Have you ever been to the zoo and wondered what it would be like to sit in a cage all day while people stare and occasionally throw blobs of food at you? I had the unfortunate pleasure of finding out what this would be like when I recently found myself working in a training center containing mostly glass walls and doors. The bathroom was the only place where you could go and feel like you had a little privacy. And even then, you had to wonder…
As we would sit in our glass office or teach in our glass classrooms, we would be constantly barraged with a torrent of intense stares and nervous giggles from perspective clients who were being given a tour of our glass paradise. They never waved or attempted to even say hello. They just gazed at us until they were gently pulled away by their tour guide who usually gave them a few long moments to satisfy their curiosity.
After all, the foreign teachers’ office was the main attraction.
Most of these visitors would take the mandatory tour, politely accept a few brochures, and then exit the building, never to be seen again. But there were always a few who succumbed to the typical promises of “learning English is easy” and “you’ll be speaking English like a native in weeks”. They would be quickly ushered into a small glass office where a beaming recruiter would begin the sales pitch in earnest.
The sales pitch, as I discovered after working there for a few months, was tailored to the potential client’s perceived wealth. There were no prices in the brochures or other promotional material that the training center produced. Prices would be determined after enough personal information could be extracted during the ‘pres-ales’ interview.
Once the money (almost always paid upfront) was secured, the now paying client would be securely attached to my training center for anywhere from 6 months up to 2 years. Their training would begin as soon as they were read to start.
That’s the foreign teachers entered back into the picture. Our job was to attempt to fulfill the lofty expectations that our clients had been assured were within their grasp. We were supposed to make their dreams come true.
Meanwhile, my own dreams and expectations had faded considerably when I discovered that I was working on an illegal visa. The city printed on my work permit was not the city in which I was currently employed. This was a clear breach of contract and a dangerous situation.
I also discovered that much of the curriculum that we were forced to teach with was copied straight off the internet and held little value for our clients. Some of it was so uninteresting and irrelevant that I found myself dozing off during my own lessons. Clearly, the training center cared far more about their profits than they did about the quality of the material that we were using, which of course would directly affect the quality of our lessons.
When we tried to confront the management about these issues – we were especially keen on resolving the visa issue – it did not take us long to realize that our opinions, ideas, and wishes meant very little to the training center. They assured us that we were perfectly safe on our ‘illegal’ visas and that they would look into the other issues that we had brought up.
A few months later, the training center’s regional headquarters was raided by police and a number of teachers were arrested on account of their illegal visas.
By that time, I was already on my way out. They tried to offer me more money but I declined. I did not have any scruples about ditching a company (in the middle of my contract) that refused to provide a proper visa for me. The incident with the police was just confirmation of that.
That is the short story of my time at an English training center in China. After that, I found a university position in the North of China. They gave me a real working visa and a little more respect. And best of all, no glass! In fact, I don’t even have an office here.
In my opinion, you should only apply at a training center if you have exhausted all other means of finding employment. Training centers are a dime-a-dozen in China and they will almost hire anyone. They will ‘put you in a cage’ and show you off to grab new customers. But in the end, you and your entire existence in China is expendable. You are just part of a well oiled profit machine.