asia · China (PRC) · shanghai · Travel

The TEFL Life in Shanghai – My Year in a Most Amazing City (Part 1: Off the Boat and Getting a Feel for Things)

If you’ve followed me for a while you may have seen this post here focussed on what it’s like to travel abroad in the hopes of teaching English.  For this post I am mainly going to focus on what Shanghai is like as a base.  Back in 2013 I decided to throw caution into the wind, study for a TEFL qualification and move abroad, initially I wasn’t too sure where I wanted to go, I got offers to teach in Taiwan, South Korea and China, I didn’t give myself much time to decide but Shanghai seemed like a place I could live.  I flew out of Manchester, the experience was pretty emotional for myself and my family – I was flying half way around the world and who knew when I would be coming back…Turns out that I wouldn’t see my family in person for a little over a year.

Bottle Opener Post Edit.jpg

I decided to write about this experience today as the leaves are falling off the trees, the air is cool and the nights are drawing in much earlier, and it is these days that I am reminded of this time in my life – whenever I wake up on a cool October morning with the golden sun shining through the blinds I am instantly transported to that point in time when I was preparing for what would turn out to be an awesome adventure.

Shanghai Skyline 80%.jpg

Since I left university a couple of years before, I was fairly well travelled for my age but for the most part I woke up and went to work five days a week and hung out with my friends on the weekend doing pretty normal things, so all of this was new experience to me.  In the August I had no intention of going anywhere and by the time October came around I was living in China, it took approximately two months for me to complete my TEFL qualification, get offered a job, receive my visa for China and board my flight, it all seemed to happen in the blink of an eye.


First of all, I’d like to say that Shanghai is an enormous city, but don’t let that phase you, it also has one of the worlds best metro systems which will allow you to travel anywhere in the city with ease and each journey will cost pennies.  The size of the city is something you should bear in mind when choosing where to live, my first apartment was located right next to Zhongtan road metro station and the school I worked at was right by a metro station on Luban road, if you look at the map I’ve linked below, you can see that both of these stations are located on the purple loop line (line 4), this journey takes roughly half an hour and in hindsight I would have probably looked for an apartment closer to work – despite the fact that a one hour total commute each day isn’t anything to cry about, it’s so much easier when you can walk to work in ten minutes.

Shanghai metro map


When you move to China to teach English, unless you choose to live alone the chances are that you’re going to end up living with other foreigners – this was the case for me and all of the foreigners I met and unfortunately things will come up; some people can’t hack living abroad, some people will need to relocate for new jobs, there are a multitude of reasons why your living arrangements will change.  I moved into my first apartment with two other people and over the period of eight months only myself and my roommate Liam remained, my other roommate went back to England after three months and was replaced by another roommate who lasted three months and finally a guy who lasted two months.  Liam decided to go to university to study Mandarin so he moved into dorms; I gave up on the apartment and moved in with some friends on Madang road which was a few minutes walk to my school.  The point I’m getting at is that you shouldn’t get too comfortable, there are always surprises waiting around the corner, people come and go and foreigners living abroad are unpredictable.


When it comes to putting a roof over your head in Shanghai you’ll find that it is super easy, there are websites like Smart Shanghai where you will find people offering rooms for you to move into.  The way this process usually works is that you will pay the tenant who you will replace the deposit they paid and speak to the owner to get your name put onto the agreement and if you need to leave for whatever reason then all you need to do is find someone to take your room and they will pay you back your deposit – it’s a pretty efficient system really.

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Shortly after you arrive in Shanghai you will start visiting the tourist hotspots and within a month you will have seen The Bund, been up the Pearl Tower, looked over at the Pudong skyline, walked through the French concession, blah blah blah.  There are a lot of touristy things to do in Shanghai but if you’re living here then you won’t be doing that stuff every day.  If you are working as an English teacher in Shanghai there are places you WILL go to regularly, two of these places off the top of my head are Perry’s and Windows; each of these companies have a number of locations dotted around Shanghai, they’re the quintessential traveller bars – with the cheapest beer in town, bar games and lots of drunk people to meet and hangout with you’re sure of a good time.  You’ll find that you will inhabit these places at least once a week in the first couple of months of being in the city, then the experience gets a bit stale and you’ll start looking for places where you can relax a bit more – my regular place was Kaiba, you’ll find this establishment has a nice relaxing environment, friendly bar staff and a great selection of quality beers.


 Anyway, this post is getting drawn out a little bit so I’ll continue in a different post, if you have any questions about living in Shanghai, don’t be afraid to drop me a message.





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