Experiences Teaching English at a University in Shanghai

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Teaching Location: Shanghai, China
Type of Teaching Job: University (undergraduate/graduate)
Student Age Group: Young adults and post-graduate students
Monthly Salary: 26,000 RMB (~$3,700 USD)
Monthly Rent: 9,000 RMB (~$1,300 USD)
Living Arrangement: 1 Bedroom Apartment in the Former French Concession
Monthly Savings: ~15,000 RMB (~$2,100 USD)
Contract Bonuses: Airfare for one home visit a year (Economy+), relocation allowance, housing allowance, professional development fund, computer, mobile phone

Teaching English in China - Blog Story by Joshua Paiz

⋯ By Joshua Paiz ⋯

My name is Joshua Paiz, and I’m a language lecturer at NYU Shanghai, the first degree-granting Sino-American joint venture university in mainland China. Before coming to Shanghai, I taught at Purdue University, where I completed my Ph.D. in TESL/Applied Linguistics (ALx) and where I also served as the coordinator of the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL).

I was hired by NYU Shanghai in the Fall of 2015 because of my expertise in teaching second language (L2) writing and my experience with professional and technical communication. At NYU Shanghai, I teach a variety of L2 writing courses for freshman, graduate-level L2 professional writing classes, as well as the occasional humanities course on linguistic variation and creativity.

In my year-and-a-half at NYU Shanghai, I’ve come to love so much about living and working in China. In this post, I’ll share some of my favorites things about my job and the students I work with, as well as some of the personal challenges that I’ve faced. Let’s begin by looking at some of the positives.

Positives About Teaching English in China

New Opportunities and Possibilities

I would have to say that one of my favorite things about working at NYU Shanghai is the possibility that exists. We’re a new school; so, arguments of “that’s just how it’s done” don’t hold much water here. We’re in the middle of our start-up phase, and students, faculty, and administrators are all relatively open to new ways of doing things.

This flexibility has helped to create a great deal of professional growth potential for me. For example, as the first applied linguist/TESL Ph.D. hired by the writing program, I have been invited to give workshops both at NYU Shanghai and at NYU in NYC on working with multilingual writers. I’ve also been asked to contribute to the curriculum development at NYU Shanghai through the creation of three new courses: a graduate seminar on professional writing in the field of social work; a humanities core course on linguistic variation and creativity in global Englishes; and, our first introduction to linguistics class.

The Students

The second thing that I love about my job is the students. These students are excited to learn, and this manifests itself as an eagerness to participate in class discussions and activities. I find, even if I’ve had a horrible meeting—the kind that leaves steam coming from your ears—the second I’m in the classroom with the students those troubles melt away. Also, their excitement leads them to be willing to engage with new material and perspectives that other students might resist.

In my Language, Identity, and World Englishes course many of my students may initially not agree with the notion that there’s more than one English out there—and that American or British English aren’t the only standards. But, they’re willing to engage with these concepts, explore their potential and their merits, and where needed to push back on what I’m teaching. This is so exciting to me because it creates an opportunity for me, as a scholar, to gain perspective and to widen my thinking on my field.

The students’ excitement and high-quality work have also led to unique professional experiences for me. Currently, I’m working with some of my Chinese students on a co-authored paper looking at linguistic creativity in China English short stories. This would never have happened without their eagerness to engage with learning.

NYU Campus in Shanghai
NYU Shanghai’s campus. A second home in the middle of the bustling financial district

The Food and People

The third thing that I love about my job is living in China. Yes, there are frustrations and challenges, which I’ll get to in a minute; but, overall, it’s a great experience. For starters, the food is fantastic! Starting the day with fresh-made Shandong Jian Bing (山东煎饼), before hunting down a delicious bowl of Lamian (拉面) for lunch, then wrapping up with a Huo Guo (火锅) party with some of my friends from the city is a culinarily rewarding way to wrap up a busy work week. Also, I’ve noticed a willingness to engage in communication from the people around me.

Speaking even a little bit of Chinese seems to tear down some barriers between you and the people around you. I’ve run into many people that seem more than happy to go the extra mile to chat—often by making small talk while we walk to work or while we wait for our Xiang Su Ji Liu (香酥鸡柳) to finish frying up.

Challenges of Teaching English in China

Transnational Marriage

That being said, there are some challenges. I think the biggest one for me is that I’m in a transnational marriage. My spouse is from Chongqing, China and I’m from the U.S. We met during grad school—I was working on my Ph.D., and my spouse was working on their M.S. After graduation, quite accidentally, we ended up swapping countries. They live and work in the U.S.; while I, for nine months out of the year, live and work in China.

I’m lucky because I get to go home often and for long stretches. But, every time I must leave to go back to the office, I feel a pang of sadness as I say goodbye at the airport. And, from time-to-time, I’ll feel guilty for missing so much of their life. However, we both know that for me to get a better job in the U.S., I need international work experience. And, if we decided to make China home, my spouse will need U.S. work experience to command a better salary.

Language and Communication

Another challenge is the language. I speak a decent bit of Chinese. I can make myself understood, in a cute way, with my friends and with the service people that I regularly engage with. And, I’m getting to the point where I can start to make jokes and talk about what I do for work. But, working in an L2 is very cognitively demanding and, there are days where I’m so drained that I just can’t Chinese.

No matter how much I may want to go out shopping or to a restaurant, I just can’t bring myself to put together Chinese sentences. So, I’ll just hop on an app and order dinner—hiding in my apartment and watching American TV.

Yu Yuan in Shanghai at night
Yu Yuan at night, also known as the garden of happiness

Emotional Demands and Hot Summers

The final challenge is that living abroad is very emotionally demanding. I remember my first week here I almost quit. I’m a big guy, and Shanghai summers are just… sultry. They’re hot and humid. After I had arrived in Shanghai, I realized that I forgot to pack deodorant.

Now, I didn’t know how to find shopping centers in China—and super-stores are a rarity. I had no idea where to go to buy deodorant. Also, I didn’t know the right word for deodorant/antiperspirant. This led me on a 7-hour adventure in the city going from store to store asking if they carried deodorant. I’d usually just get a shake of the head no. Or, they’d ask me to write down what I was looking for.

Finally, one store clerk decided to dig deeper and asked me what I wanted to use it for. Not knowing what to say, I just pantomimed putting deodorant under my arms. She looked at me like I had a horn growing out of my head. Apparently, I had been asking for Febreeze—a room deodorant—so, she was a bit shocked that this plus-sized American would think Febreeze would be sufficient in the summer heat. Dejected, I headed for the subway to go home. But, no one had warned me that Line 2 of the Shanghai Metro during rush hour is… insane. I’ve never been so squeezed in my life!

Well, after this ordeal, I just slunk back to my hotel room, curled up in a ball, and slept through the rest of the night. After that, I was sure that I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t survive China. I couldn’t survive living abroad. I just wanted to cry and then go home.

Needless to say, I powered through that experience—and finally found deodorant before my meeting the following day. Now, I simply love my job. I work with amazing students in an institution that is very willing to try new things. One of my biggest issues with my school is that there’s simply not enough time for me to do everything that I want to do. If you’re thinking about teaching abroad, and Shanghai is on your radar, I’d say dive right in. It’s an experience that’s totally worth it.

Contact Joshua M. Paiz

If you want to know more about language teaching and life in China, you can check out my blog, ALx (Re)Coded, at http://joshuampaiz.com, or follow me on Twitter @jmpaiz_phd. Thanks for reading!

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John Birnie
7 years ago

Really interesting. And honest. I know that emotionally draining feeling from staying with my son in Vietnam. Different ‘Englishes’ doesn’t always get a good reception. Same for variants in Māori in my field. Keep it coming!

7 years ago

Teaching English in Beijing is one of the best experiences for the teachers who want to add weightage in their teaching profile and who want to earn a good amount of money as well. The teaching experience in China opens the gate for people who want to learn the interesting ways to teach a foreign language to Chinese people (www.teachinchina.cn).

6 years ago

This gives great information and insight to those who maybe considering teaching abroad. I’m quite sure that the separation can be very taxing to say he least. You did a great job at giving a global perspective to the experience!

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