Sunday, February 4, 2018

Teaching in a Chinese university

The main entrance to Guangxi University, in Nanning, China

I just finished my first semester at a college within Guangxi University here in Nanning, China, and it was a whirlwind four months. The impression I've gotten of working in Chinese universities is that they can vary greatly, with some jobs being much more demanding than others and the overall quality of the programs being entirely different from place to place. The best way to know what you're getting into is to talk to current and former teachers and look out for blogs, forum posts etc. written by teachers.

In Asian countries, at least those I've lived in so far, things tend to be organized at the last minute more often than not. This was definitely the case with my job this past semester. I actually arrived in China early for visa reasons, at the end of the spring semester and spent a quiet summer mostly exploring Nanning and hanging around my air conditioned apartment. I had plenty of free time then to prepare for the upcoming fall semester, but I was told I would be teaching EFL classes and there wouldn't be much planning necessary.

In mid-August, just a few weeks before the start of the fall term, I received an email informing me that I would be teaching content instead and that the college needed a syllabus and class schedule within about a week. I've never been a content teacher before, so I really had to scramble to put something together. In the end, I taught American Literature as well as Academic Writing for the year two students of my college.

As I was given very little time to prepare this course before it actually began, the entire semester was a struggle to keep up with planning content classes and preparing material for them. I also had to balance this with a heavy load of grading from my writing classes. 

So I really spent the past for months just working, working, working with almost no free time whatsoever. I really loved having the opportunity to teach literature, which at least made the work rewarding to me, and I think my students really enjoyed the course. But it was an exhausting four months with very little support from my college.

However, I don't think this experience is representative of most university jobs in China. From other teacher's comments and things I've read online, I think that most jobs here will have a much better work/free time balance than I had. 

My apartment, provided by my college (and decorated for Christmas by Anna)

In terms of typical benefits, most university jobs in China will provide a furnished, rent-free apartment, some basic health insurance (very basic, so additional travel insurance is a good idea), possibly paid vacation time, usually 2-3 months vacation during the year, and possibly assistance with the work visa, although not always. In my case, my college provided some advice and help in obtaining the work visa, but no financial assistance. I've written about how difficult the new Chinese foreign work visa system is already, but it's worth repeating: it will probably take you about 2-4 months and cost around $1000 USD to get a foreign work visa for China. If you're considering taking a job here, you should really think about how long you plan to stay and whether or not it's worth the time and financial investment.

The students in my program are very smart and sweet, most of them are very motivated to learn English and do well. The main behavioral problem I encountered was the overuse of cell phones. Young people here seem to have a genuine addiction to their smart phones, with a certain number of students in each class being unable to avoid playing with their phones despite being aware of the repercussions of doing so. The other problem is that cheating and plagiarism is rampant in Chinese universities, because of cultural norms that make it more socially acceptable to plagiarize than in other places I've lived.

Aside from those two issues, I've really enjoyed the students here. They're fun to talk with, they love to share Chinese culture with me, and many of them seem really excited about improving their English.

Thanksgiving dinner at my apartment

I'm also lucky to have met a great group of fellow teachers from the various English colleges on campus who I've gotten to know throughout the past 7 months here. We often get dinner together on Friday nights, which kept me sane whenever I was swamped with grading, and we had fun celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas together.

The students and being able to teach literature for the first time both made this semester really memorable, even if it did feel like an impossible amount of work at times. Fortunately I survived the first semester and I'm enjoying my 6 weeks off now, and I'm especially looking forward to my upcoming trip to Vietnam in February. The first semester might have been rough, but 6 weeks of vacation time definitely helps balance it out!

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