Beijing, China Review for ESL Teachers
Teaching English as a second language in Beijing, China
Previously known by the distinguished names of Ji (Capital of ‘Ji’ State), Yanjing (‘Capital of Yan’), Zhongdu (‘Central Capital’), Khanbaliq (‘City of the Khan’), Dadu (‘Great Capital’), and Peking (‘Northern Capital’ with Middle Chinese pronunciation), Beijing is a fascinating mix of history, traditions, and modern development.
These days, Beijing is a busy, modern city with all of the conveniences. It is slightly less populated than Shanghai, yet with a population of over twenty-one million people, it is definitely a metropolis. Still, somehow, perhaps due to its 16,807.8 km2, this capital city of over 860 years, does not feel overcrowded. Traveling by public transportation is often another story, but just walking down the street, there is plenty of room for everyone!
Beijing sits on a flat plain with mountains to the west and northeast. Further to the northwest are the deserts that Chinese merchants crossed to trade silk, tea, porcelain vases, bronze mirrors, umbrellas, and paper along the Silk Trade Routes. The Marco Polo Bridge is southwest of Beijing. The Mutianyu section of the Great Wall is to the north, with Simatai and Huangya Pass to the northeast.
Autumn is a comfortable season in Beijing, and it may be Beijing’s finest. September is still hot, yet it is cooler and more comfortable than in the summer. By October, temperatures are cool in the mornings and evenings but still warm in the afternoons. Note that public heating is generally turned on by November fifteenth, when it is getting cool.
Beijing’s winters are cold and dry with little precipitation, so everyone feels excited when it snows. January is the coldest month with the average of minus four degrees Celsius. However, each apartment and public space is heated, unlike central and southern China, so it is easier to escape from the cold.
Suddenly, like magic, there is a quick spring in March and April, leading into a long summer. Summers are hot with temperatures in the thirties, rising up to forty degrees Celsius. It can feel like a sauna, but in the summer there are also more refreshing rain showers and thunderstorms. Beijing’s precipitation is the highest in the summer.
Despite Beijing’s struggles with pollution, there are also many gorgeous blue-sky days to enjoy. It is a myth that Beijing is always grey and smoggy. Beijing is actually a beautiful city with many parks and interesting sights!
Kindergartens are plentiful and always in need of ESL teachers and can be rewarding if you enjoy playing with young children. Chinese kindergartens are actually day cares, so this is preschool or early childhood education. Chinese children are also energetic and playful, of course, like children anywhere else. You must be creative, energetic, and flexible. A salary of at least 10,000 should be offered, with most ranging from 15,000 up to 23,000 RMB; however, at forty hours per week, this position requires double the hours of some of the other choices.
The standard salary is lower than some of the other options, at 9,000 to 17,000 RMB, but you will be able to enjoy your evenings and travel during paid holidays. You will have around three months off for the Spring Festival and summer holidays. Each week, you will have up to twenty or twenty-five teaching hours. However, generally, lesson prep is simple since there are standard textbooks and teaching materials.
Dual Degree High School Programs
Teaching American or foreign curriculum and AP courses to Chinese high school students is another option. Some of these elite programs are at Capital Normal University High School, Beijing No.4 High School (International Campus), Beijing No.8 High School, Bejing No.80 High School, Beijing No.101 Middle/High School, Beijing Royal School, and Beijing National Day School. While there are only around sixteen teaching hours per week, much time must go into lesson preparation at these schools because the academic standards are very high. The salaries should be negotiated, but range from 18,000 to 30,000 RMB per month.
The majority of university or college jobs are found in Haidian district, but involve traveling to other campuses on the outskirts of Beijing in the districts of Changping, Daxing, Fengtai, and Tongzhou. Before accepting a university or college position, do consider the amount of traveling you will have to do per week on the school’s shuttle bus. Furthermore, check whether you will be living in Beijing or in one of the surrounding districts.
Furthermore, the lower salary (8,000 to 15,000 RMB) is a tradeoff for teaching older, more mature students, and possibly, students who have selected the Arts and English, as their majors. Be aware that a university salary will not support a luxury lifestyle. Higher paying positions are available for teachers with Masters degrees.
The teaching load, of around sixteen hours, is lighter than teaching at a tutoring center or a kindergarten. There is also security in choosing a large, well-established school. You will receive several complementary tickets each year to professional dance performances celebrating Chinese culture. This is a small thank you for your dedication throughout the year. Still another benefit to working for a university is the large foreign staff. Each teacher will be housed on campus, so there is the higher likelihood of finding a friend who will understand your culture shock.
Northern Haidian is the hub of universities and is able to cater to its foreign students and teachers. There is a bustling foreign social scene with a greater variety of restaurants and entertainment choices. Meanwhile, southern Haidian is generally more traditional with a local lifestyle and fewer foreign restaurants. However, there are still excellent bakeries, cafes, movie theatres, and so on.
Private ESL Schools
Disney English, New Oriental, English First, and Wall Street English are just a few of the popular after-school English tutoring centers employing thousands of ESL Teachers in Beijing. For these jobs, the salary is usually higher, starting from 10,000, but most often between 12,000 and 18,000 RMB. However, you will be working on evenings and weekends. Furthermore, you may be required to work thirty or more hours instead of the sixteen to twenty that are standard at traditional schools.
An advantage is that there are many different programs to choose from, so you may teach individual students, small classes, young children, AP, TOEFL, or SAT to high school students, or business English to Chinese professionals. You will need a TEFL certification for most private tutoring centers.
Life in Beijing
Restaurant prices have risen as the real estate bubble expands, but options are plentiful in Beijing on an English teachers budget. You do not need to know Mandarin to be able to order food in local Chinese restaurants since most menus have pictures and English translations. Reading the English translations can also add entertainment value because they are usually direct translations of poetic or symbolic Chinese names. Still, it is usually enough to go on. Look for any restaurant that is popular with the locals.
There are different styles of Chinese food available in Beijing, like hot pot, dry hot pot, grilled fish, Sichuan, Xinjiang, Yunnan, and Cantonese. Jiānbǐng and bāozi are common street foods that can be had on the go. There are also multicultural choices like Korean, Italian, Thai, Indian, American, Mexican, and Japanese for a treat. In China, do not tip, even for speciality food.
Imported or foreign-style foods like cereal, pasta, cheese, and snacks are available at Walmart, Carrefour, Auchan, BHG, and Metro. Alternatively, fruit and vegetables may be purchased at a street or community market. Speciality imported items are available at Jenny Wang’s and April Gourmet, but expect to pay for the luxury.
Beijing is very dry, so drink plenty of water and apply hand cream often. Beijing pumps in drinking water from central China to ensure adequate supply. Some people may experience nose bleeds because of the dryness, especially in the winter. Take care of your throat by drinking plenty of water, wearing a quality mask when needed, and restricting exercise on heavily polluted days. Consider buying some green plants for your apartment, too.
Wudaokao is convenient for expats teaching English in Haidian district. The restaurants, bars, and clubs are popular with the many university students and English teachers in the area.
Along with cute speciality shops, Houhai, located in central Beijing, has many restaurants, pubs, and bars. There is a laid-back, bohemian vibe to the area, where you can even snack and drink in a boat floating lazily in the middle of everything. Grab a Yanjing beer and reflect on Beijing’s legacy as a capital city. Houhai is popular with expats and Chinese.
Meanwhile, Chaoyang district is filled with exciting culture and entertainment choices. Sanlitun is the classy area with high-end retail, multicultural restaurants, five-star hotels, and embassies. The 798 Art Zone has a modern feeling with sculptures, art galleries, tea shops, and cafes. Also, a night stroll around the Olympic Park is impressive because the Bird’s Nest and Water Cube are lit up at night creating a pleasant atmosphere.
Subway is the most dependable form of transportation in Beijing since the trains are not held up by traffic. Beijingers never know exactly how long it will take to travel by car, yet travel times by subway are accurate. Subway travel is also economical. There are nineteen subway lines, so it is possible to get almost anywhere by subway, and the system is easy to navigate. Announcements are made in Mandarin and English. Aside from the Airport Express line, fares begin at just three RMB and are calculated by distance. Buses are slightly cheaper, but are more difficult to navigate because the signs are in Chinese, as are the announcements.
Another option is taxi, of course. Taxi fares begin at thirteen RMB and are calculated by distance and waiting time. They are also more expensive at night. Taking a taxi is cheaper in Beijing than in many other countries, but the fares do add up quickly. As always when you are new to town, look for the driver’s photo and identification paper posted on the glove box and note whether the meter looks standard. Do not go with anyone who urges you to take their car, especially around tourist areas. They have likely weighted the meter. Beware of random private cars that operate as taxis. These cars are not always safe and are certainly not legal. Uber is legal and is an option, although, these days, the price may be similar to taking a taxi.
For long distance travel, there is an excellent system of high speed trains that is economical, safe, and fast. There are also multiple airports in Beijing, including Beijing Capital International Airport. Check your terminal, especially for domestic travel, since the three terminals are divided by airline.
No matter which type of position you choose, moving to Beijing is a wonderful opportunity to gain English teaching experience while encouraging some of China’s future powerhouse thinkers. Beijing is a huge, historic, but modern city, so, unlike a visiting Canadian who remarked with disappointment, “It is just a metropolis. It is not the mysterious, cultural hub that I thought it would be,” you will find it is an ideal place to begin an exploration of Chinese culture, history, and language, while also enjoying the modern amenities and easily assessable international comforts.
Needless to say, Beijing, and China, will be different from how you envision them, but every day will contain surprising, quirky experiences that are begging to be photographed and recorded. If you remember back to the beginning of this article, Ji was one of Beijing’s ancient names. Ironically, this Chinese character also means thistle, and you will step on some metaphorical thistles in Beijing—it is a foreign city, after all! Yet, you will also have the opportunity to learn more about Chinese culture, your culture, and yourself, as you develop professionally and personally. That has been my experience, and after ten years, I still love Beijing!
TEFL Teacher Review Scores
- ESL lifestyle affordability 65%
- ESL Job availability 90%
- ESL community 65%
- Travel on an ESL budget 80%
- Overall rating 75%
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