Although in this very competitive country – China, people do everything it takes to break through in business, I am very strongly against malpractices like bribery, dishonesty, discrimination, etc.
1. It is wrong to think that an English teacher MUST be a native English speaker. (Being a native speaker of a language doesn’t qualify one enough to teach that language.)
2. It is even worse to think that an English teacher must be a white man from some shortlisted countries. (Teaching a language has nothing to do with the colour of one’s skin)
3. It is wrong to think that people whose first language is not English can’t teach English. (Some of the best ESL teachers, trainers and ESL course book writers are not native English speakers. Not all Americans, British, Australians, etc are native English speakers.)
Unfortunately, this is the mentality, less educated, ignorant and sometimes purely prejudiced persons have and pass on to the younger generation. We are not simply English teachers. We are educators and models. It is our duty to correct this way of thinking instead of encouraging it by getting involved in bribery and lies about people’s origins and identities. By doing so, educators that we are, help in promoting social evils like racism, discrimination and prejudice. We ought to prove the society wrong.
My story: (A little long, read if you have the patience).
When I arrived in China many years back I was shocked at the prejudiced ads online with phrases like ‘whites only’ ‘No Africans please’ ‘you must be American, British, bla bla bla.’ With 5years ESL teaching experience before arriving in China, I felt for the first time like a fish out of water. I called my mom and told her I wanted to go back home because I felt like an unwanted person. My mom felt so bad that she talked to my dad about it. My dad on the contrary was not that worried. I remember his words so clearly: “Son, if you meet darkness, do not run away, light a candle.” He said and hung up on me.
I was still in Guangzhou, my one month L visa was running out. The guy I was temporary putting up with was putting pressure on me to leave or pay rents. In this desparate situation I fell in to the trap. I got duped by a visa agent who promised both a job and an F visa. That’s how I found myself in my first teaching position in China – a small village school in Xi’an.
At first things looked promising. I was sharing a two bedroom apartment with a fellow teacher Tony from the Philippines. The students loved me. Soon the enrollment doubled. Then came the bomb. The boss asked us to lie to the students as well as their parents. Tony was asked to say he was from New Zealand and I had to say I was from New York. In fact the boss had already lied to the students and the parents. He was just telling us to be sure his lie would work. As the enrollment rose students started asking us to tell them about our respective countries. Tony knew nothing about New Zealand neither did I about America let alone New York. I managed on for a few months and quit after six months without telling the students the truth for the sake of the school and my friend. Tony accepted it and stayed on. The boss was red when he received my resignation letter. He promised me hell in China. He said I was never going to get a job in China with the mentality I had. Tony also warned me because I told him I was heading to Beijing. As he saw me off at the bus station to Xi’an city he said I could get a job in the smaller cities but asked me to put Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen off my list.
While in Xi’an I called my parents again and told them about the situation. My mom was really ok with me going back home for my return flight ticket was still valid. But my dad pushed me on. In my mind I really wanted to go back home but I thought, it would be better to give it the worst shot before leaving. One of the reasons was also the curiousity of seeing Beijing. I boarded the train to Beijing. The city of Beijing fascinated me. The hustling and bustling, the nightlife and everything else. I spent everyday in the internet cafe next to the small place where I was staying responding to ads online. I got calls everyday from schools but who all hung up on me after the first question “Where are you from?”,and sometimes they asked me to forward to video,I made a short one but found myself in trouble in sending it over by email ,YouTube and DropBox are banned .It grew more and more frustrating so in anger I rewrote my CV. (My first CV had the nationality line omitted deliberately as advised by friends in Guangzhou). This time I included the following lines after the introductory paragraph in bold: “I am not from America, Canada, Britain, Australia, New Zealand, I am from Cameroon – Africa. I am a trained ESL teacher, give me a chance in the classroom and watch what I can do.” Four days passed, no calls from any school. I was sure that was it. I was ready to leave. In fact what kept me was the plan to visit the Tian na men square I had heard so much about. I really wanted to take some pictures for my brothers.
Then one morning I got a call from a Canadian, Chris Carter. He was in charge of recruitments at the Aihua Foreign Language Academy. My CV had struck him. He also give me a site called Antaid.com where I can upload my video along with other information.My video had an impact. They hired me. At the end of the summer camp they asked me to sign full time. I turned down the offer because my resume with the bold lines was still circulating and calls were still coming in. I got a few more calls but turned them down. They were all part time hours.
These are some of the consequences of the biased mentality here:
– Fake teaching certificates and college degrees are everywhere at very affordable prices with prestigious names of universities on them. Recruiters believe them. The business is booming because recruiters are not looking at whether or not the teacher is qualified to teach. They are looking at the name of the university and the country.
– Out of the frustration of being marginalized, many of my African brothers and sisters have taken to unworthy means of making a living in China because it’s the option the society here has given them.
– Cases of Africans with expired visas abound in China because a visa from an African country for extension is considered “a bad case” both by visa agents and the immigration office while back in African countries citizens of many other countries around the world walk in and out freely.
– For an African in China to date a Chinese girl, during your discussion, face-to-face or online, you have to say something like “you know I am African but I grew up in London, New York, Canada, bla bla bla” Then you can be considered. If it’s online simply say, “I am American” her pictures and phone number are all yours in a minute. (No offense Chinese sisters, I have a chinese girlfriend who loves me very much as a Cameroonian. She also loves Africa).
BTW, here is some laughter for you. It happened to my friend from South Africa. She introduced herself to be from South Africa in class and one of her students hurriedly asked her: “Then why are you white?” Now don’t rush into saying it is ignorance, no no no, it’s a mastery of the lectures about Africa parents give their children here.
So dear Chinese friends, prejudice is a social evil. Think of all the chinese investments in Africa, all the Chinese living in African countries (7000 in my country – Cameroon), think of all the diplomatic ties that have been made with numerous conferences and friendship slogans and then think about the way we are regarded here; the cold stares, remarks, mockery laughs, etc.
In China foreigners who are white are referred to as ‘wai gou ren’ while foreigners who are black are refered to as ‘hei ren.’ It hurts to be reminded all the time of one’s skin colour and the fact that one is a foreigner here.
*Imagine if people started calling chinese people “Yellows” or “Yellow men.”
*Imagine you in a foreign country sitting on a seat on the bus or on the train with the two other seats to your left and to your right deserted eventhough the bus is packed.
*Imagine you walking in the park just to relax, a little child sees you and says ‘hello’ happy to meet you and the mother grabs him and carries him away in her arms as if to say “how dare you go near that …. (I don’t know what)”.
*Imagine you walking on the street and every time you approach people someone is saying “Kan kan Kan yi xia” or elbowing the other to see what kind of person is coming.
*Imagine students’ parents saying “My daughter’s teacher is black but he can teach well.”
*Imagine all the ads online carrying hurting phrases like: ‘we don’t do visas for African countries,’ ‘teachers from Africa – don’t apply please’ ‘I want a boyfriend – no blacks’
I could go on and on naming them and may be you will just say like some friends have said to me before: “This is China, you can not change it, if you are not happy go back to your country.” No no no no no and no. I am a teacher and I am an educator.
Educators, it is our challenge to mould the society. Dear black brothers and sisters. Do not run away from the darkness, light a candle.
Credit to Dennis as Echinacities Blogger about this Article
Comment: To Those Expats who intend to teach English, I hope you can obtain something from this article especially to African Expat. Chinese parents and education institues are racist on the english teaching matter even the chinese government because it is kind of hard for them to apply for work visa and residency to work in China legally. This is common in many first-tier cities like Shenzhen, Beijing, Guangzhou, Shanghai.
Discrimination is part of Chinese culture and probably will never change. To them, anyone who is not Chinese is an “outsider” and inferior. They really do not like people of color but they are polite to everyone so their brand of racism is subtle. They will merely avoid brown and black people except in Hong Kong which is much more modern and open. There is no tolerance for LGBT and if this is your lifestyle, finding work in China is a challenge so do not identify your sexuality and do not wear rainbow T shirts, arm bands, belts, etc. Do so and you will be blackballed quickly.
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Despite your idealism OP, you will still see ads at thebeijinger and echinacities that say “White native English teacher wanted” and if you question the Chinese about this they say it is their right to have a “preference” since they are paying for it. Being “politically correct” in China does not fly.
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