Cultural Issues

Teaching English in China or being successful anywhere

It’s all about attitude. Period.

Someone on one of the Lonely Planet discussion groups a while back asked about  teaching English in Asia.  She had heard some bad things.

I wrote a response and related how my first nine months in EFL had gone (in Asia, but not in China).  Let me tell you the story:   It is not typical of first jobs anywhere, but it helps make a point.  In those first months I lived in eight different places.  Literally from a stairwell closet to a housesit where I wasn’t to touch or use ANYTHING to a nice house overlooking the sea, but with no water to flush the toilet.

Also in those first months, my contract was cancelled by my initial employer who decided to get out of the English teaching business (it was a popular Japanese language school).  Following that I was moved from one city to another for a short-term job where my employer routinely shorted my wages.  All the while my girlfriend (later to be my wife) was having similar problems and her employer wasn’t paying her at all after the first few months.

What a LOUSY disaster!  And this was back in 1992-3 when people actually PAID recruiters for placements!  Yes, we paid for those lousy jobs and all those problems!   Aaaaayyyyeeeee!

Was it all bad?  No!

I hope I’ve not convinced you to give up on teaching English abroad, because the good part of the story follows . . .

Well, that short-term job converted over to a nice college job back in the original city where I had started.  The recruiter wanted more money to bail me out of the situation THEY had put me!  I paid.  What?!


Because they found me a job with TWENTY Weeks PAID Vacation per year and a FOUR-DAY work week.  And only TWELVE hours of classes per week.  You read that right.  Yeah, that is the BIG TWO OH (20) WEEKS in paid vacation time.  So in the midst of all those troubles I went from ONE WEEK paid vacation to, for literally the same wages, to almost a half year off PAID and almost a part-time job.

This story is the beginning of a long personally and financially rewarding career in EFL/EFL/TEFL.   From 1992 until 2007 when I “retired”.  Fifteen great years of seeing the world.


Now . . . in the midst of all that, I could have demanded my “rights” – gotten overly assertive as some Westerners do in such situations, had a fit and quit and gone back to America – the whole thing a HUGE FAILURE and mistake.  “Grumble grumble, teaching English s*cks!”

But I didn’t.  I had the previous good fortune of two years in Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer and had gotten some excellent cross-cultural training.  I waited, watched and let things play out.  If not for those two first bad jobs, I may have never made the jump to teaching at colleges and universities with LONG PAID vacations.  BTW, my wife made the same transition and we taught at colleges and universities in four Asian countries over the next 10-12 years.  And we have had a GREAT life with lots of travel and even financial security.  Thank you EFL!


Back to that (my rights) . . .

You can decide what path worked best for me in this circumstance.  BTW, also back to the lady on the Lonely Planet discussion group.  In the posting I called those initial months a POSITIVE experience.  Why?  Because after all that there was truly NOTHING an employer could throw at me that would shake me up.  I would, after that time, just take a deep breath and see where it all went.  And it almost always went to wonderful places.

The lady on Lonely Planet said she saw it as a very NEGATIVE experience.

But . . . but . . . how could it be negative when it opened the door to fifteen years of great jobs, travel, savings and a wonderful life?


I hope you can see what I am saying here.  YOU decide.  You really DO decide what works in your life and what doesn’t.  And YOU make it work or not.  I’m not saying to call a pig a rose.  DO be aware of what is going on in your life, but do choose your battles carefully.  Let things play out a bit before bailing out.

Be patient, learn a few cultural skills and you will find a WHOLE NEW WORLD out here, just waiting for you.  And while you are making a success of it all, you will meet  and see others fall by the wayside as they exercise their “rights” and turn their lives into negative nightmares.  You WILL meet them and they will always be spewing their negative attitudes and ideas, hoping to poison you as well.  Don’t let them do it.

Don’t be one of them.  Come on board for a GREAT new life abroad.  It really is possible.  But just like with jobs “back home”, you will meet bad bosses, bad companies, bad situations.  And, just like “back home” you can overcome them with the right attitude.

Come on board.  A life you can’t even imagine awaits you.

Nike says, “Just do it” – and they are so right.

As you cruise this website you will find other pages that will help you learn how to deal with cultural issues.  Please do read them and take them to heart.

They can make all the difference in your new life.  I promise.