Want to know what it’s like teaching in China? Australian Brooke Wilmsen shares her experience about her stint in Yichang, Hubei province.
1. Why did you decide to teach English overseas?
I decided to teach overseas so that I could experience living and working in another country. I wanted to make friends and establish myself rather than just pass through.
2. Why China?
I’ve always had an interest in China. I learnt about China at university and studied its geography, economy and politics as part of my undergraduate degree.
I had also visited China previously. I longed to spend more time in the country and gain a better understanding of all that I had studied.
3. What city did you teach in, and why did you choose that one?
Yichang, in Hubei province. I had an interest in the Three Gorges Dam and this was close to the dam site.
Brooke's interest in The Three Gorges dam led her to teach in China (pictured: Yangtze River boat near The Three Gorges site).
4. What school did you teach at?
I taught at China Three Gorges University (CTGU) in Yichang.
I started there after it was newly established. This was a wonderful time as the university was still fine-tuning its English language program and how it integrated its foreign teachers.
5. What was it like there?
I felt part of the community as I lived in an apartment on campus with Chinese teachers as my neighbors. I was also included as part of the department and met some amazing teachers there.
My partner, Christian, came to teach in Yichang with me. This made the adventure extra special.
I enjoyed my time at CTGU immensely. The foreign English teachers were well looked after by the English Language department and I felt I learned a lot about what it was like to be a young person in China.
I still maintain contact with some of my students.
6. What were the other foreign teachers like?
They were lovely!
They had come to Yichang to further experience China and had a deep affection for the country. They were committed to the university and the students.
7. What qualifications did you need to teach?
Just a bachelor's degree. I understand that teachers now need TEFL certification for China too.
8. What were your classes like?
I taught oral English classes.
They provided a text book which I followed. However, I was also allowed to come up with some of my own creative teaching methodologies.
Some of my ideas, like rearranging the tables for group work or taking the students out of the classroom, were discouraged.
9. What were your students like?
The students who majored in English were by and large committed and good students. However, encouraging them to speak up in class was often a major obstacle.
The non-English majors were very difficult to teach, but rewarding. Many came from farming backgrounds and the majority were girls.
Brooke had a lot of female students in Yichang.
10. What was the best part of your experience?
Learning about the students’ lives. I also held debates and the students enjoyed this part of the class.
11. And the most challenging part?
Miscommunications and inconsistencies between the university and the foreign teachers. However, this was early days in the university’s dealing with foreigners and I imagine this has since been ironed out.
12. What surprised you the most?
How well I got to know my students, how willing the students were to spend time with me and to talk about life in China, and how much I grew to love Yichang and life at the university.
I also made many strong friendships with the Chinese and foreign English teachers.
13. How would you describe the province you taught in?
Hubei is an up-and-coming province with a cash-rich, urban middle class that’s developing quickly. It’s rich in beautiful scenery.
Hubei province has some stunning scenery.
14. What was your accommodation like?
Comfortable. It had all I needed, was safe and homely.
There was a full bathroom with shower, Western toilet and hand basin; heating and air conditioning (split system); kitchen with burner, microwave and toaster oven; big screen TV and cable television; washing machine; and a small balcony.
15. What did you think of the food?
Spicy and delicious!
The handmade noodles were my favorite, while my partner loved the hot pot.
16. Did you learn the language?
Enough to get around. The university offered weekly one-on-one lessons, which I did.
They were helpful, but mostly I just learned by eating and shopping.
17. How long were you in China?
18. Was it the right amount of time?
It was a perfect amount of time. It was long enough to settle in to Yichang and get to know the place.
19. Did you do any travelling during the semester or afterwards?
I was lucky enough to see the Three Gorges and the dam, Yangshuo, Lijiang, Shanghai and Beijing.
They’re all amazing places and a lovely break from living in the one place.
Brooke was lucky enough to visit many places in China, including Beijing (pictured: Imperial Palace).
20. What advice would you give to someone considering teaching English overseas?
Consider teaching in Yichang. The conditions at the university are very comfortable.
21. Do you have any other comments about your experience?
Teaching in China has been one of the most important experiences in my life. It helped me grow and become stronger and more capable.
It also strengthened my relationship with my partner. It was a wonderful bonding time.
China is an amazing place and I highly recommend teaching there.
Brooke is now a research fellow at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia.