Read any blog on teaching English in China and you’ll find stories about the experiences of Caucasian expats.
What isn’t so common are stories about the experiences of American-born Chinese (ABC) or British-born Chinese (BBC) people when they come to China.
Are the experiences of Chinese foreigners teaching in China any different to those of a Caucasian foreigner?
As a BBC myself, here are my personal views on this.
A Chinese foreigner wanting to go to China to teach English is very likely to experience some degree of discrimination.
Some recruiters and schools in China may not regard you as a native English speaker simply due to your appearance.
This is despite the fact you’ve spent your entire life in a native English-speaking country!
If you’re lucky enough to get past this problem, there’ll be other issues that you might face after you arrive in China.
2. You blend right in
One very common comment made by foreigners in China is that they receive a lot of attention from the locals.
Because a Caucasian or black person in China looks different, they may find Chinese people staring at them, asking for selfies and autographs and even their WeChat ID.
Some people love this attention whilst others hate it.
If you are an overseas Chinese person in China, you’ll blend right in.
Recently, I was invited with the other foreign teachers to attend a student cultural activity.
Whilst the students made a fuss of my Caucasian colleagues and invited them to try on some traditional Chinese costumes, I was largely ignored.
Nobody even spoke to me, much less invited me to try on the costumes. I felt like the Invisible Man and I was really upset.
On the other hand, I get to live my life in peace without being stared at or pestered for selfies. It’s a double-edged sword.
3. Your students will be just as curious about you as they are of your Caucasian colleagues
On the other hand, your students will also be curious about you, though for different reasons.
I’ve had students ask me questions like “Why do you look like us?”, “Can you speak Chinese?” and “Where in China does your family come from?”
These are questions that Chinese students wouldn’t ask a Caucasian teacher.
4. People wonder why you can’t speak Chinese
English is my native language. I didn’t start learning Mandarin until after I started teaching English in China six years ago.
When I arrived in China for the first time, I had to ask my school to send someone to pick me up at the airport. I certainly wouldn’t have been able to get to the campus on my own.
Often, when I go out for supper with the other foreign teachers, the waiter would speak to me because he assumed that I could speak Chinese and they couldn’t.
The look of confusion on his face when I tell him that I don’t understand what he’s saying is priceless!
5. You might get more respect from the students
Chinese students never know what to expect when they get a Chinese foreigner for a teacher.
Local Chinese teachers tend to be quite strict whilst foreign teachers are generally expected to be entertaining.
Since they’re already half expecting an ethnic Chinese teacher to be strict, classroom management becomes much easier.
All you need to do to keep control of your class is to teach properly, plan your lessons well, work hard, conduct yourself in a professional manner and manage misbehavior.
6. You might be better able to inspire your students
Many Chinese students find studying English difficult.
English grammar rules are completely different to Chinese ones. Phonetically, there’s also a vast difference between the sounds of Chinese words and English ones.
Having spent their entire lives learning grammar rules by rote but not having any speaking practice, Chinese students often lack the confidence to speak in English.
Seeing someone from their own race achieve native-level fluency in English shows them what they too can achieve if they put in the effort.
7. Your friends from your home country might ask you what it feels like to be ‘going home’
In 2013, just before I left for China to take up my first teaching post, I threw a leaving bash for my British friends.
Since I’m ethnically Chinese, I guess people could be forgiven for thinking that I might have been born in China or have family there.
So, several people actually asked me what it felt like to be ‘going home’.
This was absolutely hilarious because at that time I had never even set foot in China before.
8. Chinese foreigners in China experience culture shock too!
There’s a considerable difference between the Chinese people in China and those who have been born and raised abroad.
Although generally speaking, both mainland Chinese and foreign Chinese people share the same festivals, those who were raised abroad tend to embrace more Western values.
This includes things like queue discipline, consideration for others, critical thinking and freedom of speech.
It can be just as much of a shock when a BBC or ABC comes to China and experiences things like queue-jumping, having to put up with smokers, the lack of critical thinking in students, cheating in exams and so on.
Now you can see that there are both similarities and differences between the experiences of Caucasian and Chinese foreigners teaching in China.
Although it can be tough at times, living in China as a BBC is rewarding and really opens up your eyes.
Are you an ABC or BBC who has lived in China? If so, what has your experience been like? Please comment below.