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Hanshan Normal University - School Review
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7969



Joined: 26 Mar 2003
Posts: 5683
Location: South China, by the sea.

PostPosted: Sun Feb 24, 2013 2:56 pm    Post subject: Hanshan Normal University - School Review Reply with quote

I've been at this school nearly seven years now, and wanted to write this review sooner (but didn't), because I think the place really deserves a bit of exposure on a site like this. I don't think they get a lot of people applying, which is a shame, but then again the low turnover rate among the foreigners here means not a lot of chance for people to get hired on either. Anyway, it'll soon be time for schools to look for new teachers and teachers to look for new schools, so I guess this review is timely. Here it is (and keep in mind this is the view of one person only):

Location

Hanshan Normal University is situated in Chaozhou, eastern Guangdong province, close to the Fujian border. While some people may consider the location a real backwater, it does have advantages. First, the area is less populated and crowded than other larger centres. Second, being somewhat close to the sea, the air is relatively clean and the skies bluer than other parts of the province. Third, Chaozhou is not a city on the same scale as Shanghai, so if one wishes to get out of town for any reason, it can be done in 10-15 minutes as opposed to one or two hours. The school itself is located near the eastern edge of the city but still close enough to the centre that itís possible to cover the distance from Hanshan to downtown in 30 minutes on foot or in less than 10 minutes by city bus. Further, while Chaozhou itself is not a major tourist destination, at least from a foreignerís perspective, it is close to other parts of China that are quite interesting and these include places like Yongding, Xiamen, and Wuyishan in Fujian province, or Guangzhou and Hong Kong in the other direction. The place is connected to the rest of China by some decent freeways, air, and to a lesser extent, the train.

The Campus

The West Campus of Hanshan is small and compact in area, quite rustic looking, and within 200 metres of one of Chaozhouís most recognizable features: the XiangZi Bridge. Living in the western campus is pleasant, generally quite peaceful and several small shops, restaurants and vendors can be found outside the West Gate. During my first couple of years here I spent a fair bit of time at one of the BBQs drinking and eating till all hours, but as of late Iíve stopped doing that. The East Campus is much larger than the West, more modern, and houses many more students. For that reason life there is more vibrant and hectic, but I prefer the peace and quiet on the West Campus myself.

Working Conditions

As for the working conditions at this school, generally speaking theyíre fine. Two foreign teachers teach Oral English to the freshmen and the sophomores, two other foreign teachers have writing classes with the sophomores and juniors. Weíve had as many as five foreigners here in the past and the fifth usually had most of their classes at a trade college that has an affiliation with Hanshan, but for the past two years there have been only four of us here. Teaching hours typically vary between 12-16 hours per week, depending on student intake for a particular year. Iíve had as few as 12 and as many as 18 (a one term anomaly), but 14 has been my average.

The Weinan Building is the main teaching building for the Foreign Language Dept, and about half the classrooms are fitted with multi-media platforms that can be used to deliver a lesson, while others are the more traditional desk and chalkboard type of classroom. I request, and have always been given a multi-media room for all my classes. The only drawback teaching in this building is that the temperatures in late spring, summer and early fall are quite high in Chaozhou and being in those rooms with just the small fans can be uncomfortable, but on the other hand, the winters never get cold so teaching in winter isnít too bad especially since the classrooms are on the sunny south side of the building.

As far as admin goes, weíve had three different FAOs at this school in my seven years. All three of them have done a very good job and all of them speak/spoke very good English. A couple of teachers have had some problems with the FAO in the past but I don't know the whole story on what happened in those instances so I won't say any more on that. All I can tell you is I've never had a problem.

We also have a Chinese Cooperation Teacher and she's the person responsible for making our timetables and dealing with any other work related issues. Timetables are given well in advance (I was given my timetable for this upcoming term in December last year), I've always requested at least Monday or Friday free (always been granted), and a couple of terms she gave me both of them off. Weíre usually given enough notice of when we have to hand in our grades and how to go about completing these tasks. Emails to this liaison teacher are answered promptly and accurately, and any reasonable request you have will at least be considered (but you gotta ask). This is also the person who may/will observe one of your classes each year.

Pay and Benefits

Pay and benefits at this school are not complicated and are as follows:

a. Salary between 7000-7500.
b. Free on campus apartment.
c. If you sign a contract for subsequent years full pay till 15 Jul, half pay from 16 Jul till 31 Aug, full pay resuming again on 1 Sep.

Thatís it. Whereís the airfare, the utilities, and the holiday bonus? There isnít any. What???!!! Thatís an outrage!! Itís slavery!! No, it isnít, let me explain. This school used to pay all of these benefits but a few years ago they did away with them. Why would they do such a thing?

Under the old system we had lower salaries and more benefits (without summer pay) and under that regime my annual salary at Hanshan was about 68,000 per year. Under the new system of higher salaries, no benefits, and salary paid over the summer, my annual salary is now about 84,000. Getting rid of the benefits and upping the salary made it easier for everyone. No receipts needed for anything, no worrying about getting screwed over on your air ticket at some future time, and more money up front. The school will set up a bank account for you and your money will be sent there every month. My pay has been late once in seven years, and that was a couple of years ago when it was a week late. It's almost always on time, and on occasion is even a day early.

One expense that the teacher has to take on is the annual health insurance, which the school doesnít pay, and that comes to about 1,200 for the year. Hanshan gets Z visas for everyone and renewals of residence permits are processed quickly and painlessly. Overall this pay and benefits deal is, in my opinion, better than most other universities. You won't get rich, but you'll be quite comfortable. If it's not enough for you the school doesn't mind you taking on side work, in fact, they sometimes are the ones passing it on to you. If anything Iíve written about the pay is confusing, or if someone questions my math, Iím willing to clarify if necessary.

Living Conditions

Regarding living conditions, the teacherís apartments in the West Campus are relatively small but still comfortable and are located very close to the main teaching building, about a 60 second slow walk. Teachers who live in the East Campus have larger apartments but living in the east entails commuting to the West Campus to work and this requires a 15-20 minute walk, or a shorter bike ride.

Iíve had a few problems with my apartment over the years, and a quick email or phone call to the FAO usually gets the problem sorted out either that day or within a few days. One example I want to highlight: Around 8pm one night last spring the power in my apartment went out. A wire in the breaker outside my door snapped and the power was gone, but only in my flat. I called the FAO, and within ten minutes a Chinese teacher and a repairman with a tool bag were at my door. The problem was sorted five minutes after that.

No curfews, no-one watching your every move, the front gate will be opened for you if you come back wasted late at night, and you can bring people into your flat without questions.

The Students

For any foreigner who has taught English in China, the main complaint will be the passive nature of the students. While students at Hanshan are no different, there are a good number of students who are active, and who are inquisitive about learning more about English and about other foreign cultures. In addition, the students are generally well-behaved, and do the work asked of them. They're English Education majors and Business English majors so they have a decent grasp of the language. 95% of them are female.

One other complaint that foreigners often have about teaching English in China is the dreaded English corner. Unlike many other schools in China, Hanshan students put a lot of effort into preparing an active and interesting English corner. This will not resemble the English Corner you've probably experienced elsewhere (a lone foreigner standing in the middle of a circle of students asking the same ďyes and noĒ type questions week after week). Here at Hanshan, the students choose a theme for each weekly English corner, decorate according to that theme, arrange music and refreshments and they organize games and have other activities on hand. The discussions are sometimes good, sometimes not so interesting, depends on the weekly theme. One class last year used the theme ďHomosexualityĒ which resulted in some interesting conversation. Our contract says we should attend English Corner a couple of times per term but since itís usually half decent and I live right nearby I usually show up for most of them.

The students also organize and take part in other performances: singing, martial arts, modeling shows, playing music, speech contests, and they also organize regular volunteer activities to help people in need who live in nearby villages. I know some people donít hold these kinds of activities in very high regard but my feeling is that a. these activities are for the benefit of the students so what outsiders think is mostly irrelevant, and b. if the students were doing nothing people would complain about that as well. I think most people would be impressed with the efforts the students put forth in their extra-curricular activities. Of course sometimes foreign teachers have to take part in these events as judges, and Iíve done it a few times over the years, but if I find Iím asked too often or if Iím genuinely busy, or just not interested I politely decline the invitation. I usually show up to take photos anyway since recording the event is of more interest to me.

On a related note, most of the students here are very friendly. Iíve been to the homes of several of them over the years and been treated very well by their families and had a lot of fun. Many of them will go very far out of their way to help you and a lot of them have become good friends of mine over the years.

Conclusion

While not as well-known as other schools in China, Hanshan Normal University has been a pleasant place to work for the past seven years. The relationships the school has with the foreign experts, past and present, have been mostly good, and those who leave Hanshan after working here tend to leave with good memories. What I've written above might be hard for some of you to believe but "hear me now and believe me later" (Thanks Franz Very Happy) when I tell you that this is a good place to live and work. If you're a reasonable person, can keep out of trouble, have a bit of flexibility, and don't mind showing up to do an honest few hours work then you'll have no problems here. If you want to see some photos of the school, the surrounding area, and some of the things people do here, just go to the Flickr group (see the link below) and have a look.

Flickr Group - ESL in China
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Denim-Maniac



Joined: 31 Jan 2012
Posts: 1238

PostPosted: Sun Feb 24, 2013 3:28 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Good review, we should have more of these really.

What is life like outside the campus and in the town? What does the social scene like? Hobbies and activities etc? Is there much access to or interaction with English speakers outside of the university or is the social scene an ex-pat / teachers one?

Nice to read a concise review though.
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7969



Joined: 26 Mar 2003
Posts: 5683
Location: South China, by the sea.

PostPosted: Sun Feb 24, 2013 4:34 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Denim-Maniac wrote:
Good review, we should have more of these really.

I agree. It would go a long way in showing that ESL in this country isn't always the nightmare it's portrayed as.

Denim-Maniac wrote:
What is life like outside the campus and in the town? What does the social scene like? Hobbies and activities etc? Is there much access to or interaction with English speakers outside of the university or is the social scene an ex-pat / teachers one?

My first couple of years here I went out frequently. Plenty of KTVs and a few half decent bars in town. I then started hanging around the two BBQs that are outside the gate, and that was ok too. A few of us would hang out there till 2am or so, and on a couple of occasions till the sun rose the following morning. Last few years has been mostly getting together in someone's apartment and drinking wine and beer, listening to music and talking, which is probably the most enjoyable and cheapest option. Occasionally I drink with some students but that doesn't happen too often. Once in a blue moon I run across a stray foreigner or three in town, businessmen in the porcelain industry, the odd tourist, and there are some Kazakh exchange students here who can speak some English, but for the most part the expat scene, if you want to call it that, is limited to the people on campus.

About the language, the locals here speak their own language, which I have little knowledge of and can't be bothered learning because learning Mandarin is enough for me. But most local people I've dealt with here can function in Mandarin. If you have no Mandarin at all, you can find students to accompany you anywhere you need to go and help out. If you have a basic grasp of the language you can manage largely on your own for your daily tasks here. Not a lot of English speakers among the locals outside the school, and in my seven years here have probably only met a handful, but I admit I don't go out too often these days (I even pay a student to do my weekly shopping, as I can't be bothered) so there are probably more English speakers than I give credit for.

I spend most of my free time during the school year here either at work, in my flat, or taking a weekend jaunt to Hong Kong or some other place of interest to me. For winter and summer holiday I almost always go home or further afield outside China.
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bestteacher2012



Joined: 22 Aug 2012
Posts: 87

PostPosted: Sun Feb 24, 2013 4:38 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I will guess one of the reasons this uni struggles to attract applicants is because of being located in Guangdong province. Not only does Guangdong have some of toughest requirements in regards to Z visas, but also teachers cannot get their visas from Hong Kong. These two factors reduce the number of foreigners willing to consider this university significantly.
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lemak



Joined: 19 Nov 2011
Posts: 368

PostPosted: Sun Feb 24, 2013 5:40 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Good deal for anyone who doesn't mind a slower pace. Question - do they offer mandarin classes for foreign students on "x" visas? what are the kazakhs studying??
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7969



Joined: 26 Mar 2003
Posts: 5683
Location: South China, by the sea.

PostPosted: Sun Feb 24, 2013 5:44 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Yeah the foreign students here study Chinese. Most are from Kazakhstan as the school has an exchange program with a teacher's university in Almaty. But there are some foreign students from Korea, Thailand, and a couple of other places. My first year here there was an English guy studying Chinese as well.
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fat_chris



Joined: 10 Sep 2003
Posts: 3135

PostPosted: Sun Feb 24, 2013 6:20 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Good review. Many thanks for taking the time to pen that, 7969.

Warm regards,
fat_chris
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Denim-Maniac



Joined: 31 Jan 2012
Posts: 1238

PostPosted: Sun Feb 24, 2013 6:23 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

bestteacher2012 wrote:
I will guess one of the reasons this uni struggles to attract applicants is because of being located in Guangdong province. Not only does Guangdong have some of toughest requirements in regards to Z visas, but also teachers cannot get their visas from Hong Kong. These two factors reduce the number of foreigners willing to consider this university significantly.


I wouldnt have thought this is true.

Most people would prefer to enter the country on a Z visa, or if they are in-country, like to be sure they will be provided with the correct paperwork. And as far as I know, the toughest requirements are still just a passport from an English speaking country, an undergraduate degree and two-years experience. Not a great ask TBH.
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clarke501



Joined: 18 Feb 2011
Posts: 43

PostPosted: Sun Feb 24, 2013 7:24 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Nice to see a positive review for once! Smile
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xiguagua



Joined: 09 Oct 2011
Posts: 768

PostPosted: Sun Feb 24, 2013 7:32 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

How about cost of living information? IE restaurants, general necessities, vegetables/meat.

And since I generally cook for myself, I always want a decent sized kitchen (I sound like a 50's housewife) Since you mentioned the West apts are much smaller than the East apts, how different are they?



Edit: I see basic apartment photos in your flickr but it's hard to determine which one is your apartment now. I do rather like the studio style though.
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7969



Joined: 26 Mar 2003
Posts: 5683
Location: South China, by the sea.

PostPosted: Mon Feb 25, 2013 12:45 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

xiguagua wrote:
How about cost of living information? IE restaurants, general necessities, vegetables/meat.

I'll add some info on that a bit later.

xiguagua wrote:
And since I generally cook for myself, I always want a decent sized kitchen (I sound like a 50's housewife) Since you mentioned the West apts are much smaller than the East apts, how different are they?

Very different. The apartment I live in is about half the size of the other ones available. If you like a big kitchen you wouldn't like my apartment.

xiguagua wrote:
Edit: I see basic apartment photos in your flickr but it's hard to determine which one is your apartment now. I do rather like the studio style though.

I've identified all my photos on Flickr either by using a title just underneath them, or you can just check the tags to the right to know which are mine. I've also added notes on some of my photos (to point out different things) and if you mouse over the photo you'll see them. But I haven't put up any of the inside of my apartment yet, I'll do that a bit later today. The photo of the studio apartment isn't mine.
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milkweedma



Joined: 19 Nov 2006
Posts: 151

PostPosted: Mon Feb 25, 2013 3:08 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

This is potentially a worry without knowing any of the details:

"A couple of teachers have had some problems with the FAO in the past but I don't know the whole story on what happened in those instances so I won't say any more on that"

But other than that, it was a great review and the University sounds like a relaxed, laid back and well structured place to live and teach at in China.
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Simon in Suzhou



Joined: 09 Aug 2011
Posts: 263
Location: GZ

PostPosted: Mon Feb 25, 2013 3:38 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

bestteacher2012 wrote:
I will guess one of the reasons this uni struggles to attract applicants is because of being located in Guangdong province. Not only does Guangdong have some of toughest requirements in regards to Z visas, but also teachers cannot get their visas from Hong Kong. These two factors reduce the number of foreigners willing to consider this university significantly.


Nah, I doubt this is the case. Guangzhou is one of the most competitive markets for teachers. There are PLENTY of QUALIFIED teachers in the province. No need to grab tourists/backpackers, etc. More likely it's just too far from Guangzhou or Shenzhen where 90% of the foreign teachers want to be. Seems like a good job and the kind of quiet place I would enjoy living.
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Zhejiang_Man



Joined: 23 Aug 2012
Posts: 109
Location: Zhejiang

PostPosted: Mon Feb 25, 2013 2:52 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Quote:
I spend most of my free time during the school year here either at work, in my flat, or taking a weekend jaunt to Hong Kong


How long does it take you to get to Hong Kong? Chaozhou is 6 hours by train to Guangzhou and then another 2 hours?
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7969



Joined: 26 Mar 2003
Posts: 5683
Location: South China, by the sea.

PostPosted: Mon Feb 25, 2013 3:23 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Zhejiang_Man wrote:
Quote:
I spend most of my free time during the school year here either at work, in my flat, or taking a weekend jaunt to Hong Kong


How long does it take you to get to Hong Kong? Chaozhou is 6 hours by train to Guangzhou and then another 2 hours?

4.5 hours to Shenzhen by bus, a half hour or so to cross the border, then another 45 minutes on the train into HK. Six and a half hours in total. I never use the train here, the service is too slow and infrequent.
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