Black teachers in China face unique challenges compared to other foreign educators in the country. Discrimination, finding jobs and language barriers are common concerns for black teachers abroad. This blog addresses all of this and more. It is the only definitive guide you will need to start your overseas teaching adventure in China.
Unfortunately, signs like those are not unheard of in China because there are no laws specifically banning racial discrimination against minorities. This means that foreign minorities in China are even more likely to face prejudice.
While China has laws against gender discrimination, it still has a long way to go before true equality is achieved.
So let me start by saying that if you have the right qualifications and experience, you are almost certain to find a job.
However, I’d be lying if I said that racial discrimination in recruitment was not a problem in the country. While this type of discrimination is present everywhere, it tends to be more overt in China.
For example, some employers may ask for a photograph before they hire you. This is sometimes used to filter out black TEFL teachers. There are other black teachers in China who have been openly told that the school has a policy against hiring black people.
On one TEFL forum, one man known only as ‘Mark’ had this to say: “I taught ESL in China for a while, and I was amazed at how racist it is. As I am white, this was not an issue for me. But the lengths language schools go to ensure white teachers surprised me. Employers insist on seeing a photo.
“Jenny, who ran the language school, was struggling to find staff. She told me that she could get as many black tefl teachers as she wanted at half the cost. But parents wouldn’t accept it. There is the perception amongst Chinese parents that a black person couldn’t possibly teach English. Don’t know where it comes from.”
In fact discrimination is so widespread, that it has not escaped the attention of Western news outlets such as the Global Times in Canada. Some of the racist comments written underneath demonstrate just how pervasive racial discrimination is for black people all over the world.
However, don’t let this put you off.
It would be so easy to let the experiences of a minority of black teachers abroad sway us from stepping outside of our comfort zone. However, there is no country in the world where employment discrimination and racism are not present. You may even find this in African countries, where the majority of people are black. In some African countries, black TEFL teachers are passed over in favour of those with lighter skin.
Heck, even second or third generation Chinese people who travel to China to teach English face discrimination. More about this later. I only mention it here because it would be remiss and very misleading to pretend that no discrimination exists in China. But it would be equally as misleading to assume that there are no worthwhile opportunities for black teachers in China.
However anyone who is thinking of living and working in China will get value from this blog.
For example, if you are not a person of colour and you are thinking of teaching in China, you may find the sections on TEFL courses, jobs, visas, accommodation and ‘Why China?’ useful.
This blog is designed so that anyone who is reading it can skip to the parts that interest them the most. Be sure to use the Table of Contents (above) as a useful guide to help you navigate to the relevant sections.
It is easy to read the horror stories faced by black teachers in China and other parts of the world and be discouraged by it. That’s why it is important to take a balanced approach.
I know from many years of journalism that the horror stories and negative news are prioritised in the headlines. For the most part, stories of happy black TEFL teachers do not seem to generate quite as much interest.
Of course it is important to be aware of the problems that exist. That is one of the reasons I document them here. If you were to travel to a country without being prepared for the issues that are sometimes encountered, it might put you off for life. However, if you come prepared, with an open mind then you will very quickly discover that the good heavily outweighs the bad.
What I have found living in China is that the type of prejudice you are likely to face is mainly ignorance. It is extremely unlikely that you will face violence due to the colour of your skin. That tends to happen in Western countries.
But what causes discrimination against black TEFL teachers in a country which has had less exposure to black people than the West?
The Media – I’d argue that the media is responsible for the majority of ignorance, fighting and bigotry in the world. How else are people persuaded to hate others that they have never met? Perhaps some people learned it from their parents. But where did their parents get their views from? Somewhere along the line, they have heard or read something in the news that confirms their prejudice. Movies also depict minorities – particularly black people in a negative light.
Ignorance – Neo-Nazi style hatred is simply not common in China. Instead, what is prevalent is general ignorance of what black people are like. For
example, there is still the general view in China that all black people come from Africa. Therefore, all black people must be poor, uneducated or criminal (because Africa is portrayed as a poor, uneducated continent. You also see many media portrayals of violence and war breaking out in Africa). Some people in China (and indeed in other countries) may believe that Africans are incapable of speaking English.
However, when they meet you and they realise that you are neither poor, uneducated or criminal, then those stereotypes start to hold less weight. You see, the good thing about ignorance is that it can often be overcome when people meet you and realise that you are nothing like the stereotypes found in the media.
Just take a look at the race-baiting ‘news’ excerpt below. Headlines like these are boldly paraded in the media either as a direct or indirect opinion. These stereotypes help to fuel the discrimination against black people:
Lack of Exposure – China is a 99% homegenoised country. Many people – especially in rural parts of the country have never seen a black person in the flesh. This is why people sometimes rely on media stereotypes.
Backpacking as a right of passage is not as common in the black community as it is in the white community. It is of course changing nowadays. However, the truth is the majority of people who had traditionally visited and lived in China have been white. This is another reason why Chinese people are more used to dealing with white people than they are black people.
Western Stereotypes – Many Chinese people believe that Western countries are as homogenised as China. When I was in China, some people could not believe I was from England, despite me telling them so. This is because many believe that the only native English people in the West are white. Minorities who live in the West must therefore be recent immigrants, according to that viewpoint.
This does not just affect black people. For example, many Chinese schools are just as reluctant to hire Asian people from the West because they think that they are not native either. While I was in China, I remember speaking to an Asian guy from America, who had Vietnamese grandparents. He had a very difficult time convincing schools in China that he was not Chinese.
Pressure From Parents – Then you have the recruiters who have no ignorance towards black teachers in China. They know perfectly well that your capabilities are not dependant upon race. If it was only up to them, they would pay no attention to racial differences.
So what’s the problem then?
The problem is that many English teaching schools in China depend upon the ongoing fees paid by the parents. Sometimes many of the parents put pressure on schools to hire a white English teacher – even if that teacher is not a native English speaker. This is because of the stereotypes and ignorance I mentioned above.
You have to understand that some of these parents may come from parts of China that are simply not exposed to black people. They may not know much about the demographics or history of the West either. But they may very well see the news about various race-riots or immigration problems featured on international news programmes. Think about it. Even in the West, these depictions fuel racial divides. But in China, if parents demand that the TEFL teachers are white, then it would almost be uneconomical of the school to hire anyone else.
The situation is far from hopeless however. Many international schools set up by foreigners do not face such problems and have other sources of funding. In many of these schools, your race is simply not a factor. They do not go out of their way to avoid hiring black teachers in China. However, the real hope comes from the schools which do come under pressure from parents but still do not take race into consideration when hiring. This is yet another sign that things are beginning to change in China.
One of the main qualifications that you will need is a TEFL certificate. TEFL stands for Teaching English as a Foreign Language. A standard qualification will include 120 hours of study. This is the minimum requirement from most schools and it is a universal standard on legitimate TEFL courses.
TEFL certificates are accepted across the world but like any qualification, the quality varies depending on where you obtain it.
So this section will focus on how to know whether your the course you paid for is worth the money.
You will come across many travellers who will tell you that you do not need a TEFL qualification. They will explain how they were able to obtain a high paid job without a TEFL.
Another common question people ask is ‘Why do I need to get a TEFL qualification if I am a native English speaker?’
Here’s the problem. Yes it is true that you may get lucky and get an awesome teaching gig without a TEFL or similar qualification.
But in a country where black TEFL teachers face overt and widespread discrimination, the more boxes you can tick, the better.
You are much more likely to gain a well-paid job and earn as much as other backpackers if you have the right qualifications. Should you ever decide to teach elsewhere, your TEFL qualification will keep the ball rolling much more smoothly.
Another thing to bear in mind is that a quick Google search will bring up ads promising you good quality TEFL courses for £19. I’d exercise extreme caution when viewing these ads. They are usually poor quality courses that have no practical sessions or inadequate study hours. They are also highly likely to be rejected by organisations across the world.
Online TEFL Course – As the name suggests, this is a 120 hour course that is done online. It will usually cost between £100-£400. This is an entry level qualification for paid work in TEFL.
Combined/Blended TEFL Course – This incorporates the standard 120 hour course, plus additional modules which usually cost between £200-£500. Unlike the above course, it offers a mixture of online and classroom teaching. These courses also incorporate advanced grammar or teaching young learners, which can be delivered either online or in a classroom environment.
TEFL Taster Courses – This is an introduction or foundation course. It usually costs between £150-£250. This only gives you a basic introduction to TEFL. An online TEFL Taster Course lasts between 10 and 60 hours and usually costs between £100-£300.
Well one way to stand out from other candidates is to get an advanced TEFL Qualification.
CELTA or CertTESOL – The most well known are CELTA, CertTESOL or Delta qualifications. However, these are usually more expensive and cost between £1,000-£2,000. They are internationally recognised “brands” of the 120 hour TEFL certificate courses.
They are either delivered in a full classroom environment or as a mix of online and classroom. The duration of these courses is usually between 4 and 5 weeks if taken full time. Some courses allow you to spread this out over several weeks.
DELTA – Another well respected TEFL qualification is DELTA, an advanced TEFL Diploma. To qualify for this course, you will need to have at least two year’s relevant teaching experience. These courses usually last between 7-12 weeks full time. Again, some courses allow you to take these courses over a much longer period.
Accreditation – When choosing a TEFL qualification you will need to ensure that the institution or organisation you are studying at is recognised and accredited. Some of the more well known institutions include CELTA and Trinity.
Reputation – You should also check whether the company who provides your TEFL qualification is accredited with a reputable accreditation body.
Duration – With the exception of taster courses, as mentioned above, you should ensure courses last at least 120 hours. Shorter courses are unlikely to yield the results you want.
Below is a list of recognised accreditation schools across the world. It is well worth checking these websites to see if the institution you are studying with is included on them.
Unaccredited – Check whether your course is accredited by a recognisable body. If it isn’t, you should probably look elsewhere
Course length – As mentioned above, any courses (except tasters) that do not last for 120 hours may not give you the quality you need
Transparency – If you cannot find any information about specific people from the organisation when browsing the website, then this could potentially be a red flag. This is especially the case if you are unable to contact specific people
Negative reviews – Carefully analyse reviews posted by previous students. If you see a lot of negative experiences listed, then this is also a red flag
Check the reviews – Always check the online reviews about the course and institution you are signing up to. This will give you an idea of whether the course will be right for you.
Location – Do you want to do an online TEFL qualification or do you prefer to attend in-person? If your choice is the latter, you should definitely check the nearest availability of courses and how reputable they are.
Price – While some of the advanced TEFL courses are more expensive, you should never judge a course on price alone. The most important thing to contemplate is whether the course is worth the money you paid. For example, in addition to some of the above considerations, you should also select a course that includes practical teaching experience. Any course without this is unlikely to be worth the money.
Some employers ask you to have a bachelor’s degree (which usually last for 3 years in the UK). There are others that insist on a four year bachelor’s degree, which is common in some other countries.
If your bachelor’s degree is 3 years, then it is wise to highlight this in your application and demonstrate why it prepares you for a teaching job in China.
While having a bachelor’s degree may not always be necessary, it will help you to stand out from the crowd. It also helps to highlight your expertise and background knowledge.
If you do not have a degree, it is still possible to get a teaching job in China. However, you will almost certainly need to have a TEFL. You will also benefit from having teaching experience. This is explained in more detail below.
I mentioned previously that black teachers in China face unique challenges when it comes to finding jobs in the country.
Whether you are looking for your first job, or you want to change jobs, the same issues often come up.
Luckily, nothing I’ve mentioned so far will prevent you from achieving your goals. Especially if you follow the additional tips in the sections below.
If you have already worked as a teacher in your home country, then you’re already one step ahead of other candidates. However, if you are not a teacher by trade, then I recommend trying to get some voluntary experience under your belt. Most schools in China require at least two years teaching experience.
Getting voluntary teaching jobs through websites such as workaway.info is usually very easy. I managed to get several volunteering jobs using this website. I had to turn down several more. You will often get free accommodation and sometimes food in exchange.
Once you have gained valuable work experience and references, it will be easier to find a teaching job. Again, this may seem like an unnecessary extra step. However, you have to understand the cultural landscape that many black teachers in China reside in. As mentioned, overt prejudice in China is not as taboo as it should be. Much of this prejudice is not necessarily down to hate or malice but due to sheer ignorance. China is a 99% homogeneous country and many Chinese people have not had meaningful or extensive interactions with people of colour.
Therefore their perceptions about black people come from the Western media. The media portrayals of black people are usually based upon sensationalist, race-baiting headlines and stereotypes. These are often accentuated for entertainment purposes in films and TV shows.
This feeds into the perception of not only Chinese people, but even black people living in other countries across the world. This is part of the reason you have tensions between people from Africa and black people living in countries in the West. The only way to undo the damage left by the media is to put yourself in a position where you can support your application with demonstrable experience and qualifications. Sure, you may get by without these things, but it will be a lot harder.
This may seem cliche and in many ways it is.
But one of the reasons a growing number of opportunities are opening up for black teachers in China is because of the legacy left by former teachers of colour.
If you consistently demonstrate a commitment to excellence over and above what is expected – this will not go unnoticed by your employer.
It’s always been the case that minorities have had to work harder than their peers for the same recognition. It is true in the UK. It is true in America and other western countries. It is even more true in China.
You have to remember that you bring so many extra skills with you above and beyond just teaching English. If you excel in sports, writing, singing or other extra-curricular activities, why not volunteer to coach kids in your spare time?
Of course, you will need to gain the permission of your school first, but it will also be a valuable experience for you. Being able to put that on your CV will also open up the doors for you in the future.
Life in China will be so much easier for you if you learn the language. It means that for example, if you get sick and need to see a doctor, you don’t have to worry about language barriers to get what you need.
Everything you do in China – eating out, buying goods, interacting with parents and navigating your way around the country, will be a hundred times easier.
You don’t necessarily need to become an expert in Chinese, but learning the very basics will help you immeasurably. I often find that generally Chinese people are not expecting you to be able to speak the language. Going against the grain of what is expected will certainly help to break down cultural barriers and misconceptions while you are there.
Learn as much about the culture and history of China while you are there. This is a great thing to do regardless of whether you are seeking employment or not.
Living and working in China provides unique opportunities to get to know more about this country. The same is true wherever you go. It also demonstrates a clear willingness to learn and adapt, which will stand you in good stead with any employer.
For example, if you are applying for a job in China, and you have a degree in Chinese Philosophy, as well as TEFL qualification, things will become much easier for you.
Of course I’m not saying you need a degree in Chinese Philosophy to land a great teaching gig! Nor is it necessary for you to learn Chinese. Most black TEFL teachers do not speak Chinese. The same goes for white TEFL teachers in China.
But I use it to show you an example of some of the ways you can set yourself apart from the competition.
At this point you may be wondering why you should work in China if there are so many hurdles.
The simple answer is that you will likely face prejudice anywhere. It is just that in China, they are more upfront about it.
For example, in Britain it is illegal to discriminate against a candidate based upon race. But if someone does not like you because of your skin colour, they will find a reason not to hire you.
This was clearly demonstrated in some documentaries where undercover journalists found that even a white person without qualifications and a criminal record was still favoured above black candidates which were better qualified and without a criminal history.
Of course, these are isolated examples. Let’s be very clear on that. The point is simply to show that the shackles of bigotry can be felt anywhere. Even in countries with laws against discrimination.
The second answer is that if you let fear and the possibility of facing prejudice hold you back from achieving your goals, then you will never achieve those goals. In China, despite the ignorance that still exists about people of colour, this is slowly starting to change.
Why? Because a growing number of black and African people are travelling there and changing perceptions on the ground.
Refusing to visit a country where black people have virtually been unknown only affects black people. In a negative way.
Changing perceptions is an ongoing battle for people of colour. It is one that is not just present in China. And despite the ignorance you may face – China is generally very safe. Your chances of facing violent hate crimes is significantly lower in China than it is in the West.
The third reason is that China has so much to offer. It is a growing superpower that is influencing much of the world – including Africa and the Caribbean.
You’ll find high paid teaching gigs there that are difficult to match elsewhere. It is a beautiful and diverse country with much to see and experience. Landing the right job can help you pay off your student loan debt, travel more extensively, save up enough for a mortgage deposit, etc.
The list is literally endless. Why miss out on the experience of a lifetime because of the prejudice of a few people?
TEFL Course Placement – Some of the more recognized TEFL institutions offer help and assistance in finding a job. In some cases, you will actually get a placement upon completing the course. This is usually the case with the advanced (and usually more expensive) courses list above.
International Recruitment Websites – Websites such as Teaching Abroad Direct will list some of the available job opportunities in China.
Teachaway.com – This website provides extensive resources and job listings for those who want to teach overseas. Check out this helpful article which has links to some of the best hiring companies in China.
TEFL Jobs Board – The TEFL jobs board allows you to search from a list of available jobs and filter by region. So if you are looking for teaching jobs in China, this is a great place to start.
Dave’s ESL Cafe – Dave’s ESL cafe provides one of the most comprehensive lists of TEFL Jobs in the world. It is not the most user-friendly site to navigate, but it is well worth visiting.
ESL World – eslworld.com This is another website which allows you to search for TEFL jobs online.
Easy China Jobs – EasyChinaJobs is one of the most useful resources to know about if you are planning to teach in China. They provide details on jobs, internships, visas and other useful information for TEFL teachers.
You’ll also be able to find many more job opportunities on the following websites:
International House World Organisation
The simple answer to this question is yes. If you want to work legally in the country, you need a Z Visa.
Some people suggest that you can teach on a business (M) or tourist (L) visa, but this is not permitted. Doing so can carry risks of fines, jail or deportation.
You may think that nobody would check but should you need to visit a hospital in the country, your immigration status could be unveiled. Black teachers in China already face increased scrutiny with some schools in China, so the last thing you need is immigration problems.
In recent years, Chinese authorities have been tightening up their regulations. This has included raids on language schools and detaining foreign teachers that fall afoul of the law.
If the school refuses to offer you the right visa or they offer you tourist visas ‘under the table’, then I’d seriously reconsider working there.
Therefore always insist on a Z visa to ensure you meet the requirements.
In order to qualify for a visa, you will need to have the following:
Simply apply for a visa by visiting the Chinese Embassy or Consulate in your own country. If this is impractical, then it is permitted to use an agency. Just ensure they are a reputable one. Bear in mind that they will charge a fee.
If you are in Asia, then it may be easier to apply in Hong Kong. This can sometimes be a complicated process, but if you’re in Asia already, then it is worth trying this first.
What happens after I apply for a visa?
Please note the visa only allows you entry into China. In order to stay, you will need to convert it into a residency permit. Your school will usually help you to do this. In some cases, they may even take your passport to do it for you.
After you arrive in China, you will need to register at your local police station.
Z visa is single entry. This means that you should not leave the country until you obtain your residency permit. Once the permit is obtained, you are free to come and go as much as you like.
Check out the following blog from teachaway.com that outlines everything you need to know about applying for a visa.
Schools – Your school will often provide an apartment as part of the offer. Often these will be apartments you share with another teacher. Utilities will usually not be included as part of the package. To avoid unpleasant surprises, it is prudent to ask for several photos of the apartment in question.
Agents – However, if for some reason accommodation is not provided, or you don’t like the one provided, then your best bet is a property agent. Start by asking the school for recommendations on where to find an agent.
Where possible, try and get someone who speaks Mandarin to go with you. They can help you to negotiate a good price and ensure the right questions are asked.
Be sure to set your price and tell them how many places you would like to see within a set time limit.
Most apartments are furnished – but you will need to negotiate utilities. Many apartments do not have central heating, even though they may have air-con. If this is the case, you will need to arrange your own heating.
Find out more information from teflSearch.
So we’ve already covered the challenges faced specifically by black teachers in China. However there are a few observations I’ve noticed about the general experience of black people in the country.
You will find that in a country of 1 billion people, many have not seen a black person in the flesh before. This is especially the case if they come from the countryside. So it is very common for people to stare at you, or even try to touch your hair and skin!
So here was my experience in China: some people would gasp as I walked past them. It was very common for people to audibly say ‘wow’ when I walked past. I’d be surrounded by groups of people at times all wanting to take a photo. Each person in the group would often want their own photo!
Occasionally, people would try to take a photo of me without asking. This happened to many white tourists too. However, they were very quick to find out that they got nowhere near as much attention as me!
It is worth noting that the vast majority of the time – these reactions came from simple curiosity. I never felt like any of the attention was hostile or negative. People would usually smile, as well as look surprised. I’d often get people shouting ‘beautiful’ in English.
This sentiment has been echoed by many black teachers in China and foreign tourists. Check out this blog by National Geographic which documents the experience of one black family living in China.
I have also written in detail about my experience in China in my blog ‘Alien adventure: Black Girl Problems In Tibet’.the
If you’ve made it this far in the blog, then some of what has been covered may have you asking: ‘Why should I go to China?’ As previously mentioned, China has much to offer.
China is a place like no other. Some of the most beautiful landscapes, national parks and attractions are in China. If you’ve ever felt the urge to go on an adventure – China will certainly satisfy that urge. Its scenery is diverse and despite the lack of familiarity with black people in China, the locals are incredibly friendly and curious.
Yes there are misconceptions about black people, but as long as you are open-minded, hardworking and friendly, these often disappear fast when they meet you.
The major benefit for black teachers in China is that the working schedule is often flexible. You will usually need to work for 25 hours per week. Indeed, many institutions usually give international English teachers two days off each week, plus holidays.
This means that you will have plenty of free time, which allows you to explore the country.
Most TEFL teachers in China earn a salary of £1,594 ($2000). Consider that most schools also provide you with an apartment and a housing allowance, which you can use to pay your bills.
This makes it incredibly easy to save your money and live a comfortable life as well.
There are seven official holidays in China. During the first week of October, schools shut for the National Day Holiday.
This is followed by an additional holiday between January and February for The Chinese New Year. Chinese New Year officially lasts about 2 weeks, but many schools take off for up to a month. The remaining 5 holidays last for 3 days.
The satisfaction you’ll get from teaching children is like no other. The best part of the job is helping students learn a language that is going to help them in the future.
How do you differentiate yourself from the hundreds, maybe even thousands of other applicants all seeking the same position? Black teachers in China are in a unique position. This is because their experience of living and working in another country means that they stand out from the crowd.
Employers are looking for people that are adaptable, commercially aware and able to work in different environments. They are also looking for people who are educated with employment experience. These are all boxes you can tick and qualities you can highlight on your CV.
China stands out as a destination of choice. It is a growing superpower with a powerful influence all over the world. To have lived and worked in a country that’s cracked up to be the world’s next superpower you will set yourself apart as a candidate. If you also make the effort to learn Mandarin, then you’ll you will significantly increase your chances of landing a top job, or business role.
Unfortunately, black teachers in China often find that they have to “represent”. The impression people have of you will impact how they see other black TEFL teachers. Is this fair? Absolutely not. But this is the reality.
So effectively this means you are a leader in your own right. You are paving the way not just for yourself but for other people of colour. And you will be richly rewarded in the process.
It’s true to say that black teachers in China face unique challenges abroad. It would be misleading to pretend otherwise.
The truth is that you will need to work harder to achieve recognition for your skills and abilities (a bit like in the West). And yes, some schools do judge on race because of their perception of what a Western teacher should look like. But for every one that will turn you down, countless others will offer you an opportunity.
There are those that will read what I’ve said above and decide to stay put. For them, it just isn’t worth the hassle. The problem is that so many documentaries and official investigations have highlighted the same problem in England, America and Europe. Just check out these articles by the Guardian and Northwestern University.
Recruiters in the West who judge people by race are unable to openly tell you that because of racial equality laws. In China, they’re a little more forthcoming. That’s the main difference.
So if fear of racism is holding you back from joining thousands of other black teachers in China, then I’m afraid you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.
I’d never seen a panda before I went to China. After a nine day hiatus in Tibet, I got the 48 hour sleeper train from