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A Yerba Mate Expert’s Experience Teaching in China

Do you think Michael is adored by his students in China?
Do you think Michael is adored by his students in China?

Curious about teaching English abroad in China? Love Yerba Mate? Read on!

Today we have a special treat. Michael Tieso, the famous website expert who runs the Yerba Mate site, Matero, is here to discuss ESL jobs in China!

Teaching Traveling: Michael, tell us about your background.

Michael: Hey there! I’m Michael Tieso, a travel addict from New Jersey. Before I accepted myself as a travel addict, I worked at a big American corporation in an office cubicle for two years. Once I realized that having no windows in my “office” wasn’t for me, I left in May of 2009 to travel around the world.

I began by backpacking for over a year, starting in China, then heading down into Southeast Asia, Australia, across to South America, and back up to North America to visit family and friends. I enjoyed China so much that I wanted to go back. This time, however, I wanted to live there for a little while. I’m now teaching English in Xi’an, China.

TT: Sweet! Tell us more about your ESL teaching position in China.

Michael lays down the law in his English classroom.
Michael lays down the law in his English classroom.

M: I’ll be here for a total of roughly eight months all together. The first semester is four months, from September until the end of December. I received a two month break, then I start teaching again from March until the end of June.

For my first semester, it was twenty hours a week, two hours a class, with weekends off. I teach oral English at a private University. The classrooms range from 10 to 50 students a class. Their level of English is fairly poor, but that’s what I’m there for, to teach them.

My students are wonderful. There is a bit of a cultural teaching learning curve, but I’ve adapted, and the students seem to understand and adapt with it as well. The major differences are that the Chinese typically take more major exams, while in the West we take fewer exams and complete more assignments.

TT: Fascinating. How did you find this teaching abroad opportunity?

M: Most of the teachers here have found this position through an agency, but I somehow managed to find a more direct contact just by doing a few Google searches for “ESL Teaching Positions China”.

I found an ad from a website I can’t remember and I emailed them. I got a reply within the same day. I hesitated at first, but thanks again to Google, I did a few more searches of the ad and was able to find the actual school, because the school’s name wasn’t published on the ad.

I’ve heard of many stories of teachers coming to China and not getting what the school promised, so doing as much research as possible can go a long way. After I got sent the actual visa paperwork, I knew this was real. I didn’t have to make any commitment by paying fees, unlike most agencies.

TT: Very good to know. How did you find the money to fund this travel?

A happy class of Michael's students in Xi'an, China.
A happy class of Michael’s students in Xi’an, China.

M: I didn’t need much money, because I only needed to survive the first month of teaching before receiving my first paycheck. The biggest up-front money is perhaps the flight, which is refunded at the end anyway.

Most teachers in China get paid between 5,000RMB to 10,000RMB a month ($800 USD to $1,500 USD) depending where and what kind of school. That is way more than enough to survive here, and even enough to travel in and out of China for a little bit. It may not be much to take home, but over here, it’s plenty.

TT: Tell us one moment from your China teaching so far that was particularly funny.

M: Every day is interesting and funny. The students are always keeping things entertaining. As a 20-something teaching at a University, we are not that far apart in age, and many of the students want to become friends with me.

QQ (Instant Messenger in China) has hundreds of friends that are all my students. I put up my QQ number on the board and the students went wild copying it down. I came home from a class of 40 students to 35 of them asking for a friend request… within an hour!

Students pose outside in the Xi'an sunlight.
Students pose outside in the Xi’an sunlight.

The attention is flattering, and I’m very occasionally called handsome, though I always disagree with them. I’m always catching students taking out their cell phone camera and snapping pictures of me while I’m teaching. I keep discovering pictures of me through the QQ network on their profiles!

TT: I am cracking up. You’re a rock star! So, how have your travels impacted you as a teacher, in your career, and as a person?

M: Traveling has made me a more confident person around people. I’ve become much more social. This helped when I had to speak to start speaking in front of the class. My students are amazed that I’ve been to so many countries.

They love to ask me questions about how things are in different parts of the world. I’ve even created lessons around cultural differences (which they love) and places they want to go to one day. I find the Chinese people to be very curious of other cultures.

A beautiful student performance in Xi'an, China.
A beautiful student performance in Xi’an, China.

I would most definitely teach and travel again. I never thought of myself a teacher before China, and I never thought that I’d enjoy it so much, but I really do love it. It creates a different type of happiness that can’t be duplicated in an office cubicle, at least for me.

TT: As a teacher, all I can say to that is, “YES! Woo hoo!” So, what advice do you have for other teachers who are dreaming of teaching-travel?

M: I was reading these questions to a friend of mine while I was writing this, and he jokingly said, “You don’t need to dream it. You can just come.” And he’s right! China has a fairly easy process and with little requirements.

If you want to do it, just go. With some research, you’ll find a ton of opportunities waiting for you, and not just in China. Teaching isn’t always easy, and sometimes can be frustrating, but in the end it is so worth it.

The rewards of teaching abroad are usually unexpected, and become some of the best memories you’ll have. Wherever you teach will become a second home to you in less time than you think.

TT: Thanks so much for sharing your wonderful insights, Michael! Readers, what questions or comments do you have?


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Saturday 9th of April 2016

This post makes me wanna come back to China right now!! It brings back so many great memories from the Land of Dragons. What I miss the most are my little Chinese monsters!!! <3


Saturday 4th of April 2015

I have a friend who is also an avid backpack traveler and one day we were all surprised to know that she "moved" from country to country (China, Vietnam, Korea) teaching English and at the same time doing what she loves.


Monday 26th of November 2012

Great read Mike! We'd love to get in touch with you to find out more about your school so other teachers can apply for any of their future vacancies via TeacherPort ( Feel free to drop me a message if you think other teachers would enjoy the experience - [email protected].

Cheers and good luck! -Greg

James Clark

Sunday 27th of February 2011

I had the pleasure of crossing paths with Michael when I was in Xi'an, and it is wonderful to see these photos of class life. Well done!

Teresa G.

Saturday 26th of February 2011

Mike and I have been good friends for many, many years and I always told him he'd make a great teacher. He is a very social person and loves interacting with others. I think this article is a great example of this. He's a great role model for his little brother and def one for these kids in China; as a refugee from Corporate America to someone following their dreams. Go Art of Backpacking! Yahooooo! :) Great interview L and M!

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