Teaching English Overseas


-- Author: Elizabeth Hann M.Ed. (TESOL)

If you are a new graduate in any discipline who is facing the very real challenge of finding on-going work in Australia, you may already see the advantage of gaining work experience by teaching English abroad. Alternatively, you may be an experienced professional in your 30s, 40s or 50s who has had a successful career and is looking for a new challenge.

While the idea of teaching English abroad might be appealing, feeling well informed can be another thing altogether. Information provided in advertisements often leaves many unanswered questions. RealTeachers Pty Ltd. understands this and hopes the following information will help paint a picture of day to day life as an English teacher in China.


When an employment contract states “accommodation will be provided”, exactly what can I expect?

This will vary. It could be a bed-sitting room or apartment on the school premises or an apartment (usually one bedroom) off-site but within easy access of the school. It will have a modest kitchen and a bathroom. The bathroom will have a western style toilet but the shower may be a little different, that is, it may not be contained in a cubicle. Sometimes the shower is simply a hand held shower head. This can take a little getting used to but is perfectly adequate.

You can expect your apartment to be furnished with necessities such as air conditioners, a fridge, washing machine, a bed and some form of lounge furniture such as a couple of chairs or a couch. A word on Chinese beds-they are likely to be harder than the ones you are used to. However, this is not a problem-just buy some foam rubber and you've got an effective 'mattress softener'.

A note on laundry-the tap water in China doesn’t suit drink directly. You can use the washing machines provided in apartments to wash your clothes. Of course if you prefer, you can always have your clothes laundered for a couple of dollars. What about an iron? It’s possible. An ironing board? I'd say probably not, but again, you can buy both for a pittance.

What if I need to buy 'things' for my apartment?

The odds are that you will be a short walk, underground railway trip or bus ride away from anything you could possibly need to furnish an apartment. You can shop at local street markets, small stores or indeed, department stores (either Chinese or western e.g. Walmart U.S, Carrefour, French) though anything you find in a department store will appear ridiculously expensive compared with the smaller stores and markets. How cheap is cheap? The short answer is you won't believe the prices so there is no need to know to the last eating utensil what will be provided in your apartment.

What about the utility bills: power and water (drinking water & washing etc.)?

In my experience, these are sometimes paid by your school and sometimes not. Your contract should stipulate which is the case. If you need to pay them, they will bear no resemblance to the bills you are accustomed to getting at home. They will be a hand full of dollars a month. In most cases, even if these expenses are not covered in your contract, this should not deter you from taking up a position. As an Australian this is hard to believe, I know.

I've heard one is 'never alone' in China. Will my apartment provide a sanctuary at the end of the working day?

In most cases, yes. In my experience, apartments in China tend to have thicker walls and doors than many in Australia and this provides good noise insulation. Apartments on higher floors tend to be quieter of course because they are more removed from any street noise. The bottom line is to remember that your hosts will have done their best to anticipate your needs and if difficulties arise, you need to approach them with a smile and trust they will find a solution.

-- Elizabeth Hann M.Ed. (TESOL)

Elizabeth is a Teacher of English language who has taught English language and cross-cultural communication in Australia and overseas. When teaching abroad she has a preference for teaching in China. Elizabeth began her career as an English teacher at the age of 48 having already enjoyed a successful career in another field.