5 Things not to do if you want to save money in China

It’s no secret that teaching English in China pays pretty well, and with the generally low cost of living, you shouldn’t find it difficult to save money while you’re here. But, we’ve all got that friend (or maybe you ARE that friend) who can’t seem to save money no matter how much they earn. So if that’s you, or you’re just looking for what NOT to do when trying to save money in China, read on to find out …

Shop constantly at the import store. Sure, you’re missing certain foods and drinks and it’s such a nice comfort to have something from home, but shopping constantly in an import store in China is a sure fire way to burn through your cash. Import stores here are much more expensive than the local supermarket or produce market, so you’re much better off spending your time and money there (and it’s way more fun discovering the local food and drink too!)

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Eat and drink at the expat bars and restaurants. Again, it’s lovely to be surrounded by familiar things (and sounds: hello English!) when you’re feeling a bit homesick, but these things come at a price! Expat bars and restaurants tend to offer great comfort food and drinks, but the costs of importing these can be high, and this cost will, of course, be passed on to the customers. My advice if you’re trying to save money is to cook at home, or if you are going out, to head to the smaller, local bars and restaurants for some Chinese food and drinks. It’ll not only be better for your wallet, but you’ll get to sample awesome food, practice your Chinese, and maybe make some new Chinese friends!

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Buy your clothes from international chain stores. Many people think that because much of the world’s clothes are made cheaply in China, that China must have incredibly cheap clothes to buy, but that’s just not true. You’ll find many of the stores you’re used to from home (GAP, H&M, UniQlo, and so on), but the prices here are pretty similar to those at home. Sure it’s easy to shop at these stores, and you’re likely to find your size and fit, but by shopping at a local market you’ll find much cheaper clothes, without the brand name. I love shopping at local markets for the experience, and a chance to practice Chinese.

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Run your heating/cooling all the time. With some bitterly cold winters and some steamy hot summers, it’s tempting to run your heating or cooling all the time in China to stay comfortable. Whilst, of course, costs of living are low (especially compared to your home country), using your heating and cooling all the time will quickly run up your utilities bills. Try to hold out as much as you can when it’s hot or cold, and put more (or less!) clothes on, or head to the mall where you can be sure the heating or cooling will be blasting during the uncomfortable weather!

*disclaimer: I am definitely an advocate of the in-floor heating offered in the northern part of China. Although a seemingly large upfront cost, it works out much cheaper divided over the winter months than using an air-conditioning unit.

Take taxis everywhere. Taxis are definitely much cheaper in China than back home, but public transport is exponentially cheaper. Taking taxis everywhere will quickly drive up your living costs (see what I did there?!) and you could be spending the money you spend here on a whole meal! For example, when you get in a taxi in Tianjin, the minimum fare is 9CNY. At a small, local restaurant I can get a plate of dumplings for that price! The subway or bus will only set me back 2CNY for the same trip in a taxi. So try getting around by walking, cycling, or catching the bus or subway.

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China is currently one of the best places to be in the world to teach English, travel, and save some money. But having more disposable income than you did at home can make it tempting to spend more of that extra money. My advice is to ‘keep your eye on the prize’ and try to strike some sort of balance with your saving and spending, and of course, follow my tips!

Do you have any advice on what not to do in China if you’re trying to save money? Tell us!

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7 Things that must be included in every teaching contract

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So you’re hunting for the perfect teaching job. You’ve nailed first in your Skype interview, as well as your Skype demo lesson, and now you’ve been offered the job! Congratulations! Next, comes time for the tricky part: discussing the terms of your employment. Negotiating a contract for any job can be daunting, let alone a teaching job in a foreign land. Sometimes it’s difficult to know what inclusions should be standard, what terms you should negotiate, and what extras you deserve. I’ve negotiated more than a few employment agreements in my time, and have had several teaching contracts among them, so here’s my advice for 7 things that must be included in every teaching contract.

It sounds obvious, but it’s really important to be really clear on the exact length of your contract. For example a school may offer you a 12 month employment term, but the actual time you work there could vary depending on things like when your visa is finalized, school vacation times, and school terms. So be sure when reviewing a contract and before signing it, that you know what period you’re committing to working.

Once you’ve got the job, some schools will put you on probation for a number of months before you’re officially an employee. If you have to be on probation, be aware of the terms of probation. Make sure you know the length, the salary you’ll receive (you may receive less during your probation), and what you have to do to pass probation. It’s obviously best if all of this is clearly stated and agreed upon in writing, in your contract, or at least in a separate document you and your employer sign.

Perhaps another obvious sounding one but, agree on your salary before signing the contract, and make sure it’s outlined in the contract. Many schools will negotiate your salary, so don’t be afraid to ask for more. When negotiating, ask whether taxes, or other deductions will apply to your salary (like unemployment, pension, and so on), as this will of course affect your ‘take home’ salary. Once you’ve agreed on salary, confirm how you’ll be paid and when (most schools will pay into a bank account, once a month).

Linking into salary and salary negotiations, you’ll probably be offered additional benefits as part of your package. These can include health insurance, housing allowance, monthly or quarterly bonuses, a flight allowance or reimbursement, and/or transport allowances. Again, after you know exactly what offer is on the table (and you’ve negotiated where you see fit), make sure it’s included in your contract in detail, so it’s understood how much, and when.

Try to be as clear as possible on the working hours per week that you’re committing to, and will be paid for. Of course, some extra tasks may come up from time to time, but some schools may ask you to work extra unexpected hours, and you may not be paid for them! So check things like whether overtime will be paid (and at what rate), if you have to go to events or training outside of work hours, and whether your paid hours include class preparation time.

Check that your key duties and responsibilities (or even better, a job description) have been documented somewhere. It may not be outlined in your contract, but hopefully you can have a documented referenced in the contract, or included as an appendix to the contract. As with any job, there may be ‘scope creep’ during the time you’re employed. If you have a concreted document that was agreed upon upfront, it’s great to have something to refer to if you don’t feel like a task you’ve been asked to do is within the scope of your job.

One last extremely important thing, and you might simply assume this about contract negotiations, is only sign a contract if it’s written in English. Some foreign laws will state that if there are two signed contracts, each in different languages, and there is a dispute, the contract in the local language prevails. Unless you have a local person you trust implicitly who can read over the text and translate for you, don’t ever sign a contract in a language you don’t understand, no matter how much someone tries to convince you to do so!

Of course you can’t foresee absolutely everything that might go wrong in a teaching job abroad, but if you think seriously about these 7 things that must be included in every teaching contract, you can sleep soundly knowing you’ve done your best. Also remember, no one has a right to keep your passport for any length of time once your visa has been issued. Now good luck with your new job, and enjoy teaching English abroad!

What other things do you think should be included in a teaching contract? Let us know below!

Written by the Travelling Penster

Teaching in Public Schools – What You Need to Know

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I know it sounds cliché, but travelling halfway across the world to teach English in China was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. Sometimes it was challenging, other times rewarding, but above all, it was an experience that created memories that will last a lifetime.

If you come to China to teach English through a recruiting company, chances are high that you will be placed in a public school. This is good news, as teaching in a public school compared to other learning institutions has far more perks than drawbacks, and I’m here today to explain what you need to know before you embark on your public school teaching adventure. Let’s get started!

Big class sizes

I know this sounds frightening, but trust me, it’s easy to get used to and might actually be easier to teach than small classes! Public school classes in China are big: they average around 45-60 students per class. Don’t let this intimidate you however, as bigger class sizes have their perks. If you’re not a morning person (like me) and you need a jolt of energy to really get you going, a big, energetic class will help you do that. It is much easier to be an active teacher when you can feed off the energy of grade school students hungry for knowledge.

When doing class activities in a big class, you can extend the duration of some activities to make sure most students in your class get a try. An activity that would maybe take less than 5 minutes in a class of 20 can likely go up to 10 minutes in a class of 50! In addition, a big class will likely contain a few students who speak English at a decent level, so when you throw out a question and are met with blank stares from 98% of your students, you can always count on those few whiz kids to help you keep things moving.

Short class times

You’ll be happy to know that an average public school lesson only lasts about 40-45 minutes. This is much, much shorter than my average high school lessons, which went up to 75 minutes! The great thing about having 40-minute lessons is that you can keep your lessons tight, focused, punchy, and energetic, while still giving everyone in class a fair shot at participating. With shorter lessons, you won’t need to do too much prep work as all you will need are four to five well-thought out activities that will keep your students active. And if a lesson isn’t going as well as you hoped it would… relax! You’ll be out of there in less than 40 minutes so you can go work out the kinks!

A (relatively) easy schedule

Compared to some training centres and private schools, public schools won’t require you to spend too much time teaching classes every week. Though it varies from school to school, you can expect to teach up to 17 classes per week, for a grand total (17 x 40 minutes) of just over 11 hours per week in the classroom. Often, this total is less, and you can usually expect to teach around 12 to 15 classes per week.

In addition, some schools won’t require you to stay in the office when you don’t have class, so you can head home and run errands after you finish your last class for the day. However, I do suggest spending time in the office to get to know your fellow teachers. After all, you will be working with them for the whole year and they can be great sources of teaching and discipline advice. And if your relationship with them is great, they may even do you a favour sometime (class swap, anyone?)

Freedom!

If you don’t like following a strict curriculum where you teach lots of grammar points you aren’t comfortable with, you will be well-suited to teach in public schools. Though some schools do require you to teach certain grammar points from their textbook, many of them give you free reign to teach whatever you like! This might be a disadvantage for those of us who would like some order or some idea on which to base our lessons. But for those of us who don’t like being bound by rigid rules, we can design our lessons however we like! The method I recommend is just to pick a topic your classes might find interesting and base your lesson off that. Then, you could throw in a grammar point, speaking practice, funny video, game… the possibilities are virtually endless!

You don’t need to speak Chinese at all… but it helps

Every public school will assign you a “contact teacher”, who will likely be a local English teacher at your school. He or she will be your translator/messenger for the whole year and will be responsible for letting you know about everything that may involve you, such as school events, holidays, or schedule changes.

Having a contact teacher around essentially means you don’t have to learn a word of Chinese to get by at your school. However, your contact teacher may not be the best communicator. You know that afternoon you thought you had free? Well your schedule changed and now you have a class at 3pm that your contact teacher told you about at 2:45pm. Also, your contact teacher won’t always be around to help you tell the printing lady you want 200 crosswords printed out ASAP. A good thing to do is to start learning Chinese and practice by talking to your colleagues. Bit by bit, you’ll be able to do things independently and you’ll have a much smoother teaching experience.

You’ll have to become a “Yes” man/woman

Likely the best piece of advice I can give you to make the most out of your public school teaching experience is: be involved! Yes, I know I said that some schools technically don’t require you to be there don’t have any classes to teach, but you should make an effort to get involved in the goings-on of your school.

Here’s the best way to do that: your school, like any other school, will have a bunch of events scattered throughout the year that you will be asked to participate in. That may be a sports day, a Christmas show, judging a language competition, or playing on the staff basketball team, to name a few. The best thing you can do is ask your contact teacher or your coworkers about upcoming events, and if they invite you to participate, enthusiastically say yes! Unless you have made other plans without any knowledge of said event, you really have no excuse not to join. Now, if you’re feeling event-fatigue and just really don’t want to do them all, just go to the most important ones (Sports Day, Christmas, and English competitions). I’m pretty sure your school will still like you if you’re “sick” on the day of the singing competition.

For prospective public school teachers, I hope you will have as good of a time as I did. What’s the point of coming to China if not to create lasting memories and an experience you will never forget? Remember to check out my blog, Country and a Half , for China advice and more. Happy teaching!

Guest post by Ivan Berezowski

Ivan is a writer/translator who spent three years teaching English in the bustling metropolis of Shenzhen, China. When he isn’t writing blog posts to help newcomers in China, he can be found behind a plate of exotic cuisine or hard at work saving money for his next holiday. Check out his blog Country and a Half (www.countryandahalf.com), or follow him on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram for more exciting information out of China.

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Shenzhen’s Beautiful Bay Park

8. Sunset Behind Houhai's skyscrapers 2

Before coming to China I expected to find thick clouds of choking smog and fields bubbling with pollution. Upon arriving, I quickly discovered just how effective the steps the country has taken to combat pollution and improve air quality have been.

Now, living in Shenzhen, a literal stone’s throw from Hong Kong, my preconceptions are continuously proven wrong. This modern metropolis has electrified buses whizzing between destinations whilst communal bikes from Mobike and OFO dance through pedestrians and metros rumble below ground.

5. A couple take in the views of Wutong Mountain and Futian's CBD

Shenzhen really does have an excellent, clean public transport network. The city also packs in plenty of beautiful parks within its limits which help to keep the air fresh. One of Shenzhen’s most famous green spaces is the Shenzhen Bay Park.

Shenzhen Bay Park is a coastal park built on a 13 KM long reclaimed stretch of land. Opened in 2011, this park stretches along the south coast of both Futian and Nanshan district, offering spectacular panoramic views. Look inland and you can marvel at Shenzhen’s ever-changing skyline. Turn around and you will witness Hong Kong’s many mountains piercing the sky. You might hear a gentle splash as water sways against the boardwalk, mixed in with the sound of chirping birds and rustling leaves. The park is a peaceful oasis, offering a welcome escape from the bustle of city life.

3. Shenzhen Bay Park, The Shenzhen Bay Bridge, Hong Kong

Aside from simply being a great place to relax, the park is full of people taking in the beautiful landscapes. Photographers frequently gather for misty sunrises and sapphire sunsets. There is plenty of nature, architecture and other attractions to take in too.

It’s not just photographers that frequent the park. The 13 kilometers of flat, uninterrupted pedestrianized walkway is particularly appealing for runners, especially when accompanied by a cooling sea breeze. Toilets and water fountains are conveniently scattered throughout the park  and there are plenty of benches and recycling bins.

2. A Runner Trains in Shenzhen Bay Park

If that’s not enough, the park is seamlessly connected to the new Shenzhen Bay Talent Park, which features a spongy 2.5km circular running track, showers, lockers and a children’s play area. Between Monday to Friday bicycles can be seen racing through Shenzhen bay but beware, the 15km/h speed limit is generally ignored. (Bikes are banned at the weekend and on public holidays.)

1 Shenzhen Bay Cycle Path

As brilliant as the park is, there are a few rules to abide by. Due to it’s proximity to Hong Kong you are not allowed to swim in the sea. There is also a ban on hand-gliding. Tug-of-war is also frowned upon, as are ball games, skating and hammocks. Whilst the rules may seem unnecessary they certainly help to make the park a more relaxing place. A quick internet search of ‘Shenzhen Bay Bikes’ will immediately show you why the rules are a vital way of ensuring the safety of all park-goers.

I am in love with this park and it has greatly improved my stay and general life here in Shenzhen. If you’d like to visit Shenzhen Bay Park, it is served by the Shenzhen Bay Metro Station (Line 9 Exit C). Alternatively, you can walk to the coast from Houhai Metro Station (Line 11 and Line 2 Exit G) or go to Dengliang Metro Station (Line 2 Exit C) for Shenzhen Bay Talent Park.

Guest post by Andrew Isles

Andrew is originally from Slough, UK and has lived in China for 3 years. He has taught English in Shijiazhuang and now lives in Shenzhen. In his free time he likes to play football and travel. You can check out his YouTube page by searching ‘BAIMA Adventures’ or following this link 

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6 can’t miss attractions in Beijing

Beijing, the capital of China, is an essential stop for most visitors to China – it’s likely if you’re coming to China that you’ll fly into this mega city, or at the very least pass through it. There’s so much to see and do there, it can be over-whelming trying to decide how to spend your days. Should you stick to the ‘big ticket’ items, or try to find those more unique, ‘out of the way’ sights? Personally, I think a bit of both will serve you well, so here’s my list of 6 can’t miss attractions in Beijing.

The Forbidden City

The Forbidden City is smack bang in the middle of Beijing, and an amazing part of Chinese history. Whilst some of it is still off-limits to the public, there is some spectacularly quintessential Chinese architecture and artifacts to see in this grandiose palace grounds. Some 24 emperors called this place home over the Ming and Qing Dynasties (mid 1300s – early 1900s), and it feels really special to wander around these once exclusive grounds. My personal favorite is the garden; after a few hours walking around this massive space, it’s lovely to relax in this green area. I can only imagine what it would have been like to sit here in the dynasty days.

My tip: try to find a quiet pocket of the garden to sit down and rest for a bit (and people watch!).

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Tiananmen Square

This is the largest public square in China, and apparently one of the largest in the world. The gate to the Forbidden City (the Tiananmen Gate, or the Gate of Heavenly Peace) lies to the north of the square and is where the square gets its name from. Here you can watch the flag raising ceremony at sunrise or sunset, walk through Mao’s Mausoleum (where the real Mao lies embalmed!), or visit the National Museum.

My tip: include Tiananmen Square in your Forbidden City outing; it’s easy to fit them both in one day.

The Temple of Heaven

The Temple of Heaven is where emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties worshipped heaven, so it’s a very holy place for many Chinese people.This temple features some of the most stunning and unique Chinese architecture in the city. It takes several hours to walk the beautifully landscaped grounds, and every section is quite different from the last.

My tip: look out for the elderly locals playing cards, mahjong, or dancing near the main gate; it’s a feast for the eyes and ears!

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The Summer Palace

Whilst it’s a little bit out of the way, the Summer Palace is an easy subway ride from the city centre, and is definitely worth your trip. It’s the largest royal park in China and is UNESCO World Heritage listed. The grounds have a delightfully serene feel to them, with loads of gorgeous trees, a river that feeds into a massive lake, and of course beautiful architecture to marvel at, including temples, pagodas, and halls. It’s quite hilly and there are some steep stairs to climb and weave through, but the views from the top of this palace are simply breath-taking.

My tip: wear sturdy, comfortable shoes as some of the paths are uneven and can be challenging to navigate.

The Confucius Temple

This is the second largest Confucius temple in China. Many people whole-heartedly recommend the nearby Llama Temple, and whilst lovely, my pick in this area is most definitely the Confucius Temple. The Confucius Temple is not nearly as popular (so there are generally far less people there), and it has a much more tranquil feel to it. Here you can slowly weave around the grounds exploring courtyards, the beautiful stone and painted artworks, and admire the truly beautiful ancient trees.

My tip: this is a fairly small temple, so relax and take your time to really appreciate and absorb the vibe here; it’s a lovely little oasis from the hustle and bustle.

The Great Wall of China

You can’t come to China and not see the Great Wall! Set aside a full day for this to allow for transport to and from the wall, walking up and back from your transport, and of course photos, a lunch/snack break, and exploring. There’s a part of the wall to suit almost everyone’s fitness level and taste: some parts of the wall have been restored, some are super touristy, other parts are quite ‘rugged’, and are paths less travelled. You can choose to either walk all your way around, or grab a cable car up and back, and walk a little less.

My tip: for something a little different, try tobogganing down the hill from the wall at the end of your day.

Great Wall of China

One last tip for traveling in Beijing: of course, it pays to check the weather and smog levels before heading out for the day, but sometimes you don’t’ have the luxury of time. If that’s the case, I recommend investing in a good quality face mask to filter the air for you.

So there you have it, my 6 can’t miss attractions in Beijing. Of course, with a city as massive, and historically and culturally rich as Beijing, there are so many more things to do there, you could easily fill several weeks with amazing activities! Hopefully this list gives you some good ideas, and at the very least, a good starting point for you trip to Beijing! Enjoy!

What are your favorite attractions in Beijing? Let us know below.

Written by the Travelling Penster

3 Fun ESL Vocabulary Games for the Classroom

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Teaching a large group of younger learners in a classroom requires a lot of patience, tolerance, and creativity. When designing a lesson plan for elementary school children, it helps to include some fun kinesthetic activities that promote movement and interaction.

Why kinesthetic learning?

If kids sit at their desks too long, they can often lose focus and become inattentive. Younger learners respond better when there is more variety and physical activity involved in lessons.

Plus, kinesthetic games can break up the pace and increase participation. Games and interactive activities can also facilitate language acquisition by helping students review important points learned in class.

Below are three vocabulary games for the classroom that you can try with your students. They all require the students to move in the classroom, so you should make sure that you have enough space free of any obstructions that could get in their way.

1. Board Races

Board race ESL vocabulary games are excellent for younger learners. Most students love board races because they can compete with their classmates. Plus, they get excited about not having to be stuck at their desk all day.

To start, push the desks and chairs to the sides of the classroom. You want to make sure there is a clear path from the far side of the room to the board on the other side of the room. Get the students to move everything. With their help, it should only take a minute or so.

Next, divide the class into two teams. For larger classes, you can have more teams.

The teams should form two lines at the far end of the classroom.

The first student at the start of each line must run (or walk quickly) to the board and complete a writing task. You can set the task to be anything that you like. For example, they could spell a word, write a sentence, or write the answer to a grammar question etc.

Whichever student answers your question correctly on the board first, scores points for their team. After writing, the students can return to the back of their team’s line.

Then, the next two students in the lines get ready to race to the board.

The game continues in this way until everyone has had a chance to play. You can have multiple rounds and vary the difficulty level of the tasks that they must complete on the board.

2. Memory Races

Another kinesthetic learning game that kids like involves testing their memory.

For memory race ESL vocabulary games, you need to make sure that there is extra space for the students to move around the edge of the room along the walls. They will be moving around the classroom in a circular fashion.

To begin, split the class in half and form two teams. Again, you can create more teams if the class is particularly large.

Next, assign “waiting stations” at different locations in the classroom. Four waiting stations are usually appropriate for most situations. For instance, you can use the four corners of the room. One member from each team waits at each location.

At the first waiting station (usually at your desk), write down five words on a piece of paper. Show the words to the first two students. Give them about 30 seconds to commit the words to memory.

After the 30 seconds are up, they must go to the second waiting station and whisper to their teammate the five words. Then, the second team member goes to the third waiting station to pass on the words to the next team member. Finally, the fourth team member from each team will eventually return to your desk to tell you the words.

The teams score a point for each word that is remembered. You could even reward bonus points for whichever team gets back to your desk the fastest.

3. Word Whack Races

The last kinesthetic learning game that works really well with younger students is the Word Whack game.

Before you start the activity, you should prepare a couple soft objects that could be used to hit the board with. You could pick up some cheap plastic balloon mallets from a dollar store or try rolling up some paper to form a cylinder shape. Whatever you use, just make sure it is soft enough so that it doesn’t hurt anyone.

Once you have everything prepared, you can start the game.

First, do a brief example for the students so they understand what they have to do.

Write (or elicit) a number of different words on the board. Space them out nicely in different locations on the board. You could base the vocabulary on different themes, such as nouns, verbs, adjectives, or a topic that you have recently covered in the course textbook.

Next, with the “word whacker” in your hand, say one of the words on the board and hit it. Say a bunch of the other words and strike them with the object so that everyone understands the task.

After the demonstration, call up one student from each team and give them their word whacker.

Call out words randomly that are on the board and the first student to hit the correct word receives a point. Give students a few chances to score more points for their team. After a minute or so, the students can return to their seats, then call up two more students to complete the task.

Other Fun ESL Vocabulary Games for the Classroom

Check out ESL Expat’s website if you would like other fun ESL vocabulary games to use in your classes. The site also features additional resources for language learning on their blog section, including teaching tips and personal stories about teaching English abroad.  

Guest Post by Paul Young

Paul is a certified language instructor currently based in South Korea. For other fun ESL games and information about teaching English abroad, visit his website ESLexpat.com.

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