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Wuhu, China for Short-Term English Teaching Abroad

Neil's classroom in Wuhu, China.
Neil’s classroom in Wuhu, China.

Teaching Traveling: Welcome to Neil Robertson, a Scottish traveler who spent four months teaching in China. Neil, tell us about your background.

Neil: I’m 25, Scottish, living and working in Glasgow now having been travelling for the last five years. I started in 2008 working in Italy and my travels have included trips to China, Japan, South Africa and Brazil amongst others.

The experience that had the strongest impact on me was the four months I spent in the little known, but brilliantly named, city of Wuhu in Central China.

The view from Neil's bedroom window at Aston Language Centre.
The view from Neil’s bedroom window at Aston Language Centre.

TT: Agreed, that is a fabulous name. Tell us more about your travels.

N: It’s a long, long way to Wuhu. Not famous or obviously significant, you can find it in the (relatively) tiny Anhui Province, about 4 hours by train west of Shanghai. But I loved Wuhu for its simplicity, its unassuming personality and its kind and considerate people. It’s also a great place to use as a base if you plan to travel throughout China over a few months.

China is an extraordinary country and, for me, the most fascinating country in the world at present. Life in the big cities charges along at breakneck speed, while the calm and considerate approach to life in the rest of the country is just as captivating.

My day job was teaching English to local students while in my spare time I was tucking away savings to indulge the adventurer in me and explore as much of the country as I could.

Chaos on the streets of Wuhu, China.
Chaos on the streets of Wuhu, China.

TT: Awesome! How did you learn about this opportunity?

N: I was employed by Aston Language Centre, a small teaching company that sub-contracts native English speakers to educational establishments throughout Wuhu. I came across them via my university careers service.

Aston were a great employer and there was a lot of variety to the teaching – one day I could be teaching college students and then the next I could be spread eagled on a beanbag with toddlers.

It keeps you on your toes, mentally and physically. Aston also employ other western teachers so I was alongside four British and American colleagues, which helped to reduce the culture shock.

TT: Great resource. How did you fund your travels?

N: My salary, by Wuhu norms, was pretty fair and covered my day to day costs. Accommodation was also provided as part of my contract so if I had just stayed in Wuhu for my four months I would probably have broken even.

But to go all that way and not take some time to travel would be tragic, so trips to Shanghai, Beijing et al require extra funds. I had some savings set aside and it remains one of the best investments I’ve ever made.

TT: I bet! Tell us a particularly memorable moment from your time in Wuhu.

N: One of the colleges where I taught regularly invited me to their end of term party, which took the form of an X-factor style talent show. I’m a ridiculously dedicated fan of Bon Jovi and with much encouragement agreed to perform one of their songs, with my Chinese language assistant Wu completing the unlikely duet.

I’m a terrible singer, just awful, but it was one of those once-in-a-lifetime things that I got to perform the Jovi on stage in front of hundreds of “fans” (perhaps stretching it just a little). I can die a happy man.

Cover your ears! Cultures merge as Scotland and China salute Bon Jovi.
Cover your ears! Cultures merge as Scotland and China salute Bon Jovi.

TT: Hilarious! How has this experience impacted you as a person and in your career?

N: I can’t think of anything that has affected me more strongly. Teaching is such an intensive way to make a living, it’s full of highs and lows but nothing beats that feeling of knowing you delivered a good lesson and had a positive impact on a student at the same time.

I also found it addictive and although this was to be my last job as a teacher I now spend a lot of my time working in a Marketing capacity to aid the career prospects for young people in Scotland, particularly those from difficult backgrounds. I’ll always be grateful to my time in China for setting me down that road.

It also fuelled my love of travel – experiencing different places and meeting new people, also very addictive. I also work in travel consultancy with my co-owned small business. Sharing travel and work abroad stories is another big passion of mine, and there’s always more of the world to see.

The experience even turned me into an author! I wrote my own book while I was there and published it shortly after my return: Wuhu: A China Adventure which was a lot of fun.

Neil joined a local football team known simply as The Foreigners.
Neil joined a local football team known simply as The Foreigners.

TT: Wow! What advice do you have for teachers who want to travel or travelers who want to teach?

N: If you are considering a similar experience I can only recommend putting all inhibitions aside and giving it a good try. Choosing your employer wisely is key and having a short term contract as I did allowed for much more flexibility (my four months felt more like a year, in a good way).

Overall, doing some research and being open-minded is essential, both in the classroom and in everyday life as an expat. These books really motivated me as well when I was looking for some extra reassurance and take into account the challenges of teaching, and of living in such a complex place as China: Wuhu Diary by Emily Prager and River Town by Peter Hessler.

It has the potential to be the most amazing thing you ever do, that’s got to be worth taking a chance on.

TT: Thanks so much, Neil! Readers, what questions or comments do you have?


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James Eldridge

Thursday 4th of September 2014

First off, I know they paid you to write this "stellar" review. Aston is a SCAM. PEOPLE BEWARE.

The free housing they provided was a nightmare. The temperatures in the room felt like a 100 degrees, the beds were stained and gross, the shower was broken. Also, there was polluted water you could only use at certain times of the day. The overall housing was just atrocious.

Russel Forest is a crook. This company is a scam .

Please don't trust the lying, babbling praise of this school.

Sean Curran

Tuesday 31st of May 2016

Aston is not a scam, the experience is exactly as advertised. The school is in a city far removed from the neon skyscrapers of Shanghai, the school provides you with exactly the conditions they're able to and do an excellent job of making you feel welcome.

Sometimes there were issues, but when I had an issue with my mattress the staff helped me find something to make me more comfortable. When the internet went out, they immediately arranged for an IT guy to come and fix it. The shower is solar powered, so some days it's not as hot as others. This program is an opportunity to see China and to experience all its weirdness and wonder with a safety net of staff who are willing and able to find you medicine if you get sick, translate menus for you, arrange taxis if you need them, and help you wherever you need it.

Please don't let this person's negative review dissuade you from this experience. If you want things to be exactly like home they won't be, but if that's what you want then why even leave.

And Russell Forrest is certainly no crook, he went above and beyond his position as head teacher in making sure us foreign teachers felt comfortable and I don't for a moment regret my 5 months with Aston.


Sunday 19th of October 2014

Yikes it is! That was not my experience of it, but sorry to hear you did not like the school. The facilities were not brilliant granted but I was there to teach and I've done so with a lot worse. Can assure you nobody paid me to write anything, this is just a personal account based on my own experience several years ago and I no longer have any link to the school or anyone in it. Better luck with your future travels.

Lillie of

Sunday 19th of October 2014



Tuesday 29th of July 2014

hello i contacted the Aston Language Centre and i wanted to know a little bit more about the apartment and the monthly living cost of China if I could contact you via email because i don't have twitter.


Wednesday 30th of July 2014

Sure Alexandra, you can reach me info(at) Living cost in Wuhu is considerably lower than say Shanghia or Beijing and as long as you are OK with doing most of your own cooking you can survive fine on 1000 yuan per month. Travel around the country (and your flights to get there) is likely to need some dipping into savings. Give me a shout with any more questions, happy to help.

Jonny Blair

Monday 20th of May 2013

Scottish people are cool - this guy Neil is funny! Love it!!! Plus it's well off the beaten track by the looks of things!


Monday 20th of May 2013

Many thanks for the post Lillie! If anyone has any follow up questions about Wuhu, teaching in China or even Bon Jovi I'm also @locomotion2012 on twitter and always happy to help if I can.


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