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Tesol in ChinaChina has long been an enigma to much of Western society. As the third-largest country in the world by area, this diverse and complex land has been home to some of history's most notable eras and events. Today's visitor can see evidence of those milestones: the Great Wall, the terra-cotta soldiers, Mao Zedong's mausoleum, Tiananmen Square - the list goes on.

It could take countless vacations to China to see all there is, but six months or a year spent teaching there is a sure way to get an inside look at this fascinating country.
China comprises one of earth's oldest civilizations and has remained relatively secluded - for many years Christian missionaries were the only English speakers to make extended stays there. As a result, China's political and economic systems have to a large degree isolated its people from Western influence. In recent years the growing global economy has demanded change in China, and the country's leaders have been struggling to respond. For example, although the economic reforms of Deng Xioaping during the 1970s and 1980s did much to increase production on China's farms, only 15 to 20 percent of China's land is suitable for farming. And even this arable land is shrinking due to industrialization, urbanization, and flooding. This crisis of an increasing population and a decreasing capacity to produce food has led to China's infamous government-promoted birth-control programs.
 
Inflation has been another troubling issue for China. The rise in prices for basic consumer items was a fundamental factor in the Tiananmen Square protests. Nonetheless, or perhaps in part due to these issues, China has been recently amenable to Western influence, and the business of teaching English, already commonplace in the rest of Asia, has at last caught on in a big way in the People's Republic.
 
Though at first cautious, many Chinese are generally eager to learn English. Many middle and high schools now teach English, and it's standard curriculum at universities and trade schools.
 
It's not unusual for a North American passing through a Chinese city park to be approached out of the blue by people wanting to learn English.
Despite the much-publicized crackdown on political dissidents in the spring of 1989, in many ways China is much more open to progress than even a decade ago. Though you may face bureaucratic obstacles to getting set up with a teaching job, once established you'll more or less have free rein in the classroom. In the words of one American who taught English in Shanghai, "They definitely want and need teachers, you just have to be extremely flexible."
 
Teaching English in China is nowhere near as streamlined as in places like Japan or Korea, and the pay isn't as high, either. A college degree is almost always necessary, and while ESL training and advanced degrees will help you get a job or higher pay, they are not required for most positions. Most teaching contracts are for the nine month school year, but teachers who go to China through a U.S.- or Canadian-based sending organization may be able to arrange shorter or longer contracts. In any case, your experience undoubtedly will be vastly different than that of someone making the English teachers' circuit in Taiwan, Japan, or South Korea. If you're a person who likes adventure, and you are willing to be flexible and put up with a few inconveniences, teaching English in China is sure to provide an incomparable experience.
 

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