Monkey Abroad

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7 Reasons Why I Love Teaching College ESL in China


After a tedious breakup with my old teaching job, I got my new Chinese residence permit and I’m finally legit. Now I can legally say that I teach ESL at a college in Rizhao, and I love it. Although changing jobs was a logistical nightmare, here are 7 reasons why the grass is greener on the other side.

College ESL students want to learn

Sure I have a few students that don’t seem to care about anything I say, but a majority of my students are able to follow along and seem to genuinely enjoy practicing english. Even my poorer-at-english students wake up when we talk about American culture. They love hearing about America and it’s customs, slang and traditions. Like it’s some magical faraway wonderland.

Cool fact: The Chinese word for America, 美国 (Měiguó) literally translates to “beautiful country.”

One thing I really appreciate about college students: when they don’t want to learn, at least they’re quiet. It drove me nuts to teach young kids who didn’t want to learn because they wouldn’t shut up. I’m too impatient to deal with gremlins latching onto my legs while I’m trying to teach.

college esl

95% of my students are girls

The teaching schedule

I teach 2 classes per day, 3 days per week. Each class lasts 1 hour and 40 minutes. No office hours. That’s 10 hours per week and it’s considered a full-time job. When I’m not in class, I have plenty of time to plan lessons, read, write and explore China. In other words, it’s the perfect job for a lazy bum like me.

Teaching a total of 10 hours per week, my monthly income is still higher than the Chinese national average, plus I get accommodation from the school pro bono. I’m not boasting; I just want to shed some light on the unfair wage advantage foreigners have in Asia.

As english-speakers, our value in the job market grows significantly when we migrate to Asian countries purely because of our mastery of a language that we had no choice but to adopt since we could stand on our own two feet. In China we’re dubbed “foreign experts,” which is a deceivingly cool official title. If you speak english fluently, you have a highly coveted, marketable skill. Don’t take that for granted.

college ESL

My average class size is 40 students.

Living on campus

Only a 3-minute walk from bedroom to classroom, my apartment is a cozy little bachelor pad with a kitchen, living room, bedroom and bathroom. It’s everything a lǎowài could want in China. What’s more, the apartment, water, electricity and wifi are free—although the wifi is slower than a grandma wearing a pair of cement shoes.

My old job at the language center—that I despised—provided me with an incredible apartment. It was probably the nicest place I’ve ever dwelt. I was sad to leave that spacious, well-heated apartment in the heart of Rizhao city to move to an on-campus apartment here, but it was worth it tenfold to leave a job I didn’t enjoy.

college ESL

My plain apartment. I’ve since added a couple of plants to keep me company. We’re BFFs

Abounding street food

Because of the heavy student population in this area, restaurant nooks and street vendors stack the streets in colorful zigzags, selling food at stupidly affordable prices. I’m a street food fiend, so all this cheap deliciousness available everywhere only makes my habit worse. Or better, depending on how you look at it.

I just wrote a story about my omnipresent struggle: trying to decide which is better, Thai food or Chinese food. To assist myself in making a decision, I conduct very important taste research on a daily basis by sampling a variety of Chinese delicacies available in and around campus. If I see an unfamiliar food, I eat it. For scientific research purposes.

college ESL

A typical street food scene near campus

Interesting ESL discussions

In my previous work at a high school in Thailand, I was essentially just an ESL gameshow host. Once I came to China and worked at a private language school, it was all about repeating “apples are red” a dozen times to semi-deaf ears.

Now I teach college students and, I’ll be honest, it’s the best ESL gig out there. The classes are interesting, relatable, and I like hearing the opinions of my students during discussions. The students are developed young adults, not early teens weathering puberty or toddlers squeezing my leg and screaming.

A chance to practice Chinese

When I teach, I have a fleet of young translators in front of me ready to assist my Chinese language development. If, at any point during a discussion, I’m interested in a particular phrase being spoken, I can ask my students to translate the phrase into Chinese and BOOM—I just learned something new.

When I’m out and I see my students, they’re always excited to help me buy food, translate a message and keep me company. They are just as eager to learn english as I am to learn Chinese, so it’s a nice balance of benefit. The point is, I can actually have a decent conversation with my students.

college ESL

Bunny ears… They’re everywhere!

College ESL students are relatable

Some might argue that, since I’m only 4 to 5 years older than the students, it might be difficult to earn their respect. I think that’s the opposite in this case. I don’t treat them like students; I treat them like peers, as if I’m just a guy who wants to be their friend and it just so happens that I also speak fluent english.

The students in my class let me know when they are bored, when they feel nervous and when they enjoy a topic of discussion or role play. I try to make it a creative classroom environment wherein the student is free to express their opinion without fear of making mistakes.

It’s my opinion that the Chinese education system employs too much rote memorization in the classroom, so I’ve taken it upon myself to offer these students a lively, western, monkey-ish classroom environment. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Author: Kevin Cook

I want to inspire you to pursue your own dream of traveling and/or living overseas!


  1. Nice! Wish I could say the same here.Just got scammed out of $1250. Got my professor friend helping me out.I pray I can get the hard cash I have worked hard for.Need it for Christmas and a flight ticket to China.

    Am I buggin’ ya? I don’t mean to bug ya.

    Merry Christmas to you Kevin.

    Stevie in Egypt

  2. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year Kevin! I really enjoy hearing about your life in China.

  3. Happy teacher means happy students! They will always remember you fondly!

  4. Thanks 4 sharing your experiences…… I myself would like to join the staff there. Will u b heading home during the New Year week long celebration the end of January?

  5. I’m happy you’re happy beeg. Those students are lucky to have you as their teacher!

  6. any reason why you refuse to capitalize ‘english’ but ‘China’ and ‘Asian’ are worth the journey to the shift key?

    • Everywhere else in this blog, ‘English’ is capitalized. It’s, erm… my blog’s subtle contribution to the poetry genre.

      • Hello Kevin. Your blog is interesting. I have been curious about what teaching is like elsewhere in English. I have been teaching in Niigata, Japan for almost 25 years. And I love it. In recent years, it seems that so many ex-pats are interested in China over Japan. I am not sure why? Japan is in most cases cleaner than China. But, it is definitely more expensive. However, the area I live in is far cheaper than where I am from (S.F., California). The medical system is better here than the states, too in terms of price and convenience. I look forward to reading more of your blog. – Kevin

  7. That is super cool. I’m going to Yiwu, Zheijang in 1.5 month. It’s a University exchange (my last semester of BA degree) but I think my experience with China/SE Asia is going to be far longer than that.
    I’ve read quite a lot about teaching in China and it seems like every source says ‘You’ll be teaching toddlers 90% of the time’. Can you confirm? How do you get a job teaching ESL in College/High School? Can you get it without certificate like TESL?

    • Sorry for the late reply, Maurice.

      Yeah in most cases you will teach toddlers in China, especially if you have no experience. You can find jobs in universities/colleges, but it’s a little more difficult. Yes, it’s possible to get a job without a TESOL, but it’s going to narrow your choices down a little more.

  8. Yo dog, love the blog. Can you get me a job with you? 🙂 I am applying to lots of jobs and getting lots of offers but you seem like a cool guy and would like to offer my services as a foreign expert!

    • Cody, I don’t know if I can get you a job here because I don’t know you! Search for jobs in Rizhao. If you find a job you like, come to the city and we can grab a beer or a coffee sometime.

  9. Your site came up while I was looking for lesson plan ideas, and normally I don’t read (let alone comment) on such blogs, but after reading this I felt compelled to.

    “As english-speakers, our value in the job market grows significantly when we migrate to Asian countries purely because of our mastery of a language… If you speak english fluently, you have a highly coveted, marketable skill. Don’t take that for granted.”

    Operative word here should be “native” ability, not mastery; all too many expats in Asia have such shockingly poor understanding of their own language one doubts they can actually be effective teachers of it. Part of my previous position was to screen resumes sent to positions in my program that were being advertised. I generally stopped considering someone if they had more than three typos, spelling or grammatical mistakes. Some resumes I received had literally dozens. Growing up with a language does not automatically confer an ability to communicate adequately in, let alone teach it. Any of your readers thinking about becoming ESL teachers in Asia (or anywhere else for that matter) should keep that in mind.

    While on the subject, being a native-speaker in English will generally get you a low-level, low-to slightly below average paying job, but the real prize jobs (bona fide international schools, permanent university positions) only come about if you have some combination of professional certification (in the form an Education and/or Linguistics plus a professional teaching license) and experience (or significant practicum experience if you are starting out). Landing a job at a high school in one of the Gulf Arab states is absolutely out of the question with anything less, but you’ll be able to score a “conversation” school gig in Thailand or Taiwan. Pay, benefits and working conditions should be considered commensurate with the job. In other words, if it pays like Wal Mart and looks like Wal Mart it is probably going to be like working at Wal Mart.

    It is also precisely that attitude that I quoted on part of some Asian countries (China, Japan and Korea come to mind) that gets people into the kind of predicament you found yourself in at the ESL training center; inadequately trained and/or inexperienced teachers being billed by unscrupulous owners and assumed by unsuspecting or naive parents as being “experts”, and both are left wondering as to why if the results are anything less than what would be expected from a seasoned professional.

    Concerning China specifically, your readers should be aware of this: it is not a democracy. China is a totalitarian state, where it’s own citizens do not have many of the same rights and privileges that expats from the democratic West take for granted. Any of your readers thinking about teaching in China should ask themselves this: if Chinese citizens do not have the same sorts of freedoms and privileges found in democratic countries, what can a non-Chinese citizen expect? The answer can be readily found on the internet, which is awash with tales of employer manipulation, fraud and abuse. I live and work in Japan, and even as a non-citizen I am guaranteed certain protections under Japanese law than can be enforced should I choose to fight. The same cannot be said for China. Anyone considering teaching in China-BE WARNED.

    Finally, a word about the caption underneath the one photo-“95% of my students are girls.” I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you weren’t alluding to anything untoward, so I’m directing this to anyone else reading your blog and seeing that photo. If you are a single white guy teaching in Asia, remember this-you are getting paid to try and teach people English, not to score with as many of your female students as you can. This bears mentioning because it is an all too familiar scene for those of us who have spent any significant time doing this job over here. You are thought of as a professional (even if you are not). Act accordingly. Besides, it is a great way to get yourself into deep trouble. There are plenty of those kinds of stories out there as well.

    Expat with 10+ years in Japan.

    • we do will have the same right and previlage in future,as a Chinese ,i just want to say China is good now and will be better,i love my motherland

    • Well said, and I can concure. Standard of living varies greatly between asian countries. China is unstable.
      However, native speakers with no qualifications can be very well utilized in most circumstances.

  10. I’m in Shenzhen, just about to go to work, in a ESL training circus and quit. 3 years in China, heading back to Europe. My fiance at the time couldn’t stay in the UK with me because of her visa reasons, now we are married, i’m homeward bound. Good luck with China, you have a good gig there. 90% of foreign teachers here would cut their arms off to have that job.

  11. Hi buddy, you did really dig out everything about China! The posts are vivid so your blog raises another follower~~!…..Looking for your visit to Nanjing where I am living in now…Personally, I think RiZhao might be small for you to experience China..

  12. I really wish I found this blog earlier when I first came to Chengde to teach English at a University. It really is a fantastic experience. I have a few gripes but no job is perfect. I’m not sure if I would want to do this for the long haul but it is good for now.

    The amount of money I can save here is astronomical in comparison to my previous job in the states. I do however want to parlay this into a better job in the US.

    As far as lesson plans I had a large amount of difficulty with that because I was literally given no instruction or back knowledge on my students. Their English levels are vastly different and I found it very difficult to teach relevant material to one portion of the class without boring the remainder.

    Now with one semester down I have an idea of how to trod forward but I was wondering what you think is fair as far as finals and grading. I only had two students fail this semester one because he never came to class and the other because she failed every assignment I gave the class.

    Do you think it should be impossible to fail an English class as long as you attend?

  13. Your posts are just too lily gilding. Maybe you are the glass is always half full, Polly Anna type, or you just got into a piece of cake situation the rest of us here would die for. It is not this great for everyone here. Maybe you love the human race ore than I do. I can just look at those pictures with all those peace signs and I really think you are piling on some embellishments here. You are a handsome chap and I think the adulation those female students give you is being mistaken for actually learning English. In any case, glad you had a good go of it.

  14. I also taught in China for a year. I loved that my students actually cared ! 😀

  15. Hi Kevin,I’m jasmine from Nigeria. Your blog got me laughing so much . Especially with some of your quot like ” wifi are free—although the wifi is slower than a grandma wearing a pair of cement shoes”. Anyways,
    I’m an advocate of education as well,I have a B.A in Education English, with two years of teaching experience.
    I came across your blog while searching for how to do a video recording of an introduction. I’ve been applying to teach in china since late last year,but having a challenge of non native speaker. Thou I heard that their are schools taking non native English speakers but it requires patients. After some series of response from some of these consulting agents in china,I got I a reply to send an introduction video. That is what I’m about to do just now.
    However I would also like to know you better if that is what can motivate you to help me find a teaching job in china. Because I read your response to one these comments here “that you don’t him much. Please get to know me as much as I want to know you better. Let’s hook up on Facebook. .. here is my ID; udochi jasmine unaeze. Or wechat ID ; candyshop82 . Please help your fellow teachers. I have nothing to hide. Or my what’sapp is +2347035314322 .
    Thank you so much for posting this.

  16. Great work Kevin. Glad to see you enjoying it so much and giving so much back to your students. So happy us westerners have this incredible opportunity open to us! 🙂

  17. Thanks for sharing this post,
    is very helpful article.

Let me know what you think


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