Teaching in China: Spotlight on Ian Clogston

After graduating from UWT in 2016 with a major in Politics, Philosophy and Economics and another in History, Ian Clogston wondered what was next. Graduate school? But in what?  Work?  He wound up applying to a job in China teaching English to college students.  Now at Wuyi University in Jiangmen, Guangdong Provence, Ian talks about his experiences below:

It is one thing to know about language barriers, it’s another thing to actually experience it yourself. It is a lot more difficult to communicate with people in another language than you would think. It is also more difficult to communicate with people who already speak some English, which I found to be surprising. It turns out we use a lot more cultural references and idioms in our language everyday than we realize. 

Teachers are highly respected here. I feel like they almost respect me too much as I often feel I am treated equally, if not better than some of the other better-educated professors here. The school provides me an apartment on campus to stay in, and it sometimes throws little parties for us, like on certain Chinese holidays or the Mid-Autumn Festival. The city government even held a Christmas party for all the foreigners in the city; at it they served us McDonald’s. Overall, it is relatively easy to maintain a comfortable lifestyle here.

The students are very hard working.  They spend much of their time in high school preparing for the College Entrance Examinations which, for all intents and purposes, determines their entire future. They are under immense pressure to succeed in school. Children as old as 5 and 6 years old are sent to extra tutoring after school and on the weekends. There is little time for play.  Once
they get to college, their test scores determine their major. They don’t get to choose their major like we do in the states. 

Students spend a lot of time on their phones using “Wechat” which is an incredibly versatile messaging app used by almost everyone here. It is also essential to working in China, as Wechat is used much more often than email for work related communications. 

China’s infrastructure is a mix of first and third world. Eastern China has a very extensive network of high speed railway systems. People use Wechat to pay for their store purchases. China even has its own version of Cyber Monday, called “Single Dog Day”, which is on November 11th. From my understanding, Single Dog Day is a day for all the single people to “treat themselves”. 

However, you cannot use the tap water in China as it is not treated. The air and rivers in my city are fairly polluted. Many older buildings are in disrepair as well, and some of the roads do not have proper drainage systems. In fact, the students here call the school “Wuyi Venice” when it rains because the roads flood.

What really surprised me here is how people view their government. Most are actually content with it. Occasionally you’ll find a student who wants more political freedom but it is not very common. A good way to think about this is to imagine an iron box. Within the iron box are all the things the Chinese government deems to be acceptable, and most people in China fall within that iron box. The internet is still heavily censored in China, which can be troublesome unless you use a paid VPN service. 

I also managed to experience a little bit of China’s health care system and I must say I was fairly impressed — although surprised to learn that they do not have universal health care coverage. I injured my foot badly enough to require x-rays. I worried about the cost of these x-rays. Much to my delight, they only cost me $22. In fact, the cost of living here in China, at least overall, is fairly low. A basic McDonald’s meal (Coke, Fries, and Burger) costs about $4.50. 

 Overall, my time in China has been a very enlightening and rewarding experience, and I encourage those interested in a career in teaching to give teaching English in China a try.