Top tips for living, teaching and travelling in China

When you think there’s no more room on a bus, there is.

Haggling is always a good idea.

To quote a friend who works at my school, after 5 months using a squat toilet, you’ll have ‘an ass carved by the gods’

Try all the weird looking fruit, vegetables and street food – some of it you may regret but most of it is delicious

Be patient. Over 1.3 billion other people live in this country, sometimes it takes longer than it should to get things done

In China, many things are not done the way we do them at home. It’s not weird, it’s just different.

To be a good teacher, all you have to do is smile, and the rest will come.

i-to-i interns with locals in Guizhou, China

If you’re bursting with nerves before a lesson, the kids don’t have to know that. Act confident!

Make lessons fun! If you think you’ll be bored teaching it, the kids will be bored learning it. Change it up to make it engaging.

I teach grade 1 and 2. My favourite teaching assistant told me, ‘grade 1 is about patience; grade 2 is about love’.

Be open minded. Embrace the foreign and exotic culture that China has to offer, don’t try and make your life the same as it was back home because it won’t be.

i-to-i intern Danni climbs a mountain in the sunshine in Guizhou, China

Be prepared to be the feature of a hundred thousand photos, and to receive second glances every time you walk down the street. It’s a big self esteem boost to be called ‘beautiful’ by every other Chinese person.

Don’t wait until it’s all clear to cross the road, because it’s never all clear. Like my Chinese teacher in Australia used to say, ‘if you wait to cross, you’ll be waiting forever!’.

If you’re thinking of doing this internship but are a bit reluctant, are too scared to leave your family, friends, job, comfortable mundane lifestyle, or think you’ll be a bad teacher I implore you to set your worries aside and just do it. I felt the exact same way – so did everyone I’ve met on the trip! A quote I read said something like, ‘if we wait until we are ready, no one would ever do anything’.

Golden Week: holidays in Guizhou

We have just returned home from our one week holiday (known as Golden Week); the longest holiday we get over the course of the internship. What an adventure it was! Steph and I decided to take the bullet train to Guizhou, a province that’s fairly “off the beaten track” rather than go to Shanghai like most of our friends. It doesn’t get any more convenient than travelling in China; all the cities, big and small, are so well connected. There are bullet trains, planes, slow trains and buses that take you absolutely anywhere. Guangzhou South Railway station may as well have been an airport it was beyond enormous! After spending the bulk of the day on trains, we finally arrived in Kaili, Guizhou. The city had great vibes, there was KTV and street vendors on ever corner and the lights that lined the road were a beautful feature. We spent our first day at Xijiang Miao Village. Guizhou is a province with a large population of ethnic minority groups. This particular village is the largest community of Miao people in the world. It was amazing. The natural scenery was stunning. Many people wore traditional Miao costumes which are very brightly coloured clothes adorned with silver decorations and a big silver crown.

Traditional clothing of the Miao people in China

We spend the day strolling through the main streets in and out of shops that sold everything from combs made of horn to bongo drums to fancy Chinese tea. There was one street dedicated to street food which had every food you could possibly imagine and many dishes you couldn’t. There was all kinds of noodles, vegetables, barbecued meats, freshly squeezed pomegranate juice, quail egg kebabs, strangle local dish that was warm sticky rice filled with crushed nuts and sugar coated in a powder, just to name a few. We strolled along the river, in and out of rice fields, and up to a lookout point that overlooked the entire village. It was the most beautiful view.

i-to-i intern Danni in front of an amazing view in China

Every building in the village was made of beautiful wood, and every roof upheld the traditional Chinese architecture of black layered tiles that flick out at the corners. An old Miao man painted my Chinese name in calligraphy script for me, it was amazing to watch him paint with such a skilled and practiced hand. We walked up into the backstreets again and came across the village bar the sold rice wine strong enough to knock you out, a Buddhist temple, an artist who painted calligraphy and Chinese style paintings who invited us onto his balcony overlooking the village for home-brewed tea, a traditional Chinese medicine shop that happened to be run by the king of the village, and many others. It was the most wonderful day. Unfortunately it took 3.5 hours to get back to our hotel, but it’s one of the busiest times of year so understandable.

i-to-i intern Danni with a street vendor who paints her name in Chinese calligraphy. Guizhou, CHina

The next day we tried to go to a place called Leigongshan Nature Reserve and climb a big mountain there. This day was quite easily the craziest day of my life and showed that the best things can happen in the most unexpected times. We got on a bus that said it was going to Leigongshan, but after a 2 hour drive (through the most magnificent mountains and terraced rice fields), we arrived at the mountain which we were then told was ‘closed’. So we asked the driver if we could stay on his bus since he was returning to Kaili later in the afternoon, we figured he had to be going somewhere. A half hour later we stopped at a tiny wooden mini mart for a toilet stop. The lady running it insisted that Steph and I eat lunch inside and she gave us the spiciest soup I’ve ever eaten, my mouth was literally on fire. Anyway, we walked outside fifteen minutes later and the bus was gone! He’d left without us! The fear that gripped me in the moment was unlike anything else. Here we were, 2.5 hours away from the city, up a giant mountain that would take hours and hours and hours and hours if we had to walk back down….

Leigonshan nature reserve, Guizhou, China

Some middle aged Chinese ladies who happened to also be at this place came to our rescue. They said that they lived in Kaili where we were staying and would drive us back at 4pm. In all there was about 12 of them, all friends, who invited us to have lunch with them. They didn’t speak a word of English, they all peeled young bamboo shoots together, and cooked up a spicy fish and bamboo soup. We all sat on tiny wooden stools around a tiny wooden table with a hot plate and the soup was eaten. It was delicious. One of the men started teaching us some interesting points about Chinese characters, and another was telling us that his daughter was studying in America. The blue sky, the peaceful mountains, the river and the kindness of these people made it the most spectacular day. After a couple of hours of having lunch (which was 20% eating, 80% trying not to swallow fish bones), we all drove to another Miao village.

Mountain view in Guizhou, China

Unlike yesterday’s, which was a giant tourist attraction, this one was authentic. The architecture was the same – wooden with tiled roofs, but the main square was filled with rice and chillies drying in the sun. Kids were playing in the water on bamboo rafts, old ladies in traditional clothes were sitting by the street, people were working in the enormous rice fields. It was a very humbling place to see.  Our last stop of the day was a mini waterfall that we hiked down to, crossed a few streams and enjoyed being in the natural environment. Then they drove us home. If it hadn’t been for them we might still be wandering around those Chinese mountains, but everything always works out in the end.

i-to-i interns at a waterfall in Guizhou, China

The following day we took the bus to the capital of the province called Guiyang, which was a thriving metropolis compared to Kaili! We spent the remainder of the day and the next day at Qianling Park which was beautiful. We wandered through bamboo forest, along a river covered in blooming lotus flowers, among a large temple from the Ming and Qing dynasties and I had my palm read by an old Chinese man who, after 10 minutes, told me it was ¥100! I forgot about the importance of negotiating a price beforehand….. The other place we wandered through was the JiaXiu Pavillion. This was where the best scholars of the province studied in ancient times.

Traditional Chinese scenery in Guizhou, CHinaWe ate fresh fruit and drank Chinese tea overlooking the water that was lined with willow trees, their vines draping into the water like curtains. It was so peaceful. The pavilion was beautiful, we met another Chinese artist and watched in admiration as he painted a Chinese fan with delicate flowers. We wandered the path of the willow trees, ended up in a market selling fruit, vegetables I’ve never seen before, meat, noodles and street food. We tried some fried rice, roasted chestnuts, sticky rice stuffed with black beans and deep fried, and rice buns made with rice and sugar. Before we knew it, we were boarding the train back to Foshan. We had a wonderful time away but I was not sad to be returning home, throughout the week I missed my students and although I would have loved to continue exploring Guizhou, I was excited to see my kids the following day.

i-to-i interns and locals enjoying a meal in Guizhou, China

What to do in China in your spare time!

What I love about China is that no two days are ever the same. It may seem to be a long 5 month repeat of the same thing, teaching day in, day out, but it definitely isn’t. Every day at school is different. I deliver new lessons, new songs, every class responds to different activities in different ways, every kid has something new to offer me. I am always learning here – how to continue becoming a better teaching, new phrases in Mandarin, small points of cultural difference, that, when listed altogether, show how the Chinese way of living and thinking is quite different to Australia.

For example, why Chinese people prefer to eat meat with bones, stories told at various festivals e.g. The Mid Autumn Festival, meanings behind Chinese song lyrics, different methods of education, etc. It’s not better or worse or weird, it’s just different. Each day I love my students more and more, I walk out of nearly every class beaming. On Friday afternoon when all the kids were getting picked up by their parents for the weekend, I genuinely felt a bit sad that there was no school for the next two days, because I love my job so much. However, the weekends are also fantastic!

i-to-i China intern Danni teaching her class in Foshan, China

Some of the foreign teachers working with us are quite narrow-minded, constantly complaining about the culture, not being able to be understood in the streets and that it’s not like home. My philosophy is that there’s no use in coming here if you aren’t going to embrace the foreign and exotic culture that’s on offer and  endeavoring to make it feel like your home country we it never will be. Steph and I want to experience absolutely everything that China has to offer us! We befriended a Chinese English teacher at our school and she has taken us under her wing. Friday evening she took us to Chinese medicine, and I had cupping done which is very popular in China. Small suction cups suck up the skin on your back and shoulders. It was a very weird sensation, but afterwards my body felt so relaxed. The lady giving me the treatment was really wise, she knew things about me and Steph that seem impossible to know. For example after about five minutes she told me my stomach was unhealthy; she was absolutely right; it is because I have coeliac disease. The next morning my back looked like a pepperoni pizza with red circular marks all over it, it was hilarious.

The teacher also took us to visit Shun De village on Saturday. It is a tiny water village that foreigners seldom go to because not many people have heard of it. It was a hidden treasure of the Chinese countryside.There was a small winding river around the whole village. The streets were quiet and peaceful, in stark contrast to the clogged roads and bustling streets of Nanhai where we live. There were trees and greenery everywhere – willow trees with their vines draping into the water like curtains, frangipani trees, bright green banana trees, a million different types of tree all adorned with red lanterns. Stone bridges built 800 years ago in the Song Dynasty were built across the water. We had the most wonderful and tranquil day taking a river cruise around the whole water body in a small wooden boat, wandering the streets, each shop selling strange yet wonderful goods. We sampled the local cuisine which included double steamed milk of a thick consistency with red beans, Chinese red bean ‘cupcake’ made from water chestnuts and a black gooey paste made from crushed rice,nuts, sugar, black sesame and water.

i-to-i China interns with locals in Sung De water village, China


I actually had a go at making the last one, by sitting on a stool and turning and old wooden handled around and around to crush the ingredients and blend in the water. While I did this, the area was suddenly packed with local Chinese who thought it was hilarious and took pictures with me. An old man and his wife ran a small restraunt in their garden, he was the kindest man and made us the most delicious dishes of fish and vegetables bursting with flavour. While we enjoyed our lunch he told us about his life. From the outside it looked as though he had lived this simple life since birth with his grubby apron, but in fact he had been in Chairman Mao’s army in the 1970’s and also served in the navy. He had lived in Beijing, Shanghai, Nanjing and Tianjin. He showed us pictures of himself from his years of service and said that after he retired he had returned here to the village of his birth. It was very moving to hear about his life. There is so much to see and do here, the weekends allow us time to discover and explore all the hidden gems Foshan has to offer. There are mountains to climb, ancient temples and structures to explore, markets to wander, people to meet and we are so excited to learn as much as we can about this fascinating county with all its rich history and traditions while we are here. No two days are ever the same.


A day in the life of a TEFL teacher in China

Today officially marks exactly one month since I arrived in China. How the last month has flown! It feels like so much longer with all that’s happened. It made me reflect and reminisce on all the thrilling experiences I’ve had in China so far. From the TEFL classes in Beijing, to sweating my way to the top of the  mighty Great Wall. From tearing up when the time came to farewell my new friends, to driving into Foshan, my new city. From walking through the gates of Nanhai Guicheng Foreign Language School receiving cheerful waves and enthusiastic ‘Hello’s’ from all the students in their bright yellow uniforms to teetering with nerves as I walked into my very first lesson; my grade 2 class gazing up at me expectantly.

Students learning English at school in Foshan, China

From taking three hours to plan one lesson unsure if it would be engaging enough or long enough, to taking only one hour because I now know exactly what comprises of a good lesson that is fun and captures the attention of the students. From walking down the school corridors as an unknown random foreigner nervously to walking down them being smiling widely being bombarded by my little students shouting my name, their little faces lit up with excitement to see me.


I teach Grade 2 International English, which is extension English for the brighter kids who come from well off families. My Chinese Teaching Assistant who observes my lessons and helps maintain order in the classroom is quite a harsh critic. I delivered my second lesson which I thought went quite well. I went to speak to her at the end and she disagreed, she said, ‘Danni, your lessons have to be more wonderful!’ I didn’t quite know what she meant from that but I endeavored to try my best to plan more ‘wonderful’ lessons. I racked my brain thinking up more and more ways to teach the content that was more interesting than mundane, cliche games that are fine to play in my regular English classes. I delivered lesson three, which was an improvement.

i-to-i intern Danni at school teaching a lesson at school in Foshan, China

Then I delivered lesson four, after class in which my Teacher Assistant came to me at the end of class, smiling,  and said that this was a good lesson, and to make them all like this in the future. I can’t describe how happy her comments made me. I felt a soaring pride for finally receiving her approval, proud of myself for getting it right and thrilled that my students were enjoying my lessons so much more. It’s a very strange sensation to be enjoying my job. I am no longer living for the weekend. If I am at school or at home I feel the same level of contentment and joy. If it’s Monday or Saturday my feelings towards the day are mirrored. I love my work life and my personal life. Which is so strange because at home I don’t think I could highlight anyone who loves their job as much as they loved their weekends. It’s astounding, I never thought I could be so happy.


A day in the life of the China internship goes along the lines of something like this:

I wake up, bouncing off my springy mattress to get ready for work. I select from my small range of corporate skirts and tops, and slip on my new leather-look shoes to top off the formality of the outfit that still subtlety pinch at my toes. I walk to the bus stop, grinning about what’s in store for the day ahead, admiring the lush greenery and frangipanis on the streets, and being extra cautious as I cross the road at the zebra stripes because the inferred meaning of ‘give way to pedestrians on the zebra stripes’ isn’t given the same meaning here as at home. A bus timetable doesn’t seem to have been invented yet here, I just wait and sometimes it takes 30 seconds for my bus to arrive and sometimes it takes 10 minutes, it’s a bit of a gamble. I sit on the bus and observe the streets and notice how this city’s appearance and spirit is different to my own. Sometimes people take pictures of me on the bus, and children point to me in the sheer amazement at seeing a foreigner. You can’t blame them since seeing any foreigners is an extremely rare occasion. At school I spend the morning planning lessons in my office. (I can’t believe I have my own desk in an office!) We have been told to deliver lessons using PowerPoint so I fill them with colour, animations, games and songs to give my students a break from drilling which of course gets tiresome and dull.

i-to-i intern Danni in Foshan, China, where she is teaching on the Paid TEFL Internship

Around 12pm we have lunch in the canteen and sit with the other teachers. I’ve never seen such a big pot of rice as is in this canteen. It is enormous! My lessons are usually between period 5-8 which are after lunch, and my favourite part of the day. I bring in realia, props, we play all kinds of games, I make sure I have songs relevant to every topic to sing, to get them all up out of the chairs and having a sing and a dance. I walk out the corridor getting flocks of kids waving at me and hugging me, then I pack up and walk back down to the bus stop with Steph. Steph and I discuss all the happenings of the day, what we did in our lessons, which songs were a hit, which games took off and which ones didn’t. We have a laugh about funny things the kids said to us during the day and talk about our lessons for the following days. We journey home from the bus and always have our umbrellas handy in case the sky opens on us and decides to have a big storm and get us soaking wet (which has happened on multiple occasions). We have dinner, then we chill out in our apartment relaxing after a long day, speak to our friends at other schools, Skype people from home, go walk around the streets, practise mandarin together, read books, do some domestic chores like washing (which is new to me) or hang out with the other foreign teachers. We make plans for the weekend and upcoming holidays.  And you have it, a whole day in the life of a TEFL teacher in China. It’s fantastic.

How to feel settled in China

Walking down the street to take the bus to work today, I was grinning for no specific reason. The sun was warm, the locals were friendly, my lessons were prepared and I was excited to deliver them to my kids. It suddenly struck me that I’m really happy here. I love my job which I work hard at all day Monday-Friday. I love my new found friends and buzzing social life. I’m such a short time I’ve made such strong connections to so many people on the program, on the weekends we forget about work and all hang out together, explore the city, discover small hidden corners bursting with authentic Chinese culture and have wild nights out in the Chinese nightlife.

i-to-i TEFL interns enjoy a group meal in Foshan, China

I’m just happy with my life here, and I didn’t feel like this at home in Australia. I hated my job at the supermarket, I didn’t have good group of friends to connect with and I just felt isolated and discontented most of the time. I was desperate to get away from that and start anew. And pretty well everyone else on the program is doing the exact same thing – escaping from their problems and doing something exciting and different with their lives. We all have the same story, we were sick of our mediocre lives at our homes in various parts of the world and did something about it. In China we are taking life by the horns. As I cross the street while simultaneously weaving around a few cars and miraculously surviving (the traffic is absolutely insane here, road rules are more life suggestions), I board the bus and gaze out the window.

i-to-i China interns together at school in Foshan, China

I still have to pinch myself sometimes because I can’t believe I’m really here, that I’m really packed up and left my old life behinds. I never knew I could feel so happy all the time. I’ve never loved every aspect of my life before, but here I do. School is fantastic. I teach grade 2, and they all know me now since we’ve had a few lessons so whenever I walk down the grade 2 corridor dozens of kids run up to me shouting, ‘Danni! Danni! Hello Danni!’ They high five me, kiss my hands, wave to me, hug me, it’s adorable. When I walked into class the other day the whole class was chanting, ‘Danni! Danni! Danni!’ It was crazy, I adore them all. Lesson planning is hard work, it is very time consuming to put tons of pictures, animations, songs and colour into a PowerPoint for a class. My creative juices which were pretty non-existent at home have been forced to start flowing to think up games, games and more games to keep the kids motivated and entertained to work hard at their English.

But when I walk into class and they’re all so excited to see me, all the preparation feels worthwhile. I used to be a tiny bit nervous walking into class, I could feel the butterflies stirring and starting to flutter; but now I look forward to teaching, it’s the best part of the day. There is no better feeling than walking out of a class that went really well, the kids buzzing the whole time, watching them having fun as a result of my lessons makes me so happy. The other day was Teacher’s Day, which is a very big celebration in China. My Chinese teacher at home in Australia always said teachers in China are very highly respected. So many gifts and flowers were given out that day, but the highlight of the day for me was a little girl in my class. I finished teaching and I knew it was a really good lesson and that all the kids enjoyed it, and as I was leaving a little girl came up to me, all shy, and looked up at me saying, ‘happy Teachers Day’. My heart melted a bit then.

i-to-i China intern enjoys fresh fruit at a restaurant in Foshan, China

I am in love with China, I learned it at high school in Australia and China and I have always had a bit of a love affair, however this experience has already accentuated my love for this county and culture tenfold. The people, the culture, the city, the history, the architecture – it never ceases to fascinate and thrill me. This internship is the best thing I’ve ever done in my life; I hope the next four months crawl by very slowly as I never want to day to come where I have to board the plane back to Australia.

Arriving to teach English in China: Danni’s story

I don’t know where to start. Sitting on the train whizzing past the green Chinese countryside on my way to Foshan, trying to sum up all the different and wonderful experiences from the orientation week in Beijing seems impossible; all I know is every second of that week I look on fondly. At the airport I was a bit nervous arriving in China, but the team made it so easy, there was a representative waiting there for us as we walked out of our flight.

i-to-i China interns arrive at the airport in Foshan for their 5 month paid teaching internship


We drove to a secondary school which would be our home for the next week. Being in a completely new environment and knowing that my 5 month journey has finally began, I felt a whisp of nerves and discomfort, and as I lay out my clothes in the cupboard the thought ‘oh my god what am I doing’ kept floating around in my mind. My friend from Melbourne who I was sharing a room with, Steph, we decide to go explore for the evening and went to a mall. It took a very short time for any of my doubts to dissipate. Wandering the streets, being surrounded by Mandarin and a different people, different culture made me feel stimulated and so excited for what was ahead. I had a Chinese massage in an attempt to do something a bit cultural, which was amazing!

i-to-i China interns dance with some locals in the street

As we walked back to the school, there was a group of elderly Chinese ladies in the street doing square dancing, of course we joined in and started copying the teacher. The ladies loved having  us dance with them, they were so lovely. We danced and since we have learned Chinese in school we were chatting with them, they didn’t speak a word of English but it didn’t matter because they were so bubbly and friendly. For the next 2 days we had TEFL class, it was actually really useful and better than I thought. The teacher was really good at showing us the best way to teach TEFL, it was really hands on. Rather than us sitting to the teacher listening in a class, we learned through doing. The most useful parts of it for me were getting into groups and doing the actual teaching to the rest of the class. This is where the teacher could critique us on what we did well and where we could improve, as well as giving us proper experience of what it’s like to teach a class in a practice type of environment.

i-to-i intern's calligraphy work as done in the Paid China TEFL Internship orientation week

The other highlight of the course was when the teacher gave us a lesson on stationary in Spanish. I don’t know any Spanish, so it was brand new words for me. I literally had no idea what the teacher was saying when she gave instructions, and memorizing six or seven new words was actually quite difficult. It made me feel real empathy for my future students – if the words I’m introducing brand new words to my kids that they’ve never heard before, it reinforced the importance of taking is slow, giving simple and clear instructions and practicing new material repeatedly in a variety of ways to hold the students’ interest. I’m really impressed with the program, the support they’ve given us all is great – at the airport, three meals are provided per day, they put a lot of effort in to ensure the friend I requested to come with would be with me and to give me my place of preference in China (the south). I have coeliac disease and have to eat gluten free, which is very difficult in China as I can’t have soy sauce, but in restaurants they ask the chefs to make me a separate dish with no sauce, and help me figure out what I can eat in the canteen. Aside from completing our TEFL course, they wanted to give us an authentic experience to explore China and Beijing. We had mandarin lessons in our classes, tai chi lessons and calligraphy lessons. These cultural lessons were fun, showed us the cultural side of China and gave us the opportunity to socialize and get to know our fellow interns. We also had some free afternoons to explore Beijing in our own time which was great. The highlight of the orientation was definitely the day trip to the Great Wall.

i-to-i interns at the Great Wall of China

All the interns together were taken to the Great Wall which we climbed together. It was an amazing experience, absolutely breathtaking and probably impossibly to reach on our own as it was so far from the accomodation. After the Great Wall, we all had lunch together, visited the Olympic park which has the most fascinating architecture, has dinner at an authentic Chinese restaurant then saw a Chinese acrobatics show which had us all captivated sitting on the end of our seats, crying out a joint echo of amazement at the acts that where performed. I distinctly remember walking through the streets of China and feeling like I’m home.

Red lanterns hang in the street of Foshan, China

Not home as in Melbourne, just home as in at peace with myself and so happy that I’ve come here. I keep saying to Steph  that I’m so so happy that we’ve come here and that there’s nowhere I’d rather be. It’s been so much fun so far, meeting people from all over the world and having the opportunity to make so many new friends has been so fantastic. Even though it’s only been a week, I know I will literally be friends with some of these people for the rest of my life and that if they ever visit Australia they’re welcome in my home. It is really cool to suddenly have new friends from England, Ireland and Scotland. It’s been so wonderful already and it’s made me so excited for what’s to come when we finally arrive in Foshan and start getting into my new lifestyle!

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