Volunteering to Teach in China
21 May 2006
Do you know anyone who has “volunteered” in China? Volunteers are often good, selfless people, but I can’t help but see most volunteers in China as suckers. I’ve just seen a little too much about the way it usually works here.
There are tons of “programs” that, for a fee, help you find work teaching English in China. These programs make deals with schools–either directly or through intermediaries–to provide English teachers. They charge both the teachers and the schools as much as they can get away with, pay the teachers an extremely modest salary, and end up making a very nice little profit on the deal. If their teachers are volunteers, it’s just all the more profit for them.
Too often, the teachers are new to China and very naive. They realize their pay is very low, but they explain it with, “China is very poor.” After living in China for about a year, they often learn that the local director for their program drives a BMW, that other English teachers make about three times what they do for the same work, and that their students are no more disadvantaged than most kids in China.
Now obviously, the respectability of different programs will vary. I’m sure some of them have admirable goals. But if the organization uses any kind of local “middle man” to find its schools, some kind of funny business is almost a sure thing. The English teaching business attracts quite a few unscrupulous individuals.
I shouldn’t pretend to know too much about how these organizations work, but I do know enough to recommend this: if you’re looking into any kind of volunteering program in China, be very, very wary. The primary beneficiaries of your good heart and hard work might not be who you think.