Keiran Jones
Taught English in China: summer 2010
Current Job Title: Sales and other freelancing opportunities with Mandarin

Careers after the placement
Our teachers gain lots of skills through their work in China, like communication skills, leadership ability and experience with public speaking.
Prospective employers value initiative, and the ability to take yourself out of your comfort zone and thrive.
It means that you have lots of careers options upon completing the programme.
A number of our recent teachers pursued a career in teaching, while others now work in finance, the civil service or for NGO’s.

“Summer 2010 was easily the most enjoyable few months I’ve experienced, setting me off on a long journey that has kept me tied to China ever since.

Reading about the Earth or being fixated on world maps always made me feel somewhat frustrated. I was raised to the East of London, only a short train ride away from the City but I wanted something more from the world and to experience a different reality. I felt being monolingual and having only lived in one place restricted my understanding of the world and the development of my character.

Late 2009 I came across an email from Arnold that gave me the perfect opportunity to do something about it. Fast forward to the summer and I was off enjoying myself, teaching in China, making great, long-lasting friends and seeing so many new things that my naïve mind was barely able to cope. I had taken some Mandarin lessons before heading to Wuhan but soon found out my language skills were woefully inadequate for reaching the depths of understanding I wished to find. Either way though, from my child-like excitement of being there and saying the few things I could, I became hooked and determined to learn the language. The time to leave came round too fast and I had to return to UK to finish my degree.

That whole year I longed to be back in China and in September 2011 I was heading back out to Wuhan on a scholarship, the intention to reach fluency in Chinese. The contacts I made on my first stint and the teaching skills I had acquired made it very easy for me to find work to supplement my living costs. My limited Chinese language skills also opened up other opportunities and began to give me access to new experiences such as all-expenses paid trips to archaeological sites. As my Chinese language improved I was able to delve deeper into China and visit small towns (Dangyang, Xingping) and places of extraordinary beauty, such as Shennongjia in Hubei and the Longsheng rice terraces in the North of Guangxi. This three-year period provided me with the development I was looking for and has played such an important part in my understanding of ideology, language, reality and culture.

I returned to UK in 2014 and worked in London in a number of roles that would not have been accessible had I not learned Chinese. One of these was a Private Office, helping Chinese Nationals immigrate to the UK and providing services as widespread as travel, schooling and investments. My clients and the majority of my colleagues were Chinese so I was able to continue using Mandarin. There were some great parts of the job too, like the business trip I took to Nanjing where I spoke to a large audience about our services. I was also trusted with a budget to execute a similar event in London, a result of my ability to tailor presentations to Chinese sensitivities.

I really enjoyed communicating with our partner, a wealth manager who provided us with a white label service for investments in products such as UK Gilts. I doubt I would have had the opportunity to talk to someone with his expertise unless I entered that industry directly and he was never shy to teach me more and share his knowledge. I soon realised my worth when I was left to pick up the pieces when the directors of my company had offended him. The Chinese directors were unaware they were damaging the relationship through their rash and flippant behaviour and the money they had tried to extract from his company. They had shown a real lack of cultural awareness to British culture and customs. We often hear of this happening the other way round. However, it proved to me what I thought might be the case, my experience would allow me to be the bridge between two cultures. My history of living in China, my background and the fact I learned to speak Chinese allowed me to persuade the directors away from their original course of action and explain the problems they were creating. Equally, I told the partner a bit about Chinese culture and its history in a way to help him conceptualise what he had experienced. I learned that after I left the job, that relationship broke down.

Despite this, however, I still wanted to get back to China to continue improving my Chinese and dig up further opportunities that would give me a better quality of life. Wages can be higher in China and the living expenses lower, making this ideal for living the life I want.

April of 2016 I returned to China, this time Beijing, to start selling coffee and take up other freelancing opportunities. The coffee opportunity came through a contact I met when on the business trip in Nanjing. My clients are mostly Chinese with the exception of some cafes and bars run by expats. My Chinese colleagues feel the expats trust me and are more willing to do business with me because of my background. They also noted how Chinese also gave me more time than them in a sales pitch for the same reason. In dealing with a commodity seen as foreign, my experience has shown me that not being Chinese has the added value of trust. Furthermore, the speciality coffee market in the UK is largely saturated and in Beijing it is just taking off. This has allowed me to impress and educate with my coffee knowledge in an environment with relatively less expertise. Once again, my language skills have allowed me to take advantage of this otherwise untapped potential.

I also have work with a travel agency, putting together trips in China possible because of my Mandarin and time spent seeing the country. I have been teaching, proofreading, translating, voice acting, writing and managing events. I love the varied work load and it gives me a certain freedom. My spoken Chinese is improving more rapidly than at any other time and this all stemmed from that incredible summer I spent in Wuhan six years ago, teaching English and setting me on a path to learn Mandarin to fluency. My future is now intertwined with China and my planned projects include starting a bilingual blog on coffee in Beijing.

That desire to experience the other is becoming more and more realised and I couldn’t be happier. Living and working in China has made me a more resilient individual and when away from the UK I am encouraged to work harder and find more ways to develop myself. I also experienced that there are more opportunities to jump into positions and promotions quicker than in the comparatively snail-paced Britain. Furthermore, where I wanted to broaden my mind and develop myself, I took action and I am now experiencing the benefits of it. It is easy to accept the doom and gloom of global politics and live an unfulfilled life. It is also easy to have dreams of learning another language and living abroad but then do nothing about it. For anyone considering making such a move, they could just do it and overcome the fear. I feel inaction is more likely to lead to regret than making a bold move to expand your understanding of the world.

Through living in China my perspective has changed greatly, opening my mind and revealing what it really means when someone talks of opposing ideologies and alternative realities. I have become aware of where the Chinese see foreigners as naïve or specialists and vice versa. My philosophical outlook on life has come under many more changes and contradictions but this confusion only adds to the richness and understanding of what is important for me.”