My family and I are from Cape Town, South Africa. I am from a loving family where I lived with my parents and younger sister. My parents did their best teaching us to respect others no matter their cultural background, maintain our good values and moral code and to work hard as that hard work would be rewarded and recognized.
I did just that.
I completed my BCom Degree in Business Management with the University of South Africa in 2008. I went for countless interviews for internships as well as paying jobs however with no success as a recent graduate with little work experience. Wanting to better my skillset in the hope of finding employment, I attended night classes at the local college and obtained a Certificate in Web Design. This merely piqued my interest in coding more and with the support of my family; I enrolled for a two-year Diploma in Graphic Design and Web Development. I loved it! I had found something that was creative, interesting and a part of an industry that was rising in demand.
I completed my qualification in 2012, five years after I first graduated. I created a portfolio and went to many interviews with very keen company HR managers….however still no success at entering the workforce. I began to get disheartened as I found myself in limbo. One the one hand I had all these skills and qualifications that made me overqualified (as I was told by interviewers) for many of the advertised positions I applied but on the other hand, I had no practical work experience. I was 26 years old and unemployed.
What was my next step?
I used to tutor while in college and enjoyed it immensely, so when my dad came home one day and told me how his colleague’s daughter would be leaving to go work in South Korea as an ESL Teacher I was intrigued. I had been considering options and it had crossed my mind that I could use my degree and perhaps teach but this was the first time that I really considered getting my TEFL and it wasn’t long and I was registered online to get my 180 hour Diploma to Teach English as a Foreign Language.
There are many options available in regard to TEFL courses, depending on your duration and convenience requirements. There are many online options and I was able to complete my TEFL course in three months. I chose an accredited company and paid the extra fee for the hard copy of my diploma to be sent to me. Also, the company that I chose aided me by adding my name to their recruitment list and it was a week before I completed my course that I was contacted by a school in China.
Well, as they say, the rest is history.
The preparation process included the following:
I downloaded the necessary form from the Chinese Consulate website which consisted of a work visa (Z-visa) application.
I checked my passport’s validity and made sure it had enough pages.
Completed a criminal background check (which is valid for six months)
Completed the required Health Check (the form can be downloaded from the Chinese Consulate website)
Passport photos (at least 6 are required)
Authentication of my degree and other qualifications, including the TEFL qualification. (this had to be done within your own country)
Work invitation letter (sent to you by the employing company) that is required in order to apply for a work visa.
A flight itinerary would also be required as part of the application for a work visa
Please note that China is strict on legal employment and as such if you come to work in China with any other visa that is not a work or Z-visa, you will be deported. It is illegal to work on a business or tourist visa.
When you arrive in China, your company has 30 days to apply for your temporary residence permit and register you at the local police station. The permit will be placed into your passport and your work permit card will be either kept by you or your company (many choose to keep the card at the company to prevent the risk of losing it).
Three months after signing a contract with a school in Hubei Province, I found myself at the airport saying goodbye to my family. It would be the first time I would be leaving my country and it wasn’t just for a vacation but for at least a year. I was a mix of emotions as I was so excited to experience China yet I would miss my family and for the first time, I was on completely on my own.
I had made a spontaneous decision to work in China with the mindset of adventure and the curiosity of this culture that had always fascinated me string from those classic kung-fu movies I always loved.
I had the gut feeling that something good was going to come from my decision and that my life was about to change.
I ended up working in two different cities in Hubei Province, China during the first two years. Yes, I stayed for two years! The first year was interesting as I basically grew up and became independent in the small town where I was the only foreigner. I didn’t speak any Chinese but I was able to adapt to life easily. I learned to cook though there were times I would message my mom for recipes. It was funny and I think a comfort for her to know that I was doing okay. Teaching was fun and I worked hard to improve and eventually felt less overwhelmed by the large class size. My co-teachers were so helpful and supportive. I learned to eat with chopsticks and enjoyed the local food. The locals were also very friendly as they got used to seeing me walking down the street, going to the supermarket or visiting the neighborhood restaurants where I became a regular. It is so affordable to eat out in China that many foreigners don’t stock their fridge at all.
After two years, I went home for a month's vacation before applying through a recruiter for a job in Chengdu. I first fell in love with Chengdu on a summer vacation there two years before. The vibe of the city is so energetic and it instantly felt like home. I never forgot that and was so happy to finally get a position there. I worked for two years at a kindergarten and loved it. The class teaching styles and ways that Chinese schools manage are slightly more relaxed and there will be some disorganization and last-minute demo classes and things to prepare for but overall if you are flexible, then you will not be fazed by this. The kids are respectful and are very enthusiastic about class.
The food and culture are fascinating and traveling to various cities is very affordable. Each province has a different flavor, for example, Sichuan Province is known for its spicy food and hot pot while Jilin Province is popular for its BBQ or Shao Kao and meat dishes.
My advice for those coming to work in China is that you keep an open mind, don’t stress on the small things, try everything, immerse yourself in the culture and make friends with the locals as you will learn more about the culture and the language that way. Travel the country to other cities as often as you can and don’t discount the skills you will learn here.
Last but not least, be smart but don’t shy away from relationships as you never know when you might find that special someone.
I feel I have grown up in China and gained my independence here. I am different from the person who left home five years ago. I am comfortable in my own skin, happy and feel fulfilled in my life and career. I feel like I make a positive influence even in a small way by being an educator, supporter, and mentor to my students and friend. I have made the dearest relationships and friends here that I would not have if I had not made that spontaneous decision to come to China. Fate brought me here for a reason and I have no regrets.
I am now working as a primary school English teacher, recently got married to the love of my life and we are soon planning our honeymoon trip to South Africa.
Who knows what the future may hold, but it can only get better from here.
Take the leap and fly!