Published: 11 October, 2018  |  Last updated: 12 October, 2018

Teaching English in Harbin, China


Report submitted on 20 Oct, 2017 by Paula K.

Teaching English in Harbin, China:

How can teachers find teaching jobs in Harbin, China?
Dave’s ESL Cafe

The main English teaching jobs available are:
Full time English language school positions, part time English language school positions, teaching at kindergartens / pre-schools, teaching at state schools, teaching at private international schools, teaching at colleges / universities, private teaching (not through a school, agency, etc.), Volunteering for non-profits or for-profits catering to low-income university students, such as Brian English.

What are the minimum teaching requirements?
Generally, a native speaker from one of the big six: USA, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Ireland.
Uni and HS jobs require Bachelor’s degree, TESOL certificate and experience.

What teaching requirements would you recommend?
Experience. You can volunteer in the states to teach ESL to get experience. I recommend a hand-on TESOL program, like Will-Excel TESOL in Harbin, a Canadian run, 150-hour excellent program. It’s really comprehensive and includes the TPR and communicative approach methodologies. It’s a month-long seminar, and after 500 hours of evaluated teaching, you’ll get a diploma in TESOL!
Also, a real passion for the culture is essential. You’ll have more friends than you can imagine!

What are the levels of payment?
Uni is really cheap at about 5000 RMB (approx. 724 US$) per month, 5500 (approx. 796 US$)with a master’s degree.
Language schools start at about 6000 (approx. 868 US$) per month and go up to about 13,000 (approx. 1881 US$).
Int’l K-gartens go upwards of 20k (approx. 2894 US$), depending. But these require you to be onsite 40-hrs per week and teach maybe 30 classes.
I work at a public high school and make 16k (approx. 2315 US$)with a housing allowance of 1500 (approx. 217 US$)which covers my rent. I work 14 class periods and have free time for private students, 8 of which are my co-worker’s children.

How many teaching days a week is normal?
4-5 days per week.

How many face-to-face teaching hours a week is normal?
20 hours per week.

What is the normal arrangement for holidays?
Depends where you work. I have Jan/Feb free, paid half salary during these times. I also have half salary for the months of July and August, which again, I have free.
Language schools vary, but typically hold classes all but the governmental days free. February, spring festival, is a week long event and often vacation days for language school teachers.

What advice would you give to someone considering coming to Harbin, China to teach English?
Be healthy – don’t have asthma as we hit the #1 most polluted city in the world sometimes. Over 1000 on the AQI. This is due to the heating systems and usually only lasts a few days per year. The city burns coal to heat homes…
Electricity is about 15 rmb (approx. 2,17 US$) per month, and I cook everyday!
Don’t be sickened by foul odors, because you’ll smell the WCs and garbage periodically! Also, there are some fruits and foods that just smell, well, yucky.

What are the positive aspects of teaching English in Harbin, China?
Feel appreciated for doing a great job!
Build confidence!
Get exposure to all facets of teaching: TOEFL, IELTS, adults, kids, uni students, high school students…everything.

What are the negative aspects for teaching English in Harbin, China?
Students have learned the F*** and SH** words and like to use them in class. (This happened only once…so make it part of your first day rules!)
Class sizes are unusually huge, like 62 in my largest class. This varies according to type of school.

What are some of the teaching challenges for English teachers teaching the local people in your area?
You’ll get used to the common pronunciation errors, though over the years I’m finding the general population has gotten much better at pronunciation. I believe this is due to early childhood exposure to English.
You will have too many offers to teach independents. Don’t undervalue yourself and don’t accept them all…you will need your free time to enjoy the city/country!
Students attend high school from 7 am to 10:30 pm Mon through Fri and keeping them awake is often a challenge. Use activities and games to get them up!


Living in Harbin, China:

Are there any visa or other legal requirements to live in China?
Oh yes! It’s an ever changing, tedious process. Don’t let anyone tell you to come over on a tourist (L) visa! It must be a business (F, but I believe this has or is changing) or teaching (Z) visa. Then the school turns that into a resident permit. In this initial phase of the process you will receive a foreign expert’s certificate. Be sure to take possession of this document, as the school cannot cancel your resident permit without it. Sometimes when you want to change schools the foreign exp certificate is lost!
Follow all the requirements: these change often and are inclusive of having your bachelor’s degree notarized BY THE CHINESE EMBASSY, getting a criminal history report and providing a health check certificate from you doctor which includes some odd tests and the doctor to stamp and initial each page of the report. Like I said, a little tedious.
The good news is, once you jump through all those hoops, it’s easy to turn your visa (which is actually a resident permit) over for another year.

What is the cost of living like in China?
CHEAP!! You can find spendy apartments (3500-7500 rmb (approx. 506 US$-1085 US$) per month) but these are new and in gated communities with a view. I have an apt for 1500 per  (approx. 217 US$) month and it’s a walk-up 5 flights. It’s in a great neighborhood with a night market (meat, vegetables and fruit) on my path to and from school! A head of beautiful and fresh broccoli is 4 rmb (approx. 0,60 US$)
You can find street food for cheap, too, though I cannot eat MSG so don’t. MSG is everywhere…I cook for myself and still save tons of cash each month. And I buy organic meat at Home Park grocery.

What are the usual accommodation arrangements and how can you find accommodation?
Uni provides a nice dorm on campus. Language schools offer free accommodations or a housing allowance. People will help you find a place. They’re super friendly in the north! Generally the housing issue is covered in the ad.
It’s also a good idea to talk about it in the interview.

Other than teaching, what positive aspects are there for living in Harbin, China?
High-speed trains!
Learn Chinese!
It’s SAFE. No one (save for the armored car drivers) has a gun.
Banks are open seven days a week!
Taobao shopping is amazing!
Beer is cheap – about 4 rmb (approx. 0,60 US$) for a magnum of the local Harbin or Snow beer.
We have an IKEA store. And Metro for western products.               Meet friends!
See China!
Meet friends!

Other than teaching, what negative aspects are there for living in scenery, China?
China is dirty.
Harbin is 300 miles (as the crow flies) from DPNK.
Harbin has two seasons, winter and summer. It’s fall and spring for about five minutes.
Winter is seriously cold; cold enough to play host to the Harbin Ice & Snow festival since 1985. It’s an amazing thing: the workers pull chunks of ice from the Songhua River and haul them to Sun Island where competitors assemble them (including a lighting system within each and every single block) to build ice sculptures.
Yeah, mighty cold. Sometimes as low as minus 30 degrees F!
Food safety is an issue, as is pollution, but they’re working on it! It’s not nearly as bad now as is has been in the past.
Students talk during performances. It’s just part of the culture, as is picking their nose in front of you and belching, farting. But don’t pick your teeth in front of them!
Stores close early, as do many things.
There are lots of fake goods out there, so shop wisely and carefully.

What advice would you give to someone considering coming to Harbin, China?
Research your area and school. I’ve had many different jobs here and have never had visa problems or been unpaid. Well, once I was not paid for a month, but it was partly my own fault…communication misconception.
Don’t sign on for more than one year until you’ve checked out the school and your coworkers, students, etc. You may end up in a district way the heck outta town and feel isolated from the goings on elsewhere!

What things do you miss most (other than family and friends) from your home country?
TV/movies. There are a handful of films in English, so I don’t get to be too choosy.
I miss Taco Bell and gluten-free beer!

What do you think you will miss most when (or if) you leave China?
Friends and the insanely cheap massages!

What things would you recommend to new teachers in your area to bring with them from their home country?
You can pretty much get whatever you want these days, though I don’t recommend coming and thinking you’ll get a prescription filled. I take thyroid medicine, and in China it’s in a box and I have to CUT IT to the correct dose. This is difficult to do because it’s a tiny pill to begin with…ugh. I bring enough for a year.
Same with aspirin-like products and vitamins. If you’re fussy, bring enough for a year.


About Me and My Work:

My Name: Paula K

Nationality: American

Students I’ve taught in China: babies (0-2 years), toddlers (2-4 years), pre-school / kindergarten (4-6 years), elementary (6-12 years), junior high school (12-15 years), high school (15-18 years), university, adults.

Where I teach: #1 Experimental High School of Heilongjiang Province, Harbin, HLJ People’s Republic of China. Teaching for 4 years.

How I found my current jobs: Dave’s ESL cafe website. Great reference and job boards!

My school facilities: Adequate. Broken podiums.
Chalkboards and chalk, not white boards.
One computer in room.
Crowded rooms.
No hot water for hand-washing


Do you teach English in China?

Tell us about your experiences – click here to submit your report about teaching English in China

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *