Meet Aileen - How She Became An ESL Teacher in China (And Why You Should Too!)

Aileen MacAlister
Career China Digital Marketing Manager
Oct 18, 2018

Aileen is an ESL Teacher from Scotland who has been working in China for more than a year. Check out the story of how she came to China and why she loves living in China so much!


How I Became An ESL Teacher


If you had told me this time last year that I would be living and working in China, then I probably wouldn't have believed you. Fresh out of university and enthused from a week-long design festival in London, I had my post-university plan all sketched out.


Life, on the other hand, had a completely different path in the works for me and, I didn't know it yet, but it was exactly the path I needed to be on.


After a summer of applying for jobs and either getting a polite rejection email or (even worse) no response at all, I was starting to get itchy feet. I have always had an interest in travel and I had even looked into taking a gap year between school and university, but settled on just three months volunteering in South Africa during my summer break instead.


As October last year came around, I was still no closer to finding my dream grad job in London. It was cold and miserable outside, and I found myself daydreaming of that summer I spent in South Africa. If only I could have that same kind of adventure again… Turns out I could, and by the end of the month I booked myself onto a TEFL Internship in China. The plan was to spend six months there, six months in Vietnam, and then to move to Australia and work my way around the coast.


If being an adult (because technically, even if I don't feel like one all of the time, that is what I am now) has taught me anything, it is that you can plan and plan and plan…you can plan your whole life, you can decide exactly what is going to happen when and where it is going to happen, but when it comes down to it, these plans are almost always subject to change! Well mine are, anyways.


I fell in love with my school and I fell even harder in love with China. Everything from the colour of the sunsets to the quirky little cultural differences between the U.K. and this beautiful country made me want to stay another semester, just one more. I still have so much to see and so much to learn.


So, my plans changed; no longer was I off to Vietnam for six months but I was moving into my new apartment on campus and being handed a new timetable, with a new set of students and a new challenge: teaching teenagers!

Why You Should Teach English In China, Too!


There are so many reasons that I can give when I recommend teaching English in China, but I will try to narrow it down to just five because we don't have all day!


1. Experience a Culture So Different From Your Own


If you decide to move abroad to any country, of course you are going to experience a completely different culture, but you won't experience anything quite like China anywhere else in the world. This country has so many weird and wonderful things to encounter; you will find yourself having about ten new experiences a day!


I love everything about Chinese culture, most of which I had no idea about before I came here. From dancing in the street to disagreeing over who will pay the bill, this country has a way of making you feel all warm and fuzzy inside every step of the way.


Learn more about other Chinese cultural quirks!


2. The Cost of Living


The cost of living in China is so much cheaper than back home! I can do a weekly shopping trip for around ten pounds at my local supermarket here in China - fruit and vegetables are so cheap it feels like stealing. I always try to take away plain rice from the canteen to use when I cook my evening meal because it's free – and so easy to chuck some vegetables and an egg into after a long day of work.


Eating out in China never costs more than ten pounds at a time - I've even found places where we can have a meal for two for under five pounds! Everything is cheaper here, even alcohol; a cocktail can cost as little as three pounds, and there are no entry fees for clubs or bars. I get my nails done every few weeks, something I would never be able to afford back in the U.K. but here it only costs about six pounds for a full gel manicure!

Read more about other luxuries ESL teachers can afford in China!

3. Learn the most spoken language in the world!


I think learning another language is probably a plus side no matter where you choose to live abroad, but Mandarin has the most native speakers of any language on the planet and it's pretty cool to say you can communicate with the majority of the human population!


Don't get me wrong - it is not exactly the easiest language in the world to master (don’t even ask me to read the characters) but living in China almost forces you to learn. I have never been the best when it comes to learning languages despite really wanting to be able to, so when I pick up on random words or phrases that Chinese people around me are saying, I feel like I have really achieved something.


My conversational Mandarin skills might not be 100% yet, but I can communicate the general idea of what I’m trying to convey. The longer I stay here, the more I pick up and it is definitely one of the best things about living and working in China.


4. The People Are So Friendly


It is impossible to walk anywhere in my town without someone saying (or shouting from across the street) “hello” to you. If you smile at someone walking past you, they will smile right back at you. Maybe this is just because I live in a relatively small town, but I don’t think I have been anywhere in China where the people aren’t genuinely friendly. It is such a contrast to back home where in most places smiles are met with a blank face at best and a suspicious look at worst. It’s just the British way, but I much prefer to walk through life smiling outwardly and receiving smiles in return.


5. Every Day is Unique


Teaching English as a foreign language to a group of kids might sound like a daunting task - sometimes there are days where I feel like I have no idea what I am doing, but then one kid will get it and suddenly I’m on a roll again!


No two days have been the same since I started teaching in China. I may teach the same lesson twenty-one times a week, but each and every class is a unique experience because each and every one of those kids has their own personality to bring to the lesson.


Last semester I taught first grade and I got to sing songs and draw pictures every day. Now I teach eighth grade and I get play word games and have conversations about zombies and aliens on the regular! Every day is unique and every day reminds me exactly why I love teaching in China.


Teaching in China Gives You So Many Opportunities


China has so many amazing opportunities to offer! If you are feeling like I was this time last year - stuck in a rut and eager for a new adventure - then I cannot recommend enough that you get yourself a TEFL qualification and just see what happens from there!


If you're interested in teaching English in China, check out Career China's available opportunities HERE!

For more information about living and traveling in China, check out The Ultimate Guide for Moving to China



Aileen is an English teacher living in the Guangdong province of China who loves sharing her adventures in China! You can read more about her experiences in China on her blog ( and follow her on Instagram: @aileenontoast.

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