Moving to a far-away country and experiencing a culture that couldn’t be any more different from your own sounds like the adventure of a lifetime. It certainly can be, provided you do your research beforehand and know precisely what you are getting yourself into.
To help you get a better idea of what it’s like, I wanted to share with you my personal experience from going on a Mandarin Café’s Career Jet program in China. There were some amazing moments and some that were less so. If you are considering applying for the Career Jet Program, I believe my words might resonate with you.
The Career Jet program is a mix of excitement and challenges. As such, it provides an excellent opportunity to build character and gain valuable professional experience in an international setting. But before you embark on this adventure, there are a few things you need to know to make an informed decision. Let’s get started!
What Is the Career Jet Program?
Simply put, Career Jet helps native English speakers who have completed their higher education find jobs in China. The program guarantees job placement for all selected applicants, and usually lasts for one year.
The selection process is highly competitive, as there are thousands of applicants from the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, South Africa, and so on each year. After multiple interviews and tons of emails, only 100 of those applicants are selected in the end.
However, if you are among the 100 lucky ones, Career Jet takes over and handles everything for you. I’m talking about job placement, housing, visa applications, travel, and the like. Once you are approved, Mandarin Cafe settles everything you might need to begin your new life in China.
They not only handle everything for you right from the start but also provide you with support and assistance once you get to China. That way, you don’t have to be alone as you try to establish yourself as a professional in a new, unfamiliar setting.
The jobs that you do while on the Career Jet Program vary. You’ll be introduced to a company or an organization that matches your professional background. This ranges from start-ups all the way up to MNCs and Fortune 500. Your manager will give you project-based assignments related to your professional field. Aside from that, you will partner up with a school, university or a college and teach English or other subjects to local students, which would be your second part-time job in China.
As part of the program, you would also receive some additional cultural and language training. Most importantly, you will develop real-life skills and learn how to live on your own while dealing with an unfamiliar culture at the same time.
If you enjoy your first year as a Career Jet participant, you might also be able to apply for an extension and stay for a second year. However, that is not always possible.
The Benefits of Working Abroad with Career Jet
Technically speaking, you can try and find a job in China by yourself. It’s not impossible, but it isn’t exactly easy. On the other hand, doing the Career Jet Program has many advantages that make the entire experience easier to handle and more worthwhile.
Travel for Free
China is quite far away from all English-speaking countries, so going there is never cheap. Even if you are a meticulous planner and know all of the tricks for getting good plane ticket prices, it would still be a lot of money.
However, if you decide to do the Career Jet Program, you won’t have to make that expense. Usually, you have to buy a ticket first, but then you are eligible for reimbursement, so you get your money back. In some cases, your sponsor will pay for your trip.
Personally, I am someone who wants to spend as little money as possible on travel. The plane ticket reimbursement alone piqued my interest when I first looked into Career Jet.
No Need to Job Hunt
Have you tried looking for a job in your own country? When you are first starting out, and you don’t have a lot on your resume, finding a job is difficult even when you are on home turf. Imagine trying to do it in a foreign country, where you might not even speak the language.
Career Jet saves you most of the stress and trouble of hunting for a job by guaranteeing your placement. Everyone who is selected for the Mandarin Café’s program gets a position before they even set foot in China. This arrangement also spares you all of the expenses that you might incur if you move to another country without a job.
Moreover, Mandarin Café takes your professional interests in mind. Most of the project work is media-related, but at least it would match your field. You know that if you are a graphic designer, you will do design, and if you’re a writer, you will write. Some less considering agencies out there try to place people in the first job opening they find, and the match is often less than ideal.
No Nasty Paperwork
When I first talked to my Career Jet coordinator, and they explained the whole process, I was horrified that I would have to prepare everything by myself. However, as it turns out, the agency handles the paperwork on your behalf, and believe me, there is a ton of it.
Career Jet deals with your visa arrangements and getting your residence permit. They also find accommodation for you and clarify housing contracts. In other words, Career Jet helps you with everything you need to do when relocating to China. They even help with opening a local bank account, signing up for health insurance, and a phone contract with a Chinese carrier.
Moreover, there is an employee responsible for your case in particular, and you can always turn to them for any further help, in case you need it.
Besides getting you a job, Career Jet also provides accommodation for you. In most cases, you don’t get to move in as soon as you land, and you might have to live in a hotel for a few days. But everyone has a housing arrangement, so you don’t have to worry about finding a place to live right after you arrive.
Bear in mind that the accommodation might not be perfect or luxurious. Your flat or room will most likely be provided by the institution where you would be teaching, so living in a dorm is quite likely. But if you are unhappy with your housing situation, you are not obligated to stay there. Instead, you can find yourself a better place and still get a housing allowance from Career Jet to pay the rent.
A Team to Rely on
As previously mentioned, you will have two jobs during the Career Jet Program. One is teaching English or other subjects, and the second one is the project-based work related to your field. In both cases, you get a network of supervisors who are there to help and guide you, and perhaps further help your career in the future.
At the School
First of all, you will closely work with a school supervisor. This person is a local teacher of English who will work with you in the same school. They are your most important ally, as they can help you get settled in school, deal with classroom issues, and help you get used to Chinese culture.
The school’s Vice-Principal is at the next level of seniority. Occasionally, the school supervisor might not have an answer for you and send you to the Vice-Principal, who should be able to help.
Lastly, for anything that the school supervisor and the Vice-Principal cannot handle, they will direct you to the Principal. Meeting them is highly unlikely, unless you run into a significant problem at school.
Outside of the School
You will have a different team of Career Jet supervisors for the project-based work you would do besides teaching.
The Project Supervisor is in charge of the different projects that you will work on within your professional field. You must make a good impression on your Project Supervisor. If they are happy with your work, they could help you find a full-time job in China in the future.
Another important person is the Local Office Supervisor. They will not assign projects to you, but they will be your primary Career Jet coordinator. In that capacity, they will help you set up, prepare paperwork for you, and so forth. They could also solve any housing issues you may have. Most importantly, they will evaluate your overall performance throughout the program. If you want to stay on Career Jet longer, your Local Office Supervisor is the person to talk to.
The Pay Is Terrific
Besides securing housing for you, Career Jet also ensures that you receive a competitive salary. During your first year on Career Jet, you will make 220,000 yuan. If you stay for a second year, that amount goes up to 250,000 yuan. The Chinese yuan fluctuates in value, but roughly speaking, that translates to a bit over 30,000 USD for the first year, and almost 35,000 USD for the second.
In both cases, this is almost twice the average salary in China’s biggest cities. It is more than enough to cover your living expenses, indulge in a bit of travel, or save money for the future.
For me, the pay was one of the key reasons to choose Career Jet. I had my student loan debt knocking on my door. I realized that even with a well-paying job back home, my expenses would have been too great. It would have taken me well over a decade to pay back my loan. But with my savings from working in China, I should be able to get rid of my student loans in twice as little time.
You’re Exempt from Paying Taxes
Normally, when you do the Career Jet Program, you will be exempt from paying taxes.
In the cases where the local government does ask you to pay some sort of tax, you will only have to pay it once. There are agreements in place to prevent double taxation. For example, US citizens can pay the taxes on their Chinese income in China, then use the tax credits back in the States without paying a second tax there.
If you are from a different country, check the law for a similar tax agreement with China.
Career Jet ensures that you have health insurance. Other companies might try to scam you by claiming you only work part-time. In that case, they don’t have to pay for your insurance. However, Career Jet gives you a proper contract. Regardless of your total weekly workload, you will have health and social insurance.
Adequate Time Off
Career Jet secures an ample number of days off that you can take during your year working in China. The number of days varies depending on your job placement and the conditions specific to that institution.
On average, you are eligible to take between 15 and 30 days off per year. In addition, you can also claim between 5 and 10 sick days. If in a given month you work more days than required by your contract, you will get extra time off.
Improve Your Chinese
The most obvious benefit of working in China is that you can work on your Chinese! Learning Chinese is not mandatory, and it won’t be necessary for you, as you will have a lot of support from English-speaking staff. But if you do want to learn, living in China for a year or two is the best way to practice. You will also get to apply what you learn to everyday situations. No classroom can give you the same degree of language immersion as the real-life experience with Chinese that you will gain while living there.
Moreover, if you are interested in picking up Chinese, Career Jet offers a free language course you can take advantage of. The course is organized by the institution sponsoring your work in China and is available for all levels of fluency. The course is not comprehensive, but it covers the most common situations you might find yourself in, and it’s entirely free of charge.
If there aren’t enough people for a group course at your level, the sponsoring institution can also set up private language lessons for you.
Develop in a Multicultural Setting
Working in China for a year will help your career, even if you decide that China is not for you in the long run. The time you spend there during the Career Jet Program will make you an attractive applicant for jobs anywhere.
In the age of globalization, employers do value international work experience quite highly. When they see your Chinese experience on your resume, they will know that you are not afraid to immerse yourself in a new culture. They will also believe in your ability to work in highly-diverse teams and take on challenges.
In other words, your time in China translates as a highly desirable qualification that can give you an edge when you go job-hunting.
Dinners with Coworkers
Sharing a meal with your coworkers is an essential bonding experience characteristic of Chinese corporate culture. It involves hanging out with your colleagues in an informal setting, sharing food and drinks, and getting to know each other better. It is an excellent way to strengthen your bond with your coworkers, make friends, and see more of Chinese culture outside of the office.
Overall, there aren’t too many seminars you need to attend. However, Career Jet does organize a few events to highlight key aspects of the program and offer advice. These seminars are especially useful in the beginning, when you still don’t know much about life in China.
Among all of the events, I would highly recommend going to the Skill Development Trainings. Those events were quite helpful, in my opinion. They offer the chance to meet all other English teachers and people with whom you will work. I find these events to be great icebreakers that also prepare you for the work you’ll be doing later on.
Career Jet can put you in touch with partners who can sponsor your TEFL certification. The certificate is a bit expensive ($500-$2,000, depending on where you get it). The price makes it difficult to obtain on your own. However, with a Teaching English as a Foreign Language certification, you can continue your international teaching career successfully. The certificate is a common requirement by many countries looking for English teachers. Receiving a grant to pay for it is too good of a deal to miss.
A Community of Past Career Jets
A hundred people complete the Career Jet program each year, but many of them stay involved with the organization. One of the main benefits of the program is that you can connect with them. Career Jet alumni can help you find future employment and give you career advice, which is a great networking strategy.
Prepare for a Long-Term Stay in China
If you happen to fall in love with life in China and want to stay, then your experience during the Career Jet Program will prove invaluable. By doing Career Jet, you will get used to Chinese culture, make valuable connections, and perhaps even learn a bit of the language.
If you plan to stay longer in China, having the safety net provided by Career Jet for the first year or two will be a great start. Thus, the program will prepare you for your future life in China. It will give you all the know-how and connections to help you settle in China more permanently.
The Benefits of Working in China
Moving all the way to China for work can be challenging. Nevertheless, it is a culturally enriching experience that will also contribute to your personal growth. Here are some of the main advantages of spending a year working in China.
Working abroad, away from your friends, family, and culture, is an excellent way to build character. Of course, Mandarin Cafe will provide different types of counsellors to guide you. But, for the most part, you will be on your own. Thus, you’re building skills and character and learning how to be independent.
Open up to Foreign Cultures
During your stay abroad, you will learn how to deal with culture shock. Moving to China will be dizzying at first. I know it was for me. The buildings, the people, the food, the language — so many things that can make you feel isolated and confused.
But throughout your stay there, you will gradually adapt. You will learn how to open up to a new and different culture. What seemed confusing at first would excite you and eventually make your stay in China memorable. In a way, this program is also about character-building.
Gain a New Perspective on Your Heritage
Dealing with another culture has the unique ability to make us look deeper into our own. You will notice that the Chinese do some things differently. Their behavior may baffle or frustrate you at times. In your mind, you will draw comparisons between the way things are done in China and in your country. It might seem illogical, but being abroad can make you appreciate your own cultural heritage in a new way.
A Year’s Worth of Activities
China is a vast country with beautiful nature. There is always something to do, no matter what season it is. Staying in China for a whole year would allow you to witness the beautiful transformations month by month. You will also see the different celebrations the Chinese have for every season. This way, you will be getting a much more well-rounded view of China than you could as a cursory tourist. For instance, you’d get to try crescent-shaped dumplings for Lunar New Year, watch the cherry blossoms fall, and see a dragon boat race at a festival.
Meeting New, Different People
You will get to meet many fascinating people in China. Some might meet your expectations, while others will exceed them. Without a doubt, socializing with the locals is one of the most significant advantages of working in China. Staying in China for a year or two will certainly allow you to build new relationships, some of which may last you a lifetime.
Bear in mind that just like you may have some preconceived notions about the Chinese, they also have their own stereotypes about foreigners. These stereotypes might be funny or even borderline offensive, but keep an open mind. Remember that the Chinese are not trying to hurt your feelings on purpose. Instead, you can take it upon yourself to serve as a representative of your culture. You will have the chance to rectify a misconception or two while you are there.
A Home Away from Home
A piece of you will always stay in China. You will make memories and find places to call your own. When it is time to go, you will leave things and friends behind. A little bit of yourself will stay with them too. It is a beautiful if a little bitter-sweet experience.
I know it might not sound like it, but it is moments like these that add meaning to our lives. Plus, if you ever decide to return to China, it would be like coming home, in a way.
Possible Downsides to the Career Jet Program
Though I’ve done my best to show you that going on a Career Jet is a fantastic experience that will shape you as a person, there are some downsides too. Like all things in life, it’s not always rainbows and butterflies.
Moving, living, and working abroad in a culture that might be quite different from what you’re used to is not easy. There will be challenges. Some of these I hinted at when I mentioned culture shock. Others might be the result of administrative mistakes and misunderstandings.
Consider these reasons why you might not want to go on a Career Jet program. It is best to think of them in advance, rather than be unpleasantly surprised once you’re already there.
Mandarin Café’s employees always do their best to assist all of their clients working in China. Nevertheless, it is humanly impossible for them to micromanage every little thing about your life abroad.
After all, being on your own is one of those character-building aspects of the program that I value so much. Having Mandarin Cafe hold your hand during the entire process defeats the purpose.
You might find yourself in a situation that no other Career Jet participant has ever been. The program is so far-reaching and involves different kinds of people and institutions all over China. The sheer diversity of experiences you might have makes it impossible for Career Jet to plan everything. You cannot expect that Career Jet will have a solution to all possible mishaps.
Now, I am not saying that you will get in trouble. But you might find yourself in a difficult situation nonetheless. Despite all of the help and support the program offers, some battles you will have to fight yourself.
I am not talking about you getting stranded at the airport or not finding accommodation. Those are the types of problems that Career Jet does help you with. But how well you get along with your colleagues or whether your students like you — those things are up to you.
Isolation & Loneliness
Being abroad, especially in a place as unique as China, can feel incredibly lonely, at least in the beginning.
I remember that I was so excited when I first got to China. But after just a couple of days, the adrenaline of being so far away from home by myself wore off. I was suddenly flooded with the feeling that I did not belong. I missed my friends and my family. My Mandarin skills were also quite poor at the time, which only added to my sense of isolation. But I worked through it and opened up to China, and it was worth it.
Still, I think it’s important to be honest with yourself. Going to China is a big, exciting career move. But it is not a way to escape your problems back home. If you are in a difficult position, going to China might just make things worse. Especially if you are struggling with depression and anxiety, it might be unhealthy for you to move. There are so many things that the Career Jet program can do for you and your development, but solving old problems is not one of them.
My advice is to examine your health and needs carefully and think twice before signing up. Even if you have already been selected for the Career Jet Program, you don’t have to go. If you no longer feel up to it, you can opt out. Let someone else go in your stead and apply again when you are feeling better.
They Throw You in the Deep End
Remember when I mentioned that there are some seminars that Career Jet organizes for you, but not that many? That is mostly because people in China prefer to learn things in practice, rather than in the classroom.
Besides a few introductory seminars, don’t expect to receive in-depth instruction on everything your project managers and supervisors may ask you to do. Instead, they will throw you in the deep end and expect you to learn how to swim on your own.
It sounds scary — and it is, at least in the beginning. But once you get the hang of it, you will see that learning things in practice is quite valuable. This method teaches you to think on your feet and be adaptable. As a result, it would make you an attractive applicant in all of your future job applications.
That being said, this approach is not for everyone, and that’s okay. The important thing is to know what you are signing up for.
Visits to the Doctor
If you need to see a doctor, don’t expect it to go in the same way as seeing your GP back home. The procedures in China may differ from those in your home country. Moreover, doctors in China are quite well respected, so you will not be able to negotiate the course of your treatment or anything of the sort.
One aspect of visiting a Chinese doctor that might be particularly tricky is communication. Not every doctor speaks English, and unless you are fluent in Chinese, talking about symptoms and medication will prove difficult. If you are not too embarrassed about your condition, you can try bringing a Chinese-speaking friend with you.
Furthermore, medication in China is also slightly different. If you are hoping to see familiar names such as Advil or Tylenol, you won’t. Though when you get down to the chemistry of it, you will likely find the meds serve the same purpose. They often even use the same active ingredients, despite their possibly unfamiliar names.
The School System
Chinese schools are different from those in the US, the UK, or anywhere else in the English-speaking world. The reason for this is that Chinese people are extremely result-oriented, both in education and later in their professional field.
Much of the time spent in the classroom is focused on test preparation and tests. I remember how studying for the SATs was all about reaching a specific score. You knew that at that score, you could get into a good college with a decent scholarship, and so forth. An excellent test result is like insurance for a secure future.
The situation in China is quite similar, except that in China, this obsession with scores happens long before college. There are tests to get you into a reputable high school. That school can then give students the best preparation to get them into good universities.
Another big difference is that Chinese schools are all about the group, not the individual. Your colleagues would likely expect you to blend in with the group. It’s best to fit in the well-oiled machine they already have running, rather than bring innovation to the system. The best thing you can do is respect that and try to do the best job you can, within the constraints of your position.
You Work for the State, Not Just for Yourself
Being a teacher in China is a well-respected job within the public sector. As such, teachers often have to make an appearance at public events. Since you are a foreigner, you probably won’t have to attend too many of those. Your local co-workers understand that you are unfamiliar with Chinese culture. Most likely, they will try not to put too much on your plate.
But the school where you are teaching might still ask you to join some of the events. Your school supervisors might also request that you work extra hours, even over the weekend. After all, the other teachers will be doing it, and you should not consider yourself special. Plus, putting in a little bit of extra work would help you earn the respect of your co-workers.
Still, nobody likes overtime, which is why I am putting this down as a con.
You Must Follow the Rules
Whether it is something from your personal life in China or a situation at work, you need to comply with the way things are done there.
I have mentioned several times in this article that China does some things differently. Some of the things people do may not always make perfect sense to you. What’s important is that, even if you think your way is better, you stick to the rules.
Try to follow your co-workers’ and your neighbors’ cues and handle things the way they do. Otherwise, you will be sticking out like a sore thumb, and you might even get in trouble.
It goes without saying, but you should also forget about second-guessing the Chinese. You are there temporarily, as a guest and as a foreigner. If your supervisors ask you to do something without giving you a reason, you still need to do it.
That was one of the most difficult pills to swallow as a foreigner, at least for me. In Western cultures, we tend to value creativity and encourage professionals to strive for innovation in everything they do. For instance, I tried coming up with my own original language exercises in the classroom, and it did not go well. I did not get in trouble, but my supervisors’ disapproving looks were enough to tell me that I had stepped over the line.
Looking at all of the arguments presented in this article, you can see that moving to China is not easy. Nevertheless, the challenges are worth it. The culture shock you might experience in the beginning, as well as the isolation of being in a strange, unfamiliar place, can seriously get you down at first. Moreover, the workplace culture in China is also probably quite different from what you are used to. It takes a while to acclimatize to it.
However, going to China on a Career Jet Program means you are never entirely alone. You will not have to look for a job or a place to live by yourself. You also won’t struggle with translating Chinese contracts on your own. Most importantly, your coordinators and your coworkers will be there for you. They will do everything they can to help you settle in your new home and workplace.
The whole experience of doing a Career Jet Program in China is equal parts challenge and adventure. You may encounter quite a few difficulties down the road, but after each one of them, you will emerge as a stronger, better version of yourself. You will grow as a person and as a professional, all the while making friends to last you a lifetime. Isn’t that what this whole journey is about?