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Cultural Differences: Common Scams To Avoid As An English Teacher In China

In China, where I have lived and worked as an English teacher for several years, I came to appreciate the many benefits to live in China, and to earn an income in one of the most culturally-rich countries in the world.  

However, once in a while I come across English teacher recruitment horror stories on Chinese social media and from friends.  

An experienced teacher would know how to spot the red flags.  For those Westerners who have been offered jobs as English teachers by a Chinese headhunter 猎头)through LinkedIn, Facebook, and other Western social media channels however, the chances that an inexperienced foreigner will receive what had been negotiated in good faith with a middleman overseas are very slim.

Being Scammed In China

On a group trip in China, Guangzhou to Shamian island (沙面岛), the topic of being cheated in China arose.

I said, “You know, as an English teacher, I get cheated.”  

“How do you get cheated,” in a quizzical tone my friend asked.

I said, “You are Chinese.  You won’t understand.”

“How will I not understand?”  

“A Chinese person cannot relate with the experience a foreigner has who comes to China to teach English, only to be scammed.”  

How Foreigners In China Are Scammed

When he asked me to explain what happens to foreigners who are enticed to China to become English teachers, I gave an example of a Polish man who came to China to teach English, and was cheated by his academy.  I also gave an example of a British male in his mid twenties who was not even within the legal age to become an English teacher, who was asked to work long hours, and had to fight to receive his money from an English academy that threatened to dock his pay.

I continued, “Every single time I come to China and look for work as an English teacher I get cheated.  I am working in World International English now.  Although they are reputable, they promised me a full time job.  I signed a contract.  I worked as an English teacher for one day.  Then they announced I cannot teach until after Spring Festival.”  

My Chinese friend asked, “Why do you think that is cheating you?”  

I said, “Some agencies have contacted me in Australia through LinkedIn and asked, ‘I know you plan to travel to Guangzhou but can you go to Hangzhou at your own expense instead to work for our English academy as an English teacher?’  I reason with them, ‘No, I am destined for Guangzhou.’”

“Then another headhunter on WeChat asks, ‘Can you travel to Beijing at your own expense and work as an English teacher?’  I think, ‘No!  Why would I go to Beijing?  I live in Guangzhou!'”

I continued, “As a Westerner invited to teach English in China, often you have to purchase your own flight ticket to China.  Once you arrive to China, the English teaching job you were promised and the promised accommodation doesn’t materialize.  No one from the English academy shows up at the airport with a sign that has your name on it.”

“Ultimately, once you realize you have traveled halfway across the world on an oral agreement , you become stuck in China waiting for a job that never materializes.”  

Do Western Countries Scam Foreign Workers?

My Chinese friend asked, “Doesn’t that happen in Australia too?”  

I asserted, “No.  If immigrants come to Australia looking for a job, the bosses that give them those jobs are usually immigrants themselves.  They work really hard in that job.  Immigrants in Australia are paid substandard income, but they still secure a job.”

“In China, educational institutions and English academies will pretend there is an English job.  However, when the headhunter lures you to China with the promise of an English teacher job, the English academy probably already has four full-time teachers.”  

“The English academy will not push out an experienced English teacher for an inexperienced English teacher travelling from overseas.  The headhunters will try to trick a Westerner to come to China to fill up a gap for when teachers get sick and need to be replaced temporarily.  Headhunters don’t care about the foreigners who come to China from overseas.  They just care about their commissions.”  

Unable to comprehend the cultural differences, my Chinese friend replied, “Actually, Chinese people also trick Chinese people.  I think that is just human nature.”  

I answered, “This culture of luring foreigners into the country exists in Australia, but the sophistication with which foreigners are conned and the scale of deceit is an industry-wide practice in China.  Education is such a big business in China, and Westerners with no experience as English teachers can easily be attracted to promises of big salaries, free accommodation, and a full-time job as an English teacher in China.  Sadly, unscrupulous headhunters are rife in China, and that is why so many foreigners who travel to China have horror stories to share about the education industry.”

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Comments: 2

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  1. This is very true.
    Thankfully I’ve had a decent experience in my (almost) 6 years of living and working in China. I started with a company I knew would be reputable, Education First (EF). They are a well-established international English training school. That being said, the only official EF school in China is in Shanghai, while their other branches around the country are franchise deals with local owners. This can lead to some unscrupulous practices, but there’s a proper safety net in place for the teachers who are fresh off the plane.
    The vast majority of head-hunting agencies are absolutely terrible, with a few small exceptions. And many of the schools that recruit through agencies are either fly-by-night unprofessional or flat out exploitative.
    Any would-be English teacher should do their research long before agreeing to a job, and should absolutely secure all the necessary paperwork to complete their work visa (Z visa) before purchasing their ticket.

    1. Thanks Andrew. You have lived and worked in China for quite a few years. Undoubtedly your knowledge and experiences would be beneficial for others to hear. I have heard of EF schools. They do seem reputable. I am usually approached on the streets of Guangzhou by teaching staff to ask whether I would like to work as their English teacher. I also received referrals to good schools from good friends. I would be eager to know more about head-hunter agencies. My experience with them has been minimal.


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