Teaching English: Shanghai Delights, Wuhan Challenges & Life Lessons!

There's always that question... "What will you do once you graduate?" No, I've not got a clue about the future but I'm working on it. I would maintain the belief that I would be abroad, preferably in the Far East teaching English. I suppose I could call it fate because I'm doing just that? Let's not tempt fate because things are going well! Listen up, the road to TEFL isn't simple!

Without any questions needing to be asked, Mainland China had to be the answer! Towards the end of my degree course in Birmingham, I had been given a knock back from an interview with a famous Middle Eastern airline for a job as Cabin Crew. I still had a plan to get myself abroad, to work and support myself whilst learning a skill to allow me to travel at the same time. I passed my TEFL certificate, opening the bewildering world of teaching English as a foreign language to me, so many offers were on the table but I needed my degree certificate before I could commit to any contracts. Deciding China to be the destination of my teaching journey I opted for Kindergarten jobs, I had small cousins at the time and had experience working in a Youth Theatre setting. Thinking that I would be able to pull a few crazy tricks out during those demo classes for the many Skype interviews that I had. On to the interviews, they became tedious and I got close to the point of changing my plan to something different. I had that China Dream! Yes!

I had done my research carefully, I knew that unfortunately Hong Kong was a 'no go' because of all the experience that was required. I wasn't afraid to be upfront and candid during my TEFL Skype interviews nor 'question' as to why certain things had been left out of the interviewers checklist. Knocking back several opportunities because of the wage being so low compared to what lucrative deals were out in the vast world of TEFL jobs, I had faith that something would come along! I needed to be able to fully trust. Dealing with Chinese TEFL agencies and schools over the internet was no mean feat for me, I sniffed out the shady organisations who were willing to send me to Hong Kong on a tourist visa to convert it into a Z visa. No, you better don't! One company crossed my path and took a chance on me, I arrived in Shanghai, China on the 18th of June 2015! Spending five days in Shanghai was absolutely insane! I embraced the neon lights, I hadn't travelled that far for no reason! I was just getting started! 光谷, 加油! Let's go, W!

Shanghai had me dumb, I didn't know where to look, I felt as if I was in a constant state of euphoria! The sights, smells and surroundings had me feeling that China fantasy, even though I didn't know what that meant during those early Shanghai days? Ordering my first meal in China was no joke, indeed the medium of pointing and body language made life a lot easier until I picked up a few words. Those noodles tasted amazing, now I would probably know what to order and how to order it using my developing Chinese language skills. That street-side bake stand had everything and more, those cakes were something else completely! I found 'Family-Mart', that Japanese franchise convenience store had me bugging out! I found some interesting snacks at 'Family-Mart' and some much needed Suntory Japanese Lager because that first hostel was less than perfect, that beer helped me sleep! Of course, reality soon kicked in but I had a mission and that was to enjoy my time! I took in every sight and smell, Shanghai tested every vital sense! SH!

Revisiting the Bund had to be done but I returned for that second time during the day, I had to take cover because that Summertime shower poured down from that humid sky! Finding myself a cheeky tea garden, I sipped on my Oolong brew without a care in the world. The only foreigner in that park, I began to feel like I was the different one in that situation but I lived for that moment. The bamboo nature of that park had me feeling very much like I was in China, that dream to venture to the East, the Far East had come true. The dreams turned into a stark reality, I had my visa but I would need to work and gain experience but really I wasn't thinking about that. Those first few days in Shanghai had me feeling secure, I had finally kicked my jet lag to the curb and had a temporary Chinese mobile phone. Back then, I had no idea what mind-field I would be entering with phones and sim-cards, things are done differently in China. Where was Wuhan? What was Wuhan? I had just about got what Shanghai was but more lay in store! Yes!

The feeling was surreal, I was finally in China and I was doing something that I had wanted to since refusing said amount of questionable teaching opportunities. Getting to my work location allowed reality to kick in, I was teaching English in a training centre five days per week without two consecutive days off per week that wasn't the weekend. For the first month that wasn't a problem. Honestly, I thought I was doing a good job, but I was being watched constantly with a growing number of observations that resulted in me parting ways with the company on the 22nd of August 2015. I had connections, there are no mistakes. I literally had my work permit stamped into my passport, I hadn't travelled all the way to Wuhan, China to then return home less than three months from my departure! No! Consulting in a friend I had no choice but to sign up with a local teaching agency to find a job before I ran out of money, I had already signed up for one year's lease on my apartment. Ready to fight, everything was about to change for me, W!

Rule number one, no question is a stupid one, the move to China can definitely be a daunting one to say the very least! Having tight communication with your chosen company or agency is crucial, I needed to ensure everything was Kosher. So, that communication regarding my visa process with the training centre I had to be persistent. Back to that August afternoon, I was handed a contract for 6,000 CNY for the next teaching year to begin one week later from that day, I calculated my rent and living costs from the wage that was in front of me and proclaimed that it wasn't going to work out at that price. With those coins missing, I knew that I need to have them recounted because to be late is to be left! I negotiated a higher price for the first and second semester, I wanted my previous wage to be matched. Most teaching agencies in China take a monthly commission fee, it is vital to negotiate the coinage, they agent will always be making their wage each month. My approach had paid off, I knew what I wanted! I used caution.

Becoming a Kindergarten teacher in the end was an amazing feeling, to be at a school with such a great ethos felt like all the trouble and turbulence had been worth it. I settled into English teaching life once again, waking up with the birds each morning was something to get used to but I was working where I wanted to be. The children currently range from three to six years old, the age gap is quite something but compared to the previous demographic of students I can deal with this change. Getting my visa and medical back on track after a bumpy start, I applied a direct approach with the agent not the school. The agency continued to act the fool, I wasn't going to be left undocumented for nobody! Absolutely, not! The company continues to be good to me, I'm working as hard as I can with the guidance. I'm thankful but I won't forget the bumpy nature of my journey so far. Child, getting those weekends off and having access to more National Holidays has been the light that I needed to shine down on me! China was the one! 好! 

Up to this moment, I have been teaching at the Kindergarten for eight months. Having the chance to work with a team who care about every aspect of their jobs really makes things great! The methods of a Montessori education wasn't on my radar, I am learning to get along with that aspect of my job, I am learning as each week passes and have faith that this contract will be seen out to its date of completion. I anticipate to be working up until August 2017 to complete a two year stint at my current school. The workings of teaching English in China is changing so with my possible two years of experience gained from my time working as a Kindergarten teacher will put me in good stead for the future. It's not a walk in the park, we've all got to feel like we're treading water in the ocean blue from time to time, that's the challenge that is life! Teaching English in China is not a joke or the way out of England, it's definitely a serious career choice for me! The key is to make it happen, be cautious and always question the contracts and coinage! 

TEFL's No Joke! 

Joseph Harrison 


  1. Aww I'm so happy it worked out for you! That picture of you with your students is so adorable🥰😭 It makes it all worth it💕

    1. Thank you! It was a total whirlwind from June through September 2015... Everything fell into place, I am very thankfully that everything happened the way it did. Things definitely got better... Yes, those kids be so damn cute!



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