We are a couple from the UK and this was our first teaching experience in China. We were sent to the town of Dongkou in the middle of the Hunan province. The school is split into two campuses. The new campus was built 5-6 years ago, this was the main campus that we taught from. The older campus is a 10 minute walk away and this is where we lived. Dongkou is medium sized town surrounded by lovely mountains and countryside. We were the only foreigners in the town and we were the first foreign-er experience for many of the locals, so be prepared to be a bit of a celebrity! Eve-ryone is very friendly wherever you go in the town we received a warm welcome. The school provided us with a great experience, the teachers and students all work very hard and were helpful and enthusiastic towards us. Our whole experience in Dongkou has been positive and we really recommend the Dongkou No1 Middle School in Hunan province China.
Dongkou is a medium sized working class town. The town is quite spread out on both sides of the river that flows through the middle. The old campus is situated on the 'main street' within walking distance to the main shopping areas for food, clothing and restaurants. Most people live in apartments of which many are currently under construction and many new complexes are being built. Dongkou is surrounded by mountains and countryside which are nice to hike or visit the fruit plantations during the weekend. We are avid runners and found lots of great trails throughout the year, it was a nice way to see life in the town and on the outskirts!
Amenities: We would say that Dongkou is well - equipped, you can find most things in the town. The main road outside the old campus has a variety of shops and restau-rants that line both sides of the road. There are two supermarkets to shop at both opposite each other on the main road. The main supermarket is more modern and also sells clothing and shoes, it is like a small department store. On the third floor of the supermarket complex is a fully equipped gym with yoga, dance and spin classes also available. A teacher can go with you to work out a membership deal if you are interested, we made quite a few friends at the gym so it is a good social experience to keep in mind. The supermarkets do not sell many 'western' products (which tbh we didn't miss!) but there is a good choice of food places close by including both Chinese food and fast food, there is one KFC restaurant.
A 15 minute walk from the school is an outside vegetable and fruit market, if like us you prefer to make your own meals. We shopped here every week, none of the ven-dors speak English but we managed to get by and the produce is fresh and seasonal. Next to the new campus is the main square which is a busy hangout spot every night with the elders out dancing and young children roller skating. In this area you can find more 'upmarket' restaurants that are very popular, especially the hotpot or BBQ places. There is a cinema which we never went to and several KTV which are also very popular. Taxis are available from everywhere in town. The only time we ever needed one was to get to the bus station which costs 10 yuan per trip.
Dongkou is accessible by car or bus. The nearest train station is about 90 minutes drive in Huaihua, from here you can get high speed trains to most major cities. The closest city is Shaoyang, about a 60 minute drive and Changsha, the capital city of Hunan, is about four hours away. Changsha also serviced by airport. Other nearby attractions include the famous Zhangjiajie National Park and the ancient village of Fenghuang
Dongkou No1 Middle School
Both the school campuses are quite central in the town. It is an easy 10 minute walk between each campus. Most of our classes were on the new campus which is modern and functional set on nice grounds with a sports stadium and basketball courts. The teaching building is five floors of classrooms and offices. Each classroom is equipped with a computer, screen projector and speakers. Some of the equipment is old but everything usually works okay. Out of 55 classes 5 classes do not have computer equipment, they just have blackboards available.
The sports field has an athletic track, football field and there are separate basket-ball courts which is the most popular sport at this school. There is tiered seating for any spectators. The old campus also has an old running track and some courts for basketball.
Each classroom: The school uses the Buckland textbooks which we supplemented with PowerPoints and also showed the students music videos and other teaching videos which they really enjoy and makes for a more interesting lesson.
The canteen provides breakfast, lunch and dinner about 7yuan per meal. The school provided us with meal card which they kept topped up at no cost to us. The meals are good and tasty. You can chose to eat in the teacher canteen or an option that is available to the students. Usually there is some sort of meat dish and two or three vegetable sides and rice. Hunan has quite spicy cuisine but we liked it!
School shop: both campus have a small shop on-site which sells snacks, drinks and other junk foods. You can also purchase some small stationary from here. The lunch meal card can also be used in the shop.
School doctor and pharmacy can help if you are feeling unwell. They stock a small range of medicine but can be useful if you catch a stomach bug for example. There are other doctor offices, several pharmacies and a hospital in Dongkou.
School security is not strict. The front gate is monitored everyday by 2 security guards from 6am until 10.30pm but you are welcome to come and go as you please.
The school has about 4000 students and 300 teachers. A lot of the students board at school. The Old campus also houses some student's families.
Most of the students are hardworking and disciplined. They know what is required of them and their work/study ethic seems ingrained in them from an early age.
Naturally there are “poorer level”students but I feel we as teachers we must try and adapt and work out the best teaching method and style which is suitable for them. Again using powerpoints is really helpful and useful as it provides both visual and auditory stimulation and even some movement goes a long way to explain or demonstrate something which words might not be able to do.
There are also very original, creative and smart students who are really lovely to get to know and a pleasure to teach. They like to participate and are very eager to improve their spoken English language. Each class has its own personality and level of energy and we simply work with how it is.
It has been really great to get to know the students in general and like any typical teenagers they enjoy time with their friends, their families are very important to them, most of them can be shy but are really funny, can show and speak about their feelings, are so kind, helpful and generous (We were often given small gifts during festivals and sometimes throughout the teaching week it was a lovely surprise and shows how generous the Chinese people are in general.) They have a full on study schedule and naturally can be tired during their classes so we found it best to set down the class rules at the start so that they respect you as a teacher but also relax with them and show some humor. It will go a long way in how they perceive you and also help you teach your lesson as effectively as possible.
Dongkou Chinese-English Teachers
We had a our own office at the new campus on the 4th floor equipped with desks, computer and printer. Sometimes the students would come and visit during the breaks to chat or ask questions, which we encouraged. The school very much left us to our own devices. The Chinese-English teachers were very friendly towards us throughout the year. There spoken English level is not great so some things definitely got lost in translation! All the teachers work long hours on a daily basis, from early morning to late at night, yet they remain so friendly, helpful, kind, generous and all round lovely people. When we first arrived at the school we were taken out for a meal with some of the English department and the headmaster to welcome us to the school. We found the school very easy and stress-free to work for.
The School Day
Foreign teachers give lessons from Mondays to Fridays, 8.10 am to 5.20pm. Some days can start later and end earlier depending on the schedule, but the average is 25 to 28 lessons per week. Our schedules varied each term but we had from 2 - 8 les-sons per day. There is a 2hr lunch break from about 12pm to 2pm, more than enough time to enjoy your meal and have a good rest (typical in China), before the afternoon classes start at 2.05pm. Dinner is served anytime from 5.30pm to 6.20pm and that’s our day done. We are free to come and go as we please if we don’t have class and our time is ours once the last lesson is done.
Our lessons are our responsibility which is great as we can choose the topics and materials we feel are necessary and what will benefit the students. We are given 2 textbooks one for each semester but we are free to use it entirely at our own discre-tion or not at all and/or change or adjust any suggested topic as we feel.
The students' and Chinese teachers' day starts earlier and ends later, the students at 6.30am with their early morning run and the teachers at 7am with the morning reading. They have evening classes which start about 7.20pm when the students do homework and revision and their day ends at 10.30pm and straight back to their dormitories. They go home every 2nd weekend. As you can see a lot of studying.
We are the only 2 foreign teachers at this school and we have our own apartment with Wi-Fi. We are on the 4th floor of a building at the back of the old campus. The apartment was newly renovated in the summer of 2017. It is quiet and out of the way from the rest of the school buildings. The rooms are all bright and spacious with nice views of the surrounding mountains and river. The apartment has a great feel-ing of openness yet private at the same time.
It is very spacious with plenty of room for three persons. The living-room is open plan with the kitchen area which has a dining table and breakfast bar. There are three bedrooms all the same size as each other with built in wardrobes and a desk area. The bathroom has two cubilces with western toilet, his n her sinks and a show-er. It is more than adequate with a couch, double bed (incl bedding), built in bed-room cupboard (wardrobe), flat screen tv, automatic washing machine, bathroom heater, aircon in all the bedrooms and living room, fridge, microwave oven, gas cooker, wok, rice cooker and other utensils. There is a enclosed balcony area with 2 washing lines and hangers for your washing. Beautifully decorated with all that you need, it is more than sufficient to be your ‘home away from home’ while you are away from your own home. We thoroughly enjoyed living here!
The apartment is located within the school grounds (safe and secure) so it is a quick 2 minute walk to the teaching building for the junior lessons that we had one day a week. This makes the living area nice and quiet. If you don’t want to cook the can-teen is the next building over.
Foreign Affairs Officer (FAO
We are super happy that we had Harry as our Foreign Affairs Officer.
The most important is that he speaks and understands English well and so is very easy to communicate with. He will go out of his way to help you when you need it and does his best to keep you informed about any schedule changes or upcoming exams that the school may have. We found using the Chinese WeChat app a great way to keep in touch and a quick solution to any problems that may arise.
Harry is such a personality that you will naturally become his friend. He is more than helpful, friendly, understanding, kind, reliable and considerate of any situation which helps to make any foreign teacher’s life here so easy and comfortable. He will in-form you about school information and help you with everything which requires his attention as FAO and also anything, from the food selection and getting soup in the canteen, to booking tickets and shopping online if you need help with this to sorting out computer and internet problems. The head of the English department, Lucy, was also very helpful and friendly and was always on hand if Harry was unavailable. Any foreign teacher who is placed at Dongkou school will enjoy being in the care of the FAO.
The staff at Buckland are organised, efficient, reliable, helpful and friendly. They take care of the foreign teachers and are always available via email and WeChat should we have any queries, concerns or anything which needs their attention. They are open to discussion and respond in good time to any request or query.
As they work with visas and Chinese legalities they are knowledgeable about these matters and we can be assured that the necessary paperwork is processed correctly and in the required time frame. They also inform us of any news or information which we need to know about, eg changes in banking issues which are important and necessary for us.
Each staff member deals specifically with their own function eg salaries, visas, so they have the knowledge and experience to assist us. Our experience with Buckland was amazing and we found them to be very helpful and reliable. We would definitely recommend them to any foreign teacher who is thinking about teaching in China.
Overall, our experience at the Dongkou No.1 Middle school has been fantastic. We didn't really know what to expect coming to China to teach for a year but we will leave with such amazing memories and a new-found appreciation for the Chinese people. The school with its students and teachers and the town of Dongkou is such a genuine and real experience that really displays the friendliness and generosity of the Chinese culture. Also we loved the mountains and closeness to nature that pro-vided such a great backdrop to our teaching experience.
Being in a smaller, mountain area the air is not polluted as in the bigger cities which makes for a healthier lifestyle. If you prefer this way of living where you can enjoy the great outdoors and experience the true Chinese way of life then Dongkou will give you all of that and more.
Dongkou No 1 Middle School
Hunan province, China
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