Moving to China as a family English Tutor
April 24, 2019 12:21 PM   Subscribe

My 18-year-old niece is graduating from High School in June, and is planning to move to China to live with a family and be their kids' English Tutor. Can you give me an idea of what she should expect?

Unfortunately, I don't have a lot of details. She wants to do a "gap year" before college and this is what she has landed on. One of her friends will also be a English Tutor for a family in Shenzhen...I think that's where she got the idea, but she has also been really interested in China/Korea for a few years. I understand that she has accepted a job in Shenzhen starting in July. She will be a live-in English Tutor for a family. She will not be a nanny (they already have one) or any sort of housekeeper/cook (they have those too). The family has two kids and as far as I know, all she'll be doing is helping them with their English. They will pay for her plane ride over, she will live in their home (private room), she will be paid, and...that's all I know. She is going through a program so there is some framework involved. Unfortunately, I don't know the name of the program. She is very self-reliant and I don't doubt that on Day One she'll have a map on her phone and will head out into the city on her own to explore. Nothing much scares her (ah to be 18 and invincible again...) and she makes friends easily. Also: she doesn't speak a word of Chinese, but enjoys learning languages (she is a native speaker of both English and Spanish, and speaks four-years-of-high-school level French).

My niece is a very independent young person - partially by personality, partially by circumstances (her folks aren't around, she is being raised by grandparents who are trying their best to keep up). She is also extraordinarily stubborn so any "do you know what the heck you are doing??" sort of questions from Auntie Gray Duck will likely be met with defensiveness.

Anyway, this is more for my peace of mind. What is she in for? What on earth do live-in English Tutors do all day, if their charges already have nannies and cooks and housekeepers? Is there an ex-pat community of folks like her that she could check out online before going? Any places online to read stories about people who have done this sort of thing? Have you or someone you known done this sort of thing? What was it like?

Thanks, mefites!
posted by Gray Duck to Education (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
I lived in China from 2003-2013 and taught english for a lot of my time there, although was not a live-in tutor.

Shenzen is a huge, modern city. There will be plenty of expats there but most will be older than your niece.

The family is likely to treat her as a member of the family, and probably be protective of her and monitor her comings and goings; 18 is considered quite young in china, an age when parents are stilll responsible for their child. She may have less independence, unless the family she is with is quite non-traditional. They are likely to feel responsible for her and may not be comfortable with her going out alone.

I would search for info online about live-in foreign tutors in china (for forums and blogs from those doing it) I think it's a relatively new phenomenon to go along with the growth in wealth in the country , although foreign teachers in schools have been a thing for a while.
posted by bearette at 1:12 PM on April 24 [1 favorite]


I lived in Shenzhen for a few years more than ten years ago, but even then it was a very vibrant city (with horrible weather), incorrectly thought of as a place without any culture merely because it has a very short history. I have no idea what she'll do all day, but if her host family is nice and well-off enough to afford an extra private room for her and to pay her decently, this sounds like it could be a very nice way to spend a year or so before going back to college. If they're not nice, she can take a cab to the airport and be back home in a day.

In my time off, I used to go to bars, go to Hong Kong for the day, go to parks, go to lunch with friends, go shopping, ineffectually study Chinese, go to Starbucks, watch movies, play basketball, go to dinner with friends. It was a good time mostly. SZ is extremely humid, and it's too hot to enjoy the outdoors much for most of the year, unless you go out late.
posted by skewed at 2:31 PM on April 24 [1 favorite]


Sounds like it could be great. Answers above are helpful. Friends who have moved to China over the years have had some good experiences. One hard question to ask is immigration. Everyone needs a visa to enter China. What will her visa status be? Pretty sure she needs an undergraduate degree to get a work visa. People do work illegally on tourist visas and may never encounter an issue, but she should go into this with a clear understanding of her immigration and residence status. I know that falls into "do you know what the heck you are doing?? territory but things like money and cell phone may be linked to her status. Or, she'll just have to be dependent on the family to get her a phone etc.
posted by Gotanda at 3:56 PM on April 24 [4 favorites]


I'm sure I've watched too many episodes of Law & Order, but: please read the contract before she signs it (or encourage her to have someone who's not 18 read it!), especially the sections that cover termination of employment. It would be preferable for the contract to require that her employers or the agency pay for her plane ticket home, if something goes awry. She also needs to understand whether her visa is specifically tied to that agency or employment opportunity.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 5:40 PM on April 24 [4 favorites]


As far as what they do all day, I'd encourage her to take some games with her that she could introduce to the kids. Ones she's happy to play a lot. I've not been in her situation exactly but I was an exchange student with three younger siblings and they taught me a tonne of German through playing games. They also liked showing and telling me things through stuff like collectible cards (so I learned a tonne about dinosaurs and cars from the eldest boy!).

Things like this make for good resources for a non-teacher to improve childrens' language skills as they give you a point of conversation. The family sound like they can afford any supplies she needs but having stuff from home will be a good novelty for the kids. And if she's going to play endless games with kids, make them ones she wants to play. I don't know the English name for the one we played but it involved throwing dice, counting little pegs around the board - it was fab for learning my numbers thoroughly.
posted by kitten magic at 6:56 PM on April 24 [2 favorites]


Everyone needs a visa to enter China. What will her visa status be? Pretty sure she needs an undergraduate degree to get a work visa. People do work illegally on tourist visas and may never encounter an issue, but she should go into this with a clear understanding of her immigration and residence status. I know that falls into "do you know what the heck you are doing?? territory but things like money and cell phone may be linked to her status.

They may be expecting her to get a tourist visa (she should get the 10-year one) and go to Hong Kong to reset every two months. There was a time when this was common, but I don't know if it still is or not. A return ticket may be a requirement for the visa, and if not she should be sure she has one anyway ... or at least enough money in the bank to buy one on short notice.

I lived in China from 2002-2012, so it's been a while since I banked there, but I'm pretty sure you can open a bank account with a tourist visa. I know you can get a SIM card with a tourist visa. Both of those are important, because one of the first things she'll need to do is set up WeChat and AliPay wallets on her phone. It may sound like an exaggeration, but there really are places that no longer accept cash.
posted by bradf at 7:47 PM on April 24 [4 favorites]


My boss' daughter did this. She has been teaching English in China the past few years and is in her early 20's. If you memail me, I'll try to put you in touch with her. She is returning home in June.
posted by tacodave at 7:51 PM on April 24 [1 favorite]


She's going to be fine :) A lot of great advice here. I currently live in China (in Guilin, about 3.5 hours from Shenzhen by high speed rail), though I can speak Chinese and don't teach English.

> The family is likely to treat her as a member of the family, and probably be protective of her and monitor her comings and goings; 18 is considered quite young in china, an age when parents are stilll responsible for their child. She may have less independence, unless the family she is with is quite non-traditional. They are likely to feel responsible for her and may not be comfortable with her going out alone.

I think this is very true, which is a good thing and a bad thing and is just sort of something where expectations need to be set. The family that she is going to is probably very rich...I mean, if they're importing a white person to teach their kids English, they're very rich. So they're likely to be a bit more cosmopolitan than like, a middle class chinese family in a tier 3 city (who are all very nice but often think that I am going to like, steal shit in their homes or something). The point is, there is a _lot_ less of an expectation of...privacy, independent, and autonomy. So given your niece is very independent, this is just something to be aware of. The good thing is that, if they do indeed welcome here as part of the family, it'll be much easier to have a lot of really interesting, authentic experiences...China is awesome (well, as a tourist, I'm glossing over the things I don't like, namely, the government), but it's a lot less awesome if you can't speak Chinese. They will hopefully take her to interesting places, introduce her to interesting food, etc. She can do that on her own too, but it's much easier with a Chinese speaker.

One nice thing about China is it is very, very safe. I've never felt unsafe here -- ever. That doesn't mean that bad things don't happen, of course they do, it's a big complex country...but my point is that if she is a street smart kid, she's gonna be fine on that front. I'd be much more worried about the family!

> Sounds like it could be great. Answers above are helpful. Friends who have moved to China over the years have had some good experiences. One hard question to ask is immigration. Everyone needs a visa to enter China. What will her visa status be? Pretty sure she needs an undergraduate degree to get a work visa. People do work illegally on tourist visas and may never encounter an issue, but she should go into this with a clear understanding of her immigration and residence status. I know that falls into "do you know what the heck you are doing?? territory but things like money and cell phone may be linked to her status. Or, she'll just have to be dependent on the family to get her a phone etc.

She is almost certainly going to be committing visa fraud. Though it's possible that rich people like this have the hookup for a visa, given there's an agency involved. But really, I imagine it'll be visa fraud. This generally isn't a huge issue, given that the only people that would out her are the family, and they have no reason to. The people I've seen who get in trouble are the ones teaching english illegally who then start trying to find more students. Another common scenario is if they piss someone off...for example, one guy didn't get deported, but he was living with his gf and a neighbor was annoyed that he didn't want to hang out so the neighbor called the police and the police kicked him out (in china foreigners have to register where they are living and he hadn't registered, and in beijing they can be particular about where foreigners can live).

I think the biggest risk honestly is just that the family treats her poorly, or has very different expectations about what an 18 year old woman should be doing. Even though China is very safe, people can be very protective!

> A return ticket may be a requirement for the visa, and if not she should be sure she has one anyway ... or at least enough money in the bank to buy one on short notice.

You technically need a return ticket, though some people get away with saying "I will just go to Hong Kong..."

> I lived in China from 2002-2012, so it's been a while since I banked there, but I'm pretty sure you can open a bank account with a tourist visa. I know you can get a SIM card with a tourist visa. Both of those are important, because one of the first things she'll need to do is set up WeChat and AliPay wallets on her phone. It may sound like an exaggeration, but there really are places that no longer accept cash.

This is 100% true. The family wil hopefully help her, especially with the Chinese part. If a bank says they can't help her open an account, they are likely lying and just don't want to deal with the paperwork. They absolutely can (they will use her social security number and passport).

One important detail nobody has brought up: a VPN. So, she's 18...I don't know what she is into, but just going off probability, she is probably on instagram, snapchat, maybe twitter and facebook, probably watches videos on youtube...and hell, she's 18, maybe tinder. Those are all banned in China, straight up. Gmail? Banned (along with all google services). If she doesn't care about any of those sites, that's great! Otherwise, she will need a VPN. I use vpn.ac, some people like express. Some people roll their own shadowsocks vpn, whatever. The point is, you need one. I'd get two, just in case. It's extremely annoying, and depending on what's going on in the country they sort of ramp up how much they hassle the VPNs. VPNs are, I think, technically illegal. Helping Chinese people setup a VPN is definitely illegal. Regardless, she should set them up before she goes on her phone and computer.

Some other less fun aspects...China is a big, complex place. The day to day life here can be really fun and interesting and vibrant. But it's an authoritarian government without the rule of law. It's got a lot of laws, of course, but they are enforced very selectively and you just never know which way things are going to go. She isn't going to have any problems in all likelihood, but she needs to be smart about the following things.

DO NOT TALK (CHINESE) POLITICS. I mean, this isn't strictly true...but unless you know people *very* well, and have a good sense of what you can and can't say, DO NOT TALK CHINESE POLITICS. I can't stress this enough. Talking about American politics is fine. But DO NOT TALK ABOUT CHINESE POLITICS. Seriously. This extends to the internet...WeChat is ubiquitous here. The Chinese government monitors WeChat. Basically, she should assume that the Chinese government has access to EVERYTHING on the Chinese internet (qq, wechat, etc). The truth is that they _do_ have access to it all, but monitoring varies. As best as I can tell, currently their "state of the art" is keyboard based monitoring of sensitive things on wechat, lots of blocking of news articles, and then people reporting each other. If she were to post on her wechat timeline something like..."why is China bullying taiwan?" this would be VERY risky.

What topics are particularly risky at the moment?
- Xinjiang
- Taiwan
- Xi Jinping
- Tibet
- Tiananmen Square

But really, if you don't know China well, just like...don't talk about any of this unless a Chinese person brings it up first, you trust them, and you're not in a place to be overheard. I mean a Chinese person could forseably say like "I can't wait for Taiwan to be ours again!" or something, and she should just smile and nod.

I've had a lot of great and insightful conversations with Chinese people about politics, but really, a lot of people feel like China is in a low key second cultural revolution...it's not quite to that level of hysteria, but it's true that the government is spending a lot of energy cracking down on this stuff. She absolutely should never, ever, talk about any of that stuff on WeChat. Don't talk about it on the phone.

I think I am more cautious about this stuff than many, but that's because...well, China is a country without rule of law. After the Huawei CFO was arrested, China basically rounded up some Canadians to arrest as a kind of tit for tat thing. China can do what it wants. If a local police chief wants to make your life hell, they can make your life hell. The probability of anything bad is low, but politics stuff is really asking for it. There have been Chinese nationals who've been arrested for stuff they wrote on Twitter (which was then connected back to them). The Chinese guy who made shadowsocks had to delete his github project (kind of) because the Chinese government tracked him down. Again: China does not have the rule of law. Most people just rely on security through obscurity.

Of course, in her case she is a foreigner and would likely just be deported or something...but I mean, there are stories of foreigners being detained illegally etc.

OH, something a little more practical to the life of an 18 year old in China...fake liquor is really, really common. I don't really drink much in general, so it hasn't been an issue. But if she likes bars/clubs, she really should be very careful, and ideally go with people she trusts that know the scene better and know how to make sure that nothing bad is going on.

Again, China can be a really great place, you shouldn't be too worried, but I just wanted to sort of help set some expectations. People's advice has generally been spot on.

Oh and a nice app to talk to people back home without using a VPN but without China's prying eyes (as far as we know) is Signal Messenger. I have no idea why it hasn't been banned (probably not popular enough), but it uses encryption to ensure that communication is secure.
posted by wooh at 11:53 PM on April 24 [9 favorites]


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