Mike Cairnduff from Hello Teacher!

Updated November 16, 2018
By Mike Cairnduff

Teacher Dan's classroom in rural China.

In Part 2 of this blog, we continue the conversation with Dan McElroy about teaching English in rural China.

Dan worked in Jiaxian, Henan province, for one school year. This is a frank and honest account of his time there.


What tips do you have for a new teacher?

Decide if you are a city person or a country person and pick where you will work based on that.

Once you decide on a potential job offer, research that city and the school before signing the contract. Don’t expect anything and go in with an open mind.

Chinese culture is different to Western culture.

If you’re expecting the comforts of home to be waiting for you in China with just a little Asian twist, you’ll be disappointed.

Things will be different and there may be moments that feel uncomfortable, but that’s all part of the adventure.

Teacher Dan with his students in rural China.

Dan taught primary school students in rural China.

Travel! If you’re going to another country why not explore as much of it as possible? Get out there and learn how the buses and trains work.

Learn a bit of the language.

Finally, take advantage of the month off during Spring Festival and travel across China or southeast Asia.

Looking back, would you have done anything differently?

I would have taught in a big city. I’m a city guy and I know that now.

Having said that, rural China gave us a very unique and exciting way to see China and I certainly don’t regret it.

Students quickly started knowing where to look on the board and the words stuck in their heads. I would erase them on the fourth (last) lesson and see what they had retained.

Have fun with it and play games! Teaching is way more fun if the students are having fun.

You never stop tweaking and changing your lessons to see what works.

Now that you’re in Canada, is there anything you miss about China?

Yes! It’s crazy how you start missing things once you leave.

I miss how friendly and open people were in China. Anyone can go up to anyone in China and just start talking or ask a question.

People in Canada and the US are a little more closed off and individualistic and less likely to go out of their way to help.

I also miss the food. It was so good and so cheap!

Dan enjoying the local food in Jiaxian in rural China.

Dan misses eating Chinese food.

I loved how eating was a communal event. Together, everyone orders food and then everyone can pick at each dish.

I also like the round-table style of eating with a spinning center piece because it’s so conducive to interacting with each other.

Is there anything you don’t miss?

I don’t miss the constant need for people to save face.

After 10 years of smoking, I quit while I was living in China. It was really hard as everyone (including friends, taxi drivers and even strangers) offers cigarettes all the time.

I like that they are so generous and cigarettes really are a great way to break the ice. Offering a cigarette in China is seen as a nice gesture, but there was a fine balance between turning down a cigarette and not insulting people.

I learned how to say “Thank you, but I don’t smoke” in Chinese, but many people took it personally.


Perhaps the biggest thing I don’t miss is the inefficiency of daily life.

Chinese people are very conscious of the hierarchy they’re in, whether that’s with family, friends or employers.

Many things don’t get done on time in China and I think it’s due to a subtle fear of doing something wrong.

People can be very nervous about doing things out of the ordinary and will very rarely do anything on their own if there’s a possibility of doing it wrong.

Efficiency takes a back seat to saving face. It was really hard to get used to this, coming from a country that values efficiency, individualism and business ethics.

Any travel plans for the future?

Jess and I are already tackling our next adventure. We’re almost two weeks into a three-month road trip through the US.

Dan is no longer teaching in rural China and is back in the States.

Dan (right) with partner Jess have returned from China.

We hope to open a hostel in the future. That way, our lives will still be entwined in travel and adventure!


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