I loved teaching in the Chinese city of Dongguan.
If you’re reading this, you might be thinking about moving to China to teach English or maybe you’re just curious about someone who has.
And if you’re anything like I was before moving halfway across the world, you’re probably fluctuating between being determined to just get on and do it, and then immediately second guessing by thinking of every worst-case scenario.
Worry not, I have been exactly where you are, and am here to impart my hard-earned words of wisdom to ease your fears.
I suppose I should start by introducing myself.
Let me introduce myself
My name is Elyssa, I’m from the land of sunshine that is the UK, and I recently taught in a Chinese kindergarten for a year.
I went to teach English in Dongguan, which is a city in Guangdong province. It’s right down the bottom of China, near Shenzhen.
With a population of a staggering 10.5 million, Dongguan is a thriving metropolis much like London or New York, except with much better weather.
See also: List of Chinese provinces and regions
I flew out on my birthday, by myself, knowing literally two words of Chinese (those two words being only ‘nǐ hǎo’ – that means ‘hello’ for the uninitiated).
Miraculously, I somehow managed to not have a breakdown on the plane after facing that realization.
Looking out the window like an overly dramatic movie, I wished a future version of myself would appear and tell me what to expect in China.
Obviously, that didn’t happen, but thanks to that incredibly convenient segue, I can do that for you and tell you about my experience teaching English in Dongguan.
A typical working day in Dongguan: not your average 9 to 5
One of the biggest differences I came across straight away was the average working day as a teacher.
All my previous jobs back home were typically 9-5 with an hour for lunch in the middle somewhere, and that was it. As a teacher in Dongguan, my typical day looked a little different.
An early morning start
Firstly, I had to be at the school for 7:30 every morning to greet the students at the door as they arrived. I worked for a state school teaching kindergarten pupils with ages ranging from 2-6, so this was more effective than any coffee I could have had.
I’ll be the first to say that I’m absolutely not a morning person, so the levels of energy were jarring at first, but became a welcome start to the day.
Of course, this is mostly to do with being in a kindergarten, and subject to what age group you decide to teach. I doubt you’d have a high school student cling to your leg like a monkey first thing in the morning, but I have been wrong before.
Assembly followed by classes
Assembly would be at 8:30 every morning, where the teachers would lead the kids in some songs and dances, except for Monday which also had the weekly flag raising ceremony.
I was eventually roped into leading an assembly every week as well, and I’m both proud and ashamed to say I still remember some of the dances.
Once assembly was over, it was time for classes to start. I taught five classes a day of varying lengths:
- 20 minutes for the small classes
- 25 minutes for the middle classes
- 30 minutes for the big classes.
Considering I was a total newbie teacher, I was relieved not to be teaching hour-long lessons.
My first three classes were in the morning at 9:00, 10:05, and 11:00. Luckily, there was 20 minutes between each one to get any last-minute prep done.
Lunch was at 11:30 and was provided by the school. This meant I didn’t have to bring a sad excuse of a packed lunch every day, so a major bonus there.
The food was usually some kind of meat with a selection of vegetables, always accompanied by a lot of rice.
After lunch the kids would all go for naps, which meant my next class wasn’t until 15:00; I was left with more time than I knew what to do with!
For the first week I tried to be productive and stay super ahead of the curve with lesson planning. That quickly changed into trying to find the best spot in school for a VPN signal to catch up on Netflix.
See also: What’s the best VPN for China?
But as the term went on, I soon followed the kids’ lead and used that time to catch up on some sleep.
Having been revitalized by a midday siesta, I had just two classes to teach, and then come 17:30, I was off to enjoy the 20-minute walk to my very own apartment.
A teacher’s salary in Dongguan
This is probably one of the key bits of info you were looking for, as moving to a brand-new country is no small feat.
While every teacher’s salary is different depending on location, budget, age group etc., it’s generally very easy to save money when working in China.
When I was teaching English in Dongguan, I was making ¥8800 a month which was around £985/US$1360. Looking at this you might think that’s a paltry amount and you can probably find a job at home that pays more.
Well, you might be right, but you also need to take into consideration that my school paid for my rent and bills, so the only expenses I had were food and travel.
Even with that, the living cost in China is ridiculously cheap in comparison to other countries, so you can make a smaller amount of money go a very long way.
To put it in perspective, my weekly food shop in the UK would cost me at least £30/$40, if not more, whereas I was able to fill my fridge in China for just under £10/$14 a week.
I would hail a Didi (Chinese equivalent of Uber) to work every day which would cost me a grand total of 80p/$1.50 per ride.
See also: Popular apps used in China
With such a lack of expenses, I was able to send over half of my salary back to my UK bank account every month! Whether you want to save to travel or just build up a good safety net, teaching in China is a great way to save money.
Living arrangements in Dongguan
Other than the salary, living arrangements are obviously the most important order of business.
I was given the choice of choosing from a selection of apartments found by my employer school or having a monthly allowance if I wanted to find my own accommodation.
Feeling a little out of my depth, I opted for the safe option of choosing from their selection rather than looking for myself. Knowing myself, it just seemed like the more sensible choice.
Obviously living situations might differ depending on where in China you are, but for the most part, it’ll typically be an apartment in one of the many high rises that dot the cityscapes.
My agency liaison picked me up from my hotel to take me to the prospective apartments and do all of the translating/haggling; all I had to do was pick which one I wanted.
All the furnishings were provided, so it was really just a matter of picking the best view.
I ended up with an apartment on the 19th floor overlooking the courtyard of the apartment complex, complete with a park, convenience store, and swimming pool.
And what made it even better was the fact that I didn’t have to pay for any of it!
I had plenty of space
My apartment was modest but functional, and very quickly became home. With two bedrooms, one wet room with Western toilet, a kitchen, and a huge living/dining space, I had more than enough room for me, myself, and I.
In case you don’t know, a Chinese wet room is one of those bathrooms where the shower doesn’t have a threshold, just a shower-head mounted on a wall next to the toilet and sink. So, essentially the whole room is a shower!
See also: How to survive Chinese squat toilets
The crowning glory for me was the balcony. Equipped with a laundry rail, it was not only extremely useful for drying out my washing, but the perfect place to relax and unwind after a long day.
Being in the middle of a bustling city, silence was never on the cards, but the ambience it had was just as peaceful. The cicadas in the park below mixed with the distant sound of traffic and bike bells was soothing in its own way.
A final note
My time teaching English in Dongguan, Guangdong was one of the best experiences of my life. For all my doubts and fears, it was worth braving every one of them.
Even with a distinct language barrier, I made friends for life in China, and can’t wait to go back and show off my less-than-average Chinese.
What I will say is that if you’re thinking about going to teach in China, just do it! I nearly talked myself out of it a hundred times, but I’m grateful every day that I did it.
If you still have questions or doubts, Opportunity China has some great resources to help you out and is there to answer all your questions along the way!
This is a guest post courtesy of Opportunity China. Main image credit: Supplied by Elyssa Sayers.