My Job in China, Explained

Well, I can definitely answer the question “What’s your job going to be like?” better now than I was able to a few months ago. Honestly, it’s not all it was cracked up to be. Don’t get me wrong, it got me to China and I’m surviving just fine. It’s just… that it’s still a job. I’m not on vacation. I’m not on a short-term summer trip. I live here now and that requires going to work every day, etc.

I work for a consulting company called ACES, American China Exchange Society. It’s an American company with offices in China. My office has all Chinese people working at it. I hastily discovered that the contract I signed back in August meant little more than a hill of beans once I finally arrived here. And when you’re a new foreigner in town, there’s literally no way to negotiate! Ha! Every time I try to point something out (like my contract says I’d have the day off for Christmas Day, but no – I’m working… and probably on Christmas Eve too) they reply, “This is China! That’s how it works here…”

Their website says that they interact and consult with businesses, government agencies and individuals to teach practical and relational English in everyday life. One-on-one teaching will help students improve their skills… blah blah blah. The American lady I talked to before accepting the position said my main job responsibility would be to “build relationships with Chinese people.” I feel like that’s the furthest thing from what I’m doing this semester.

To sum up my job placement this semester: I’m a Foreign English Teacher at two different middle schools here in town, Tianjin Yaohua Binhai School (a well-known boarding-type school around China) and Tianjin #4 Middle School (the 4th best school in Tianjin, obviously)(come on, it makes sense to Chinese people). Middle schools here are usually for Grades 7-12. The word for “high school” would translate as university, I think. At these two schools, I have about 24, 45-minute classes per week; each of those classes has 40-50 students in them. Can you do the math? That’s about 1000 Chinese youngsters under my tutelage every week. Whatever happened to one-on-one?

Most of the time, these youngsters could care less about learning English. Most all of my students come from very wealthy families and they’ll get good jobs no matter what their English skills are like. There are, though, one or two students in every class with whom I’m starting to slowly build relationships. These high school students are so busy and stressed out with their homework, it’s ridiculous!

In my opinion, this is a very easy job because all I need to do is prepare one lesson plan each week on whatever topic I want and blather on about that topic for a few minutes then have the kids practice it. If you also did the math on how much I’m working, I’m only in front of a class for 18 hours or so. The rest of the time on the job, I read my few books or study Chinese. Oh yeah – this week, I’m talking about the real story of Christmas.

On the other hand, though, this gets extremely boring for me by the tenth class. I’m used to having jobs that I can grow in personally and professionally. Maybe I’m learning public-speaking skills? Maybe I’m learning how to better deal with teenagers? I don’t know.

At least I’m in China.

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