Note: This article will appear in my hometown newspaper in a few weeks. For those who receive my newsletter, this story will look familiar but take another read below because this is a longer version with a bit more information.
As an English language teacher at a Chinese college, it’s not unusual for my former students (English education and business majors) to call me from time to time to update me about their lives. It might be wanting advice concerning employment opportunities, announcing an upcoming marriage or birth, voicing concerns about teaching English as novice teachers, or even describing family woes and personal struggles. For some reason, telling a foreigner about their lives is more desirable than turning to their Chinese friends, relatives or mentors.
So when Angel (whose Chinese name is Zhang Yingmei), from the Class of 2013, called out-of-the-blue with exciting news, I wasn’t surprised.
“Connie, I have a job!” she burst forth. “I passed the English language interview to work in the spa department on a British cruise ship. In February, I will be in London for 3 weeks of training. It pays very high, a thousand dollars a month, and is a 1-year contract. I can travel all over Europe for free. I’m so happy!”
That was three months ago.
As of today, Angel no longer has the promised overseas’ job she was expecting. Instead, she has been swindled out of 20,000 yuan ($3,030) which she borrowed from her parents. This was the fee required by the job placement company that agreed to secure her the cruise ship position.
Needless to say, Angel was scammed after discovering the placement company lied to her. While the position was indeed on a cruise ship, it was a Chinese line which had her working 7 days a week in China for much less money than expected and under very poor conditions. She also learned that there would be no coveted spa placement on board for her. Instead, she’d be serving Chinese passengers at mealtimes, doing kitchen prep work, cleaning cabins or assigned menial labor which required no English language skills whatsoever.
Angel informed me she was introduced to this “amazing” opportunity by her former boss, the director of a private adult training school where she worked as a secretary. He enthusiastically encouraged her to go for the interview, which she passed, and urged her to pay the 20,000 yuan to hold the position. He also lined up another young woman, a graduating senior at the Luzhou Medical College, to do the same.
It was the medical college student who informed Angel of the truth after she contacted two individuals who had taken the bait a year ago. The two talked of their horrific experiences on the Chinese cruise ship and how they held out for 6 months before finally quitting. They also had been told by someone they trusted that the job placement company was honest and what great employment this would be. Not only did they lose their placement money and end up in a bad working situation, but they discovered their supposedly sincere go-between was getting a kick-back for every individual he brought in for an interview.
It seems Angel’s boss, whom she once touted as kind and generous, was in on the deceit from the get-go.
While Angel’s loss was quite steep at $3,000, it could have been much worse. If she had signed the contract before discovering the truth, she would have handed over another $3,000 to seal the deal. In all, her total loss would have been over $6,000, a total which the other two marks lamented had been their fate.
Job placement companies are becoming very popular in China but finding legitimate ones can be tricky. The college I work for actually has a relationship with one such service that places English speaking graduates in Dubai, Singapore and Malaysia. They work in the airport and hotel service industries, have what’s considered good pay ($600 per month), decent hours, and comfortable housing facilities. If candidates pass the English language interview test, they pay the placement service a one-time fee of 10,000 yuan ($1,500) to secure the position. This fee includes the cost of their flight to the assigned country, a one-week orientation training course, and payment for the required uniforms. Those chosen can easily earn back the amount they paid after several months of employment. These are 1-year contracts, or 2 years in some cases, and can be renewed if the employer and employee agree.
I’ve heard from several former students who return to tell me how happy they’ve been with their exciting new work experiences overseas and how grateful they are to have this opportunity.
What a shame that Angel hadn’t gone through the school’s vetted agency rather than striking out on her own.
“I regret my decision,” Angel recently told me while visiting my new apartment, “but I have learned a valuable lesson. Before paying to have an overseas’ job, make sure it is really true.”
As to her former boss, she bitterly added, “And don’t trust someone too quickly. On the outside, maybe he is so nice, so smiling. But on the inside, he is full of lies.”