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The Forbidden City, Beijing

For every rewarding and magical moment you'll experience in China, there will be a challenge to match it. While the challenges are part of the overall experience, we wanted to let you know some of the difficulties and differences life in China offers so you can make an informed decision about coming. The section below contains a lot of information about living in China. If you are considering applying for a position with Aston, we ask that you read this entire page before making any further inquiries. Even if you are not considering working with us, you'll want to read this before deciding to live and work in the PRC.

The Main Point

This page is mainly geared toward those of you who have never been to China. While some parts may seem negative it's not meant to discourage but to prepare you for the realities of living in a developing country. There are several things you should be aware of from the beginning - some of which apply to everyone living in China and some that apply to Aston alone. People living in China must have a certain level of independence or they are not going to enjoy the experience. Living here means you very often have to change the way you view behavior as it applies to rules of society and do without some things that we take for granted in the west. If you think you could have trouble adapting to living on your own in a foreign country or you have trouble dealing with new and odd situations then you should not be in China.

The most important thing is to read the contract. When talking to Aston, or any other school, read the contract carefully and ask for clarification if you have a question about something. If you don't like the terms of a contract then ask about possible alterations. Most schools don't mind being a little flexible.

The Xi'an Bell Tower

Adapting to Life in China - Part 1

Internet Access - Most schools will provide Internet access for their teachers and there are plenty of cheap Internet bars all over China. It is possible to have high speed Internet connection set up in your apartment as well. At times some sites will be blocked due to sensitive content or other various reasons, though all the national newspaper’s online editions are available, such as BBC, CNN, etc.

One of the things Westerners have to get used to quickly is the slow pace of Chinese bureaucracy. Its a big country with quite a few people, so things involving government approval can take longer than you may be used to. This will affect your life in areas such as renewing your visa, applying for a residence card, or waiting to hear when the government will schedule school vacations around a national holiday (i.e. when you will be able to travel). Please be prepared to be patient in such situations.

You probably won't have a good experience if you can't look at things from a different perspective. The social structure, acceptable behavior, and people's reactions will be more than strange sometimes. Standing in an orderly line for services is not common in China. When you want to get on the bus or order lunch at McDonald's people will jump in front of you, learn to hang onto your spot or lose it.

We want teachers to have a positive view of their time here and we understand that part of coming to China is being able to see all aspects of the culture. Everyone who comes here has plans to travel and see as much as possible which is 90% of the draw of China. There will be plenty of time to travel before and after the contract (pretty much unlimited), during your one week (half year teachers) or two week (one year teachers) leave, and during government holidays (Spring Festival, Mayday, National Day, etc.). You will have time to see everything but you are coming to China to teach so the students and class schedule must come first. A few teachers come to China expecting this to be a 'working vacation'. To the parents of our students, you are coming here to teach their kids and you are a teacher, not a tourist.

If you have any type of respiratory problems you should think very carefully before accepting a position anywhere in China. The heating systems for most apartment blocks use coal to heat water for the radiator system. This means that in the winter most northern cities will have a good bit of coal dust in the air. Cities in south China, below the Yellow River, do not have heating so in the winter they can get cold. Chengdu is the best example; even though it's considered to have a mild climate the winters can be uncomfortable due to the absence of central heating systems.

Adapting to Life in China - Part 2

Datong Teacher Apartment BuildingOutside of Aston schools there aren't many places where smoking isn't allowed. Don't be surprised if you see people smoking in restaurants or even in elevators. Most men in China smoke and it's considered polite to offer cigarettes when meeting.

Chinese buildings do not have elevators if they are 7 floors or less. There are few rules governing access so if your apartment is on the 7th floor expect to get some exercise every day. In many cities apartment blocks have a security guard/night watchman, and as with the vast majority of China are very safe. Note that in the city of Xi’an many of the apartment buildings are locked as early as 11pm, while in the rest of China you will have independent and unlimited access 24 hours a day.

While most apartments are well appointed the exterior of the buildings and the stairwells are not considered important. It's a little disconcerting when you first arrive and see dirty stairwells but don't think the apartments are comparable. Household trash is often left in the stairwell for the maintenance person to collect or you may just drop it on the corner on your way out.

For regular communication with home, most people rely on the Internet which is available everywhere. With the advent of SKYPE and other similar online communication programs, staying in touch with family and friends back home is basically free and extremely convenient. The old IP card system is a thing of the past.

Aston Schools do their best to help you adjust to living in China and there is always someone around the school available to show you the best areas for shopping, sightseeing, or relaxing. Still, there are several points that you should keep in mind:

What you do on your own time is your business but the social rules and laws of China DO apply to you. Just as in the west, the company is not responsible for you if you break the law or get in trouble. We'll help if we can but don't expect to be treated with kid gloves by the police if you are doing something the Chinese consider unacceptable.

You have to change your own light bulbs. If you need directions to a store to buy light bulbs then we're happy to help but sorry, actually screwing it into the socket and throwing away the old bulb is something we think you can do on your own. (Please don't laugh, this has happened a few times.)

The heating for most Chinese apartments is mediocre to say the least. Forget airtight windows and warm toasty floors, winters in China can be cold. Get used to wearing a sweater at home. Remember that everywhere in the southern half of the country lacks central heating, meaning that temperatures will be similar inside and out.

Yantai Teacher Apartment BuildingSpeaking of utilities here is a rundown of what to expect:

Our teachers currently have utility bills ranging from 70 RMB to 500 RMB depending on their lifestyles. If you run AC consistently during the summer and electric space heaters during the winter, you can expect a relatively high power bill. If you rely on public heating (the steam heat provided by the state) in the winter and an electric fan during the summer, you'll obviously spend less on power.

Winter - Almost all apartments in China north of the Yellow River use radiators which are controlled by the apartment block from a central source fired up on November 15 and turned off on May 5. There are no thermostats in the apartments and the heat will be on for a few hours in the morning and late afternoon. Further south many apartments do not have this type of central heat so the apartments can get cold in winter. While the local population is used to this arrangement foreigners who are used to climate controlled environments may find the weather hard to handle.

Summer - Some apartments have AC and some (older ones) do not. Just as it is with heaters, ACs are expensive to run. A utility bill can go from 20 RMB to 200 RMB very quickly so if you have one in your apartment use it sparingly.

Datong Teacher Apartment LivingroomYear-Round - Be prepared to receive "different" treatment as a foreigner in China. For example, you must register with the police upon arrival. You'll also receive a higher salary, better housing facilities, and have more individual freedom than the average Chinese citizen. Students are aware of this, and extreme tact is necessary when dealing with these issues. The public activities you engage in are very high profile so people notice, remember, and comment on everything you might do. Making a spectacle of yourself is generally a bad idea anywhere, but in China it can have serious repercussions for you and can affect every foreigner in your city. This doesn't mean you shouldn't enjoy yourself, only that you should be aware of those around you and their customs as you are in fact a guest in their country.


While the general tone of this page might lean toward the more negative aspects of what you can expect to find in China, keep in mind that the purpose of this page is to prepare you for all the elements of life here. You'll need very little preparation for the good parts, they'll pop up all around you, serendipitous surprises that will make your China experience one that you will find nowhere else on earth - one that you will appreciate and leave you with great stories to tell when you get home.

For more information on teaching in China please email one of our recruiters. Click on their names below to send an email, or speak to them on Skype now if they are online by clicking on the Skype link

Karl Shine
Eugene Joubert
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