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5 Best Places for Teaching English in China

Question about the best places in China for teaching English: Wade, I need your help. You and Andy are BY FAR the realest traveler writers out on the market. You don’t feed bullshit… Your opinion… What are the 5 best cities in China?? I am submitting my information to Angelina’s. Thanks mate!! This is a [...]

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Question about the best places in China for teaching English:

Wade, I need your help. You and Andy are BY FAR the realest traveler writers out on the market. You don’t feed bullshit… Your opinion… What are the 5 best cities in China?? I am submitting my information to Angelina’s. Thanks mate!!

This is a huge question, but I know exactly what you’re doing right now: digging through that massive database of thousands of English teaching jobs on Angelina’s — most of which are in places that pretty much nobody outside of China has ever even dreamed of before. It can feel a touch strange thinking about signing on the dotted line and devoting the next year of your life to a place like Jiamusi, Xining, Hefei, or Changsha — places that you probably have no frame of reference or expectation for. Risky business.


China is an entire world in and of itself, and there are so many different types of places that vary greatly in terms of what they have to offer. It’s difficult to make value judgments on places that are so radically different from each other so I’ll answer your question by suggesting five places that represent five different regions of China, and then telling a little more about the lay of the land there.

Keep in mind that finding a good job teaching English in China is a balancing act between pay and living expenses: the big cities pay more but the living expenses are often proportionally higher. That said, a foreign English teacher just starting out can expect to make between 6,000 and 10,000 RMB per month depending on location.

The following is an overview of places in China that I recommend as having some great attributes for a long term stay.

Big city: Shanghai

If you’re looking to live in one of China’s big cities I would wholeheartedly recommend Shanghai. It’s a city that has about everything, a mix of the cutting edge new and the ancient old. There are surprisingly a lot of old style neighborhoods in this city and a good community feel in many districts. If I had to live in a big Chinese city, Shanghai would be it. The only draw back is that the air quality is horrible, but make sure you don’t confuse fog for smog — the air there isn’t that bad. But maybe you’d still want to pack your Personal Ionic Air Purifier.

Diversity: Yunnan Province

Yunnan province

Yunnan province has the Himalaya mountains in the northwest, jungles in the south, rain forests, and the highest amount of natural and cultural diversity in China. Kunming is the capital, and is a big modern city that is actually not too bad of a place to be in. From Kunming you can be in the high mountains of the Kham Tibetan region or within a stone throw of the Golden Triangle by taking an overnight bus in the proper direction. Yunnan is nothing if not diverse.

Luoping in Yunnan province

Culture: Qinghai province

Qinghai is one of the hinterlands of China. This province is pretty much the historic Tibetan region of Amdo, and though it is not part of the Autonomous zone it is very Tibetan. The landscapes here look like they would be better situated on Mars than China, and there are still pastoral nomads in the hills, villages are made of mud bricks, and monks can be heard chanting mantras from monasteries. A truly amazing region — and one that is generally not touched by the hoards racing to the Tibetan Autonomous zone.

Qinghai province map

As far as teaching in Qinghai province, expect to be paid way less per month — perhaps even as low as 3-4,000 RMB per month, but the experience could be worth it. Keep in mind that the region is pretty poor and the facilities — such as medical care — are not on par with those in the east of the country.

History: Hangzhou, Suzhou, Yangzhou

If you’re looking for a more typical experience of China I would suggest some of the cities along the Grand Canal in the east of the country. Hangzhou is truly a great place to live, and Suzhou and Yangzhou are pretty interesting as well.  There is a lot of history to learn about in these places — a lot of museums, old temples/ buildings, etc . . . The downfall is that there is a pretty high amount of tourism in there — but if you’re living somewhere the effect that tourism is going to have on your life is going to be pretty mitigated. I did two four or five months stints in Hangzhou — a tourist epicenter — and the impact it had on me was incredibly minor. The expat and local sectors are usually pretty far removed from the tourist sectors in Chinese cities, and the guidebooks to China completely suck — so visitors will generally never even find out about the good expat/ local haunts, let alone crowd them out.

Beaches: Hainan Island

Hainan Island

I can’t help to say that I cracked a laugh when I wrote the word “beaches” above. China is generally not known as a destination for a beach vacation, but Hainan Island is. Hainan is a large tropical island in the far south of China near Vietnam. Haikou is the capital city and Sanya is the tourist epi-center. There are some good beaches here and warm weather year round.

English teaching in China conclusion

Basically, you need to decide what you want out of China when selecting a place to teach. The country is so big and so diverse that no place offers everything. I imagine that it would take an English teacher four or five years of teaching in four or five different regions before they could even have a rough conception of what this massive geo-political unit called China is like. I would recommend that if you’ve never been to China before to go for a job in the east of the country to get a feel for what typical Han China is like. A lot of people go right out to the hinterlands and know that they are in a place that is vastly different from the rest of the China but don’t really know what this means. Also, when you’re on an English teaching contract there is not a lot of free time to travel much, so the region that you commit to teaching in is where you’ll pretty much stay for most of your contract time. Sure, you get the national holidays off to travel, but so does everybody else in the country and having a billion travel companions can be a little much for anybody.

Additional advice

Here is some additional advice that I’ve gained from interacting with people in the English teaching biz in China as well as doing a little teaching myself from time to time.

  • Discuss everything in advance and get it all put in the contract. Your contract is often treated a gold in China, and it has been my experience that the employers tend to follow it to the letter. So make sure that your employer covers your rent, medical exam, and residence permit, and reimburses you for your flights and visa expenses. Keep in mind that you can negotiate your contract and ask your school to pay for some of these things even if they don’t offer them outright.
  • If you don’t have a TEFL certificate get one now. ITTT offers a 100 hour online course for$150 which counts just the same as the more expensive and extensive certification courses. This will make you look like more of a valuable catch.
  • Expect to be paid 6,000 to 8,000 RMB per month in the smaller cities and 8,000 to 12,000 RMB in the big cities. There is no need to work for less than this.
  • Before deciding on a location research it’s air quality/ environmental quality. Check, to see what industries are functioning in the area. Try to stay away from places where coal plants and rubber/ plastics factories are common.

Editor’s note: I am now helping aspiring English and Montessori teachers find work in Xiamen and Taizhou, Jiangsu at schools that I know personally and can vouch for. You need a B.A. degree and be from a native English speaking country. If you’re interested, leave a comment below to let me know.

Get your English teaching credentials now!

I’ve recently partnered with Star TEFL to offer their 140 hour online TEFL certification course for just $199 — a big discount, as it sells for $425 on their site. This certification course offers 140 hours of user-friendly material, tutors to help you through the process, email, chat, and phone support, feedback on your performance, and you can complete the course at your own pace. Upon completion of the course, you will receive an internationally recognized TEFL/ ESL/ TESOL certification. You can take advantage of this 53% discount by ordering this course directly from Vagabond Journey. Contact me at vagabondsong [at] gmail.com to find out how.

We also recommend i-to-i TEFL courses. My wife took their 120 hour course, which taught her a lot and has always worked well at getting her jobs abroad. Take a look at their offerings here.

After you have your teaching certification send me an email and I can help you find a good job in China!


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Filed under: China, English Teaching, Travel Help

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3719 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

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  • Martin Pietrzak May 3, 2012, 7:52 am

    Based on our experience the demand and need is definitely there. I would advise for someone unfamiliar with Chinese culture to start of with a larger city experience and then migrate deeper into China .if looking for a more authentic experience.

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  • John May 3, 2012, 1:00 pm

    Wow! Much respect Wade! Thank you so much for answering in a post like this. Cheers!!

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    • Wade Shepard May 4, 2012, 8:15 pm

      No problem, anytime.

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  • Jack May 15, 2012, 12:12 pm

    I like the list. I’m gonna throw in Xinjiang, the whole province, for something different. If you are interested in the desert, wide open spaces, invigorating weather(-30C in the winter and 40C in the summer)and fresh air there are several cities that fit the bill. I’m in Xinjiang now and I love it.

    Of course as Wade says in the article, I know this area, I don’t really know the typical China. 🙂

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    • Wade Shepard May 15, 2012, 9:30 pm

      Right on, Xingjiang is another huge frontier of this country, but it’s one that I’m not familiar with. Maybe soon I’ll be able to get out there.

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  • alf September 19, 2012, 8:03 am

    I wonder if this would work for me as a non-native English speaker. I do have a slight accent that gives me away, even though I am pretty sure that with my command of the language obtaining the TEFL certificate would not be a problem.

    My native Spanish has a demand for teachers as well, but it is tiny in comparison.

    Do you think I should go ahead and get the TEFL certification and give it a try? Employers would not mind my nationality if I have the qualifications?

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    • Wade Shepard September 19, 2012, 9:17 am

      Hello Alf,

      The problem, at least with China anyway, would be getting the visa. No matter how well you can speak English if your passport does not say, USA, Canada, United Kingdom, South Africa, or Australia you’re probably going to have a difficult time getting a foreign expert’s visa. I’m confident that you could get a job, but you may have to work on a tourist visa. But there are thousands of English teachers in China doing this from all over the world, so it’s definitely possible.

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  • gypsy_fire March 2, 2013, 8:22 pm

    I’ve heard that many schools and many countries won’t consider an online TEFL certification and also won’t consider anyone with less than 120 hours and live teaching experience. Is this not the case in China? I’m considering doing my TEFL abroad because I think it will be interesting and I like an excuse to study in a foreign country. However, it’s a lot of money that I could be spending traveling.

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    • Vagabond Journey March 2, 2013, 8:55 pm

      @gypsy_fire Neither myself nor my wife have ever experienced any problems with our online TEFL certifications. They’re taken just like any other type of English teaching certification. Seriously. My wife has taught in multiple countries with her’s and I just posted a resume and I’m getting job offers from all over the world. Sure, a longer or more intense TEFL course may look better on a resume but in my experience an online one is more than acceptable.

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      • Ronan April 8, 2013, 2:31 pm

        May I ask where are the best places to post a résumé? Looking at the job listings on numerous tabs quickly becomes laborious.

      • Ronan April 9, 2013, 10:34 am

        Could you tell us the best sites on which to post a resume? Scouring through multiple tabs of lists of jobs quickly becomes laborious.

      • VagabondJourney April 9, 2013, 11:56 am

        Dave’s ESL Cafe is a good place to start. If you’re just interested in China, then try Angelina’s.

      • Trollope March 26, 2014, 9:49 pm

        I realize this is a year late but if you happen to see this which online TEFL course did you take?

  • Rick Hall April 7, 2013, 3:38 pm

    Wow! Great info here man. I have a few questions though: Is it possible to get a decent job in I’m not quite done with my degree yet? Would it be possible to complete my degree while teaching English? I’m studying Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness online. Not the hardest major out there, but the work load is pretty large. And lastly, does having military experience and being deployed in Iraq hinder my ability to get a visa? Thanks!

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    • VagabondJourney April 7, 2013, 8:33 pm

      Your former military status should not have any impact on you getting a work visa, but the fact that you don’t have a degree will. You can come and teach on a tourist visa and renew it every three months by going to Hong Kong (or another nearby country), but it will be extremely difficult to get a proper work visa without the degree.

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      • Rick Hall April 8, 2013, 5:29 pm

        Right on. Thanks for the quick reply. I just got accepted to a school today and will be knocking out my degree soon. Then it’s travel time!

      • VagabondJourney April 8, 2013, 8:35 pm

        Excellent. That’s the best way to do it.

  • Thomas Cleeton April 11, 2013, 10:23 am

    Hi Wade, Brilliant post I found it really useful, I am from England and obviously have English as my first language. I am looking to do the TEFL course in the next month or so and then fingers crossed want to go to China to teach. I consider myself to have all the right quality’s to be able to teach especially with the young kids but I have not been to college/university so am basically a high school graduate on paper, do you think I would struggle to get a placement in China due to this?

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    • VagabondJourney April 11, 2013, 8:01 pm

      It will probably be difficult to get a work visa. There are many teachers here on tourist visas, and they do visa runs every 90 days, though this is a rather precarious existence.

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  • Thomas Cleeton May 18, 2013, 5:51 pm

    Thanks for that, I am 22 and looking for a medium sized city that’s not too touristy but still has a good nightlife / good facility’s / things to do and see and will have plenty of other teachers to mingle with. I was wondering if you could suggest a couple of winners?. My friend is currently in Chengdu and from what he says it sounds like it fits the bill to a tee but the whole point of me doing this is to do it alone so I don’t really want to be in the same city as him as stupid as that sounds.

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    • VagabondJourney May 18, 2013, 8:22 pm

      I can help you land a pretty decent job in Jiangsu Taizhou. Email me at vagabondsong [at] gmail.com if you’re interested.

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  • Joshua Casson June 4, 2013, 3:18 pm


    I am going through an agency in China that has a good reputation so my salary will be less. More importantly, I am looking for a city with little pollution (I tend to get sick in Kathmandu whenever I go there and hope to try to avoid this problem by going to a city with less pollution), a small city that has less than 1 million people but has some places to go for food/ drink/ maybe a place to party now and then (club or do they call them discotheques in china) since I will not have a lot of time to travel. Any suggestions ?

    Also, was hoping to do a 14 day tour before I start my orientation in China. SO far I have : Beijing, Xian, Shanghai, Chengdu and Guilin on my itinerary. Any other places that you would say are must see’s in China ? I may only teach there for 6 months and have seen Hong Kong before. Any info or advice is appreciated. Thank you for your assistance.

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  • Joshua Casson June 4, 2013, 3:47 pm

    Hi Wade,

    Not sure where I want to teach in China except that i want it to be in small city, not too polluted, have some kind of night scene, even if its a small one and somewhere interesting. I was wondering : From your experiences and correspondences , what do you think are the 5-10 top small cities in China to teach in ? Thank you.

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  • zimawub June 8, 2013, 5:47 am

    Best small town to teach in is Yangshuo. The pay is small (3000- 4000 RMB), but life quality is like nowhere else. It can get crowded in the summer and around holidays, but you’ll have plenty of cool countryside places to explore on your bike and to hide and go fishing and explore wild caves. The best place ever. Life’s cheap there too.

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  • Stephen August 21, 2013, 8:18 am

    Hey Wade,

    Appreciate the post. I´m English and have a BA,
    TESOL and 2 years teaching experience. I have every intention of moving to China for work but, I´m struggling a bit with where to go. I´d like somewhere that is a big city with a
    lot of cultural things to do also, a good night-life. What are your recommendations?

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    • VagabondJourney August 21, 2013, 8:22 am

      There’s the obvious choices: Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Guangzhou. But I would recommend Harbin or Kunming.

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      • Stephen August 21, 2013, 8:39 am

        Thanks Wade! Through my searches these seem to be the best. Well, let the search commence!! 🙂

  • Ryan October 11, 2013, 2:18 am

    Hey Wade,

    I have finally made the decision to teach in China! I just stumbled across this page and made me realize how much info I have yet to get about where I want to be. I have a few questions, if you don’t mind. I am American with a double bachelor’s and a TESOL certificate. I plan on moving in January, is that reasonably enough time to plan? Would you recommend finding a job when you get to the location or getting a job before-hand? Also, the city I am looking for is a bigger city/good culture and also nestled close to the mountains so I can get the best of nature and city-life. Any city you recommend that would fit the bill?

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    • Wade Shepard October 14, 2013, 3:51 am

      Hello Ryan,

      Yes, definitely set up your teaching job before hand. It will save you a trip out of the country (and potentially back to the USA). I will send you an email soon.

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  • Bill October 13, 2013, 12:37 am

    I have been in Jiangsu Province near Lianyungang City for a year. I have to say that I love it here. I am near the beaches, Shandong Province with the wineries, and beaches, a couple of hours to large cities like Nanjing and Suzhou, and 7 hours to Shanghai. The weather is on par with the Midwest of the USA. The smaller towns are great because the people treat you like a rock star, unlike the larger cities. There are many things to see. You have the sea to the mountains to explore. If you like seafood, you have to come to this part of China. Especially to the Yantai region. I have fallen in love with China and the culture/people. I am not a big city person. So, Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Nanjing and Hangzhou are all too large for me. I like the third tier type of cities. They offer much of the same things a big city does. Just without the crowding, pollution, and dirtiness.

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    • Annette December 24, 2013, 10:13 am

      Hi Bill, I’d like to contact you with a few questions on the area you are living in, as I am exploring the possibility of going to China to teach English and like yourself, I am more inclined towards smaller cities. Would you mind sending me a message so that I can mail you back. Thanks!

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  • Lys Frank October 21, 2013, 8:12 pm


    I am currently in Jiamusi, Heilongjiang province. They have closed all the middle and primary public schools due to the pollution. I work at a teaching school that sends me to the public schools in the mornings. I am not sure if I should refuse to go to my evening classes at the teaching school. Is there a web page that could help me with this decision. I cannt find any information on WHO or other web sites I can access here from China. I am indoors but my eyes are itching and my throat is sore.

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  • Jeremiah December 30, 2013, 5:13 pm

    Thanks for all the great information. I am very interested in teaching in China. I have a bachelors degree, but I have a 3 minor misdemeanors on my record (2 of them traffic related and the other over 10 years old) will I have a problem getting my work visa? Also, what is the best way to get there? Should I go through an agency, directly through the employer, or should I go to China first on a tourist visa and find a job once I am there?

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  • JR January 8, 2014, 4:25 am

    Hey Wade,

    Great webpage! Was wondering if 12,000rmb a month (w/out housing) in Shanghai would allow for a comfortable/decent lifestyle? I tend to do everything in moderation regarding: nightlife/travel/dining/etc…nothing too crazy. There would be of course the occasional splurging. This would be my first teaching gig overseas. Looking for a great experience while still being able to save a little $$$. Possible on 12,000rmb in Shanghai? Any info would be cool. Thanks man.

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    • Wade Shepard January 10, 2014, 10:25 pm

      That rate of pay is fine. If you want to live comfortably, you’ll come down to your last few hundred yuan each month, but you won’t go broke. If you want to live frugally, you could actually save a couple thousand per month. Outside of accommodation — which is disproportionately expensive in a few cities — China can be as expensive or as cheap as you want it to be. Sure, people can say that this is the case everywhere, but the expense gap between living a middle class and a working class lifestyle is extreme. You can easily eat on a hundred bucks per month in Shanghai, but if you enter the middle class sphere you’re going to spend 5 times+ this. Anyway, 12,000 per month sounds like an adequate first time teacher salary in Shanghai. Expect to pay three to five thousand of that for a one room or studio apartment.

      If you would rather come and work in Xiamen, let me know.

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  • Trollope March 26, 2014, 9:54 pm

    Hi Wade, My girlfriend and I are going to do an online TEFL course in the near future and are interested in coming to China to teach English. I noticed that you had mentioned that you had connections with schools in Xiamen and that is one of the destinations that we were considering to teach English at. If you would be able to help us with some information that would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

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  • Jenna Robarge July 11, 2015, 7:10 pm

    Hello. Are you still helping people find positions in these locations? I have a masters in Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine and I’m very interested in teaching English in China for an extended period of time.
    Many thanks

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    • VagabondJourney July 11, 2015, 7:31 pm

      Yes. I can still help. Click on the email link in my author bio and send me an email.

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  • Ben August 31, 2015, 9:53 pm

    Have you heard of EF China? I have an interview with them. Wondering if it’s a sound company to work for.

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    • Wilhelm Fakenameson September 5, 2015, 10:21 pm

      I work for EF. It’s a huge company, hundreds of schools, comparatively well-run and well-paying by the standards of the schools out here 🙂

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  • Wilhelm Fakenameson September 5, 2015, 10:25 pm

    This is mostly great advice but the stuff about contracts being gold is absolute nonsense. I’ve had personal experience of a boss who treated the contract as little more than a suggestion and from speaking to other teachers, this is pretty much the norm. And I was working for Aston, not a single independent school. Please stop telling people that their contracts will protect them from abusive employers, it’s just not true and you’re setting people up to get really badly jerked around.

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  • 1greenman September 30, 2015, 6:07 am

    Hi Wade
    I am brand new to this process. I have a Masters in Education and a K -12 teaching license in my home state (Oregon). I would like to work for a year in one of the larger cities. I’m really just looking for a bit of fun and adventure here while making a livible salary. I have no contacts in China. Any suggestions for me?

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  • Spencer Abel November 12, 2015, 2:17 pm

    Hey Wade,
    I was recently offered a contact with Best Learning English after a mere 20 minute Skype interview. I’m extremely leery of the agency and would appreciate your take on both the agency or on other companies that might be able to help me find a job. I graduated a few months ago with a BA in English from CUNY Hunter College and have a TEFL certificate. You can reach me at spencer.abel07@myhunter.cuny.edu

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  • Andrew January 29, 2016, 8:39 am

    Hey Wade, I’d love to have a chat with you about China as well as your current location of Kazakhstan……teaching couple……one with 5 years teaching experience (ELA, History, ESL) plus a TEFL and an MBA, one with 1 year of experience(ESL) plus a TEFL and working on a Masters. salittlegroup@gmail.com

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  • Connie Owen-Holloway February 21, 2017, 6:18 am

    Hi, Wade,
    I am a mature student looking to teach English in China. I am in my 3rd year of Psychology with Behaviour Analysis and have experience supply teaching and working in a variety of capacities with children and young people. I currently volunteer in an early intervention autism clinic. Ant tips you have would be helpful.
    Regards, Connie 14063948@students.southwales.ac.uk

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