(Published on July 5, 2011)
This is to make future teachers searching on Google or anywhere else aware of what to expect from Siyuan University (西安思源学院). Some of what I tell you might even hold true for other Universities but not all. Some of what I say could be my personal views, cultural differences of how I feel compared to what is expected in the US, and other things. Your experience could be different from mine but I still think some of what I say still holds true. I apologize to the regular readers as they might not interest you unless you’re going to teach at this school or want to learn a little bit about Chinese education.
Here’s a combination of my review and guide for future teachers coming to Siyuan University in Xi’an, China (西安思源学院). Sorry for the long article and to my regular readers that may not be interested in this but there’s a lot to say after a year here.
Accommodation is decent. I lived on campus in a foreign teacher complex. The building was made for foreigners. There are four floors with 4 rooms in each floor. I lived on the 3rd floor in one of the bigger apartments. This is where it gets confusing. There are two different types of accommodation in this building. A one room studio OR a full size apartment. The one room studio is enough to live comfortably for one person. Don’t expect any parties in these rooms though. The next one is a full size apartment in which I lived in. These include a bedroom (some have two beds in one room), kitchen, living room, and balcony. Even if you’re by yourself, aim to be moved to the full apartment. The living room has a few couches. The kitchen is somewhat dead to me and I don’t usually cook but I’ve cooked a few meals here and there. There’s no oven. Just a hotplate. For the bathrooms, they are okay. Perhaps at first you’ll find it odd or disgusting but it’s really fine and it’s in fact luxury compared to what other teachers or students live with.
Foreign Teacher Complex
Doors close at 11pm. That means in order to get in the building, you’ll have to knock on the glass door to get in. Then Mr. Tien wakes up (he sleeps under the stairs every night) and hands you the keys to open the door. They do this for security although I don’t know what type of security they could be protecting us from. They did not provide us keys for the building. He wakes up at about 6am in the morning. I’ve had many nights of coming back drunk to get in the building. Don’t worry. Just be kind to him and say sorry. He means well.
They do provide internet so don’t worry about that. Just get a VPN if you plan on using Facebook. If you don’t own a laptop, they do provide a desktop computer but don’t expect much out of this since it’s a computer from 20 years ago.
There’s an airconditioner and heater in one unit. It always worked perfectly fine for me but other residents have had broken units and they had to send someone in for repairs. Not much of an issue though. You’ll be fine year round. This is a huge luxury as students and other teachers do not have this.
Electricity needs to be paid for but the apartment is included in your contract. I never paid more than 150yuan a month.
Siyuan University CafeteriaThe selection of food in enormous. There are I think about 4 cafeterias on campus with just about every variation of Chinese food you could possibly find in China. Takes 5 minute walking to get to them. My favorite place to eat is called Snack City. Has nothing to do with snacks as they have plenty of huge meals there. Highly recommend the noodles there. Each meal is about 5 to 15 RMB. A glass bottle of soda is 1.5RMB.
Right outside campus there’s a bunch of street food vendors. I’ve had nearly everything there and I’m just going to say I recommend all of it and especially the BaoZi. These vendors are usually there in the morning for breakfast. Just sit outside and enjoy. My favorite BaoZi place is the is in a small restaurant on the left down commercial street. It’s the only BaoZi restaurant on the street.
Street Food VendorFurther down outside of the campus is a street full of restaurants. I was hesitant when I first came to China to try these places but I quickly realized how silly I was. There’s some really great food here. If you don’t know Chinese, I suggest learning food first. The first one I learned was Tang Cu Li Ji (Sweet & Sour Pork). During the warmer months, BBQ takes over the streets by storm. There’s a big selection of them and it’s by far my favorite thing to eat in China. There’s only a few places however that provide quality meat and portion size. For THE best BBQ, there’s a place down commercial street in the middle between the two big roads. There’s umbrellas and steps that go up to a balcony near the basketball court. Order a dozen or so lamb sticks and a few beers. On this same street there’s a big selection of hot-pots which I definitely recommend. All of them serve pretty much the same thing. A meal in the restaurant may cost you up to 20RMB or more depending on what you eat.
Chicken BBQ in China
This is where it gets interesting. During my first semester, I had 26 hours a week. Then the second semester, I had 10 hours (but was paid for 16 because of the contract). Now administration really depends on what you are teaching. I taught Oral English and to sum up my department – it was extremely disorganized and just horrible. Everything is done at the last minute. They really don’t tell you much till the day before. I had to ask when I had to test my students for the final exam otherwise they wouldn’t have told me. You are pretty much on your own and do not expect any sort of support for teaching. The other departments I’m not really sure of but I don’t think it’s much better really. Just take things as they go and don’t be surprised if one day you suddenly have a new class or the next it’s canceled. Don’t make plans on your days off. They’ll email you perhaps an hour before you go to bed that you’ll be teaching tomorrow. It’s completely random and unorganized.
The months of January and February I had off. They paid me for February although I wasn’t even in the country for that month (I was in Vietnam). You’re free to stay on campus but it’ll be extremely dead and boring. I suggest making plans for travel around China or outside of China during those months. I was also paid about $300USD for travel expenses.
They expect you to give notice when you want to leave the city of Xi’an. The way they put is that you have to “ask for permission to leave”. Asking for a day off is a bit of a mission. If you plan on going to Chengdu for the weekend, you have to write on paper for permission to leave. The paper is then given to the head guy who reviews it and signs off on it. Even when you’re done teaching, you have to write a letter saying that you’re done and you must ask for permission to leave China.
Textbook from Siyuan University
While this is a University, there are many things that are corrupted about this place. Frustration and complaining won’t get you anywhere and you’ll just be annoying and ignored. Instead, be determined and argue for what is right but also know when to give up and let it go. Once they tried to make me work on Sunday’s meaning that I would have only had a 1 day weekend. Weekends here are Sunday’s and Monday’s. According to the contract, I’m required to have my weekends and I wanted them. So I fought it vigorously and showed them my contract. The fact that I even had to argue this and show them their own contract that they provided me, set me off.
Administration really doesn’t care all too much about the foreigners here. We’re really seen just as an image to provide the school a higher status. Whenever I wanted something, it was inconvenient for them and they would not provide it but when they need me to do something – it’s required. I took things as they went and understood there were cultural differences. It’s nothing personal, it was just the way it was.
As with many universities in China – it’s quantity, not quality.
Memorize your contract!!
The students are great. They are kind and sweet and I’ll miss them greatly. That doesn’t mean much when it’s class time though. Some of the students actually want to learn English and even approach me after class to keep practicing English which I found to be impressive and determined. Unfortunately though, I found most of the classes don’t actually care about the class. They do want to learn English but they’re too exhausted from their other classes (or lazy) to bother joining ours. My English classes are less important than the Chinese teacher ones. Most of my classes did not require any sort of grading so really there’s no incentive for the students to go to class. They don’t tell you which classes you’ll need to grade unless you ask. Many students do sleep and use their cell phones in class. This isn’t just my personal experience, it’s most teachers experience. Older teachers are generally seen as more a respectable teacher than 20-something teachers.
Grading (at least for the English department) worked like this. 30% is homework and attendance. 60% is the final exam grade. 10% is given by their head teacher. The way I did it was have 6 homework/attendance grades then the rest for the final exam. On the same note, don’t even bother giving homework assignments. Maybe just one but really no one cares about that and most of the students will not do it.
Siyuan University Kailian SchoolIf you’re teaching the high school part of the University, I feel bad for you. They 100% do not care. Okay maybe that’s harsh but in terms of teaching them anything is almost impossible. Most do not want anything to do with English, let alone being taught by a foreigner. While I know I’m not the most experienced teacher, these students won’t take any effort at all to even attend the class. There’s no support and the school building itself is trashy. To be fair, the students are young (~16 years old) but what is frustrating is the administrations doesn’t care what those students do. Many of the class rooms even have graffiti.
The four year major students are your best bet for students that will actually listen and take interest in your class. These students will want to be your friend and even hang out with you after class. A really wonderful group of students. The 3-year students might be interested but care a little less than the four year major students
One thing I need to give these students huge credit for is their enthusiasm to learn English. Although in the classroom they may not seem interested, outside of class they are really interested in speaking to the foreigners to improve their English. There could be a few reasons they don’t speak up in class because of the environment and the Chinese culture with speaking up in class but regardless, some of these students show high dedication.
Siyuan UniversityWhen a student fails, they will still pass. Let’s say I failed a student – what happens then is the student will need to retake the exam with a Chinese teacher and they will likely pass the student. If they fail again, they can retake it yet again. It’s really difficult to actually fail. The students don’t want to fail as to not dispoint their family and not feel ashamed. While I may be generalizing here, it’s partly true.
A common Chinese school education issue is cheating on tests, homeworks, etc. Just be aware of those. I just failed them and moved on. I never got too upset about it. I know in the west the student would be kicked out of the school or expelled but it’s not so much a big deal in China to cheat and many people do it.
The English of most of the students is not great for majoring in English and at a University level. Don’t expect much. If you’ve planned any sort of lessons already, throw them out. They don’t expect any sort of lesson planning and you’ll need to adjust according to their level. The books they provide are horrible for lessons. Don’t bother using them. Just do your own lessons.
Students in class
I absolutely hate the location of the school but sometimes it’s not so bad. The school is located on the top of a large mountain. In the surrounding area, it’s basically like a small town although it’s expanding and growing quickly. There are a few bars, KTV, mini clubs, and a few pool areas which is nice. There isn’t any other foreigners in the area besides the teachers so I frequently get looks but not so much as students got use to me.
To get downtown, you have two ways. There’s a bus but it’s often packed and smelly. If you’re lucky enough to get on one, it’s only 2.5RMB to get to the South Gate downtown where all the action is. A taxi (best option) cost less than 40RMB to get to the same area. Most taxi’s know where the school is. It’s a popular school and if he/she doesn’t, you’ll quickly learn since it’s basically just one road and one turn to get to the school. Taxi takes 30 minutes and a bus takes about 45 minutes to get to the south gate of downtown.
The plus side to being in this type of area is that everything is so cheap compared to downtown. It’s specially true for the food. The area has a local feel to it and everyone is young and happening.
Life is actually pretty easy in Siyuan University. There isn’t much to worry about. Well paid and low hours. I was really living it up in Xi’an, China. I did whatever I wanted to do for my teaching lessons and no one bothered me. The only frustrating part is the amount of corruption, the lack of care for the students or teachers, administration, and organization. Still though, for anyone teaching here in the future or in any other university in China – it’s worth it 100%. The one year I spent at this university will definitely be an experience that I’ll remember forever. Don’t think I’d ever teach here again though.
Things I’ll Miss About China
I flew to Xi’an, China in August 2010 to teach English part-time at Siyuan University for about 10 months. I had been to China before for one month but it was just for travel. I’m now at the end of my stay in China and about to continue my journey elsewhere. I’m going to really miss China.
I’m going to miss the food. I’ve really explored the local foods in China. There have been so many times I’ve ordered randomly so I could get something new that I haven’t tried before. The amount of options there are for food in China is astonishing. Each restaurant looks as if they have a book of options instead of a menu. Even when giving the menu to a Chinese person, they still can’t decide because there are just so many options. Not sure how they are able to cook so many delicious dishes in such a small kitchen and with sometimes only one or two cooks.
There’s all these little things in China that I’ve adapted to. It’s normal to sit in a restaurant for a few hours and just talk with your closest friends. It’s normal to Karaoke with just a few guys. It’s normal to talk to strangers as if their really not strangers at all. I’ve adapted so well to the culture that I think it may have also added to my personality.
Bao Zi – The morning breakfast
I have a routine here. I have my breakfast lady that knows me very well. I have a 10am break lady that I usually get a snack from. I have a variety of restaurants that all places recognize me at. Then for dinner, there’s a cafeteria where the entire place knows me. I frequently get extra food and bonus dishes. I have a milk tea lady that knows exactly what I want everytime. Even with my limited Chinese, they’ve been extremely helpful in recommending new dishes to me and helping me with my order. I’m really going to miss them.
I’ll really miss all of my students. They’ve helped me adapt and teach me as I was teaching them. So many wonderful discussions with them. During my last few days, I’ve been invited out for several good bye dinners, received gifts, and emails. In one of my last classes, I even had a student get emotional that I was leaving and wanted a hug.
I gathered up quite a lot of stuff here in my apartment. I decided to give it all away to my students which were mostly books and other small things but they were ecstatic about it like it was the best thing they’ve ever received.
Then there’s little frustrations in cultural differences between myself and the culture that I’ll even miss. The line cutting and overcrowded pushing can sometimes frustrate me but every time I look around, no one else is bothered by it but me.
I even took on learning the language. Although I may not have learned as much as I had liked, I think I’ve done pretty well at learning as much as I could while still keeping my other priorities. I can hold a basic conversation, and read and write a little in Chinese. Even after I leave China, I will still continue to study Mandarin and the characters.
I take off on July 5th. Xi’an, China will always be like a 3rd home to me and while I’ll really miss China, I think I’m ready to leave.
While I may have came to China to learn about their culture, it had also taught me a few things about myself. I hope to return soon but I think it’s time for me to move onto new adventures.
July 5th to July 11th, I have a stopover in Seoul, South Korea before returning home.
(Credit: Artofadventuring. 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)