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Online Travel Editor Ellie Caulfield gives us an honest insight into what it’s really like teaching in China. 


Waking up at 6:15am to go and eat a bowl of rice and a suspicious looking piece of meat whilst being harassed by hyperactive children doesn’t sound like most people’s ideal way to spend their summer break. Nevertheless, there I was. I couldn’t even have the optimistic thought of ‘oh, at least it’s a nice day’ because it wasn’t. Despite it being nearly 30 degrees the haze of pollution meant that there was no sun and quite frankly, I was beginning to wonder if it even still existed.

…their level of English was the equivalent to my level of Year 9 French before I was advised not to take it for GCSE

However, please don’t let me put you off. Rest assured that the summers spent teaching in China are the best I’ve ever had. Even with the early starts, unidentifiable meat and the occasional burps in the face from that kid in class, teaching these children has not only benefitted them (I hope) but it has also benefitted me.

Admittedly this was one of the worst days for food.

Each day started with the same ‘Good Morning Teacher Ellie’, and then a rush of gossip they had been waiting to tell me from the night before. All of this, unfortunately, was in Mandarin as their level of English was the equivalent to my level of Year 9 French before I was advised not to take it for GCSE.

You might be wondering then, ‘How were you able to teach these children English?’, and trust me, I wondered that nearly every day before I walked into that classroom. Thankfully, it wasn’t as hard as it seemed, we were all given a translator whose level of English far exceeded anything I expected. This once again put me to shame for my diabolical language abilities.

The time I walked in and saw one of my children wearing a top with ‘f*** fake friends’ plastered across it whilst zooming around on his two-foot skateboard seems to stick in my mind

When it came to the children, I have never met a more enthusiastic class. Admittedly, it was often hard to meet their enthusiasm, especially when I was nursing a Chinese beer hangover (did you really think I went there just to teach?). However, they certainly made each day entertaining and with each day came a new surprise. The time I walked in and saw one of my children wearing a top with ‘f*** fake friends’ plastered across it whilst zooming around on his two-foot skateboard seems to stick in my mind. Luckily for him, his classmates had not yet learnt how to read English but of course being a responsible teacher I told him to change it. Reluctantly.

This picture so accurately shows what every day was like teaching in China.

The day consisted of around six hours of teaching. When I say teaching, I mean it in the loosest sense possible. I am no teacher and when I first started going to China I was barely an adult. Nevertheless, I was tasked with the mission of teaching the children the weather, (unsurprisingly they already knew the word ‘cloudy’). Although I think it was mission accomplished as by the end of my time there they screamed all the weather they knew at me the minute I saw them. I mean this literally, instead I became greeted with ‘Today the weather is SUNNY’. It wasn’t.

As much as I went there to teach English, teaching at this school apparently meant singing, dancing, and having water balloons thrown in your face all too often. I don’t think I have choreographed a dance since my Year 5 street dance days (embarrassing, I know) but there I was encouraging a class of 25 children to play the air guitar whilst screaming ‘We Will Rock You’ and having a lightning bolt painted across their face. I would be lying if I said this wasn’t entertainment for the teachers, but I promise you, the children did enjoy it.

Just a few of the foreign friends I made (notice beer in hand).

When I say that teaching in China benefitted me I unsurprisingly don’t mean that it compelled me to audition for this year’s X Factor. Instead, it pushed me beyond the limits of my comfort zone I wasn’t even aware existed. It also allowed me to explore one of the most interesting, yet baffling countries I have ever been to and I can now boast that I have fellow teacher friends in none other than Canada, the Philippines and Cameroon. The evenings also allowed me to test my karaoke abilities (hilariously bad) and experience the Chinese nightclubs (less bad, but equally hilarious). These are all things I couldn’t say if I had spent my summer glued to Netflix, however tempting this initially seemed.

Schools and companies alike crave student teachers like yourselves and there really is a plethora of choice out there

To anyone thinking about teaching in another country, I strongly urge you to do it. Whether it’s as far afield as China or just a short plane ride to a nearby European nation I can promise you that the experience is unforgettable. Schools and companies alike crave student teachers like yourselves and there really is a plethora of choice out there.

So, if burps to the face, water-balloons to the head but also hilarious and unforgettable memories appeal to you then I think a summer spent teaching abroad is certainly something you should consider. Perhaps I’ll see you there because I will definitely be going back. After all, knowing what meat you’re eating is just a bit boring, right?


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