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Foreigner working experience in China

Popularity 11Viewed 4145 times 2015-3-24 08:19 |Personal category:Current News|System category:News| Foreigners, working, experience, adjustment

This is a request for foreign readers with experience of working in China - paid job or volunteer intern - to share their thoughts on that experience. It is a topic with my American students that I will discuss with their volunteer intern experience in a couple of weeks. Questions arise like: Does the foreigner working experience here depend on the city location, gender, ethnicity of the foreigner? How are foreign workers treated in various organisations? What are the hardest work-related aspects to adjust to? So I welcome thoughts from foreigners here or previously here from locations all over China and from all backgrounds. Thanks in advance!

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)


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Reply Report 财神 2015-3-24 08:37
are you willing to dismiss our job?  
Reply Report seanboyce88 2015-3-24 08:53
Here I feel used if asked to work teaching English, many places make you feel more like a paid clown and care not for your actual ability to teach English. I also find that at least in the English teaching environment, if you don't have an American accent, you get accused of being a fraud by people who can't even pronounce there own name in English "I am Leeeeenda and I think you are russian" (ok Linda). I don't teach much though.

I have also done interpreter jobs which are at the other end of the spectrum. They basically threw money at me to make sure the clients had a good time. I got paid to take out British high school teachers who came to a conference, and I was even given free money to take them to a bar. So naturally we all went home drunk and apparently I done a great job! Best job ever. I think however my abilities of speaking Chinese were far more valued than that of speaking English which accounts for the difference between the 2 experiences. With English teaching I was "just another foreigner" and ultimately there to make money, with the interpreter jobs, I felt like I was the cavalry being rolled out to make my university look good in front of Britain. "look what we produced, A British boy who can speak Chinese". There was definitely more a feeling of being respected while doing the interpreting job and so I enjoyed it far more.

Here's my story from the interpreting job, remember I am not a professional and wasn't getting paid a lot. I told them in advance I wasn't professional but they agreed anyway due to a lack of any other British students.

So, just to show you my "interpreting" abilities. There I was sitting between the dean, vice dean and top teachers of my university and on my other side, 5 British High school teachers and no one had a language in common except me. Dinner went fine and I could translate everything with no hitches until the dean made his "welcome to Harbin and thank you for the evening soeech" He spoke for a solid 2 minutes using almost exclusively ancient Chinese idioms that I had no idea about. So I turned to the British teachers, poker face on and said:
"He said something very lovely and polite that is way beyond my ability in Chinese but I am sure it's something about waterfalls and lilies and the sorts. The gist of the meaning is that it's lovely to meet you and welcome to Harbin." They burst into hysterics and the dean asks what i said, I just replied sometimes it doesn't translate too well...
Reply Report MichaelM 2015-3-24 09:53
Does the foreigner working experience here depend on the city location, gender, ethnicity of the foreigner?
I think so. I'm in Henan. A not so popular place in China, but, I relish being here. I've had other opportunities. Some that paid more than I can make here in a school or training center here. I'm older and well traveled. I've spent more time in airplanes than I care to talk about. I don't need to travel. I don't need to see the Great Wall. I've seen pictures. It's enough for me. I don't party nor frequently visit bars. I'd rather have a good night's sleep and be fresh for my classes the next day. I think it comes with age and maybe also a bit of attitude. I'm respected and am called upon often to advise schools and businesses. I'm also shown a lot of appreciation by those I know here. I'm an American. That does make a difference in how people view you.


How are foreign workers treated in various organisations? What are the hardest work-related aspects to adjust to? Overall, I'm treated quite well. There are a few minor frustrations, but, I've learned to expect them and I know how to deal with them. Often, foreigners are kept out of the loop of whatever is communicated. Communication and planning is not a priority (so it seems) in China. Foreigners are the last to know. Many Chinese have told me that they didn't communicate something to me for fear that it would change several times. I understand that and have learned to accept it. This also is the hardest thing to accept. Constant change and indecision. Lack of planning. I think most Westerners are used to good scheduling and planning. They don't expect things to change so often as they do here in China. My attitude has been, 'get used to it or go back home.' I've gotten used to it even though it can still be a bit upsetting.
Reply Report ColinSpeakman 2015-3-24 10:29
财神: are you willing to dismiss our job?   
A journalist job is very important.. So share some thoughts!  
Reply Report ColinSpeakman 2015-3-24 13:04
MichaelM: Does the foreigner working experience here depend on the city location, gender, ethnicity of the foreigner?
I think so. I'm in Henan. A not so popula ...
Many thanks Michael. Very helpful and I will use it.

I agree a lot about communication and forward planning. That can really be a challenge here!
Reply Report ColinSpeakman 2015-3-24 13:07
seanboyce88: Here I feel used if asked to work teaching English, many places make you feel more like a paid clown and care not for your actual ability to teach Eng ...
Very helpful Sean and I will use it. You have a good example of how a Scottish foreigner in English teaching might face challenges.
Reply Report 财神 2015-3-24 14:44
ColinSpeakman: A journalist job is very important.. So share some thoughts!   
well, I’ve not any specific idea about it but what I think/feel it might depend on how you recruited or how professional organizations you have applied.

Sometimes your Chinese colleagues will treat you whatever their leaders have given authority. Some of they will stay away or balance the distance. They will talk to you if they need otherwise they won’t be closer to you.
If you realize the attitude of company or boss, you can accomplish your task without any headaches. professionalism or worldwide values in jobs might not be applied and you must based on your contract letter that you have signed.

The professions like, English teaching or business might have more freedom but the full time job that you are invited might have less freedom to perform your own skill. Next, it depends on your education quality, behaving manner and your personality to deal/work here.
Reply Report teamkrejados 2015-3-24 16:31
The first hurdle I faced was being older. Most universities want teachers who are younger so that they might connect with the students better. And, perhaps are not as knowledgeable in the ways of business and of the world. Many universities turned me down before this golden opportunity arose.
I teach in a tier 3 private university in a sub-provincial city, and was able to obtain my position with only minimal teaching experience and only an Associates' degree. I suspect in Beijing or Shanghai, I wouldn't have made the cut at all and maybe I still wouldn't, even with 5 years of experience under my belt. So, yes: I believe location does matter.
I am not as pressured to perform as perhaps other foreign teachers are, nor is my schedule as demanding. I teach an average of 6 hours per week, spread over 4 classes of 2-45 minute periods each. I am not required to turn in lesson plans, attend meetings or stay in the teachers' office until quitting time, as I understand many other foreign teachers in other schools are called on to do. This all might have to do with being in a tier-3 school as well.
At first I was up against the memory of one excellent male foreign teacher of years past. That made it hard for me to make my marks but my performance and reputation has now exceeded that of my predecessor. Hence I conclude that gender does matter.
One of the most frustrating aspects of my position is that I'm just outside of our department. I'm not required, nor even wanted at meetings and seldom does my input matter. However, I am called on to participate in extra-curricular activities like coaching the speech and debate teams, attending English corner and so on. I don't mind any of that, the only part I don't like is when it is canceled/postponed and I have no idea when/where the activity will take place. For this reason I would suggest any newcomer to China get used to the lax way of conducting business, where postponements or even cancellations are routine.
As a female I feel my way has perhaps been easier than for males. I am not expected to work as hard or be as good. In fact, I'm met with pleasant surprise when things turn out better than expected and, invariably there are comments such as: I didn't know a woman could do that. Maybe my age has something to do with that, too.
In order to work successfully over here, establishing guanxi is of primary importance. Those younger members seeking a qualified China experience had better remember that moderation is the key. One can be selfish in their pursuits but not so selfish as to not include co-workers. Accepting invitations is crucial but issuing them is also vital. Such invitations should include regionally accepted activities. For example: in Shanghai it might be perfectly acceptable to go out on the town (and pick up the tab) but in smaller places, having a dinner at your home would be the way to go.  So, yes: location does matter.
The language barrier: No matter how good my Chinese is, my colleagues insist on addressing me in their (sometimes) poor English. I understand that they are doing it to accommodate 'the foreigner' (and perhaps to practice their English) but if it is frustrating to try to decipher what they need/want from me. That ties in with...
Deference: be it my age or my foreign-ness, even after 5 years here I am deferred to as though separate and different. It is not hateful or mean but it does make me feel like an outsider, even after all this time. New arrivals might find their sense of loneliness and isolation exacerbated by this overarching politeness.
The other foreign teacher at this school was from South Africa, an obviously different race than, say... Anglo-Saxon. He was seen as lacking in quality and ability. Most of the staff here did not try to approach him and fewer students attempted to connect with him. So, yeah: I'd say race/ethnicity has something to do with how foreigners are perceived and accepted.
I think I've hit all of your highlight, my friend. I'm glad to help and hope your finished product turns out to be a great tool for newcomers.
Reply Report BlondeAmber 2015-3-24 16:36
the treatment you receive is very defiantly based on your gender and ethnic background.
as a foreign woman, in Hunan where I was for two years, I was treated very much like a 2nd class citizen: most local men (particularly) get their ideas on how foreign women behave based on US television, (you get the idea), and I was constantly propositioned in the most offensive ways possible despite being a non-drinking, non-night club attending expert in my area.
local people would talk about me in English despite sitting there listening them, and got all sensitive when I pointed out how rude it was.
But it was not as bad as some of my African American friends were treated.
there is very much a 'pecking order' of foreigners still in some parts of China: Caucasian males being at the top, African (or women of African origin, or Asia) women at the bottom.
At one point I was offered a salary 2/3 of a British friend, despite the fact that he had only graduated from university the year before and was having terrible problems with his work.
Reply Report Newtown 2015-3-24 17:16
ColinSpeakman: Many thanks Michael. Very helpful and I will use it.

I agree a lot about communication and forward planning. That can really be a challenge here!
Communication and forward planning in mainland Chna often come under the rubric of mismanagement and a lack of professionalism. As mentioned elsewhere, however, you have to bend otherwise you'd break and China is just a tad bigger than any foreign indiviudal seeking to change it.

It's a bit like the traffic in China : nearly everyone breaks the rules and drivers get away with anything they can - but it still seems to function at a fairly regular pace so there's no point in rocking the boat.
Reply Report ColinSpeakman 2015-3-24 19:00
teamkrejados: The first hurdle I faced was being older. Most universities want teachers who are younger so that they might connect with the students better. And, pe ...
Thanks for this comprehensive review. I will use it.
Reply Report ColinSpeakman 2015-3-24 19:01
BlondeAmber: the treatment you receive is very defiantly based on your gender and ethnic background.
as a foreign woman, in Hunan where I was for two years, I was  ...
Thanks for these insights. I will use them.
Reply Report ColinSpeakman 2015-3-24 19:03
财神: well, I’ve not any specific idea about it but what I think/feel it might depend on how you recruited or how professional organizations you have appli ...
Thanks for this. Useful! I agree that leaders in organisations often set the tone for how local staff should treat foreigners, how much they are exposed to and so on.
Reply Report BlondeAmber 2015-3-24 19:20
ColinSpeakman: Thanks for this. Useful! I agree that leaders in organisations often set the tone for how local staff should treat foreigners, how much they are expos ...
it is true that the most senior person sets the tone of how you are treated.
my first teaching position was with a rabid xenophobic misogynist (putting it politely) department head, and the staff took their cue from him.
no amount of me being expected to jump through twice as many hoops as my male colleagues, he still did his utmost to undermine all the FT's.
I worked in conjunction with a home Uni. and they were more than delighted with my performance, and at the extra non-teaching hours I put in with all the extra curricular activities I was obliged to take part in.
It was these activities that made it impossible for me to schedule regular Chinese classes in my free time.
Reply Report ColinSpeakman 2015-3-24 19:30
BlondeAmber: it is true that the most senior person sets the tone of how you are treated.
my first teaching position was with a rabid xenophobic misogynist (puttin ...
Oh dear!
Reply Report BlondeAmber 2015-3-24 19:50
ColinSpeakman: Oh dear!
lol
all part of the learning experience in China  
Reply Report ColinSpeakman 2015-3-24 19:54
BlondeAmber: lol
all part of the learning experience in China   
TIC !
Reply Report Dr.Bill.Shen 2015-3-25 00:29
Very insightful responses. We have had a better understanding on the issues you are facing.
Reply Report SEARU 2015-3-25 07:17
财神: are you willing to dismiss our job?   
Then he would be alone and single tree could be a forest!
Reply Report seanboyce88 2015-3-25 08:28
MichaelM: Does the foreigner working experience here depend on the city location, gender, ethnicity of the foreigner?
I think so. I'm in Henan. A not so popula ...
Sorry, I wish to add what Michael said to mine, I am sure things like gender, ethnicity and location have a big impact. For example, I am in Harbin, there are almost no native English speakers, most white people are Russian and so there is the assumption I am Russian coming out a lot. They have less exposure to other accents.

And yes, we will need the opinion of a lady on here as I sure their experiences will be very very different.

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International Educator, Economist, goal of helping to increase understanding of China by the West

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