When I dropped everything in the US to come to China, I didn’t have any clue what I would be doing here. I had a few interviews lined up, but it wasn’t like my company sent me on a rotation to China or I had already got a job offer. I planned on winging it and seeing what happens.
Well once I got here, I bombed all the job interviews. I even had an interview with a Big 4 accounting firm I had spent 2 years with in New York, but they rejected me because my Chinese wasn’t up to par (this was probably a godsend, since I heard from a friend that worked there that working in their Beijing office was like working in a slave shop).
So I went the route that most foreigners go when they have nothing better to do in China. I went and taught English.
The company I signed up with was called Elite English (精英英语). They used to be a subsidiary of the largest education company in China, New Oriental (新东方), but I think Elite spun off right around when I joined due to some internal politics.
I was getting paid based on the number of classes I taught each month. Each class was an hour and I was making around 160 RMB per hour (roughly $25 USD) but this doesn’t include the time that I was sitting at the office taking care of admin stuff or preparing my slides. Only time spent teaching class would count towards my salary. I was teaching somewhere between 60 to 80 hours per month, depending on scheduling.
The good thing about Elite English was that they had their own set of prepared slides that you use, ranging from beginner level English all the way to business advanced. So most of the time I would just skim over the slides before class to get an idea about the material. It was all pretty easy considering I had no prior teaching experience.
There were three types of classes that all the teachers taught: 1 on 1 classes, small classes, and large classes.
The 1 on 1 classes were the easiest. Usually I just chatted with the student about their topic for the day, and didn’t really follow the slides. Most times we wandered completely off topic, and just joked around.
For the small classes, I would have anywhere from 2 to 6 students, so I had to balance giving everyone equal amounts of attention, and give everyone an opportunity to speak. I think these classes were the hardest for me.
The large classes consisted of me giving a presentation to a class of up to 20 to 30 people. Elite also had slides for these classes, but they were boring as hell. Because I was a pretty popular teacher, Elite gave me a spot for my own class, and I had the freedom to prepare my own slides. These classes were also pretty easy since half the time was letting the students practice their English with each other.
But let me tell you, I got tired of teaching English really fast.
It just felt like I was fucking around and wasting time. I mean, I took it pretty seriously when I started; I practiced in front of the mirror before each large class and I think my presentation skills improved quite a bit, I learned how to break complicated things down into easier words for students to understand and I built real relationships with the people I taught.
But the work just wasn’t very challenging and it became extremely monotonous very quickly. You can only teach someone what a “spoon” is so often or how to make a sentence using “I’m going to…” before it starts driving you crazy.
So eventually a headhunter contacted me and told me about a position that she thought would be perfect for me. There was an opportunity at an investor relations consulting firm. I had no clue what that was, but she told me they needed someone with both a strong finance background and a strong grasp of the English language. That really did sound like a perfect fit for me, so I interviewed and luckily got the job.
Not only did this headhunter save my sanity, but she probably also saved my marriage. Before I came to China, I told myself that I could dick around for a year, but if I didn’t find a somewhat finance-related job, I would go back to the US.
When the headhunter contacted me, I was already in China for 8 or 9 months. It’s difficult to say if my wife would have gone back to the US with me, or if our marriage would have survived a long-distance ordeal, so in this sense, I was super lucky and I’m extremely grateful this new opportunity came up.
I definitely don’t regret the time I spent teaching English. I picked up some new friends and skills along the way, but it just wasn’t for me. It got to a point where I was dreading teaching more classes, and I couldn’t picture myself doing it for the rest of my life. I’m happy I found something else, even though I’m still trying to figure out what I want to do with my life, but I’ll save that for another post.