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4 tips for Western women teaching in China
Author: EnglishTeacher    2021-09-09


It’s no secret that traveling as a woman can be a tad … tricky.

There’s always a little voice in our heads telling us to stay safe. We don’t want anyone to hurt, harass, or even ogle at us. This fear doesn’t just apply to walking around in public. We also want to be comfortable in our work space.

Not to mention, every culture treats women differently. How do you know what’s culturally appropriate and what isn’t? How should you dress and act? How should you expect people to act toward you?

There are tons of questions to ask, but hopefully I can answer a few of them! Here are some tips for Western women entering a brand-new work place: A Chinese school.


1. Pack according to Chinese dress code

Before moving to China, I didn’t realize how different the expectations would be for female teachers than in America. At least regarding clothing.

Granted, in America, it’s important to dress modestly overall. But if you show a little clavicle, no big deal!

Ladies, pack shirts and dresses that go up to your neck. Some schools are slightly more flexible, but better safe than sorry. You don’t want to have to buy a whole new wardrobe after you arrive because yours is deemed inappropriate!

The day of my school interview in China, I wore a dress I considered modest. At the end, they said they’d like to hire me, as long as I knew the way I had dressed was “too sexy.” I was mortified! Although I ended up loving that school and job, I made sure to never wear anything questionable again!

After reading that anecdote, you probably assume you should pack fairly long skirts and pants, right?

In China, women are much more liberal with skirt lengths than necklines! Once again, every school is different. But on countless occasions, I saw fellow female teachers in short skirts and turtlenecks.


2. Clarify your school dress code

It never hurts to ask what your school’s expectations are for your clothing.

For example, some of my friends’ schools didn’t care if they wore tank tops. However, my school strictly required women’s shoulders be covered.

I wanted to be offended, but I never saw male teachers wear tank tops either. So I guess I couldn’t complain too much.

3. Don’t be scared by men’s compliments

When I wore a dress or put extra effort into my makeup, people noticed. Male teachers, including my principal, made comments when they saw me.“Wow, so beautiful!”

Or if their English was poor, they usually said something along the lines of, “You … you …” and gave me a thumbs-up.

Because my husband worked with me, sometimes they said my husband was lucky.

In America, many women would consider these comments inappropriate. Especially in this day and age!

Don’t be freaked out, though. In China, it’s not rude at all. They are genuinely complimenting you. And remember, because you’re foreign, everyone is watching you. They’re bound to notice if you’ve dressed up that day!


4. Know that children might slap your butt

Chinese kids think it’s hilarious to slap each other’s butts. If you teach elementary school, young students might be so bold as to do this to teachers. Super brave kids might even slap the foreign teacher’s butt.

I didn’t know how to respond the first time a little third-grade boy slapped me as I walked by. I asked a Chinese woman about it later, and she said it’s normal.

So don’t take it badly. However, you should feel comfortable banning children from doing so if it bothers you. Remember, you’re the teacher!


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