Teaching English in China: The Cutest Kids You’ve Ever Seen, and How They Changed My Life Forever

I didn’t have a clue what I was getting myself into…

People often ask how I decide where to go, and I usually stumble with my response, as I don’t actually have an answer for that. For more than three years, I have been making movements with the universe, sidling from location to location at seemingly random intervals. I wait for opportunities to present themselves, and then I act.

After a bout of visa issues in New Zealand, I found asylum in Brisbane, Australia for three months, where I worked in a local nightclub and waited for my next opportunity to present itself.

Ugly faces in the classroom!

A friend of mine, who I met closer to the beginning of my travels, posted a Facebook status asking if anybody was interested in a job teaching English in China. It was funny timing, really, because I had already entertained the idea of teaching English somewhere in Asia.

Sometimes I feel like I’ve been selfish in my travels, and I’m very grateful for the freedom that I have been granted in my life. Without the support of my family, friends, strangers, and all of you, I would not be able to lead the life that I live today. I feel as though I have amassed an immense amount of life experience, and I felt like it was time to give back.

So I  jumped on a plane to China.

Some of my favorite students!

I was under the impression that teaching English in China was going to be, somehow, globally significant. I pictured myself as an international philanthropist, making a significant and worthy contribution to the world. What I didn’t realize is that I would, once again, be the selfish party walking away with yet another incredible, meaningful experience under my belt.

Some of my students

For six months I lived in central China and taught English to tiny little Chinese people. I’ve never seen children as people, per se, but getting to know 140 three-to-13 year-olds put a particular emphasis on each one’s personalities, their idiosyncrasies, and their distinct individualities.

Teach English in China

Walking into my first class, I was bombarded by 16 strange children who couldn’t understand a single word out of my mouth. When I walked out of my last class, six months later, I had made a personal connection with each and every one of them. Some of my students could barely speak Chinese, much less a lick of English. But somehow, through determination and force, we connected.

Every class was not only a lesson in English, but a lesson in camaraderie, being a role-model, being a parent, and being a friend. I became a father to some, an older brother to others. I was loved and adored, feared and hated. I had to learn discipline, and not only how to dole it out, but how to discipline and conduct myself as a role model, teacher and as a full-fledged adult.

But in between the discipline, I had to make learning a fun experience, and I had to create a nurturing classroom environment for my little ones. Between the dance parties, the games, the tickling and the singing, I had to make teaching the words “fox” and “zipper” somehow dramatic and stimulating for two full hours.

"Teaching" English

They stood by me as I spent two months fumbling through lesson plans and the child psyche, and they forgave me when I yelled or got upset. And when they threw tantrums or bruised their knee or missed their mommy, I forgave them, kissed their bruises better, and gave them a shoulder to cry on.

It’s what they needed, and unbeknownst to me, it’s what I needed as well.

Jeremy and Lisa!

Over the course of six months, these children became an integral part of my life. They became my outlet and, somehow, they stuck to my heart. They looked up to me, truly loved me, and they cried when I left.

And I loved them right back.

My students!

Teaching English in China was, by far, the most emotionally rewarding and fulfilling thing I’ve ever challenged myself to do. I have walked away from this job with a softened heart, knowing that I have made a difference in so many lives. Sure, they won’t remember me in ten years, but I know that I made an impact on them, hopefully, one that will stick with them for the rest of their life.

And I want that, more than anything, because of the profound effect that they’ve had on my life. I want my teachings to be reciprocal because they taught me how to unconditionally open my heart and how to be a more loving and patient person.

Because, really, no person is perfect, and our days are far more meaningful when we have someone to share our lives with.

READ NEXT: Shangri-La is Real: in Southwestern China, on the Border of Tibet

About the Author

Jeremy Scott Foster

Jeremy Scott Foster is an adventure-junkie, gear expert and travel photographer based in Southern California. Previously nomadic, he’s been to ~50 countries and loves spending time outdoors. You can usually find him on the trail, on the road, jumping from bridges or hustling on his laptop working to produce the best travel and outdoors content today.
  1. Your students look like such an adorable bunch! The girl with the red apple sticker on her forehead reminds me so much of a girl I used to teach in Korea. Some days I miss my little students!

    1. That’s Lisa! She was one of my absolute favorites!! Such a sweet little diva, she was. I miss my kids heaps, to be honest. I don’t know if most foreign teachers develop such strong bonds with their kids, but I certainly did.

  2. This is such a sweet post! I’m glad the experience had such a positive affect on your life. It’s great that you just took the opportunity and went with it, even though you had no idea what you were getting into. They are so cute!

  3. What cute kids! Posts like this make me wonder if I’m missing out by teaching middle school instead of elementary, but I’m also not so patient with temper tantrums… so perhaps not haha. I’m glad it was such a good experience!

    1. They’re two different terrors! I’m usually the same way, when it comes to tantrums, but I had to learn to be patient. Do you develop relationships with your students, or do you feel like it’s just another boring job?

  4. What an amazing takeaway from such a special experience! I taught university in China, and all other ages in Thailand, and I’ve also written about how I often feel like I get more out of the situation than they do, but I hope I’m wrong. Do you think you’ll teach again?

    1. I know the feeling! I’m not sure if I’ll teach again, to be honest. I have ideas and plans for my life and I don’t think another 6 months or a year teaching is in the cards. I will always have the memories from this incredibly special experience, though, and they will stay with me forever. I know you understand 🙂

  5. Loved this. I’m about to leave China after 2 years teaching here. I am very excited to begin a new chapter but I know I’m going to be absolutely devastated to leave my kids, as that’s how I see them now, they are mine!

    1. The best you can do is never forget them, and know that they changed your life forever. As much as you might want to, you can’t take them with you!

  6. These are indeed extraordinarily cute children and phenomenally talented face makers. I believe that travel changes lives – and it was wonderful to read a little about how your experiences have effected you!

  7. Children, they just have this effect on you right? 🙂

    Nice warm fuzzy-feeling story you got there Jeremy!

  8. I’m studying to be a primary school teacher here in Melbourne, Oz after having given music/pop/rock the better part of half my life. Third year in and so far so good. After reading this article, I must admit that my horizons have been broadened. A lovely read that has strengthened my resolve to become an “agent of empathy and learning”. Good luck with whatever choice you make dear Jeremy.

    1. That’s wonderful. Your work will be incredibly difficult, but terribly rewarding! I applaud you! Good luck, Matteo!

  9. I kind of always steered away from young children when I taught because I thought I couldn’t handle them after one very bad experience with a 6 year old lol but there is something special about teaching kids and it’s heart warming to read the amazing impact it had on your life. I have to agree, us Asian kids are pretty darn cute 😉

    1. What is it they say? One bad apple spoils the bunch? Kids are wonderful, and I only learned that during my time teaching them. It was one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done 🙂

  10. What a great experience. Your students look so adorable and so sweet. I can’t imagine them having tantrums. We have always thought about teaching English somewhere. We need to get qualified first. I can imagine how rewarding it was. Thank you for sharing Jeremy. I really enjoyed reading this post.

  11. Maann, I was nearly crying by the end of the post LOL
    Thanks for sharing o/
    Im thinking about teaching english here in China as well

    1. It’s a pretty mind-blowing experience, in many regards. I hope you’ll give it a shot!

  12. Hey, i’m an English teacher in Chine already three months and all this is so similar to mine, it’s exactly how i feel about kids! And because i see i’m not the only one, i wanted to ask at first what has worried you most?

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