So let me start by describing what normally happens when you arrive in China.

You read a lot of things on the internet about why you should never use agencies when you are planning to teach abroad. Some of it is true, some of it is exaggerated, some of it is personal opinion and some of it is nonsense.

Of course some agencies are better to work with than others and even within a single agency some teachers will find their experience is good and others won't. Everything here reflects my own personal experience. I am currently within my sixth year with them and that in itself should tell you a lot. I wouldn't still be here after all this time unless I was happy with them. So let me start by describing what normally happens when you arrive in China.

The Orientation Period

Every new teacher is met at the airport and Buckland staff driver new teacher to the offices where accommodation of a good standard is provided. Depending on which days the orientation course is running for a small fee a very good lunch is also provided.

The orientation is, at the moment, mostly done by me. It consists of sessions about living in China, working in a Chinese public school, teaching in general, teaching in China and lesson preparation. There is also a session on basic Chinese which is not given by me – even after all this time my Chinese is terrible. A good teacher isn't necessarily a good student.

The orientation takes about five days in total and also includes a short teaching practice (to real students) and your medical exam. You pay for the medical exam but it is the only real expense that you have in this period.

The orientation period actually isn't very stressful – depending on when it is you might get taken out to dinner, taken out for a nice swim in a secluded pool on the Yulong river, taken for a beer or an Indian meal by me or taken for a stroll around Yangshuo. When it's all over you will have a chat with Jennifer who will give you all the information about the school where you should be teaching.

You might need to pay for your transport to the school but that money should be reimbursed by the school.

And the next thing that happens is that you start teaching!

The Buckland Office

The Buckland offices are based in Yangshuo, where the orientation takes place. You may want to visit Yangshuo later as it is a beautiful part of China and during the orientation you may be too busy to see much of it. If you need to contact the office there are various people you should get to know.

For questions or issues about your visa or documentation you should contact Jasmine who will help you find your way with all the tricky Chinese bureaucracy.

Your point of contact about salary questions is Sue who sends out an email shortly before your salary is due to be paid to check if you have had any time off and to make sure that you get paid promptly.

For general issues about your school and life in China you can contact Yuki or me. anything you send to me that I can't answer I will pass on to the right person for you, so if you aren't sure who you need for your particular question just let me know.

Jennifer deals with recruitment and placement and will give you all the details about your school before you go.

The manager, based in Xi-An, is Frank. He's responsible for all the teachers in that area but from time to time the office will also consult with him on matters concerning other teachers.

Also, not based in the office, there is Ping who deals with initial applications and is the person you have probably dealt with when you sent your CV.

Finally there is me. If you have questions about your teaching – about text books, or lesson plans, or dealing with your classes – I'll be here to help you resolve them.

All the staff are friendly and approachable and everyone does their best to help with any issues and make sure that your stay in China and your work at the school go smoothly and comfortably.

Things to expect at your school

You won't be paid until the end of the first month so you should bring enough money with you to last – remembering that it is also the most expensive month as you will want to buy things for your apartment. So let me go on now to talk about apartments.

The apartment may not be what you are used to back home. Kitchens and bathrooms are always smaller than we typically have. Bathrooms are almost always of the wetroom-shower type and rarely have baths. The furnishing may also, as is often the case in China, be quite sparse compared with the usual British or American apartment. However you will see from the contract that all the necessities should be provided. If anything is missing then a word with your FAO (your administrator and school liaison) should get it sorted out quickly. My experience is that schools try very hard to accommodate your needs. If there is anything you feel is wrong then an email to me or to the office will usually sort it out quickly. One of the definite advantages of working with Buckland is that once the office is aware of an issue they will try to sort it out for you.

Documentation And Paperwork

Another advantage is in dealing with documentation and paperwork. This is China. There is a lot of documentation and paperwork and it varies from province to province and city to city. I have always found them to be very good at helping to get it done. Of course individuals may have problems because of local requirements and if you had to sort them out alone it could be difficult. This is, for me at least, the biggest advantage of having an agency. They understand the things that can happen and how to deal with them. In my time here I have had the occasional bureaucratic snarl-up but with Buckland's help it has always been sorted out.

There isn't much more that needs to be said about working for Buckland other than that they have, in all that time, always paid me on time, always been prepared to help me with any problems at my school and always listened when I've needed them to. And now they also have me as a first point of contact for any teaching issues that might arise.

There are a few other things I can say about living and working in China.

Where you will be based

Buckland places teachers in schools all over China. This means that you may not be based centrally in a large city. You could be in a smaller city without many other foreigners about. You need to be prepared for this. If you are expecting to be placed in the centre of Beijing or Shanghai you are likely to be disappointed. However it's my experience that if you try to make local friends and to enjoy the experience smaller cities can be very rewarding. People, especially your colleagues, are always friendly but you need to make a little effort for yourself too. Sometimes you will have other Buckland teachers at the same school or at nearby schools, but not always. On the other hand staying in touch using wechat is free and very easy so you can provide support for each other if it's needed.

Living and Working In China

Even if you are an experienced teacher you might, at first, find things very different here. To begin with you could have up to eighty students in your class. It isn't as daunting as it sounds and methods for dealing with it are covered in depth in the orientations. Also, if you were already an English teacher you probably taught the full range of skills – speaking, listening, reading, writing, grammar, spelling – but here your main focus is to teach speaking and listening. You will, incidentally, need a little of the other things to support your main role but that job is taken care of primarily by their Chinese teachers.

What can you expect of your classes?

On the whole, they are well-behaved and attentive but children are children all over the world and you may get individuals or sometimes classes that are more troublesome but in my time here I haven't come across anything in class that I couldn't handle and the other teachers at the school are always willing to help and advise you if you need it. Dealing with any problems is also covered in the orientation but it's largely a matter of common sense and not being afraid to ask for help if you need it.

What can you expect of your location

You may not have everything you would like but you will certainly have everything you need. Even smaller cities usually have all the shops to buy essentials – after all other people live there too – and everywhere has restaurants and coffee shops and bars because eating out and socializing is a very large part of Chinese culture. If, on the other hand, you are looking for western food or western style entertainment such as movies in English, night clubs or even just bookshops with English books, you are less likely to find them. You might in some places but usually not. Often you will only be a bus ride away from a larger city where you might find some of those things but again this isn't always the case. You need to be flexible and adaptable. And that brings me to the final point. What you need to do to enjoy your time teaching in China.

Making the most of it

Teaching in China, especially with all the support Buckland provide, can be a very rewarding experience and very enjoyable. people come for six months and stay for six years. But it all depends on you. Above all you need to be flexible and to be open to new experiences and other cultures. You need to understand that many things, especially bureaucracy and paperwork work differently here and not to get angry or frustrated when things seem to be taking a long time or becoming more difficult than you expected. Patience is one of the keys to thriving here. Once you learn that things are the way they are and that you aren't going to be able to change them then you can relax and enjoy your experience. I would say that the key things you need to bring to your role are patience, professionalism, flexibility and an openness to new experiences.

My Experience

I will finish with a few words about my experience of schools here. I taught in Baiyin for three years at various schools – Middle Schools 8, 10 and 11 and Experimental School. In all of them I found the teachers to be helpful and friendly – I still have friends at those schools that I meet up with whenever I visit the city. Things like administration and school events varied from school to school but I always found that by making myself an active part of the school life I got along fine. Classes also vary, of course, but if you have the help and support of the local teachers it goes a long way to sorting out any problems you come across.

Since I moved to Yangshuo I have taught Juniors and Middle-Schoolers at Yangshuo Middle School and again love the school and find that the teachers are really happy to help.

Both in Baiyin and here I have joined in with school sports days, judged school speech and dram competitions, helped organize student performances and a host of other things. I have had a great time and I hope that you all find it equally rewarding.

Good luck, and enjoy your stay.

*For new teachers who start late and miss the orientation period, one of two things happen. If they have time to come to Yangshuo I give a one-to-one reduced version of it taking one day. IF they go straight to their school and don't come to Yangshuo the information will be sent be email.

**Not a typo – there are a couple of good Iindian restaurants in Yangshuo and I always take advantage of the orientation periods to pay a visit.



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