Teacher Kim Ooi writing for Hello Teacher!

Updated July 21, 2020
By Kim Ooi

china teaching jobs 

We all know that teaching English as a foreign language (TEFL) is the chance to get paid to work and travel. But can it be a life-changing experience too?

Here are 12 ways in which teaching in China has changed my life.

1. It has saved me from unemployment and given me an exciting and rewarding career

We all know about the 2007 global financial crisis. Thanks to that, I lost my job in 2009.

For the next four years, I was only able to get temporary industrial work even though I had two degrees and a diploma to my name.

In 2013, I got my first job in China and I haven’t looked back since.

2. It has made me tougher and more independent

In Western countries, we take a good social life, friends, amenities, medical care, etc for granted. In China, however, I experienced boredom and loneliness.

Many Western medicines are not available here. Sometimes, there is no electricity, water or internet connection. And some school apartments have no air conditioning or heating.

I have had to learn to cook and do everything for myself.

3. It has changed my views on travel

As a child, I had many opportunities to travel but the only two things I got out of it were boredom and travel sickness so I grew up hating it.

However, to my surprise I found university excursions in China quite enjoyable. I have visited no fewer than 15 cities and seen some awesome sights which most tourists will never get to see.

4. It has enabled me to save money

In the UK, the cost of living is high. But in China, many schools offer free accommodation so the cost of living is low. I have therefore been able to save a lot of money here.

I also have a house in the UK (jointly owned with my father) which is generating a regular rental income.        

5. It has made me more creative, flexible and adaptable

I had always been a rigid thinker but teaching in China has made me more adaptable, flexible and creative.

I arrived in China with just a TEFL certificate, a CELTA certificate and a few months’ teaching experience. The first subject I was given was ‘English-Speaking Countries’! I had no choice but to adapt.

Since then, I have also taught Western Management and Business English Reading. I even had to teach at a primary school once!

ESL teacher Kim taught English at this school in China.

Kim taught English at this primary school in Huangcheng, Shanxi province, northeast China.

6. It has enabled me to eat some exotic food 

Living in China has given me the chance to eat some exotic foods like frog, turtle and snails.  

I probably wouldn’t have thought to eat these kinds of food in my own country.

7. It has given me lots to write home about

In the UK, every working day for me was more or less the same: wake up, go to work, come home, go to bed.

Teaching in China is not just a job, it is also an adventure – like the time I got lost in a new city at night and spent seven hours wandering the streets (I’m not joking!) before finally finding my way back home.

8. It has made me less trusting, more cautious and less gullible

In the UK, everything is based on trust.

Before I arrived in China, I was very gullible. But in China, contracts can be easily broken.

This has made me more cautious and less trusting of others.

9. It has made me less healthy

Teaching in China can be bad for your health!

In addition to the pollution, I have had to breathe second-hand cigarette smoke and eat oily and salty Chinese food. And dealing with culture shock can result in stress.

All of this gave me medical problems like hypertension and fatty liver disease.

10. Dealing with culture shock has changed my morals, philosophy and outlook on life

I learnt that English is not important here and neither am I. Talk about eating humble pie!

From being a student leader, I tended to be a strict teacher. But in China, teachers are assessed based on popularity.

Then I learnt something else: rules should be bent when it is to the organization’s advantage to do so. As a result, I’m now less strict, more flexible and more understanding. 

11. The experience of dating a Chinese woman has made me more generous and tolerant as well as a better communicator and negotiator

Chinese women are expensive to date!

ESL teacher Kim on a date in China.

Kim on a date in China.

I used to be selfish and tight with my money. But Chinese women are materialistic – they judge a man by his ability to buy gifts and they don’t pay for anything.

Cultural differences between East and West mean that dating in China is also a test in negotiating skills.

12. It has given me the opportunity to blog and be published

Ever since I was a child, I have loved to write and I love the thrill of getting a publication even more.

Teaching in China has given me the new experience of blogging, the satisfaction of seeing my work in print and getting paid for it too!

Have you had a similar experience to Kim? Please comment below.

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