Monday, May 10, 2010

A quick note to anybody thinking about teaching English in China or elsewhere abroad

I'll post a comprehensive review and analysis of my experiences in teaching English in China at a later date, but I just wanted to express what I think might be the most important point I've noticed so far:

Don't ever commit to a one year contract. Ever. 

Instead, do one semester (referred to as "6 months," or 1 semester/term). You can still get reimbursed for half your airfare, and can always negotiate another 6 months at a later date in order to get the other half of your airfare, assuming you even want to stay with the same company and/or schools.

However, if you commit to a 1 year contract then if, for any reason, you decide to leave your employment during that year, your employer will get out of paying for ALL of your airfare, and you will be stuck with the bill. What's the point of providing them that leverage?

Furthermore, if you're considering living and working abroad for longer than the 6 month contract, you'll be able to find better work for better pay within that period, anyway.

There are absolutely no added benefits to signing on for a year versus signing on for 6 months.

Here are some other notes:

1) If you go through a recruiter, don't pay them any money unless it has to do directly with visas or other documents. They get paid a referral fee by whomever you would end up working for and no fees should be paid by you. Don't let anybody tell you any different, especially if it's the recruiter that's trying to convince you otherwise...

2) Don't trust everything you read online; take it all with a grain of salt. Actually, I suppose this is a general rule that should be followed in every context. But for example, one of my foreign coworkers was talking about how he read that pay for teaching at universities only ranges from 5000-6000 RMB, so he assumed that must be the case, without exception. However, just last month I met an older American couple that were talking about their University hiring people for next year at 7000 RMB a month for 2 days' of work per week. Considering they weren't pressuring anybody to apply, nor did they seem to have any real vested interest in recruitment, I don't doubt the validity of what they were talking about. Furthermore, I read a few harshly worded reviews about the company I work for on a forum for foreign English teachers, and I haven't experienced any of the problems those people did...It's really unfair for foreigners to assume that all or even most of these opportunities are just scams (but that's not to say scams don't exist!).

3A) You can find better work once you're actually physically there. Unsurprisingly, networking is key. Once you're actually in the location you want to work, you can go to plenty of bars where foreigners frequent, and very quickly find somebody in the field you want to work in. More often than not, they have probably lived here for a while and can have really fantastic leads (see number 2). Furthermore, this reinforces my point about committing to the shortest contract you possibly can.

3B) The internet is awful for finding jobs in general, and the same rule applies for finding English teaching opportunities abroad. Your absolute best bet is, by far, to talk to people that have actually done it. They can provide you with tips, leads, and possibly even opportunities that you just won't find online. Also, try to find people that have done it recently. Somebody that taught English in China 10 years ago isn't really going to be much help to you in any way, shape, or form.

4) If you're not comfortable with your contracts, then don't sign them. At the very least, try and negotiate something that irks you. You have a lot more leverage than anybody on this side of the pond is willing to admit.

I'll try to add more later!


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