English Teacher as Celebrity

Teaching English in China: Are you an Average Person or a Celebrity?

[Written by an Experienced Teacher in Beijing]

I have always been treated as a foreigner here, no wonder, I am a foreigner here. That doesn’t mean that you are mistreated, but I have been noticing people staring at me all the time and everywhere I go from the moment I came to China till now. Nothing has changed for two years.

The first stage of my interaction with Chinese made me feel as if I was a famous person, a celebrity, as I was getting so much attention from people around me. I never had so much attention before. Even at work, in the classroom, be ready to pose in front of the camera, because Chinese like to take pictures of you.

And sometimes they will make videos of some parts of your classes or even the whole class.  Sometimes it could be very annoying, especially if you don’t just get used to it.

Then the next stage to get used to was the enormous feeling of frustration and irritation every time a Chinese person stared at me or said “Hello”, because it’s the only word of English that people in the street can say, and I’ve understood that they did it just for fun. If you start communicating with people in the street, in the shop or elsewhere, they will always ask you the same questions like: “Where are you from?”, “Can you speak Chinese?”, “What are you doing in China?”, “How much money do you get every month?” Here’s the most interesting fact about Chinese, people in China think, it’s not very polite to ask a Chinese stranger personal questions about person’s age or salary, but when they see a foreigner, they forget about it at once and can easily ask you about such things. Shall we consider this to be disrespect from their side?  Or just true curiosity?  [This phenomena is common in many countries where foreigners are not frequently seen.]

Well, it took me time to realize (the third stage) that most local people have never seen a foreigner in their life (even in huge cities, like Beijing, Shanghai, etc. and even after Olympic games, though there were millions of visitors in Beijing at that time), so consequently this is normal behavior from their perspective.

Once you have made up your mind to come to China, get ready for this!

I’m sure after a while you will manage to good friends with Chinese people. There are many young Chinese who have been studying English for a long time and have been exposed to Western culture to such an extent that while communicating with such a person, you will not often feel any cultural difference, as you usually do when you are communicating with people on the street.