Stacy Dahl university teacher in China

Updated May 27, 2020
By Stacy Dahl

Personal growth and career in China

I didn’t know what to expect before moving to China.

Knowing what I do now, I don’t think there is anything that could have really prepared me.

Teaching in China for the past three years has taught me many things about being a teacher, Chinese culture and how to adapt to life abroad.

Most importantly though, I’ve learned a lot about myself.

I’ve experienced tremendous personal growth and been able to develop my career in China in ways that I probably couldn’t have in the US.

In this blog, I’ll share the highlights of my experience.

1. I’ve become more open-minded

When I moved to China, I quickly learned that I had to keep an open mind. My life here is vastly different than life back home.

For example, food in China is nothing like what I’m used to.

With an open mind, however, I’ve tried lots of popular Chinese dishes. Some are now my favorite foods including wontons, Peking duck and hotpot.

Eating spicy hotpot in China

I've grown in China by eating more adventurous foods like hotpot (Photo: yue on Flickr).

I’ve also tried various activities such as Chinese calligraphy, singing at KTV, and taking Chinese language lessons.

With an open mind and a positive attitude, you’ll get the most out of your experience in China.

2. I’ve developed leadership skills

I’m proud to say I’ve learned how to be a leader in the classroom.

My first career job in China was teaching at a language training center. I remember the exact moment when I realized that the responsibilities fell on me.

I was the one who had to plan the lessons, teach the curriculum and lead all activities that took place in the classrooms.


Sure, I’d completed a TEFL course for China and had a teaching assistant to help me. But ultimately the majority of the responsibility fell on my shoulders.

It was a scary realization at first but I took the responsibilities head on. I eventually got the hang of being a leader.

3. I’ve gained public speaking experience

So far my experience of teaching at a Chinese university has been a series of being thrown into situations with very little information given to me.

Recently, I was asked to give a short presentation about marketing to the university’s business department.

I was told that the presentation wouldn’t be a big deal and I wouldn’t have to give it on stage.

However, it turned out that the presentation was a big deal.

It was on a stage with over 150 people in attendance, including the vice president of the university!

Doing a speech at a Chinese university

My university presentation.

Needless to say, I felt like I was thrown into the deep end of a pool without knowing whether or not I could swim.

Even with the situation panning out the way it did, I still feel extremely grateful for the experience.

I did something I never imagined I could do, and this makes me proud of myself.

It’s become a bit of a career highlight.

4. I’ve become more independent

There’s a reason why not everyone moves to China to work as an ESL teacher.

Even though the work is relatively easy, the salary is good and the lifestyle is simple, there are still many sacrifices that you have to make.

Not having family or friends around or the option to be home for the holidays isn’t a sacrifice that everyone is willing to make.

Nevertheless, not having these familiar options has helped me to be more independent and self-reliant.

In the toughest moments I’ve had to rely on one person only – me. It’s all part of my personal growth journey in China.

5. I’ve learned to go with the flow

Perhaps it’s my American background that always has me in the mindset of ‘go go go’.

Working in China has taught me that I need to learn how to let some of that go.

Chinese people tend to be more easygoing and relaxed, whereas I look to accomplish the next task ASAP.

Whether it’s at my workplace, the grocery store or in everyday life, I’ve slowly become just a bit more patient and nonchalant.

I’m still learning and trying to get better at this. I guess you could say it’s a work in progress.

6. I’ve made countless memories with my students

Looking back on my very first job where I taught students between the ages of 3 to 12, I remember having the most difficult time not crying as I entered my final week.

The best part about teaching is undoubtedly the students.

During my time in China, I’ve watched my students grow, become more confident and become special to me.

Standing in front of my university students

Making memories with students has helped me grow as a person.

Teaching at a Chinese university has also been a rewarding experience.

Since students know enough English to have conversations, it’s easier to develop relationships and make memories with them.

7. I’ve met people from around the world

In China, you’ll meet expats from all corners of the world who are students at universities, ESL teachers or even engineers.

Some of my closest friends here are from Russia, France and Spain.

Meeting and engaging with people who are from different backgrounds is a fun and beneficial experience.

I’ve found that attending events organized by WeChat groups or Girl Gone International to be most helpful.

8. I’ve had the opportunity to travel

Since building my career in China, I’ve had many opportunities to travel during the holidays and winter and summer vacations.

Each province in China, and sometimes each city in China, is like a country of its own. There are differences between the foods, sights and culture.

Map of provinces in China

While building my career in China I've still been able to travel.

I’ve also had the opportunity to travel to surrounding Asian countries.

These experiences have helped me become more knowledgeable and well-rounded.

9. I’ve learned about Chinese culture

Chinese culture is beautiful and unlike any culture I’ve encountered before.

I would describe China as a collectivist society, as well as spiritual and harmonious. I’ll always admire China for the way the people stand together in peaceful harmony.

There is much to learn about the history of China since the country is thousands of years old.

The traditional art, music, cuisine and literature is a great representation of the country and its roots.


10. I’ve become a better teacher

This may be the most obvious one but to me it’s the most important.

My confidence in the classroom has grown as I’ve continued to hone my teaching skills.

Chinese students standing up behind seated teacher

I've become a better teacher in China.

Teaching in China has also reinforced the idea that preparation is key.

Whether you’re teaching young children, teenagers or college students, you have to do the preparation to ensure your classes are a success.

As a teacher, I try to come up with creative and fun ways for my students to learn and be engaged, rather than me talking at them for 90 minutes.

Teaching overseas has also taught me so much about the ESL industry and the kinds of careers that are available in international education.

You'll keep growing in China

Although working in China has given me so many wonderful experiences and memories, I want to be clear that it’s not all rainbows and sunshine.

As I mentioned earlier, there are many sacrifices that go into living abroad. Developing a career in China isn’t for everyone.

However, I’ve found that the longer you live in China, the more you keep growing both personally and professionally.

If you’re an adventurous spirit and feel as though the opportunity is calling you, then I say take the leap.

You won’t regret it.

Have you worked in China before? If so, what was your personal growth like? How did you develop? Share your story below.


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