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The Daunting Challenge of A Foreign Teacher In China

Popularity 9Viewed 2655 times 2017-3-11 04:41 |Personal category:Education|System category:News| experience, Foreign, staying, really, reason

I came to China in 2011. Nearly 6 years ago. I had no plans of staying here longer than a year. I was newly divorced and really had no reason not to come and experience this wonderful place. 

After being here only two months, I saw the huge obstacles of students trying to learn English. It was very easy to see many of the mistakes and reasons why they often spend 10 years or more and never really get past the ability of having even one simple conversation. I knew I could help. Students came to me by the dozens seeking help.

I taught 20 classes a week in a middle school for less than a fourth of what I'd make as a teacher in the USA (with a lot less classes). In addition, I took on another 12 classes a week to help primary school children learn English. 32 classes a week. 2-3 times what a normal teacher teaches. I found a place where I was needed and it ignited a fire under me to do all I could to help.

Living in any culture other than what you are accustomed to, is difficult. I had the advantage of traveling to 26 other countries around the world and knew how to adjust. Tolerance, patience, understanding and acceptance are all required to change not only your lifestyle, but, your cultural mindset.

During that time, I experienced a lot of injustices of things that happened in every day life. Much more than anything I'd ever faced in the other 4 decades of my life in America. Most of them were small things that I brushed off as I was reminded that I was a foreigner and really was subjected to things that natives faced every day. Nonetheless, I pressed on and daily reminded myself that I wasn't here for money or comfort. I was on a mission to help Chinese children prepare for a better life. I knew that I could teach them and give them an advantage that they weren't getting before.

I went through things like a pay clerk at the university trying to short me pay that I was due, a real estate management company cheating me out of a year's worth of rent (with no legal recourse) and the little attempts by so many in every day life attempting to gain 5 yuan or even 50 yuan by cheating you on small things. These were (are) things that I'd never faced in my life in America. I guess it was some comfort to me to realize that Chinese people are subjected to such treatment every day of their lives.

I had great moments too. Just the rewards of being a teacher and being able to affect the lives of children. These are the daily rewards that help offset the negative things you're required to endure here. Then, there were those highlights where I appeared on television more than 40 times for the volunteer work that I've done with the poor and elderly. I never expected or sought any recognition for such work. So, it was indeed a blessing to be recognized.

The school I started teaching at here in Zhengzhou in 2013, recognized me twice for teaching excellence which I later found out, had never been done with a foreigner before in the history of this province. Indeed an honor that I never saw coming.

Of course, I've found a platform for my blog at China Daily and have been recognized as a top blogger here.

Last year took its toll on me. I won't go into the all of the things that I experienced. If I did, you'd think I'm insane for staying in China. I will share a fraction of what I experienced.

I ended up in the hospital for two weeks. I am generally quite healthy. But, I was experiencing pain in my body at a level I'd never felt before on a consistent basis. I had to get some relief. I did. The doctors and hospital were wonderful. Again, the Chinese hospital experience is quite different than America. Certainly not as many conveniences, but, I felt the level of healthcare far exceeded my expectations.

Right after getting out of the hospital, I made a trip home to Texas. Little did I know that when I got there, I wouldn't be leaving for more than 6 months. I'd planned to stay no more than a month, however, that was not to be.

I'd been in China for 5 years. There is an interesting requirement that seems to be enforced in some parts of China and not others. It says that a foreigner on a Z visa must leave China for 6 months after staying here for 5 years. It was a requirement that I knew nothing about and was quite surprised by. I still had an apartment with all of my things in China and was facing the challenge of maintaining two residences, one in China and the other in America, with no income.

After researching this requirement and realizing that it isn't enforced in many parts of China, I learned a lot that actually didn't surprise me. A website that is set up as kind of an informal union of foreign teachers in China, stated that 93% of teachers who are made to leave China based on this requirement, never return to China. It also stated another interesting fact. That is, the average stay for a foreign teacher at a single school in China is 8 months.

These statistics seem a bit startling, but, after I thought about it, they make sense. Of course the 8 month average stay fact is written off by the Chinese school authorities as the unreliability of Western teachers. However, if they'd ever had the experience of traveling halfway around the world and attempting to live in a culture that is far different from anything they're accustomed to, they'd have a different perspective. The problem is, they've never had that experience and have no idea what a foreigner experiences doing that.

The reason given on the website for only 7% returning after the required 6 month leave is that most cannot endure financially and feel as though they've been punished for their loyalty and dedication to Chinese English education for students. The website also stated (I mentioned in another blog) that China is the second lowest paying country in the world for foreign teachers. Of course, the problem also exists in that the foreign teacher is still making 3-4 times what a Chinese teacher earns.

Now, upon my return to China, my tolerance level for the challenges that a foreign teacher faces here, is getting thin. I just found out, due to the required 6 month leave, I've basically lost not only my pay for 7 months (one month in the hospital; 'sick leave' is basically unheard of in China), I've also lost the bonuses that I was promised in signing another contract that, due to the '6 month leave rule', I couldn't fulfill. We lost more than half of our students due to my absence which has served as seemingly more discouragement to endure.

The upside of all of this that does inspire me and gives me some motivation is that our students who have graduated from high school are all at top 100 schools in America and Canada. I have one student who is presently a high school junior and has already received early acceptance to Harvard. One of my other students that I had when I first came here, has already graduated from Harvard. Another one is in Princeton right now. Others are at UC Berkeley, University of Chicago and several other top schools. 

This seems to be the only fuel that will keep me in China for the foreseeable future. It is powerful fuel. I hope it can sustain me in enduring what I know the future will hold for me as a foreign teacher in China. I'm looking within my own heart to see what I see there and determine if I want to continue this mission. Teaching English with a sincere focus and giving my students my best is challenging enough. The other challenges of just living here can be overwhelming. Just looking for the strength to endure.

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




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Comment Comment (8 comments)

Reply Report GhostBuster 2017-3-11 23:04
Your experiences are priceless and an excellent guide to anyone coming to China.
You see your students rising to meet great challenges in their lives!
Must be the most valuable to your good self, they share that with you!
Reply Report 1105852048 2017-3-12 01:58
An almost identical experience for me.
Reply Report SunnyWang2004 2017-3-12 09:01
Though I'm not your student, nor did I meet you face to face, I know you're an adorable English teacher from your blogs here, and from your sound lessons in weixin's pity  there were unsatisfying happenings and maybe more ahead waiting for you. You know, life is full of ups and downs which nobody can escape. But we can keep our direction in our heart , then we will feel comfortable and have the feeling of integrity.  Good luck with you all the time!
Reply Report parcher 2017-3-12 12:16
I think most foreigners will have similar experiences. I also had a plan to stay 1 year, but I got a new offer to work in another city, so I snapped it up. When that contract finished, my 1st employer sent me an email inviting me to work for him again on a long term deal. 9 yrs later I am still working here, but I plan to go back to the uk this October.
Reply Report cmknight 2017-3-12 14:42
It might surprise you to learn that the reason for the 6-month "leave" is so they DON'T have to pay you the bonuses that they promised you. They use the leave as an excuse to say you forfeited the bonuses by "breaking" your contractual obligations. As a matter of fact, there is no law that states foreign teachers have to leave for 6-months after 5 years of employment. Another "law" that they try to foist on foreign teachers is that you cannot work for the same school more than 5 years. That too, is a fake "law".
Reply Report Jaaja 2017-3-12 18:17
Generlly speaking, when one goes to foreign country (especially as different as China) for extended period to work (other than perhaps seasonal or other very low level work), being good in your job is not enough. You would do yourself a favor by becoming expert on relevant laws about immigration, employment, taxes, and most importantly the proper authorities that handle each issue. Problems like you describe are otherwise unavoidable.
Reply Report GhostBuster 2017-3-13 09:05
You possess finest qualities of a great teacher. Selflessly, you enrich your students regardless of who they are and where they come from. Through your devoted dedication, they excel and perform expectation to reach heights that they themselves may not have dreamt of. You are EXEMPLARY!

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Michael is the author of the transformational book, Powerful Attitudes. He is a professional educator, an educational consultant, an author. He lives in Zhengzhou, Henan Province. He enjoys playing guitar and writing poetry. He loves China.


Recent comments

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