Q: I want to teach English in China but I have student loans, how will I be able to pay these?

A: This depends on how many student loans you have. If the amount is not large you will probably be able to pay it while you are working in China. If however you have a lot of student loans (i.e. more than $20,000), which a lot of people do, you may be able to defer them. You will need to apply for an economic hardship deferral. The calculator takes into account the variables you will need to consider: total student debt, loan term, gross monthly income, poverty line. In my case I was not making more than $1,000/month my first two years in China and had $21,000 to pay in debt. I was able to get a deferral for these two years. The third year I was making more than $1,000/month and so no longer was eligible for the deferral and started paying back my loans each month. It worked out fine. You can defer student loans for economic hardship for 3 years.

Q: Don’t you need to know Chinese in order to teach in China?

A: Although you might think you would need to speak the language of the place you are teaching in in order to teach there, you do not need to speak Mandarin in order to teach English in China. In fact to teach English in many countries in the world you do not need to speak the language of that country in order to teach there. Students in China have Chinese teachers who teach them English and they are able to get detailed answers to some of the more complex answers you may give to their questions, which they do not understand. Your class is a chance for them to be exposed to a native English speaker and be totally immersed in an English-speaking environment. Therefore Mandarin is not needed.

Q: How did you learn Chinese?

A: I started learning Mandarin after I moved to China. At first I assumed it would be impossible to learn and had no intentions of learning more than a few phrases to get by. However, once I started speaking with people I quickly found that it was fun and kept trying to learn more and more simple phrases such as turn left, turn right, and I don’t know. I then figured my assumption was wrong and that it was possible to learn Mandarin. At this point I found a teacher who I met with twice per week. We talked about all the topics I wanted to learn about (eating, shopping, transportation, dating, sports, music, etc.). Then I would try out the phrases learned in class while I was out exploring the city. After doing this for 2 years I got pretty good at communicating and have improved since then.

Q: Do I need to learn Chinese before moving to China?

A: No, however if you have done or do spend some time learning, it will be helpful.

Q: How long does it take to speak Mandarin fluently?

A: If fluency means comprehending everything on every topic in a language, then even native speakers wouldn’t be considered fluent in their native language. If you are referring to be able to speak in a fluid manner on basic topics, then I think with the right technique you would be able to learn in 3-6 months.

Q: Why teach English in China and not a different country?

A: By the time I graduated from college in 2007 I had already traveled around Europe and studied abroad in Greece and Italy. I wanted to live abroad and since I’d already been to Europe, I wanted to see Asia. I considered living in other countries such as Japan and Thailand, but the program I found which sent people to China to teach English seemed like the best fit. At the same time there was a lot of talk in the news about China being a rising power in the world and so I chose to go to China. I still consider living and working in other countries, but the more I see of China, the more places I find I want to see there.

Q: What is the cost of living like in China?

A: The cost of living in China depends on your lifestyle and the city you live in. It can be as expensive as living in a city in the United States or Europe, or it can be a heck of a lot less. Your main expense is your apartment. When I lived in Zhongshan and Jiaxing, two medium-sized cities of a few million people, I was able to live in a nice one-bedroom apartment for 1,500 RMB per month ($200). You could find an average two-bedroom apartment for around the same price and split it with a roommate and then you would only need to pay half this amount. In a bigger city like Beijing a one-bedroom costs 3,000-6,000 RMB ($500-$1,000) or more depending on where you are in the city.

Your second biggest expense is food. Depending on where you eat and what you buy this can either be expensive or cheap. The average restaurant in almost any city costs around 30 RMB per person ($5). You can buy food at the grocery store for less. There are also cheaper restaurants, which cost about 10 RMB per person ($1.5).

Because everything in the city is built close together and the public transportation is sufficient, there is no need to buy a car. You could buy an electric bike or motorbike (you need a license for this) for anywhere from 1,000-6,000 RMB ($150-$1000) on the cheap end.

In conclusion if you live in a small city and have your apartment paid for, you can get by on $500 per month. If you want to live without thinking about money too much, $1,000 per month is sufficient.