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What to expect teaching in China – Honest interview with an expat

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  • Teaching in China

What should you expect teaching teaching in China?


Prospero Teaching are now recruiting for teaching opportunities in China for 2023! Many teachers are making the move and finding great success. We sat down with Nigel Barrett, a teacher who made the switch, to get his insights on what to expect with teaching in China. Keep reading for some honest advice from Nigel on what to expect if you make the jump!


Teaching in China

What to expect teaching in China


Nigel Barrett

Meet Nigel


Nigel Barrett is a New Zealand expat who made the jump to teach in China in 2019. Nigel is currently the Head of Elementary at Dehong Beijing Chinese International School. Dehong is one of the many Chinese international schools we’re currently recruiting for in 2023.

Genuine and good-humoured, It was an absolute pleasure to sit down and chat with Nigel over our virtual interview with him. We wanted to find out exactly what our teachers coming from overseas should expect from teaching in China. Throughout his responses, you’ll find that Nigel gives us an honest account of what to expect from the teaching in china experience. He was also eager to dispel some of the stigmas people might have against teaching over there.

Based on what Nigel has told us, teaching in China can be a rewarding experience for teachers who are looking for an adventure and willing to step outside their comfort zones. If you are considering moving to China to teach, be sure to continue reading Nigel’s insights below!



What was your teaching experience prior to moving to China?


After graduating I moved to England where I taught for two years and then discovered the world of international schools which is vast and exciting. My first positing was Kenya where I spent 4 years, followed by 5 years in Brunei, Borneo, 6 years in Manila, Philippines, 2 years in Dubai, 2 years in Uganda and now China. We have two daughters, one born in Kenya and one in Brunei who have also moved and lived in each country along the way.



What motivated you to make the move to China?


China has always been on my radar internationally due to its thirst for education, world class facilities for schools and good packages for teachers. That combined with being such a big country with so much on offer in terms of day-to-day experiences and travel within the country with really good (pre-covid) international travel links.



How was your first month living in a completely different culture?


We have actually found China pretty easy due to technology and infrastructure here. People are generally very welcoming and helpful. It is an all-inclusive experience as teachers can basically just turn up with their bags and everything else is taken care of. Delivery and ordering are second to none and we can basically buy anything online that is then delivered within days. Local transport is easy and cheap, and most products are available. My very first month in Kenya on the other hand was quite a culture shock and the first posting it did take longer to settled to the difference but also back then the internet wasn’t as good and video calling was just being developed.



What kind of unique teaching experiences have you had in China?


As we are a bilingual school, we have connections into local govt opportunities, so we had the first Chinese Woman astronaut come and speak to the children, our Head went to the latest rocket launch, we have a hydroponics set up in school where we grow ‘space seeds’.  Working with Chinese colleague is great, the differences are quite big but there are many similarities too. Cross cultural discussions and team teaching is always good fun. The activities available to the children are quite amazing form short weapons, to horse riding, to rowing on the rive next to school, very unexpected.



Are there any elements of Chinese culture that have become part of your daily life?


A surprise for me is how things can happen very last minute and quickly here and this is something you have to adapt to. For a country with long term plans it is nothing for the bureau to say right you need to do this today, or we are having this meeting in an hours’ time, or we are launching this tomorrow. As long as you are ready for anything it can work to your favour and things can happen very quickly in a positive way.



Was it difficult living on the other side of the world from home?


At first it can be for people, but with video calling and if you come with a sense of adventure and to really experience the place, then time goes quickly, and you find yourself visiting home before you know it with all kinds of stories.



Best advice for a teacher considering making the move to China?


Come with an open mind. Jump in with both feet, just a couple of words of Chinese goes a long way. Expect the first six months to be a bit of a roller coaster.



Favourite place to visit in China?


Southern China, Yunnan. Stunning scenery, great weather, amazing food, easy travel, and incredible walks. Although there are still so many parts we need to visit!



In what ways have you developed personally/professionally since teaching in China?


This is my first posting where the Government curriculum has such an influence on the school. Taking this and adapting parts of it to an inquiry-based approach with a holistic focus has been a great learning curve. Being part of Chinese led lessons where the working memory and approach has opened my eyes to it being far more than just route learning. Being aware of how much can be lost in translation and the different perceptions of a good education has been a large part of my learning here.



What makes teaching at an international school different?


The setting, the different curriculum, the way teachers are looked after and are part of the community, the different ex-pat groups, the connections you make with people from the country and the way you are having a similar experience to your work colleagues.  Plus, once Covid is under control, the fact people don’t think twice really about money, they eat out three of four times week, go on amazing holidays several times over the year while at the same time saving money. The ‘staffroom chat’ other than being about school is often focused on the above aspects.



What were some of the challenges you had to overcome moving to teach in China?


The language is a big one. There is probably less English spoken than I expected and therefore all my presentations and staff meetings are with a translator so that slows things down but ensures I am more precise and to the point. People who take the time to study Chinese find it is tough, but you are in a country where you can practice it daily and make fast progress.



How has your experience been so far with the Chinese people?


There are a lot of stereotypes about Chinese people around the world. One description before coming was the friendliest most helpful, loudest rudest nation. It is a country where things have changed so rapidly, and people here have adapted so quickly.

It is a big population. I generally find people like to interact. Yes, you will be stared at and yes, some people will move on the train away from you but there are also a lot of people who will move next to you for a chat and there is always someone who will try and help.

You quickly become part of the local community and as long as you are willing to try a few words of Chinese and all kinds of food then you will make different connections.  The service industry is very good, and you are well looked after in restaurants, on public transport, shops etc. With a large middle class, a very rich upper class and still a large part of migrant workers, you encounter people from all kinds of backgrounds. In general, it is very safe, and I wouldn’t think twice about being on the street in the early hours of the morning or getting lost downtown somewhere as someone will always help.


Want to know about how you can teach in China?


If you’re a qualified teacher, teaching in a different culture like China has never been more of a reality. Start your next journey with Prospero Teaching!

If you would like to chat to one of our team about our current China teaching opportunities, please register your details here. We’ll get in contact with you shortly about our current opportunities!

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