What does it take in order to be successful while teaching in China? I’ve often considered this question while interviewing potential candidates for various teaching positions. Why do some teachers make the transition to teaching abroad in China so easily, while others find the transition to life here more challenging? In my experience, successful teachers (and other types of expats) typically share one trait—adaptability.
Being adaptable means that you are able to react to changing circumstances and make the best out of any given situation. Those changing circumstances start the moment you step off of the plane here in China; suddenly you are dealing with a new language, new people, a new currency, and a new culture that has values and expectations that can be very different from what you are used to. Being adaptable means understanding these differences and learning how to succeed in this different environment.
Teaching English in China presents not only unanticipated difficulties but also unanticipated opportunities as well. Can’t find the ingredients you need to cook your favorite meal? Then learn how to cook a Chinese meal with the locally available ingredients. Can’t read the bus schedules because they are in Chinese? Get a bike (and a helmet!) and explore your new city from a new perspective. Learning how to adapt to difficulties and challenges and turn them into opportunities is an important part of making the most out of your teaching experience in China. As the saying goes here in China: water can float the boat or sink it, it all depends on how you use it.
So, my advice to you as you begin planning your new life teaching in China, is to prepare yourself to be adaptable. Come to China with an open mind, ready to learn and ready to embrace the opportunities and the challenges of living here. The right attitude will go a long way in making sure that your experience teaching ESL in China is one that you will never forget!