Return to China: It’s Frustrating but always hopeful

It’s the end of August!! How did that happen?

The past 2 months have been filled with Illinois travels to 8 speaking engagements and a 4-day visit to Detroit for a Volunteer in Mission Board Meeting (So fulfilling and wonderful!). It has been so refreshing to have Covid somewhat behind us but still frustrating that China is indeed the last country to remain closed to tourists, returning teachers, some new teachers, all foreign students and even its own citizens are not able to leave the country or return from their overseas job placements.

My travels here were filled with questions about my return to my college in Luzhou and what’s been filling my days. (A lot!)

Fortunately for me, I have made numerous contacts in China, aside from my Chinese sponsoring organization, The Amity Foundation, that give me the ins and outs of the private school sector in China which is getting foreign teachers into the country.

Here are my gleanings.

British Arnold’s Teach-in-China Recruitment Agency
My desperation for information (any information) of when my area of China might consider opening to my return has me in one expat WeChat group in China (those foreigners teaching in Wuhan, Shenzhen, Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou) and one private recruitment organization which meets bi-monthly on Zoom. The coordinator, Arnold, out of Britain, has graciously allowed me for the past 2 years not only to join in but even give presentations on life in China and The Amity Foundation.

His services include a set fee (close to $500 US) to connect candidates with private schools in China who have the government connections needed, and the know-how, to get English teachers’ invitation letters approved. From my end, the frustration is that those applying are quite young, not professional teachers but merely native speakers who are working in rather dingy, low-paying jobs in their own countries, or have student debts to pay off. On our Zooms together, some want to expand their Chinese language abilities to open businesses of their own or want some sort of adventurous travel job for a couple of years or just make money.

Strict Covid Policies: Not much traveling for locked down areas are becoming more and more prevalent

Covid policies in China, however, are not great for traveling the country at present if you’re a foreigner or even a local. 3-times-a-week testing of all citizens sometimes takes place in most cities or towns to find cases, symptomatic or asymptomatic . One case and the entire city or town shuts down, people are required to stay at home or only go out twice daily to stand in line at testing centers with hazmat suited individuals swabbing away. If positive, your cell phone alights red and off you go to a quarantine center. No one is allowed to stay at home, including those you’re living with. You must test negative 5 times in a row to get out of such quarantine centers, which are set up in warehouses with rows of cots, portable potties, makeshift wash-off troughs and meals served 3 times a day. No one goes out; only workers go in.

If you have pets, they usually don’t survive after apartment doors are locked tight and your home is considered contaminated.

Living in China, with a Zero-Covid policies and its “whack-a-mole” strategy, is a challenge for everyone involved.

Private Schools and their Students

For foreigners now getting into China to teach at high-paying private English schools, the children being instructed are anywhere from 2-12 years old, in group classes, with extremely wealthy parents hovering outside of observation rooms to make sure their money is going to good use. They want their children to have a step-up in life for getting that extra boost on English language test scores to get into the best schools in China or for future school enrollment overseas.

Granted, Xi’s government has tried desperately to get these private English schools closed, wanting to even out education among the rich and the poor. A great majority of these after-school and weekend educational institutions have indeed closed under Xi’s policies. However, there are ways of getting around these regulations. While many such schools did close, with the founders moving on to other business ventures (coffee shops, specialty restaurants, bakeries, online ordering companies, etc.), those with stable connections in larger cities have managed so far to survive.

The draw for Foreign Teachers: High Salaries

The fact that Covid locked down the country to new incoming teachers and foreign students has been a struggle for all public universities, colleges, and private institutions. Many of the private schools and public schools have managed to snatch up those foreign teachers already in the country who were not happy with their schools or were enticed by exorbitant salaries and perks.

I know of one older Brit in Luzhou who had been teaching for almost 4 years in Luzhou. He was making about $2,000 US per month but was quite fed up with his school, the workload and the relationship with school staff. (He was not very culturally attuned, from what I understand). When Covid struck, many private schools had teachers abandon their positions to return to their countries. Our Brit went searching online, found an offer in another province for $4,000 US per month (including apartment and air-travel) so he took it. From what I understand, he is very happy and making a killing despite not having a degree in teaching but merely is qualified due to his native English speaking ability.

High risks, high costs for newly hired foreign teachers entering China

I just finished a Zoom call last week with Arnold and those who have managed to get their visas approved. Some have landed already, entering Hong Kong to continue into the mainland because prices are $4,000 to $5,000 cheaper for a one-way flight directly into the Mainland.

Hong Kong tickets, one way from Canada, the UK or the States, are about $1,200 and can be fairly easily booked. Quarantine in a HK hotel is now down to 3 days from 7 days. After that, Covid tests are required to take the train from HK into Shenzhen, the further-most city of Mainland China, where several of the private schools are located. Another 4 days quarantine in a hotel is required in the city of employment and another 7 days in the apartment which the school rents for the new teacher’s 1-year contract.

Of course, all along the way, Covid tests are required.

Most costs are paid by the sponsoring school EXCEPT if you test positive for Covid upon your arrival or before entering the mainland or even during your hotel quarantine in the city of employment. According to Arnold, if you test positive at any point along the way, you are no longer sponsored by the school. All costs, including that $1,200 getting to China and all your visa costs, plus mandatory Covid costs, on your country’s end (usually around $1,000) are yours and yours alone.

The school no longer wants you, your visa (good for 1 month until a permanent visa can be acquired with your school’s help) will not be honored. You will be required to pay for all your quarantine costs, for however long it might be, and have to pay for your return flight, whenever you can get one.

This is the price of going with a private school, doing it somewhat on your own, with no organization to support your or back you up.

Thank goodness I have the Amity Foundation behind me 100% and my school as well!

Latest News:  All upbeat except for Luzhou and Sichuan Province

Tier 1 cities (a majority being capital cities) seem to be able to apply for teachers in the private school industries, but NOT government-run public institutions.

I have been asked to be patient, that after Xi’s election for another term in October, policies will change, perhaps almost immediately for a 2023 visa for me to start up the Spring semester in February.

In the meantime, I continue with my advocacy work for both China’s Amity Foundation and the North Central Jurisdiction.

Watch this space for reports from my graduating students in China.  I have a lot of stories to share!

Here’s wishing you “Ping Ahn” (Peace) for your day.


About connieinchina

I have been in the Asia region for 30 years as an English language teacher. 28 of those have been spent with the Amity Foundation, a Chinese NGO that works in all areas of development for the Chinese people. Amity teachers are placed at small colleges throughout China as instructors of English language majors in the education field. In other words, my students will one day be English teachers themselves in their small villages or towns once they graduate. Currently, this is my 13th year in Luzhou Vocational and Technical College. The college is located in Luzhou city (loo-joe), Sichuan Province, a metropolis of 5 million people located next to the Yangtze River .
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1 Response to Return to China: It’s Frustrating but always hopeful

  1. Kate says:

    Have been following the news from China, but when you put into words it’s a mite breath stopping. The lack of qualified teachers here in the US is being met in similar ways it seems. Shall look forward to notes regarding your students. Hugs!

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