9 Things I Learned from Teaching English in China 

person_outline Jeremy Scott Foster
Nov 21, 2017

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So, you want to teach English abroad? No matter how well you prepare, teaching is difficult. You can go through everything you learned on your TEFL course and nail your lesson plans – and  things can still go wrong.

The good thing about teaching, is that you get to do it every day. If something goes wrong on Monday, you definitely won’t be doing it again on Tuesday. Every day is a learning experience that teaches you how to be better tomorrow.

things-learned-from-teaching-english-abroad2.jpg(All photo cred goes to Jeremy Scott Foster who took these beauties throughout his time teaching abroad in Asia!)

After my teaching English in Asia trip, I was a different person. My outlook on teaching and life in general completely changed. Here are some of the important things I learned during my time as a teacher abroad.

1. It’s OK to Make Mistakes

I’m a perfectionist and I can’t help it. So this was definitely the most important thing I learned during my time teaching English. Things will go wrong. Activities that you thought were golden sometimes end up getting a painfully frosty reception, and all you can do is smile, move on and learn from it

2. Appearance is Important

When you start working in a school in Asia you will quickly notice that teachers dress well. No jeans and t-shirts. You will need to look presentable everyday. Fortunately, your hefty English teacher salary will cover the expense of any new clothes.

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3. Whatever You Do, Don’t Lose Face

“Losing face” is when you are publicly embarrassed and it can result in you losing respect. If you lose the respect of your students, you’re doomed as a teacher. Losing and gaining face is quite a complicated concept but you get used to it quickly.

4. The Language Barrier is a Pain

I didn't really give much thought to the language barrier I would face in Asia until I got there. But, as soon as you get there you will realize what a nightmare it can be. If you can learn some basics for the country you’re heading to before you head out, do it. It will make your life significantly easier.

5. Asian School Lunches Put Ours to Shame

A lot of schools in Asia give their teachers free school lunches. And, we’re not talking about lukewarm, congealed slop. Lunches in Asia consist of stir-fried veg, spicy tofu and, of course, plenty of rice. It tastes good, it’s healthy, and the portions are very generous. What more could you want?

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6. There’s Not Much Room for Creativity

When I taught in China, the school curriculum very much relies on verbatim learning. The students repeat what you say and reproduce what you write. Have they understood it, you don’t always know, but they genuinely try really hard.

7. Asian Kids Work Really Hard

Some of my kids used to fall asleep during class. At first, I was pretty mad about it but then I found out why. Children in Asia usually attend class from 8 am until 3 or 4. They then go home and do around 5 or 6 hours of homework. This works out to being around 12 hours of studying per day! Most adults don't even do that much work.

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8. You Can Never Be Too Prepared

Think you’ve got your lesson plan sorted? Think again. Many were the times I covered the whole lesson in about 20 minutes and then had to improvise for the rest of the class. Have some backup activities ready just in case.

9. Teaching in Asia is AMAZING

Despite the cultural differences and the challenges I faced, I maintain that teaching in Asia was one of the best experiences of my life. My students were adorable, the city was awesome and I learned some valuable life skills and lessons that I will remember forever.

If you’re on the fence about whether or not to do it, I say give it a go. It might just change your life!

Take me away! 

Jeremy Scott Foster

Jeremy Scott Foster

Jeremy Scott Foster is a travel writer, photographer, and professional adventurer. He has been travelling the world for 7 years, asking the hard questions and learning about both the world and himself in the process. His adventure travel blog, travelFREAK, has taken him to 35+ countries on six continents — he’s hiked glaciers in New Zealand, partied until sunrise on the beaches of Montenegro, taught English in China, conquered the highest bungee jump in the world, traversed Europe by train, and climbed inside the great Pyramids of Giza.