Job tips for English speaking Asians in China

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Why is it difficult for English speaking Asians to find a teaching job in China?

This is a question I get many times from fellow teachers of Asian descent.

Let’s face it. We Asians don’t make good poster boys or girls for schools that want to attract more students. Many schools in China want Caucasian teachers because many Chinese believe that only Caucasians can teach English. Having a Caucasian also brings in more revenue for the school. In other words, more Caucasians + more students = more revenue.

All is not lost, however. If you are willing to put up with lots of inconveniences and to sell yourself as a capable teacher, then finding a teaching job is really easy. Here are some tips that I have found useful in my job search:

  1. Be a chameleon. While we can’t change our skin color, we can certainly adapt to different situations. When I’m with my students I try to be as foreign as possible. I speak only English to them at all times. I try to teach them western culture and ideas. I try to be as western as possible. When I’m off campus I try to be as local as possible. I try to learn the local dialect and about their culture. When in Rome, do as the Romans do.
  2. Promote yourself by promoting your assets. This goes hand in hand with point one. For me my asset is that I was born and raised in Hawaii. Who doesn’t want to be friends with someone from Hawaii? Everybody wants to go to Hawaii. So I try to use that fact to my advantage. When I introduce myself on the first day of class, I teach my students a Hawaiian song and hula that we teach tourists. I teach them a few Hawaiian words. I teach them about racism and use Barack Obama, who was born and raised inHawaii, as an example of a multi-cultural America.  Another asset is that I have to be bi-cultural. Many of my Caucasian colleagues, some whom have never been to China before, always complain to me about the Chinese and the Chinese way of doing business. For example, many Caucasians get upset when they are the last to know about a very important school event. They complain that it is very difficult to make plans ahead of time since there is so much uncertainty on the part of the Chinese foreign affairs office (FAO). I tell them that many times Chinese just don’t know what the school leadership is up to and therefore even they themselves don’t know the school schedule. Just enjoy the ride.
  3. Beggars can’t be choosers. Many schools in many Chinese cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, or Guangzhou, or even in the provincial cities like Nanjing, have a large expatriate community. These schools may also pay their teachers differing salaries depending which country they come from as well as their qualifications. For example, a Filipino American will get the same pay as his or her Caucasian counterpart whereas a teacher from the Philippines will be paid considerably less for the same amount of work. Therefore, it is more difficult for Asians to find a teaching job because of stiff competition and discriminate practices among Chinese employers. In smaller cities, however, the story is very different. Many of these schools in the smaller cities just don’t know where to look and don’t know how to find, much less hire, foreign teachers. That is why I highly recommend going to the smaller cities where there is a desperate need for foreign teachers and where teachers of Asian decent can bargain for a fair wage.

If you do decide to venture into a town where there are no foreigners, here are a few things to look out for at your new school.

  1. Unwanted fame. The Chinese may think of you as being Chinese – until you start speaking. Then they will know that you are not local. And if you are caught speaking English you may even be asked to tutor privately.
  2. Your school may have no idea how to treat a foreigner. This misconception applies to ALL foreigners who venture into a place that has no expat community. Sometimes you may find yourself wanting some expat company or just craving for something from home. If that happens, just remember that there’s at least one KFC in every small town in China and that there are many buses that you can take to a larger city that has what you need.

These are my personal tips that have helped me – an Asian American – to find a job and survive in China.

About the author Jada -

Outside the classroom but still tying in with English I am a TEFL moderator.  As far as having hobbies that have nothing to do with ESL teaching I like to travel (when I have the money to do so). I also like to write (when inspired). I also spend lots of time on Facebook as well as watching movies/TV programs.

Jada is also member of the Teach Abroad China Alliance. Click here to see her profile.

6 Responses to Job tips for English speaking Asians in China

  1. RJ Thomas says:

    This is a good article. I am South African with Asian features. When I was 5 years old other children used to tease me that I looked Chinese. Now I take it as a compliment. Anyway I decided not to go to Thailand in 2010 to teach English because I read about the raw deal you get when you’re not Caucasian. This gives hope to me teaching in China, with my Asian features because English is my first language.

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  2. Iftikhar Ahmed says:

    i am very interested to teach English,i am from Pakistan,i am also the member of Pakistan China cultural Association,can somebody help me in finding a teaching job.

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  3. Charity says:

    Thanks so much for the info. I am half Caucasian and part Filipino/Chinese, with a Chinese last name. I was told by a recruiter online that I would have very little chance of working in Asia. This definitely renews my hope of teaching overseas in a few years. Could you tell me or direct me to a reputable site that would tell me; what are the qualifications I need to teach overseas? I’ve heard of TEFL, but there are so many sites and programs out there that it’s hard to tell the real from the scams.

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  4. Lian Havro says:

    Thank you Jada for the article about Asian Americans teaching English in China. Can someone give me more info on where to find teaching jobs for Asian Americans?

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  5. Jada says:

    I wrote this article with a specific target audience in mind, mainly those Asians who were born and raised in English speaking countries. As I had mentioned in the article I’m originally from Hawaii and, for better or for worse, Hawaii is a US state. Hence the “exception”.

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  6. bshirt says:

    Well, quite possibly you’re an exception. However, in China I’ve met several English speaking foreign teachers from India, Africa, Korea and others.

    I’m a native American and with a very few exceptions I couldn’t understand them nor could they understand me without great difficulty. Just like the endless Chinese English teachers. Again, there are exceptions, but few. Especially regarding any casual conversation.

    I know it’s horribly un-PC to mention this but it’s the simple truth I’ve experienced. Maybe China knows this too.

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