There are 23 provinces in China each with something to offer. Chinese cities are classified, although not officially so, into tiers depending on the population and size of a city. Tier 1 cities are the most developed and fastest growing cities in China. There is no official listing for the “tiers”, but it is generally accepted that Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen(the Big Four) are in it. About the Tier 2 cities, all of which have a good infrastructure and they are developing better in terms of work-life balance and long term career development (We will tell you why). Many foreign teachers who say these are the cities to consider for future teaching jobs, especially if your reason for being in China is not just to save money, meet more expats but to live in depth in a Chinese city, get best privileges of being a foreigner, and for some, build a tie with the fast-developing country and benefit from it for the rest of your life.
Rent is a game changer. Living expenses can be a lot higher in the Big Four. Renting a room can cost you 3000-4000RMB. An apartment, if you prefer more privacy, would cost more than 6,000 RMB. Food add up to that expense as well. If you are looking to splash the cash a little more at a mid-high range or western style restaurant you’ll spend closer RMB200 in a city like Shanghai. What you’ve saved by cost of living can be a pretty penny to take a short trip in China. Teaching in a smaller (I mean relatively) city is surely a good financial decision. However, if your employer provide you with food and accommodation, and you love the city you are in. There is no reason why you should leave.
Life style can be a lot different from city to city. In Shanghai, Beijing and Shenzhen, people live with a fast life pattern, which is one of the reasons for better economy. I have heard not just once to twice that foreign teachers feel bored and isolated in such a fast life pattern. In the Big Four, you should expect your employers having higher expectations, hoping you pay more attention to your work and students. Nevertheless, in a smaller city, you will have more time to pay attention to your own life. In your spare time, you can have more interesting things to do out of class and your spare time will be more flexible.
“I can visit Shanghai and Beijing during the long weekend, winter vacation, summer vacation, etc., but living there is just ‘not my thing’ ” — Colin Steward, currently teaching in Taizhou, Zhejiang Province.
Beijing and Shanghai offer some of the highest teaching salaries, but they are huge cities housing over 20 million people. This is hard to comprehend until you try traveling on public transport during rush hours! If you’re used to living in a small city, you may find this overwhelming and prefer to accept a lower salary in a small city or countryside location. Almost each Tier 2, 3 city has a very convenient transportation system. You would feel more relaxed in the public subway or bus. It is truly a terrible thing to be in a crowd in a public transportation.
The problem of pollution in Tier 1 cities are more serious. Though small cities develop not that advanced, the environment in a Tier 2, 3 city would be much better. You would enjoy the fresh air on your way work and home. On your weekend and vocations, going out for a walk must be a very good choice. Teaching and living in a small city will make you feel more satisfied with the landscapes around.
What’s the most important is that you will have more chances to experience Chinese lifestyle. A small city can be a very good option for learning a language. People there will not be that busy and lifestyle will be more comfortable. It will be a very good place if you are interested in Chinese culture and traditional customs. “Being treated like a ‘King’ in these cities”, as many of ISAC teachers mentioned teaching in a city with a minimum number of expats, “can be a rewarding experience added to my life”. If you decide to teach in China, give it a try at what you may think a ‘daunting’ experience. Find a good program and enjoy the rest of it.