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roddy

Advice for gap-year 18-year-olds

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roddy

I got asked to offer some advice to a family that's looking at a 'volunteer teach in Chinese kindergarten' type gap year for an 18-year-old. Wrote up the below, but will be interested to see what people think. I'm not going to name the program, but roughly £2,000 costs, 2000Y monthly stipend, 4-5 months in country. My first instinct is always a 'no', but if you're 18, have the money, and fancy an well-informed adventure, I can't really see why not...

 

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I don't have a lot of recent info on these programs, so this is mostly based on speaking to people who've done them before. If they can put you in touch with recent participants, or you can track some down, that'll be much more valuable info. 
 
The teaching aspect can sometimes be quite unrewarding. People can end up in a kindergarten which wants to have visible foreign teachers to impress parents, but isn't bothered about whether they teach well or not. At an extreme, I've spoken to people who were told to be in the playground when kids were being dropped off and picked up, but never required to step inside a classroom. It's very much luck of the draw on where you get placed. 
 
The costs involved leave a bad taste in the mouth. There's little doubt in my mind that money's being taken at both ends here - you'll be paying the program fee and visa fees (which would usually be covered by the employer), and alongside whatever stipend the teachers get, the schools will also be paying the agency or their Beijing partners. However, at this age / level of experience, it's not unusual. 
 
I'd  be interested to know if they're placing folk in private or state schools. State schools could at least plausibly need 'volunteer' teachers. Private ones shouldn't. I'm not even sure there are state kindergartens. 
 
It does look like they'll be getting proper work visas (the criminal record check they say you need is only required for a work visa). This is preferable to a business or tourist visa, neither of which should be used for employment. Be wary of any attempts to get you to 'come on a tourist visa and we'll change it when you get here'. 
 
Generally, have low expectations and be prepared to make the most of what you get. There's no indication of where people are being placed, and China has a LOT of small industrial towns which won't necessarily be that interesting. Promised perks like language or cultural classes can fail to materialize, or end up being quite perfunctory. But send her armed with a guide book and a phrasebook and she can have a grand old time.
 
That probably all sounds fairly negative, and I am generally dubious about China gap years. There's a pretty standard 'degree and two years experience' requirement for teaching in China these days ( compare https://www.tefl.com/job-seeker/jobpage.html?jobId=157142&countryId=44 for example, and note pay and conditions), which leads to the question 'why aren't these schools the same?'
 
But if the schools were sticking to that, she wouldn't be eligible. Overall, I'd say if she's keen and aware of potential pitfalls, and you're happy with the company's chat (ask them what problems they have, and why people drop out halfway, because there's no way some people don't), then go for it.
 
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ChTTay

I had a good experience with the company GVI in 2011! It was a “volunteer-but-actually-pay” to teach abroad deal in Laos. 

 

I am equally dubious about coming to China to do this for the same reasons you list. I looked at Chins in 2011 as well and found nothing that I was comfortable with. 

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thechamp

Ummm, why?! Surely the unis are cheaper than that still and you can also teach on the side? Just do a year studying (maybe as little as possible to retain the student visa) and then teach illegally (as so many do/did when I was there?)

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mungouk

Well due to the current regulations you wouldn't be eligible for a work visa (Z visa) to teach unless you have a TEFL qualification or 2 years' teaching experience and are a native speaker.  As an 18 year old this sounds unlikely.

 

I read recently that the F Visa, "Issued to those who intend to go to China for exchanges, visits, study tours and other activities", can be issued for volunteer work but can't find whether that has to be unpaid or not.

 

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roddy

Maybe it is an F visa they're putting them on, although I still suspect the right connections in the right place will get you the work visa. But apparently they need a criminal record check and there's an official invitation letter, which made me think work visa. 

18 minutes ago, thechamp said:

Ummm, why?!

I don't know, it's not me. Off the top of my head, maybe it's someone who likes the idea of teaching kids and doesn't want to be looking around for their own work when they've only got half a year. Etc. 

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ChTTay
1 hour ago, roddy said:

I don't know, it's not me. Off the top of my head, maybe it's someone who likes the idea of teaching kids and doesn't want to be looking around for their own work when they've only got half a year. Etc. 

GVI was always expensive but well run (HQ in the U.K.) and flexible. Could check them out? 

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Shelley
1 hour ago, mungouk said:

volunteer work but can't find whether that has to be unpaid or not.

 

Surely as "volunteer work" it has to be unpaid, thats the definition of volunteer.

 

1 hour ago, thechamp said:

then teach illegally

I think this is terrible advice to give a wet behind the ears 18 year old.

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Jan Finster

@Roddy: I agree with your text, maybe with the exception of requiring a degree +2 years of experience in order to teach at a kindergarden. I could imagine the 18 year-old will be an "assistant teacher" and not left alone with the kids. When I was 18 years old, I spent a year at a school for mentally handicapped children in Germany with zero prior teaching experience. I was basically a helping hand and assisted in the teaching. I got 800€/month. Paying 2000/months would be the deal-breaker for me. This is not a third-world country! 

I would rather study Chinese in China for a year and most likely spend less money. 

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thechamp

Shelley I don't mean do something deliberately illegal. I mean basically don't teach within the traditional regulations.

 

If 2nd and 3rd tier cities are still as they were 5 years ago then about half the foreign teachers in those cities are teaching 'illegally' on a casual basis. It's so common it's not really illegal or even really frowned upon.

 

When I lived in Luzhou in Sichuan I had an Italian friend who was an electrical engineer. He told me at some point after I left that a weird thing had happened where nearly 'all' the foreigners were kicked out of China for a while to try to force the schools to follow proper immigration policy on hiring foreign teachers because almost none of them were. It was actually difficult to teach there legally! 

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mungouk
5 minutes ago, thechamp said:

If 2nd and 3rd tier cities are still as they were 5 years ago then about half the foreign teachers in those cities are teaching 'illegally' on a casual basis.

 

The news (and this forum) has been full of recent stories of how the MOE is clamping down on foreign teachers who aren't qualified to teach.

 

Whether this is affecting people teaching as a "side hustle" is another question I guess. 

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roddy
12 minutes ago, thechamp said:

Shelley I don't mean do something deliberately illegal. I mean basically don't teach within the traditional regulations.

Ah, I'm sure that'll make perfect sense to the police.

 

The advice you *should* be giving is to stick to private lessons and stay out of schools so you don't get caught when the police do checks.

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歐博思

Seems like a terrible idea to me for two reasons. Number 1 is that they could be in a more culturally stimulating environment if they attended a Chinese university, preferably on scholarship of some kind and thus saving money.

 

Number 2 is that the kid won't really be able to start gaining any real semblance of independence making only 2000 RMB per month. They'd be sucking hard off the teat of someone. Way too safe of a choice. And on top of that the teat would be paying 2000 pounds for this "privilege" of teaching Chinese kids for 2000 RMB.

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roddy

Not convinced (although nor do I want to give the impression I'm a massive fan of these programs). Someone who wants a break from studying after doing their A levels and ends up in a badly taught university class full of other English speakers is going to get much less cultural stimulation (whatever that is) than someone who's interested in early years education and ends up in a reasonably well-run kindergarten.

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歐博思

Maybe I was just lucky, but when took the Tsinghua Chinese language program, there were lots of classmates from Japan, Korea, Thailand, etc. More often than not, the default language for us when we were together was Chinese.

 

1 hour ago, roddy said:

English speakers is going to get much less cultural stimulation (whatever that is)

What do you mean whatever that is? 😅 Different cultures do things differently. You don't find learning about these things interesting? You being the Forumer-In-Chief here where we talk about these things all day, I find that highly unlikely.

 

If you are around Chinese people all day at a kindergarten, you'd have the Chinese cultural experience, but you'd have to actively search out that many international people, whereas in a university environment you don't have to try so hard to get this. 

 

I think the international blend is more interesting than just purely Chinese. YMMV.

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