Why China is first class for SA teachers, warts and all
Part of the reason teachers are migrating is that China and other countries love South Africans too
South Africans are still queueing up to teach English in China despite several incidents of teachers being detained and deported for visa-related violations.
Two international teacher recruitment agencies confirmed they were receiving hundreds of job applications monthly from locals wanting to teach in China.
Jim Althans, director of recruitment for Gold Star TEFL Recruitment, confirmed they received about 120 applications a month, while another agency, Teacherhorizons, said they had hundreds signing up every month for posts in Asia and the Middle East.
New Zealand education minister Chris Hipkins announced in October that he was planning to recruit 6,000 overseas-based teachers, including South Africans, because of a teacher shortage in his country.
Meanwhile, the Chinese embassy and consulates-general in SA issued more than 1,200 work visas last year to mostly South Africans who intended to work as English teachers in China.
Those teaching English earn between R30,000 and R36,000 a month, and their perks include a free furnished flat, medical aid and a flight allowance.
Carla du Plessis, 25, from Johannesburg, who has been teaching at an international school in China since December last year, said teaching English to Chinese children was very rewarding.
“I have adapted to this lifestyle, though it did take a while. It is quite difficult when you come to a place where most people can’t speak English and simple things like shopping for groceries are far more difficult than you would think.
“I would urge any South African who wants to work abroad to do proper research and make sure you don’t step foot into another country without a work visa. If you decide to join an agency, make sure you protect yourself by asking for a Z [China] work visa before going abroad.”
Noxolo Phungula, 26, from Hattingspruit in northern KwaZulu-Natal, said there were many South Africans, as well as Africans from the rest of the continent, in China.
“You can’t help but get excited and greet a fellow African as though you know them even though you have never met them before.
“The teaching profession is highly respected in China, and parents and pupils usually go to great lengths to accommodate and please their teachers.”
Helaine Going, 29, from Durban, said there were many South Africans teaching at a training centre in China where she is employed.
“The work ethic of the kids and young adults is astounding. Young children from the age of five have classes in the evenings.”
Going said: “The language barrier is always an issue as we only speak English in the classroom. We have to try our best to explain in ways that do not require verbal explanation all the time, which is both exhausting and keeps you on your toes.”
Another South African, Craig Fredericks, 25, from Cape Town, who is teaching in Xi’an, the capital of Shaanxi province, said teaching Chinese children was “really great” because of the strict discipline at school and at home.
“All the children are well-behaved and respectful. You make many friends from all over the world and everyone basically becomes family.”
Althans said that besides a better salary and other benefits, the cultural experience of living and working in a completely different country was also a big reason why South Africans opted to work in China.
“We have had a lot of positive feedback about the South African teachers we have placed. They are often seen as confident, friendly and professional.”
He said, however, that South Africans should be wary of Chinese schools that invited them to come on a tourist or business visa with the promise to switch to a work visa once they arrived.
“It is illegal to work with either a tourist or business visa. Sometimes, even if teachers are on a Z work visa, they take on extra work outside of the school. This is also illegal as you can only work for the company that provided the work visa to you.”
Meanwhile, Tristan-Lee Niemand, 19, and six other South Africans were recently released from prison in China for visa-related violations and deported.
Niemand, who was planning to teach English in the city of Nanjing, was arrested on November 16 for having the incorrect visa.
Dirco confirmed in a statement dated December 12 that 98 South Africans were detained in China over the past six months for visa-related violations.
The Chinese embassy in Pretoria did not respond to media queries.