Teach in China?

Will and Hucky

Do you think you can’t afford to travel?  Would you like to join the Peace Corps but don’t want to spend two years in an isolated, malaria infested part of the world?  Are you under-employed or burned out in your current job?  Have you thought about learning Chinese?  Do you want to try something new?

David, Usher, & Ken

Well, there is a wonderful way to travel and to share your skills–

Come teach English in China.

Chaoyi, Teresa, Vivian, Emily, and Mark

I think you would like the experience here at Zhejiang Agriculture and Forestry University, our sister school with UH Maui College.

Near the main entrance to Zhejiang Agriculture and Forestry University: fossilized trees, library on East Lake in the background

ZAFU in Lin’an, China, a green forested area three hours west of Shanghai, is where I’ve been teaching for almost a year.  I can recommend the experience to you whether you are an experienced teacher looking for new challenges, a recent graduate, or someone wanting to try a new career or to live in another part of the world.

ZAFU is known for its landscaping. Here is the newly forested entrance to the school. These trees appeared over a two-week period!

To teach in China, you will need to –

1)      Hold a B.A. or B.S. degree: Your major doesn’t seem to matter.

2)      Be a native speaker (although we have teachers here whose first language is not English).

It will be helpful if you –

3)      Are flexible and open to life-changing experiences.

4)      Are respectful.  If you think steak is the only good meal and the U.S. government is perfect, you may not be happy here.

5)      Know at least some teaching techniques to get your students engaged and practicing English fluency and using critical thinking skills.  Dave’s ESL Cafe and other sites are helpful for ideas: < http://www.eslcafe.com/ideas/>

6) Are under 60 years old.  That is the stated age limit for foreign teachers in this country that often requires factory workers to retire at 45 and those in white-collar professions to leave at 55 for women and 60 for men.  However, as with many rules in China, that is only a guideline and depends on who is in charge at the time.   We’ve met two English teachers, one 68 and the other 70, who have been teaching here in China.  But the 64-year-old husband of a 50-year-old teacher who will work here at ZAFU next fall has been told he is too old to get work here although my 64-year-old husband has had many job opportunities while we have been here this year and ZAFU hired me this year.   If you are over 60, the school needs to do extra paperwork to hire you, and not every school is willing to do that.

However,  if you can speak English and have a degree in anything, you are likely to be hired.

In an oral English class today, our topic was  crime/mistakes and punishment/making amends.  In one activity, suspects needed to create alibis.  Other students were the investigators who tried to poke holes in the suspects’ alibis.

Teaching in China is challenging, world-view expanding, and fun.  I don’t have an ESL background, so I knew teaching here would require me to grow as a teacher.  When I first arrived at the end of August 2010, I was rather dismayed that I was assigned all oral English classes.   As I have much education and about 30 years of teaching experience, most on the university level, why wasn’t I assigned to teach literature, research, business writing? The answer is because the students need native speakers to help them with oral English.  In my ethnocentric view, I think it is useful for the students to become accustomed to a U.S. accent.  Bill Bryson in his book The Mother Tongue: English and how it got that way, notes, “According to some estimates, almost two thirds of the American population, living on some 80 percent of the land area speak with the same accent–a quite remarkable degree of homogeneity” (100).

If you engage the students and challenge them, most are eager and excellent.  They aren’t the robot stereotypes that we’ve been told.  Last night Barry came to my literature class that had read Tolstoy’s “The Death of Ivan Ilych”—a meaningful and challenging story even for native English speakers.  Barry was amazed at how well the students could understand the novella, find meaning, and not only analyze it from various literary analytical views, but also apply it to their own lives.  The students have many years of learning English; however, many students have said we are the first foreigners they have ever spoken to.

If you come to teach in a university such as this one, you won’t have endless hours of teaching subject/verb agreement, vocabulary drills, or grammar rules.  Most of my students have studied English for about 10 years and have good skills; they need teachers who will give them many opportunities to practice oral English and to think critically and creatively.

You won’t know what you will be asked to do.  In the fall, I had only a few days to prepare for the classes I had just been assigned,  but surprisingly that’s o.k.  You will need to be flexible.  A few times I have been asked to do research for the department or individual teachers.  I’ve given a session for the ZAFU English Department on eco-literature and eco-criticism. Right now  I’m helping a teacher gather research on Tennessee William’s plays.

This past weekend, I got to be on a panel to judge the oral thesis  defense for  17 students.   This is one of the final requirements for students  graduating with a B.A. in English next month from ZAFU.

Theses submissions

The varied presentations included Satan as hero in Milton’s Paradise Lost, black humor in Orwell’s 1984, marketing of Robert Frost’s poems, and eco-criticism of Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea. 

Theses panel: Julia, student helper, me, Vicki, Adela, and student scribes Chelsea and Jeanne

For the defense last Sunday, one student’s paper was on Grapes of “Roth.”  If she had had a native English speaker for her thesis advisor, she would not have had the pronunciation problem.  I feel needed here. The students are social and can tackle complex lessons especially if they can collaborate.  Overall, what we do is fun and challenging for them and me.

Over the last five months, I’ve helped three thesis students with their papers.  It has been a huge learning experience for me since research in this Chinese university is not what it means to me.    There is no framing of sources or MLA citations.  The school considers the Internet as a good source.  The reality is the students and instructors have little or no access to scholarly journals or good libraries especially for works in English.  But good writing is good writing in whatever country, so I’ve tried to help my thesis students with thinking critically, staying focused on their thesis statement, and on finding reputable support for their main ideas.

Ding, Yolanda, and Emily, my theses advisees

Another good reason to be here is that instead of spending money on tuition back home, you can study Chinese for free if you teach here.  You can get to know the language and culture first-hand.

My wonderful Chinese class. Students are from Italy, Belgium, Ghana, Netherlands, Indonesia, and Japan. Our lovely teacher is the young woman in blue jeans in the middle.

Is there anything negative involved?  My biggest issue is with the winter weather, our drafty apartment,  and the lack of insulation and heat in the classrooms.    I have been a “Maui girl” for 25 years and so am totally spoiled.  However, if I were here another winter, I would be better prepared.  Also I’m glad that I’m here with Barry because we seldom see the other foreign teachers.  The Chinese teachers are also very busy–rather like the UHMC teachers, and then I don’t speak Chinese. However, if Barry weren’t here, I could always study Mandarin, do things with the eager students, and of course, read, write, or play instruments.   You will likely find plenty of things to do to keep productive and happy.

The cultural differences do show up.  The week we were tackling Plato’s  “The Allegory of the Cave,” I asked students to reflect on what has happened in their lives  or within their knowledge.  Have they too had the experience –just as in the story when the prisoner is dragged up to the light, which is a painful but good change?   One student suggested the Chinese Cultural Revolution.  One Saturday movie and discussion night, we showed the film The Fighter, based on the true story of a U.S. boxer.  I had a hard time trying to explain that the boxer’s family was poor.  A student said, “They don’t look poor”:  The family had a two-story house on a street with other two-story houses, a big kitchen with a stove and oven, two cars, and the mom was always dressed stylishly.  The house had central heating and hot water.    For me, the family was poor because they lived in a run-down house in a not so good neighborhood, the family had nine children, the two boys worked on road crews resurfacing the streets, the seven girls didn’t seem to work, and the family was relying on the two boys to make money, and their best opportunity seemed to  be boxing.  That to me is poor.  However, the family’s big house is the sort these future university graduates aspire to acquire for their families.

Students who stayed to discuss the movie–and practice English. The discussions are a wonderful sharing of cultures and language.

Overall, foreign teachers are treated very well here.  The salary is low by U.S. standards, but it more than meets our expenses here.  Also we get a furnished apartment, an electricity stipend, and vacation and travel allowances.  Many teachers tutor for extra money; many charge $25.00 an hour and get all the work they can handle.  One couple lives off their tutoring money and saves their entire salaries for holiday travel.   Food and public transportation are very cheap.  An excellent vegetarian dinner  at the best nearby restaurant costs about $5.00 total for the two of us.  Our work “load” is 16 hours of class time a week.  For my oral English classes, I don’t have to grade a single paper :).  Although I had about 250 students last term, I had only one class preparation a week and no weekly meetings or reports to do.  Overall it is much less stressful than working at UHMC

So if you are thinking about possible chances in your life or looking for a new opportunity, you could apply for a full-time job here, gain teaching experience in China, and learn Mandarin.  You are likely to have an incredible experience.

Spring flowers on campus

For me, coming to China is another chapter in my life.  It is fun, interesting, and challenging without being overwhelming.  You could come too.

The ZAFU International Office now has a good idea how many new positions are need for the fall term.  It takes time to do the paperwork, so if you are interested, contact —

Ms. Vickie, Administrator & Coordinator of Foreign Teachers/Experts

International Office, Zhejiang Agriculture and Forestry University

Tel: 86-571-63740038 Fax: 86-571-63740030


Ms.  Vickie’s  e-mail address is <Vickiedangdang@gmail.com>.

Also Becky’s blog will give you insights about being at ZAFU: http://www.beckyances.net/

One of my favorite essays on travel is this one from Pico Iyer, a global citizen from birth.  He sums up great reasons to be a traveler.

 “Why we travel

It whirls you around, turns you upside down and stands everything you took for granted on its head.


We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves. We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate. We travel to bring what little we can, in our ignorance and knowledge, to those parts of the globe whose riches are differently dispersed.”

Excerpt from: http://www.salon.com/travel/feature/2000/03/18/why

Click on the link for the complete wonderful essay.

Take a chance:

Come teach here in  intriguing and fast-changing China.

Zài Jiàn,  Renée

Important P.S. :  My wonderful ZAFU experience was for the 2010-2011 school year.  The administration and faculty at any school can and does change.  So if you are interested in teaching in China, and I hope you are, be sure to contact a current foreign teacher to know the latest situation at your prospective school.  Good luck.


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About reneeriley

Our blog was begun as a way to share our experiences in China. From August 2010 to July 2011, my husband, Barry Kristel, and I were at our University of Hawaii Maui College sister school, Zhejiang Agriculture and Forestry University in Lin'an, China, a city considered rural because it has only 500,000 people! We had a wonderful time. Then in February 2012, we returned to teach this time at our other sister school, Shanghai Normal University, in a city of over 21 million people. We've made many discoveries. Did you know that now Chinese girls, at least the ones who go to university, for the most part feel they are luckier than the Chinese boys? Did you know that Shanghai saved over 20,000 European Jews during WWII? Do you know how Chinese university students would deal with problems that come up in Dear Abby letters? What's it like to be on the Great Wall of China? Do you know how many Chinese girls had their feet bound and why? And we have recipes from many of the places we've visited. Among others, you can find instructions on how to fry cicadas from one of my ZAFU students and how to make chocolate-Kahlua waffles from my brother Mike in Gainesville. You can also look back to our earliest entry to see what we experienced in Oaxaca, Mexico, in 2006 during the mainly peaceful six months of protest until the Mexican government sent in the troops. Between our stays in China, Barry and I have been on the Mainland U.S. visiting family, friends and Servas hosts as we traveled home to Maui. We share those experiences too. Welcome to our blog! Aloha and Zài Jiàn, Renée and Barry

4 responses to “Teach in China?”

  1. Johnny Kristel says :

    You guys are cool.

    • reneeriley says :

      So are you. Tell your friends who have degrees if they are looking for an opportunity and want to travel, coming here to China could be a great choice. Being here is likely to open up other possibilities too. Love, Mom

  2. Roy and Fran says :

    Hi from Sunny Fl….Have u finalized any plans for next year?….whatever u decide, I hope ur having fun (From ur posts it sounds like u are)…. We are at the 954 number…. If Barry gets the chance have him call us there….We have a China question (or 2)….
    Keep in touch
    Love R+F

    • reneeriley says :

      Hi Roy and Fran: Starting on July 10th we will be back on the Mainland, so we will be able to help celebrate Johnny’s 21st birthday and visit family and friends. Of course, that means you two. We will travel our way back to Maui. Then we hope to come back here to China in February for the spring term. We will see what happens. And we are happy to answer questions about China although we feel we have many more questions than answers. We hope all is well with you. Zài Jiàn and Aloha, Renee

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