We have got a lot of questions about working in China and can now count on Audrey Duarte‘s experience of going from São Paulo to living and working in the other side of the world.
1. Where do you work and how long have you been working there?
I currently work at two public primary schools in Chaoyang District in Beijing, China. Both are regular Chinese public schools for which the government recruits foreign teachers to teach English to primary, middle and high school students. The goal is for the foreign teacher to introduce a teaching style focused on oral English as this is the area in which Chinese foreign language education lacks the most.
I’ve been working at these schools since the start of September of this year. I teach English to primary and middle school kids, grades 3-6.
2. Had you ever worked abroad before?
I’ve worked abroad before in the U.S.A. and France. While I was in college in New York, I taught English to refugees at the Mohawk Valley Refugee Center in Utica, New York. I worked in charity fundraising in New York City following my graduation from Hamilton College. In France, I worked at a second-hand francophone and anglophone bookshop called The Abbey . If you’re ever in the Latin Quarter, be sure to check out their more than 35,000 titles all piled up in a little medieval shop!
3. What motivated you to look for another job abroad?
After five years living in the U.S., I returned to Brazil and started teaching general and business English through language schools in Sao Paulo. After a year, though, the itch for that immersive learning experience I had had a taste of living abroad came back, and I paid attention. I have always been one to thrive and flourish in challenging environments, and shrink when I don’t feel like I’m “working for” my experience. I craved the feeling of “working for” a rewarding and rich output of a new experience that would push me personally and professionally. I chose not to ignore that call, did my research and applied to some 6 different countries in Asia. So far I had lived in places that had been quite accessible to me regarding convenience, comfort and language, like North America and Europe. This time, I wanted a bigger, even more foreign challenge to wake me up to life and grant me a true adventure. After a few offers, I settled on a foreign teacher recruitment company in Beijing, called HYZD International Education. These were the most important factors in my decision- 1. Beijing is a big city and I wanted to be in a place easy to travel from. 2. As a language enthusiast, I could try to pick up some Chinese while I’m there. 3. The English teacher salary in China tends to be higher than in countries in Southeast Asia. The company was also very attentive and clear with me throughout the entire process of application, from the first email exchanges to answering any questions I had in a prompt fashion, to now, a proactive and responsive employer.
4. What kinds of pre-requisites were there for this position? What qualifications and experience were required?
As I was job hunting, I found that almost every English teaching position abroad requires some form of teaching training. Most require TEFL, some allow the online certification, but the really great and competitive positions want CELTA-certified foreign workers. For my current job, I was required to have a B.A. degree in any subject, to obtain a 120-hr CELTA, and 2 years experience teaching English. However, a CELTA was not compulsory for applicants with a B.A. in Education. Furthermore, and this is the tricky part, most job ads- mine included- call for Native English speakers only. In some places, once you tell them you’re from Brazil, i.e. you don’t possess a passport from an English speaking country, they will unfortunately not consider you, regardless of your level of fluency, even if you’ve lived in an English speaking country. You can sound native-like and they still will say no, in many cases. Some companies recruiting foreign workers are more lenient, though. The company I currently work for agreed to have an interview with me after going through my documents, such as a cover letter, resumé, and a copy of my college degree. That’s your time to shine and show them not only your command of English but also your teaching knowledge and qualifications.
5. Which documents were required? How did you get a visa to work in China?
As far as bureaucracy goes, it was a long but organized process. The Chinese company that hired me was in charge of requesting the work permit on my behalf. I was required to Fedex in a medical check and my B.A. degree. Because I was in the process of obtaining a CELTA, I didn’t send them a certificate, though they will usually require it. A month or so later, I received the letter of employment and the official visa request in the mail from China and made my way to the Chinese General Consulate in Sao Paulo. The visa was ready in 3 business days and my experience at the consulate smooth and efficient.
6. How did you become aware of this position? Where did you look for it?
I became aware of this teaching position through one of many websites prospective teachers can browse for jobs abroad. My partner had just finished CELTA in Ireland and he had garnered online resources with a lot of job posts abroad. I found my current position through Seek Teachers (http://www.seekteachers.com/). Others include Dave’s ESL Cafe (http://www.eslcafe.com/joblist/) and Teach To Travel (http://teachtotravel.com/). Those are the ones I used primarily, but there are others you’ll likely find as you go.
7. Taking into account the cost of living, how does the salary compare with what you used to earn in Brazil?
A very compelling factor of coming to work in Beijing was the salary. Foreign teachers who come to work in Beijing are well rewarded for their work, while Chinese nationals who teach English here are unfortunately underpaid, as is the predominant case in Brazil for Brazilians teaching classroom English. Keeping in mind the cost of living, my current remuneration here is considerably higher than what I earned as a teacher in Brazil, or even than what I would earn as almost any other corporate professional at the age of 24, with the exception of large multinational companies and banks, probably. Two important factors to consider when analyzing the salary offer of a prospective workplace abroad are the cost of life in the city you will work in, and whether or not you will be provided accommodation. I chose Beijing because, though not as cheap as some places in Southeast Asia (think Vietnam or Thailand), the Beijing salary is considerably more attractive while not boasting a high cost of living. Life in Beijing isn’t expensive, and so far I’ve been able to save more than half of my salary each month.
8. What was the most difficult part of the process?
The application process was surely draining. It was both upsetting and exhausting to hear No from jobs in Middle Eastern countries, Japan, South Korea and some places in China, for the simple reason that I am a Brazilian national. Nevermind that I went to college in the States, that I had prior teaching experience and that I have native-sounding English. You can know more grammar (and probably do!) than any native applicant, and they will still get the job before you do. It’s a tough fight, but it’s not nearly as impossible as people will try to make you believe. There are currently many companies looking to recruit foreign teachers who don’t necessarily have a passport from an English speaking country. Having gone through the job hunting journey with my Irish partner, I can fairly say he had a much easier time “convincing” employers than I did… while he was qualified by default, I found myself having to go the extra mile to prove myself to them. My advice to you is- Know your worth, try for every position that interests you – even the ones that advertise native English speakers only- and take it from there. Let go of the ones that reject you on that merit, keep your eyes on the prize and don’t sell yourself short! You shouldn’t get paid less in any job just for being Brazilian. Now that I am here in Beijing, the native speaker obsession has subsided. There is such a high demand for English teachers in China that, if your oral English is strong- native or non-native- you will be well-received and grouped as a Foreign Teacher. People won’t bother making a nominal distinction between you and a native speaker unless they are looking for private lessons, which pay excellent hourly rates. But again, it’s all about presentation and how you sell yourself. At the public schools, most Chinese teachers teaching English here have very limited command of the language, so it is highly likely that a foreign-certified teacher with a good attitude will be seen as an asset in any school.
9. Have you suffered any prejudice for being Brazilian?
I feel no difference between how I am treated from how my fellow foreign teachers, who are native speakers, are treated. HYZD treats their employees with equal professionalism, from the moment they make a commitment to you. That has been my experience in this company so far. As far as my contact with Chinese people outside work, there seems to be some confusion and even curiosity over Brazilian culture, and contrary to the stereotypes we Brazilians get when we travel to other Western countries, most people here in Beijing aren’t aware of much about Brazil. I am often asked questions along the lines of “What is this or that like in Brazil?”. I can’t say I’ve felt any prejudice as a Brazilian here.
10. What has the experience of teaching Chinese children been like?
My average classroom is 35 children whose knowledge of English is at the elementary level at best and who often don’t understand the most basic instructions beyond “No Chinese please”. This has proved to be a real challenge, but it has made me a significantly better teacher. From increasing my use of visual aids and body language, to using universal humor, to exploring kinaesthetic learning styles, my lessons are that much more original and effective because of the language barrier. The students’ inability to communicate more complex thoughts to me pushes them to look for alternative routes of expression, which range from body language to breaking down and reformulating familiar phrases in different ways to try to convey something new. That´s where the magic happens! I get them to practice thinking in English. That’s the beauty foreign teachers bring to an often rigid Chinese curriculum of rote learning: language assimilation through creativity and pushing comfort zones.
11. What advice would give to other teachers who would like to teach in China?
My advice to you is: 1. Take a teaching training course before setting out on a teaching adventure. My classes have been filmed and I have been repeatedly asked for my lesson plans and powerpoint presentations so that my coworkers and managers can use as examples for themselves and other inexperienced teachers. I can only attribute the quality I am now able to deliver to CELTA. One intensive month of the course has changed everything. I don’t say that lightly. My tutors helped me understand what an effective lesson structure looks like, how to hone the details so that the whole is cohesive and smooth. It has made me more confident and it has given me the surprising ability to simultaneously teach, keenly observe myself, and make quick adjustments from my mistakes. It will make all the difference in the world. 2. If health is a concern to you, beware of Beijing’s air quality. Both my partner and I wear masks and have air purifiers at home, but my partner suffers from slight asthma and it has flared up since being here. To me, the protection is effective, but the air quality remains an inconvenience, bothersome, and a true threat for Chinese people. Also, make sure to obtain a travel health insurance before coming as bureaucracy will keep you waiting for your medical card for a couple of months. 3. You won’t feel culturally isolated in Beijing as there is a pretty vibrant expat community, mostly from English-speaking countries. 4. Making the move to China also means encountering a lot of cultural differences, and some can appear to be huge barriers. It is important to be flexible in the workplace, but don’t be afraid to speak up and inform your employer if you find yourself truly uncomfortable. They will likely be very responsive and help you through any issues. 5. Beijing offers incredible (and cheap!) travel opportunities in China and to surrounding countries. Take advantage of it if you like to travel.
12. Anything else you would like to tell us?
Working abroad, you will see your professional and personal life, confidence and capabilities expanding at an exponential pace. You will have tough and perhaps lonely days. You will have thrilling and rewarding days. The good days are so much better than the bad days are bad. You will be proud of yourself for choosing, every day, challenge over comfort. That will give you confidence. For me, it has taught me everything I know. And more than ever you’ll see that the world is your classroom and there is so much to learn.
Audrey, nosso muito obrigado pelas suas super dicas. :) Para conhecer mais BrELTers pelo Mundo, clique aqui.
Audrey, nosso muito obrigado pelas suas super dicas. :) Para conhecer mais BrELTers pelo Mundo, clique aqui.