The Inside Scoop: Teaching English in Beijing

We often interview colleagues and graduates of our TESOL program about what life is like abroad. This month for The Inside Scoop we will hear from Mariam about living in Beijing, China. Mariam is an SIT alumni who returned from three years of teaching in Beijing late last year (2013).

Here is what she has to say:

“There are plenty of teaching jobs available in Beijing, with different requirements and salaries. I found mine online through the http://www.tefl.com website. Another website with job postings is http://www.beijinger.com, basically a Craigslist/Yelp for everything Beijing. The major language schools are Wall Street English (WS) and English First (EF). You can apply directly to them. There are also International Schools (American, British, Canadian as well as schools like Beijing BISS International School) which run a co-teaching project pairing foreign English teachers with local English teachers as part of the Chaoyang English Project. I’m sure a Google search will easily give you a list of others as well as universities and international schools in the city.

The major language institutes, universities and international schools will arrange your visa before you arrive there (and reimburse you for any costs on your side). They will instruct you on exactly which documents and what information they need. However, it can take a long time. Once you get the job, sometimes it can take up to two months for the necessary paper work to get processed. This is mostly not the fault of the school or company that hires you, but due to the fact that they are waiting for the government to process things and the rules keep changing!

If teaching at a language institute you’ll most likely be working from afternoon to evening and weekends. Always on weekends because that’s the busiest time of the week since that’s when students are free from work and school to come to English classes. If you teach at a regular university or international school then expect to have ‘normal’ working hours as in Monday to Friday, morning to afternoon.

The types of students you will have depend on your job and what kind of school/institute you go to. When teaching adults at language institutes, the location in the city makes a big difference. You could be teaching mostly university age students, professionals or housewives or a mix of everything depending on where your center is located.

Universities usually pay only 7000 to 8000 RMB/ month, but then they also pay for housing and there’s tons of holiday time. EF schools usually start at 12,000 and WS at 16,000 before taxes. Paid vacations/holidays are about the same as the US but more flexible and if you plan it right you can get plenty of time off for travelling.

Rent is usually on the high-end like it would be for any big city. It can also be more or less depending on how central the place is and whether the apartment is new or old. In the best locations it’s usually about 3000-4000 RMB. Most basic furniture is included (bed, TV, fridge, washing machine, couch, and table). You pay for the electricity which is cheap (unless you have large electric heaters). You can find apartments on your own (www.beijinger.com has many listings, and often, the school you work with will refer an agent or assign someone who’ll help you out with it).

There are plenty of expats in Beijing who only go out to English speaking places and hang out with other English speaking people. And at work, as an English teacher, you are always speaking English! Even going to the bank or post office you can get by with minimal Mandarin or find someone who speaks enough English to help you out. At popular bargain shopping places, they speak English (even Russian!). That being said, I’d advise anyone to learn at least the basics. Everyone appreciates it; you’ll get so much more out of your experience in Beijing.

If you’ve never been to China before, forget what you know about Chinese food. Food in Beijing is not only fantastic; it is also nothing close to what is served up as ‘Chinese’ food in the States. Beijing has a very strong food culture and you can try cuisines from the different provinces as well like Yunnan, Xinjiang, Sichuan all of which have their own distinct flavors…and it doesn’t stop there. There are always new restaurants opening up in the city. And whether you want a great burger, food from New Orleans, the best dumplings you’ll ever have, a satisfying bowl of chili on a winter’s day, Korean barbecue or lamb skewers (chuanr) you can get it and it will all be delicious.

Beijing is not the prettiest of cities, but what it lacks visually it makes up for in food and entertainment. There is something for everyone, from ‘hole in the wall’ places you’d only find in Beijing to venues that could be in Brooklyn. In addition, the cost of food is relatively cheap. It can be extremely easy to live in Beijing. You can get practically anything delivered to your door. Anything.

That being said, not everyone loves it. But then again, not everyone loves a big, noisy city. And I won’t lie–pollution is a problem. Some days are worse than others and you need to wear a mask even though you’ll see many locals and foreigners walking around like it’s nothing. However, there are also many beautiful days.

I say go with an open mind and you’re sure to have a good time. Try it. At least once.”

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