I Ended Up Teaching in China

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ESL Tate
I have been an ESL Teacher for more than 15 years and a Teacher trainer for the last three. Now I help new teachers start their journey traveling and teaching English abroad.
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Mitch Nickerson and I met in Kotor, Montenegro in the summer of 2017, when I had been backpacking through the Balkans during my summer vacation. After teaching the whole long year I really needed the break, and in a way, Mitch was on the same quest. We immediately connected and shared our stories.

Among other things, he was telling me that he is looking for a way to travel more and hopefully much longer. He wanted a job with long vacations that allowed him to see the world and have the money to do it for as long as he can. I told him how I’ve been doing it through teaching.

We stayed in touch, chatting occasionally, so I knew that this year, before taking on the adventure to China, Mitch hitchhiked 3,000 miles through Europe, mostly France, and during that time thought more about a way to travel more efficiently and enjoy himself. Few months later, he told me he started teaching in China!

I spoke to him about what I planned to do: give people a platform for getting the information they need to get these kinds of jobs, in pretty much any country. I told him I was starting a blog and his experience was just perfect to talk about. And in his go-getter style, he was happy to tell me more about how he ended up teaching: how he got a job in China, more about the process itself and what his experience has been so far. Enjoy! 🙂

What is/ was your motivation for going to China?

I was submitting job applications in a few places around Asia but it turned out my girlfriend (a non-native speaker) couldn’t be considered in a few places so we narrowed in on a few cities in China and my initial job offer sold me on the idea of coming here coupled with the interesting culture, long history and food. I have to say I was more curious than anything else to see what life was like here.

Did you have that moment and realized, holy crap, what am I doing? What happened?

There have been times where I sort of stop, chuckle and just think “what am I doing here?” or “how did I get I here?” then continue on. One that sticks out to me was in a class one time teaching phonics early in the morning to a group of 12 students that didn’t have much english learning experience outside of their schools and certainly not with another foreigner. They were particularly wild that morning and I turned to the board to write something and was kind of hit in the face with disbelief of where I was and what I was doing. A year before I had been at a desk punching people’s personal details into a financial company’s computer system so it made me laugh to think about how things change.

What is the one sentence or word you have to know in Chinese?

Numbers are super important here so knowing them really simplifies transactions here because hardly anyone speaks English. Otherwise, “mei guanxi” (~that’s okay) can help when people are talking to you or “ting bu dong” (~hear but don’t understand) also helps too.

What should you definitely bring to China?

English books because they’re hard to find. Otherwise just an open mind. You can get most things from TaoBao.

What is the most disgusting/favorite thing you have eaten in China?

I’ve tried “century egg”, intestines of I don’t know what, bull frog, goose neck, goose head, and snails. I’m sure there’s a few more bizarre things I’m missing. Otherwise, “chinese pancakes”, sweet and sour pork, fried rice/noodles, black fish soup and some nice tofu dishes (I never liked it before China) have stolen the show.

What is your favorite place in your city and why?

Dongqian Lake in Ningbo is awesome and there are a lot of small towns around it with some temples and scenic areas mixed in. There are two other lakes- Sun Lake and Moon Lake which are more inside the city proper and the parks that surround those two lakes are a great place to pass the time.

What do you miss most about home that you don’t have in China?

Cheese. It’s around but not common. Cheesesteaks.

Any advice for newcomers or anything else you would like to add?

If you have the opportunity and it aligns with your future plans- just go for it. You can live a comfortable life teaching abroad and still be able to save money. In China at least, the job market is excellent and if you are a native speaker with even a little bit of teaching experience you have awesome negotiating power with schools and the possibilities are endless. Skip training schools. 
Also, get an e-bike. They’re awesome.

  • Wishing Mitch all the best in his adventures while traveling the world teaching English!
  • He will be sharing more about his experiences in the future. 🙂

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