Becoming an English teacher in China is most certainly rewarding in itself. But when your feet start to explore this beautiful and diverse country it’s as though you’ve walked into multiple worlds.
From towns with ancient ruins to metropolises with buildings that challenge to reach the heavens, it’s hard to choose where to go when you have a break from teaching.
But if you had to choose one, is it better to visit China’s cities or villages?
City life in China – all the modern conveniences
There is no question that China has cities to rival London and New York. With dazzling lights, cuisine from around the world, and enough shopping to exhaust the most trend-committed of us, it’s no wonder China’s cities have such an international pull.
One of the benefits of teaching English in China is that many of your usual outgoing costs are covered by your employer. Apartments, return flights and medical insurance are just some of the few things you don’t have to worry about.
With so much being taken care of for you and eating in China being relatively cheap, you can save plenty of money for travel while you teach.
In the big cities you may want to spend more money than is needed. If you’re in Shanghai, for example, you may want cocktails through the night and a new wardrobe to match!
Positives of city trips
Having the opportunity to teach in China is amazing. What you learn about yourself and another culture enriches your entire life. But for most it does mean being far from home.
China’s cities give you back that little bit of home that all English teachers find themselves craving now and again. Being in Shanghai, the architecture is so familiar to London that you could confuse what street you are really walking down.
Classic Shanghai architecture.
You will find all the stores and all the food you know. You can indulge in every possible Western comfort that you’ve been lacking. And with so many domestic flights available, getting to these cities is fairly easy regardless of where you are based.
Negatives of city trips
The one thing about indulging in home comforts is you stay in your comfort zone. I remember being in Shanghai and only really meeting other foreigners, not locals. Everything is easy, and if that’s what you are looking for then it’s perfect.
Cities are obviously more expensive. What you spend on a weekend trip to Beijing could be a few weekends spent in more rural areas. You’ll have the savings to explore but why explore one place when you can discover many?
Rural life in China – getting out of your comfort zone
For me, I’m a wanderer. How else did I end up teaching English in China?
Don’t get me wrong – I’ve done my share of cities in China, but there is nothing like getting out of your comfort zone and landing in a village.
Depending on how rural you go, speaking Mandarin won’t necessarily help you here. The village dialects are so different that you would have had to of been raised there to know it.
A Chinese villager.
The people are warm although surprised to see a foreigner. Don’t be put off by the staring though. Smile and you’ll most likely find yourself sipping tea with the locals.
The lifestyle is humble. The people live off the land. Although it may seem like they don’t have much, they share everything. Seeing this side of China is the most beautiful part of this whole experience for me.
Positives of village trips
You realize how adaptable you really are. You really don’t need very much in this world but in Western culture it’s very easy to forget that. Being surrounded by a humble environment awakens you to it.
You will have the most interesting interactions in a place where you can’t speak to people. In Shawan village, outside of Yangshuo, I was clearly an unfamiliar guest. I became the Pied Piper for the local children!
The landscape and scenery are the most captivating you’ll ever find. Sure, skyscrapers are impressive but untouched rural China is uncomparable.
Shawan village near Yangshuo, Guangxi province.
Negatives of village trips
They are by far more challenging to get to. It will take a flight, several buses and perhaps a tuk-tuk to get there but I promise it is totally worth it.
If you aren’t comfortable in your own company it can be a little lonely as it is harder to find locals you can communicate with. But remember, nothing goes further than a smile.
Try and be prepared. Finding cash machines and your favorite brand of shampoo isn’t exactly going to be a walk in the park!
Cities or villages in China? My verdict
So is it better to visit China’s cities or villages?
Villages. All the way. If you find yourself teaching in China or just as a visitor, explore!
Traveling and discovering a country like China that has such a rich history means getting out of your comfort zone and diving into the unknown.
Forget being a tourist. Be an adventurer!
Do you agree with teacher Sarah? Are China's villages better than its cities? Have your say below.