I first came to China as a tourist in 2009 and loved it so much that I returned permanently in 2013 using the path of least resistance: English teaching. Teaching abroad is a great way to dip your toes into the expat lifestyle and I loved it – the pay was good, the experiences were new and exciting and most of the other teachers I knew were having the time of their lives.
However, as time progressed and one year turned into another I quickly realized I didn’t want to be a career teacher. Not only was I not a teacher back home, but my passions fell outside of teaching.
There was just one problem: I loved living abroad.
So, I did what I could to stay abroad and am writing this from Shanghai more than 5 years after first arriving in China. I haven’t taught an English class in almost 4 years.
The following are my tips for the other temporary teachers out there, the ones who love being an expat but aren’t sure how to make it a reality outside of teaching.
Find Other Skills
If your only skill is the ability to speak English fluently then finding work outside of the classroom is going to be difficult. The general idea is to further your interest in a subject during your downtime so that you have something to put on your resume when you start looking for non-teaching jobs.
For example, I was able to take my background in data analysis and couple it with some certifications gained while in China and leverage that into my first post-teaching job.
Where to Start
- Use sites like Udemy and Coursera to take courses that appeal to you – bonus points if they provide a certificate you can put on your resume or Linkedin profile
- If you are technical, see if the tools you use offer free certifications. For example, Google offers free training in almost every one of their tools and platforms.
- If you have a skill but need experience then try sites like AngelList that list internships and jobs for new companies.
Always Be Networking
I landed my first non-teaching job through an expat I met at the gym. Yes, there are plenty of job boards like eChinacities but there is really no substitute for a personal recommendation.
Where to Start
- Join some relevant Wechat groups and start attending their events – they are often free and a great place to meet like minded people. If you don’t know where to find these groups you can ask the Facebook or Reddit group for your city – this is a perfect example of how to ask based on your end goal.
- Assuming you are in a tier 1 or 2 city there are going to be Meetups happening around you. Similar to Wechat, just join some of the ones you like (ideally they appeal to your skills and/or career aspirations) and attend the gatherings.
Apply for Everything Relevant
When you’re finally ready to start applying to jobs make sure to cast a wide net – there are plenty of companies that don’t fully know what they need and I’ve had a few interviews where I was asked what I thought the role should be.
For example, if I were trying to get into purchasing, I wouldn’t hesitate to apply for sales or consultant roles – they aren’t similar in name but there is enough overlap where it could still get you in the door.
Where to Start
- Job boards like eChinacities and online magazines like That’s Shanghai are updated with new jobs often.
- Industry-relevant recruiters that you can find either on Wechat or Linkedin are great for helping you get introduced to roles that you might not have thought of.
Putting It All Together
In the end, my timeline looked like this:
- During the last half of my contract to teach English in China I was fine tuning my non-teaching skills by taking certifications and courses.
- I met another expat at my gym and leveraged my skills + his network to land a job as soon as my teaching contract ended.
- From there I gained relevant experience in China that opened doors to other opportunities.
I love China for a lot of reasons but one of the biggest is the sheer number of opportunities here – there aren’t many places that allow you to reinvent yourself as easily as China and if you’re willing to put in a little bit of work you can easily move from teaching to other roles – good luck!
Quincy Smith is the founder of ESL Authority and currently resides in China. He’s passionate about solo travel, strong coffee, and short bios.