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A Day in the Life of a Chinese Summer Camp Teacher

7.30am: WAKE UP!

You may have been out socialising with the other English teachers until 4am last night and you may have consumed one beer too many but hey, the kids have been up since 6am and you can hear their little feet scampering on the floor above you.


7.35am: Take a rinse in the ice cold shower (warm water doesn’t start flowing until 9am) and squat over the hole-in-the-ground toilet, only the best for us prized English teachers!

8am: You have to skip breakfast as there is no way you’re going to want to force down noodles at 7am.

So it’s straight to the office for you. Here you will meet up with the other English teachers and see what the plan for the day is.

The mornings are usually the same but there is often different activities going on in the afternoon. It’s Camp Night tonight with a Cowboys and Indian theme.

9.00-11.15am: The morning sessions begin.

Two 45 minute classes with a 15 minute break. It is exhausting. You’ve taught the same lesson to almost 10 different classes and now you can do it in your sleep, which is handy as you might just have to.

Some of the kids are great and quick learners but today you are in with the ‘feral’ children.

They have descended from a rival school and aren’t used to the rules in this establishment. Many teachers have tried to tackle them (sometimes literally) and failed.

I learn that the key is plenty of breaks filled with cartoons. One child manages to cut their hair off with a rogue pair of scissors. Another eats glue. You have gotten away lightly.

Half way through the second session, the hangover kicks in. The translators say you look pale, you say it must be food poisoning. They are not convinced. You make a mad dash to the toilets. You would not recommend being sick in a squatting toilet.

You soldier on.

11.30am: Lunchtime! As a Westerner, Chinese meal times are very strange.

Breakfast is at the crack of dawn, lunch very early and dinner pretty early, at 5pm, as well. The cooks here are great though and prepare you vats of fried rice if your stomach start to rumble late at night.

As a teacher you have your own queue and wait with American style trays for mute dinner ladies to slop anonymous concoctions onto your plate.

There is a mix of vegetable and mystery meat dishes and you like to try them all. Just don’t be asking what they are, you probably won’t like the answer… These are washed down with warm water (they don’t do refrigerated drinks) and handfuls of steamed buns.

11.30-2pm: There is a heavenly two and a half hour break here. The kids (and usually you) choose to nap during this time and some of the fussy teachers sneak to McDonalds for a replacement lunch.

At half 1 you hear the children begin to stir. It’s time to start all over again.

2pm-5pm: The afternoon sessions are a bit all over the place. As it is Cowboy and Indian night tonight, this afternoon there is the challenge of painting headdresses and masks.

The misappropriation of archaic Native American stereotypes niggles you all day. You have to leave your morals at the door. It’s all just a bit of fun.

5pm: Covered in paint and glue and feathers and god knows what, you head to dinner.

Dinner is usually identical to lunch, so you pick extra sized portions of the things you’d like best. It is a very repetitive way of eating! The vegetarians are starting to fade and bloat from their diet of white rice and steamed buns.

7pm: The evening activities begin. By now the kids have been up for 12 hours but do not seem to be tiring anytime soon!

Dismissing health and safety regulations, a big bonfire has been erected in the central quad and classes decked out in fancy dress parade around the flames.

Songs are sung and numerous highly inapproprate renditions of Gangnam Style are performed. You have never seen so many gyrating ten year olds!

10pm: Just when you can’t take another class performance and you have done the Gangnam dance probably around a million times, it’s time for the kids to go to bed.

Breathing a sigh of relief you head back to the dorms with the other teachers. Cracking open a bottle of warm beer, you decide where you are going to be heading that evening. The expat bar ‘la bang’ usually wins and before you know it, the day starts all over again…



Profile photo of Lauren Sedgwick

A recent graduate and travel enthusiast, currently organising Gap Year 2.0. Unable/unwilling to settle down when there is so much to see and do out there! I think having perpetually itchy feet is a gift and one which should be exercised as frequently as possible. If there is a will there will always be a way.

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