese culture by constant interaction with your students and fellow teachers. Making friends in China is easy, and the relationships you develop will open up doors to new experiences and opportunities.

Learning the language is another key factor affecting the quality of your stay in China. Mandarin Chinese classes can be arranged with the school. Most of your fellow Chinese teachers are more than willing to provide you with cultural and language classes during your stay. You should expect to offer them a chance to practice English one-on-one with you in exchange. Being able to speak with the Chinese people in their own tongue allows you to understand their unique view of the world and enter their society more as a fellow resident than as an uninformed foreigner.

Communication

Instant messaging and WeChat are the most reliable and easy methods to communicate with family and friends at home.

Most teachers will want to bring their own laptops or devices. Often the apartments will have either WiFi or an Ethernet jack provided. Teachers who do not have access to internet in the apartment will be provided with a computer on the school campus.

The reliability of the internet access in China can vary from school to school and it is not uncommon for the server to be “down” from time to time. Teachers should contact China Horizons should this problem persist longer than five consecutive days.

Each teacher will be given the contact information for the China Horizons native Chinese coordinator. This coordinator is available everyday to assist in problems such as communication between China and the teacher’s home country. Teachers can purchase a phone card to call domestically within China.

Preferred methods of communication

China Horizons strongly recommends that teachers sign up for an internet phone service account such as Skype. This is a 100% free service that lets users call anyone in the world who has a Skype account. Computers using Skype require a microphone and speakers, both of which can be purchased inexpensively in China.

Other than the free internet phone service mentioned above, phone cards can be purchased online that allow for U.S.A. to China calling for as low as 2.4 cents a minute. A five dollar phonecard will provide 3.5 hours of call time. We recommend a reliable phone card store such as www.uniontelecard.com. The “Mega Clean and Stable” card is a great option. Not all apartments are equipped with phone service, so this option is only applicable to teachers with phone access in their apartment.

Packing

Teachers always regret packing too much. Visit the airline website for specific baggage allowances for your flight. If you do not know how to pack light, have someone else pack for you. We strongly recommend bringing only one carry-on bag and one checked bag.

Dress Code

Your dress code is casual business or higher. Jeans and a T-shirt are not acceptable teacher attire. For men we recommend docker type slacks, with a button down or Polo type shirt. A tie is appropriate but not required. Facial hair is often discouraged by the schools so grooming standards must be maintained. For women we recommend skirts below the knee, dress pants, blouses, etc. While teaching, no shorts, flip flops, sleeveless shirts, shirts that come above your belt line, or other revealing attire.

General Packing Guidelines

  • Clothes: Many teachers have had clothes made in China at a good price. Bring a few outfits to start out and then consider buying clothes there. Try to limit the number of shoes to 2 pairs. Bring some comfortable ones and some dressier ones for special occasions.
  • Computer: China runs on 220 volts.  You will need an converter for U.S. electronics that run only on 110 volts. Research which type of converter you will need.
  • Bedding: Sheets, pillows, and blankets are typically provided by the school in the apartment.
  • Laptops: Many teachers have found it convenient to bring their laptops to China. Most apartments will have high speed internet access available to use with your laptop via ethernet cable. Many laptops have power adapters that are already capable of handling the different voltage in China’s outlets so a converter is not necessary.
  • Money: We recommend bringing at least $200-400 in U.S. cash. This can be immediately converted to Chinese Yuan (RMB) upon arrival in the country. Travelers Checks can be used, but they are not as convenient as cash as most banks won’t accept them. Any cash should be in the form of new crisp bills from the bank. Worn bills in any form are often not accepted. In addition to this initial cash, we recommend that participants have access to an ATM card which can be used to withdraw from a US bank account during the remainder of the stay. It is also recommended to have a major credit card (VISA, MC) for emergencies.
  • Money Belt: The safest way to carry cash, passport, and other valuables is inside a waist money belt. It is strongly encouraged that each participant have a money belt during their time in China to avoid theft. Below is a link that shows the type of money belt we recommend. An adjustable waist strap money belt with zippered compartments is the best choice. Click Here to view the recommended money belt to select.
  • Gifts: It is common for teachers to bring small and simple gifts for their students. Some good ideas for such gifts are the following:
    • Rolls of new pennies from the bank
    • One cent stamps from the post office
    • Wallet size pictures of yourself to hand out at the end of the semester
  • First Aid Kit: Every teacher should prepare a first aid kit to be used in the event of minor injuries and ailments. The kit should at least include these basic items:
    • Bandaids (varying sizes)
    • Gauze
    • Medical adhesive tape
    • Neosporin (or some kind of triple antibacterial ointment)
    • Pepto-Bismol (for upset stomachs)
    • Cortisone Cream (some anti-itch cream for insects bites)
    • Nasal decongestant
    • Tylenol/Ibuprofen
    • Antiseptic hand cleaner
    • Tweezers
    • Thermometer
    • Cold compresses: one that can be kept in freezer and one instant
    • Basic first aid guide pamphlet

Stuff you cannot buy

  • Thick college ruled paper
  • Spiral notebooks
  • Pepto Bismol
  • Tums (antacids)
  • Tampons
  • Deodorants
  • Mouthwash
  • Dental Floss
  • Cortizone cream (for bug bites, etc.)
  • Good thick socks- some places
  • Good white board markers
  • Quality batteries (for digital cameras)

Passports

You need to meet specific requirements to qualify for a visa to go to China. We’ve listed a few here that might alert you to any potential problems. As always, if you have any questions, feel free to ask.

Passport Requirements

  1. Do I have to have a passport to apply for a visa?
    • You must have a signed, current passport that will be valid for at least 6 months after your estimated return from China to apply for your Chinese visa.
  2. Can I apply for a passport on my own?
    • Yes, participants should apply for their own passport; however, China Horizons is available to answer any questions.
  3. Where do I apply for a passport?
    • If you can wait 6-8 weeks for your passport, then we recommend applying through your local government office. Click here to learn how. If you need your passport within 30 days, please select expedited processing on your passport application. This service costs an additional $60 and shortens the processing time to two weeks.
  4. Can I submit my application while I am waiting for my passport to arrive?
    • A copy of your passport should be provided at the time of application, but you are still welcome to submit your application before your passport arrives. Please notify China Horizons if you are in the process of applying for your passport.

Visas

The most difficult aspect of getting to China is securing a valid visa. China Horizons will coordinate and apply for all participants’ visas.

  1. How much will my visa cost?
    • For paid teachers, the visa fee will cost approximately $179 plus shipping of approximately $30. For volunteer teachers, the visa cost is included in the program fee so all that is required is to pay for shipping your passport to China Horizons.
  2. How long does it take to apply for a visa?
    • After sending your passport to China Horizons, you should receive your passport with the attached visa within 30 days.
  3. How do I know what visa to apply for?
    • China Horizons will assist you in the visa application process to ensure that you travel to and teach in China under the proper visa.
  4. When should I send my passport to China Horizons to apply for my visa?
    • China Horizons will notify you when the time comes to send off your passport. We usually begin visa applications 4-8 weeks prior to departure.
  5. Can I apply for my visa on my own?
  • Participants should NOT apply for a visa on their own unless instructed to do so by China Horizons.

Teaching

Every school – and class within each school – varies in the English language ability of its students. Some students will be more advanced and capable of carrying on detailed conversations, while others may not be able to pronounce their own English name. For this reason, a teacher must be flexible and creative with lesson plans, adapting them to various levels of ability.

Most of the students have already had some English training. Many have strong English skills. Schools request that you only use English in the classroom so the students are forced to communicate with you in English. If they know you speak Chinese, they will use that as a crutch. You need to be creative with instructions and use a lot of charades. Make it fun for them to try and understand and you will see that it’s all part of the experience and the relationship that you build with the students. It will be a challenge but a very rewarding challenge.

The teaching schedule is usually between 16 and 20 hours a week. You will teach between 16 and 20 classes that last from 40 to 50 minutes each. You will be asked to participate in English-speaking activities such as plays, skits, and musical performances. These are usually a welcomed experience and a pleasant change from the day to day teaching routine.

In most schools, your curriculum is your own creation. The school may provide some textbooks, which are often either flawed or beyond the students’ level. You are welcome to bring as many English teaching manuals and materials as you like. Most teachers have the same fear of not knowing how to teach. As long as you have a good attitude and a sense of creativity, the lessons will come. You’ll be surprised what kinds of situations you can use as lessons that make it fun for the students and memorable for you as well.

The internet contains countless ESL (English as a Second Language) resources. Start looking for possible lesson plans now. Print them off and begin formulating a portfolio of lesson plans and ideas before you even arrive at the school. Use the links below to see just a sample of what is available out there for lesson plan ideas.

Rong Chang lesson plans
ESL Go lesson plans
Internet TESL Journal
China Horizons will also provide each teacher with an assortment of lesson plans and ideas that past teachers have used, which were successful.

This position focuses extensively on oral language training. You must simply plan conversational activities and lessons that help the students use the English they already know, along with what they are currently learning from their Chinese English teachers. You are not required to teach a lot of grammar or other rules. What will they need to communicate if they were to come to the U.S.A. today? They will often have no idea what you are saying, but you are still immersing them in English and helping them to feel more comfortable hearing it from a native speaker.

Classes range from kindergarten to college age. Most of our teachers are placed in middle schools and high schools. Most positions are within public schools.

We welcome requests for specific age groups and we will do our best to accommodate everyone. However, we ask applicants to be flexible and open to teaching other ages if a position at the requested age level is unavailable. If your participation is dependant on being able to teach a certain age, you should notify China Horizons before you apply.

Students attending public schools tend to possess a higher English level and are better behaved because of their desire to succeed and improve their lifestyle. The trade-off is the size of each class. Public school classes may include as many as 50-70 students, while private school classes may have 20-30 students. Your ability to learn everyone’s name is definitely put to the challenge.

Public school classes can have over 50 students per class, while private school classes rarely have over 30 students.

Business casual attire is required while teaching. We recommend dockers and a polo-type shirt for men and dress pants and nice blouses for women. All clothing should be clean and modest. Male teachers should be well groomed at all times while teaching.

Technology

Participants may choose to take their own cellphone to China if they desire. You will not be asked to sign a cellphone contract. You will receive a pay-as-you-go SIM card. China Horizons will provide you with the funds to set up your SIM card and an initial credit of minutes. Once the initial charge is depleted, you will be responsible for additional pay-as-you-go minutes.

Sending text messages is the cheapest method of communicating within China. Minutes are reasonably priced if calls are placed within your city and province; however, calling from outside your province or calling someone in another province is more expensive. The cellphone company will deduct a very small service fee each month from your balance.

Paid participants are responsible for all cellphone related costs, if they chose to use a cellphone in China. Your school and liaison will be available to assist you in purchasing a phone and SIM card.

Most USA purchased cellphones can be used in China. Not all cellphone companies in China use the same wireless network. We recommend consulting your cell phone provider or manufacturer to ensure that your phone can be used in China, and if so, which Chinese cellphone companies are compatible with your device. Many USA phones need to be ‘unlocked’ in order to work on a Chinese network.

If, for some reason, your cellphone is not capable of being switched over to the Chinese network, China Horizons will provide you with a basic phone and initial start up fees.

Smartphones

Smartphones are becoming increasingly popular in China. If you take a smartphone to China, you will want to work with your Liaison (and ask them to assist you in communicating with a cellphone provider employee) regarding the best options for price, speed, and 3G/4G coverage.

Cellphone Providers in China

The three main cellphone providers in China are:

  • China Mobile (中国移动通信)
  • China Telecom (中国电信, )
  • China Unicom (中国联通)

Laptops and Tablet Computers

Many China Horizons teachers take laptops to China. Laptops are a great resource. They are an asset in preparing lessons, communicating with home, and often times, entertaining.

Computer technology is fairly up-to-date in China, including technology regarding Apple products. It is not difficult to find repair shops, components, and everything computer related.

Most apartments are equipped with internet via an ethernet cable.

Tablets

Tablet computers of all variety and sizes have become common in China.

Although WiFi is commonplace in China, it is unlikely your schools will provide WiFi in your apartment. Schools have gotten better at providing it, but you should not plan on having WiFi in your apartment.

If you plan to take a tablet computer or other devices that require the use of WiFi (Kindle, ipod touch, etc.) you will either need to purchase a router in China or take one with you. If you live on campus it is likely the schools IT department will have to assist you with installing the router.

Communicating with Home

Email is the best, most reliable way to communicate with family and friends. You will have a difficult time using gmail while you’re in China. We suggest setting up an account with a different email provider before you go.

Skype, FaceTime, Wechat and other similar video calling services and applications are reliable ways to communicate with people living outside China. Of course the reliability of these services depend on the speed of your internet connection.

Instant messaging and text messaging services and applications are reliable and common ways to communicate.

Calling cards can be purchased for a reasonable price, however, they are becoming slightly less common and reliable.

VPN’s (Virtual Private Network)

VPN’s transport data through the internet privately and securely for all internet connected program (iTunes, Skype, IM, email clients, video/audio streaming program, VioP’s, web browsers, etc). VPN’s are pretty reliable

A quick Google search will provide you with pages of VPN services. You are going to want to do your research. China Horizons is happy to share some unprofessional advice about our experiences regarding reliable and unreliable VPN services. We do not want to publicly promote or discredit any VPN service. If you would like some advice, please feel free to contact us.

There are a few popular VPN protocols: PPTP, L2TP/IPsec, and OpenVPN. Do a little research to compare and contrast these different protocols to find which fits your needs best. For example, OpenVPN is the fastest, most secure protocol, however, it only works with desktop and laptop computers, not mobile devices. PPTP is quick and fast on mobile devices, but slower and less reliable than OpenVPN on desktop and laptop computers.

Some colleges and universities offer free VPN service and setup for students. Although some schools do not advertise this service, if asked,  they are happy to assist you in setting up a free VPN. Past teachers have had good experiences with the VPN’s provided by their schools.

Proxy Servers

There are several types of proxy servers, the most common is the web proxy. Web proxies act as a middle-man in connecting and encrypting you as you browse with a web browser. Using a web proxy makes it possible for you to use a browse the internet anonymously. Proxies typically slow your internet connection down more than VPN’s, and are often a lot less reliable.

There are a lot of free websites that act as proxies, however, these can be created by anyone, meaning you may still be able to connect to websites anonymously, but you cannot be sure your information is secure from the individual providing the free proxy service.

There are reputable companies who sell reasonably priced proxy services. Reputable proxy servers typically work okay if you are only concerned with secure web browsing (Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, etc.).

Websites Commonly Not Accessible in China

  • Facebook
  • Hulu (Regional Restrictions)
  • Netflix (Regional Restrictions)
  • Youtube
  • Blogger
  • Twitter
  • Picasa
  • Google+
  • Vimeo
  • Instagram
  • Google (Redirected to Google.hk)