Mike Cairnduff from Hello Teacher!

Updated November 15, 2018
By Mike Cairnduff

A group of English teachers holding up certificates in a private language institute in China.

For more than 10 years, educator Malachy Scullion has been teaching grammar, managing student behavior, and having the time of his life in one of the most exciting countries in the world – China.

Malachy, you’re a stalwart teacher! What’s kept you in China for over a decade?

I arrived in a cold Changchun in early December 2004 and spent a year-and-a-half teaching for English First (EF) Changchun. It was a wonderful experience.

I was made very welcome by everyone and felt like a valued member of staff. This feeling, and being welcomed by a large number of personal and professional friends and students, made my decision to stay very easy.

I also learnt so much in this position by being able to do a variety of teaching jobs, ranging from private, primary, middle and high schools as well as business and in-house classes.

Upon reflection, I learnt most of my teaching knowledge and skills during this time in northern China.

What was it like living in Changchun?

Changchun is fiercely cold in winter and this actually made my time there all the more interesting. On my days off, I went ice-skating and sometimes skiing.

Visiting the ice festival in Harbin was for sure one of the biggest highlights of my stay. My freezing eyelashes and nostril hair is my strongest memory of how cold it is there!

You can see very large and impressive ice structures all built by hand and illuminated with colorful lights. You can also drink mulled wine in a bar made of ice.

What happened after your stint teaching in China?

I went home to Northern Ireland with the thought of never returning to China.

However, I guess coincidence, fate, destiny – whatever you want to call it – made my return to China possible.

My friend, a director of studies, offered me another teaching position for EF in Hangzhou, one of the prettiest cities in China.

Many of my ‘uninitiated to China’ friends back home thought I was crazy to return. At this stage, my friends didn’t realise that China was my career development playground. I also didn’t realise.

Tell us about your time in Hangzhou.

Teaching in Hangzhou is lovely.

It’s also a very touristy place which shows during busy periods. For me, this is a great thing – I live in a picture-postcard city!

We have a UNESCO-protected lake in the city centre and there are world-famous tea fields just minutes away. I don’t know of many other cities around the world where you can access such sites within a short distance of the city centre.

West Lake in Hangzhou is a relaxing spot for those teaching English in China.

West Lake, Hangzhou.

I reckon the main reason I’m still in Hangzhou is because I’m able to do interesting and exciting things on a daily basis.

Meeting my wife from Jiangxi province, getting married, having two kids and having a home away from home also plays a big part in my stay here.

The opportunities to do things I’ve never dreamt of doing also provide a lot of attraction and challenge to me. For example, being in charge of the academic side of a summer camp with thousands of students and staff has surely been one of my biggest achievements.

How often do you return to Northern Ireland?

I really don’t go back home as often as I’d like to. In my 10 years in China, I’ve returned home just four times.

The harsh reality of the visa application process for my wife and kids, as well as the cost of flights, prevents me from returning home more often.

When I’m in Northern Ireland, I love to share the experience with my wife. It’s also essential for my family’s language and cultural development.

Northern Irishman Malachy Scullion met his wife while teaching English in China.

Malachy with his wife at home in Northern Ireland.

In comparison, travelling in Asia is very cheap with less bureaucratic hassle. Whilst living in China, I’ve travelled to the Philippines, Thailand, Hong Kong and many places in mainland China.

Are you losing your ‘accent’?

Of course I am losing my accent!

My time here as an understandable teacher and manager means I need to make some sacrifices. My accent is definitely one of them.

As a teacher, the ability to be heard and understood when speaking means everything to me.

Grading of language and slowing down of speech is necessary for all native-speaking foreign teachers to be comprehensible and therefore understood by students, their parents, and local school staff.

The inability to do this spells disaster for any teacher who wants to be successful.


Have you visited Changchun, Harbin or Hangzhou before? If so, what’s your experience been like? Please comment below.

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