Teaching English in China: Holly’s Story

Meet Holly, who began her TEFL career on the China internship, during which time she was teaching English in China.  Read on to find out why globe-trotting Holly decided on travelling to China to teach English abroad and why she’s pleasantly surprised by the music scene in Guanzhuang.

Hi Holly! Where are you originally from?

I’m originally from Windsor, UK; however, I moved away from the UK when I was about 6 months old and moved to Saudi Arabia. After about 2 years my family and I moved to Bangkok and stayed there for around 6 years, then we moved to Bahrain, in the Middle East, and stayed there for nearly 10 years. So yes, I am British but I have been fortunate enough to live in a bunch of places

Where are you now?

At this very moment I am sat at my desk at work in Guanzhuang, in Beijing in China. Exciting stuff.

Why did you decide to look at teaching English?

Well, I looked into teaching English as I wanted to travel again. Then I really thought about my options: travel and lie on a beach and run out of money pretty swiftly or experience it first hand and work in a county. As much as I would love to be lying on a beach, I actually much prefer this experience. I’m waking up every morning in the biggest city in the world and everyday I get to experience something new. Whether it is trying to overcome the public spitting (this happens in restaurants!), learning mandarin or visiting one of the many beautiful temples. I’d be lying to you if I said that everything I was doing here was cultural because the nightlife here is fantastic. Any kind of club (the music scene here is huge: House, RnB, Drum and Bass they even love a cheeky bit of dubstep) or bar are literally on your doorstep here in Beijing. One of the main hotspots here, for us anyway, is San Li Tun. We meet up here nearly every weekend and the bars are cheap, street food is great and the people are fantastic. You will meet your usual expats but also fantastic locals eager to party with you and they are a good laugh.

What attracted you to the China internship in particular?

I’ve been fortunate enough to travel most of South East Asia and I love it, but when it came to China I was perplexed. I had never visited it nor had I heard much from friends or family members about it. China seemed alien to me, so when the opportunity arose to either go back to somewhere I had been or to this foreign place, I leaped at the opportunity to have a completely new experience. The fact I had never been to China made me excited yet nervous about the whole experience and I am so glad that I made the decision to come here.

What age students are you teaching?

I’m teaching 3-4 year olds and also 4-5 year olds. They are amazing, their brains are like little sponges so they are taking in everything and it is amazing to see how fast they are progressing over such a short period of time. For example, when I came here a month ago some of them didn’t even know their English names; some didn’t even have English names, now they can write their names and also write ‘I am …. I have ten fingers’.

How are you finding the experience of teaching?

The teaching experience has been great so far the only thing I struggle with day to day is the school food. That is kind of my fault though, I don’t eat tomatoes (only if they are whole, and they love tomatoes and egg here), fish and mushrooms. Unfortunately these are some of the cheapest foods so they get used everyday.

What is the cost of living like in China?

Living in China is extremely cheap. As long as you aren’t an absolute prude about what you eat. I personally, do not eat any fish, mushrooms or whole tomatoes (weird I know) and I would say these are probably the most used ingredients in Chinese cooking, but I would say I am getting by just fine. Once you have gotten over the fact a lot of the food doesn’t look great you’ll be fine. (All the food taste fabulous it’s just the initial shock to your eyes) Sara and I (my roommate) do a weekly shop and a lot of the time it lasts us about 2 weeks, our total comes to 150RMB every week. That means we are paying 7.50 a week for our shopping, so yes it is cheap as chips out here.

At the moment, I do have enough money to keep me afloat for a while but I have also taken up some private tuition which pays really well over here so no, I’m not going to struggle on the money front and honestly, I don’t think a lot of people out here do when they are teaching/working.

What do you do in your spare time?

We socialise mostly on the weekends but sometimes in the week we go out to dinner with other teachers and rarely we head off to a club in the week, the hangover is just too painful to deal with when you are dealing with little children the next day. Most weekends we head into Beijing grab some dinner then head out to a bar (there are so many to choose from) then we head out to a club. Most clubs are open until 6am so you can even get the subway home if you don’t want to splash out 3 pounds on a cab. I live with a girl Sara and then we have Emma who lives down the road, we all work together so we are with each other 24-7, so, on the weekends we hang out with other TEFL teachers that we met through our TTC training but we have also met quite a lot of people here who are just expats. The expat community over here is huge and you will never fall short of making friends over here. If you head over to San Li Tun you will make a new circle of friends every night.

What to pack/not to pack?

DON’T pack your entire wardrobe. I know it’s tempting and you feel like you are leaving everything behind but the fashion over here is amazing and insanely cheap. You will pick up some many bits and bobs and then your backpack will be so full you’re going to have to leave things behind. All you need are some converses (or your everyday shoes) and some decent trainers to do lots of walking in. Bring a coat, it gets cold out here especially between November-February (-11 one night!) Bring a pair of jeans; if you’re a girl bring leggings, underwear and some tops. That is it. Everything else you can get out here and you will probably prefer it. The only other things I would say to bring are home comforts, nothing big, for example mine is marmite so I bought some of that out with me as you can’t get it here but other than that you are good to go.

What’s the best thing you’ve discovered about living in China?

The best thing about China? Woah that’s a tough one. I would have to say the people. Expats and locals, everyone is friendly. There is no London/New York feel to this city, no one is in a rush, no one is rude and everyone is willing to help you out. The English aren’t the most inviting to foreigners in our country but we should really take a page out of Beijing’s book. If I’m lost on a subway, bus or train there are always people willing to help. Also, the people here aren’t as shy as you would expect them to be, the people laugh with you and will often come up to you in bars wanting to dance or just simply speak to you as they are intrigued by us. Even at my local supermarket a lady knows us and if she bumps into us anywhere else in our town she will make an effort to come say hello with a huge smile on her face.

How would you rate the experience out of 10 and why?

8, the only reason it isn’t a 10 is because it has been cold. Down south is supposed to be lovely though, but I haven’t had the time to go down there yet. That is definitely on my list of things to do next. The scenery here is amazing, the people are fantastic and there is always something to do.

If you had one piece of advice to give to someone, what would it be?

Before you go? Just do it. Don’t really think about it too much, it’s going to be a great experience and if you are an open-minded, sociable person you won’t have any problems. Also, don’t worry about things like not knowing the languages of where you want to go or the cultures because you pick up all of that on your way and it’s exciting.

For when you get to where you are? Be open and patient. You can’t always expect yourself to fall in love with a place within a few minutes. A lot of my friends, who I met during orientation, hated their placements the first few weeks. They then investigated the area, did things they knew they’d enjoy and now I don’t know a single person who is unhappy. The day our placements came out there were a lot of ‘tears and cheers’ but now everyone seems ecstatic with where they are, we also often compete with each other about who has the better placement.

Random question time:

Window, aisle or middle seat on a plane?

If I’m on my own, I’ll definitely go for an aisle seat! I hate being that annoying person who has to wake everyone up to go to the loo. If I’m with a friend though I’ll go middle because then I can lean on their shoulder. I’m pretty short as well so I can get all my legs up onto the seat and I just throw the blanket over my head and I can sleep for the whole journey.

Are you the same person as one year ago?

Hmm, I am but I’m not. I’m 21, so I’ve grown up a lot in the past year but my hobbies and interests have remained the same. My love for being abroad has only grown with age but I am now mature enough to actually ‘live’ abroad on my own instead of just ‘travel’. A year ago I was working for a finance company as a broker, just outside of London, so I guess things have changed quite a lot since then!

Do you have any tattoos or piercings?

I have a tattoo on the back of my neck which I regret so much. I was about 14 and it was in Benidorm (seriously, get tackier right?),bu other than that, no I don’t. I don’t even have any other piercings apart from the standard earrings.

Phew thanks Holly! If you fancy yourself a hassle-free TEFL adventure make sure to check out the China internship, with 24/7 in-country support and a network of interns whilst you teach English.


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