Callum – Working life at Shijiazhuang University

By Callum Clark, former English teacher


With the job situation in the UK looking bleak Callum Clark took a teaching job in China. He writes about his experience of working in Shijiazhuang:

It’s 7pm and I am sitting in a service station eating my evening meal. Only this is no Little Chef, and eating is proving to be far more difficult than I’m used to. I’m barely awake – I’ve just spent the best part of a day sitting on a plane – and the Chinese couple I’m sitting with are trying to hold back the laughter as I struggle to use my chopsticks. The only thing consistent with the past three years of my life is that I’ve got a beer in my hand. “Gan bei! Cheers!” the Chinese couple shout as they raise their glasses to toast: “Welcome to China!”

So, to how I came to be there, teaching English abroad for the very first time. It all started in October 2010, when I enrolled on a Tefl course in London. I was initially a bit skeptical about whether it was the right thing to. Would I enjoy teaching? Would I be any good at it? What if I couldn’t find a job at the end of it? Why was I the only one not going back into higher education or trawling through graduate applications? But after a bit of encouragement from my family I decided to take the chance.

The Tefl course proved to be a chance that was well worth taking. Yes it meant giving up my social life for a month – all nighters finishing lesson plans or coursework became something of a normality – but what the course offered was a clear pathway towards becoming an English teacher. Under the guidance of experienced teacher trainers I gained hands-on teaching experience (instructing small groups of adults from Europe, Asia and South America, with varying levels of English) and received a lot of advice relating to lessons and jobs. And, most importantly, after just over four weeks of work I had a qualification to go and teach English anywhere in the world.

After finishing the course I managed to find temporary employment at a local outdoor shop, spending most lunchtimes and evenings trawling through websites for teaching positions. I found,, and the jobs section of the Guardian particularly useful.

It took me about three months to find a job – a teaching position at a university in Shijiazhuang, a second-tier Chinese city located just south of Beijing.

Shijiazhuang Tiedao University


During my time in China, I taught three classes of between 24 and 40 first and second year university students for six hours a week each. Initially, I remember feeling pretty nervous – I worried endlessly about what I was going to teach, how I’d cope with such a large group, whether I’d fill the time and what sorts of activities my students would enjoy. But these initial concerns disappeared very quickly. As well as being able to apply many of the techniques and skills I’d learnt during my teacher training course, I found the wide range of resources online – some of them more useful than others – and in books, which made excellent sources for generating lesson ideas. The latter were particularly useful, especially for someone with my inexperience. Friederike Klippel’s Keep Talking: Communicative Fluency Activities for Language Teaching, for example, proved an excellent teaching aid – full of classroom activities and discussions, for all levels. A typical lesson might start with a review of the previous lesson and a quick warm up activity, followed by the introduction of a few new words or phrases. I’d then often follow this up with a written exercise to check the students’ understanding, before finishing with a related communicative activity or a game.

I was treated exceptionally well by the university and my flat was comfortable, if basic. Access to medical facilities is easy and cheap, and transport plentiful and also cheap. At no stage did I have problems with day-to-day living and working in Shijiazhuang.

A dry city that’s often engulfed in thick smog, Shijiazhuang would certainly win no prizes in a beauty contest. And living there can at times be difficult. There isn’t exactly an abundance of foreign restaurants, bars or clubs, and you could quite easily walk around the city for days without seeing another expat. But living in Shijiazhuang gave me a unique opportunity to integrate into a totally different society; to experience a fantastic culture, to learn a new language, try different foods, and meet some great people.

My students and colleagues were some of the most likable people I’ve ever met. Bright, hardworking, confident, and good-humoured, they did everything they could to make me feel at home. They offered to teach me Chinese, bought me gifts, and made me part of their inter-mural teams. Every day brought new experiences. On my birthday, for example, one of my students took me completely be surprise by inviting me to eat with him at a local restaurant where the speciality dish was donkey! My colleagues also organised a number of lunches for me throughout the year. Every time they made sure that I was sitting next to the most senior person on the table – a significant gesture used to show how much they appreciated my company and one that made we feel welcome.

As a teacher, I not only had the opportunity to live and work in China but to spend a large amount of that time travelling – Beijing was less than two hours away by train and I had two months holiday in the summer. Hostels are cheap and of a very high standard in China and I never felt threatened or concerned at any stage of my travels. In fact Europeans are treated exceptionally well – something of celebrities actually as I was constantly being stopped for group photographs.

Looking back on my time in China brings me immense satisfaction. It’s something I feel very proud of and a fantastic memory that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

Callum Clark is a recent modern history and politics graduate. He now works for an IT consultancy in London

(Credit: The Guardian. Please note that ISAC re-post this article in order to let foreign teachers know more about teaching in China from others’ experience. Some of the information in the article might hold true for other universities but not all)

Scroll to Top