What if I am not young, white, thin, blonde, native-speaking, straight, or ?
What if I am not the “standard” person China’s EFL Schools seem to be looking for?
Yes, it is still common in the ESL business in China for some schools to want to hire blond, blue-eyed, young, thin and straight native-speakers. But, you will also find a very wide variety of people in China. Schools often have an “ideal” candidate – a stereotype if you will – in mind.
The reality is that there is just not enough of that stereotype to go around and the EFL schools find themselves very happy (and lucky!) to hire those of us who don’t fit the stereotype.
What if I am over 30, 40 or even 60 years of age?
I started teaching English in Asia at age 41, one month before my 42nd birthday. I had grayish hair and a white beard at the time. Right now, at age 57 and with thinning white hair, I still wouldn’t have trouble finding a good job. I have worked with people over 60 years old and even met a teacher over 70! Different countries may have age limits, ask before you go.
Don’t allow your age to limit your goals. Luckily, us older folks aren’t usually asked to teach kindergarten (thank God!). If you are older, your broader life and work experience will often work to your advantage – don’t be afraid to use it.
What if I am not “white”?
Most countries are beginning to realize that the UK, Australia, the USA, Canada, New Zealand, South Africa and other countries that speak English as their first language are nations of immigrants and not “lily white” countries. Recently, I have seen Chinese-Canadians, Hispanic-Americans, Black-Americans and just about every other kind of “ethnic mix” you might think of. While it might take you just a bit longer to find the right employer – you really don’t want to work for the narrow-minded employers who would rule you out anyway. Persist and you will find the job you want.
What about gay or lesbian or other “non-straight” people?
Many cultures are bit more reserved than Western countries about sexuality issues. While alternative lifestyles, preferences, etc. certainly exist – they are sometimes hidden and not openly talked about. Most people find they need to be a little more discreet overseas than back home. But, this is not always true. Discussion boards at ELT World and TESALL can help you find out the best approach where you want to go. Generally speaking, it won’t come up, unless you bring it up – so it shouldn’t get in the way of landing, or keeping, a TEFL job overseas.
The whole point of this first half of the page is to say that anything about you that you might be concerned about should not really be a worry. Generally, you’ll find people very encouraging – and you’ll often hear from others just like you.
Is appearance important in ESL Schools in China?
What about tattoos or piercings?
As discussed in other places on this website, teaching tends to be a more respected occupation in China than in Western countries. And, as such, schools often have a strong opinion about your appearance and how they would like it to be.
In Western culture, we tend to pride ourselves on the “rebel billionaire” look, and we know that dress and appearance really don’t measure the quality of our character. But in many other cultures appearance is paramount.
A Cultural Lesson
In one Asian country, just as one example, a common saying is, “The first impression is everything.” Appearances are critical in many cultures. When I lived in Africa I would sometimes be surprised to see a man come out of his mud hut wearing a three-piece suit!
Dress nicely and professionally. It’s not difficult and will enhance your opportunities.
Our ideals are often not theirs. Play along, do what is required. Wear the slacks and tie. It is the gateway to so much more.
Tattoos, Piercings and More
Keep them out of sight. In much of Asia, tattoos are symbols of the yakuza or mafia. Yes, more and more young Asians have tattoos these days, but they generally aren’t teachers. As a teacher and as a foreigner you can expect to be closely observed, judged, commented on and just generally the butt of gossip. Get used to it, understand it, and deal with it appropriately.
I know for many people showing such things off is a matter of pride and principle. They feel they should be accepted for who and what they are. But other cultures often don’t often have the same idea. In China, they would like you to conform to their ideals. You will, I promise, limit your career and opportunities [in many countries] if you are not discreet.
As I wrote above: Play along, it is the gateway to so much more.