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With a landmass of Germany, France and Italy combined this country, on the highest plateau in the world has exercised a fascination in travellers for centuries. It is only since 1986 that the country has been officially ‘open’, and indeed Beijing still holds sway over what, in China, is officially known as the Xizang province.
Buddhism is the major religion practiced in the region. The population is a little over two millions, making this one of the most sparsely populated regions on earth - about one person for every 2.3 kilometres.
Teaching here is more for those seeking a life experience than great financial reward. It is very difficult to get a work permit for Tibet, and notoriously difficult to get visa extensions. Hence many people go in on the look to voluntary organisation to gain work placements, and perhaps pick up some private teaching here and there.
Quite unlike Europe, for those wishing to teach in a state or private school, there is not the requirement for a PGCE or an undergraduate degree. Nor is there a requirement for two years’ teaching experience; However, many voluntary service organisations (VSOs) insist on a TESOL qualification for candidate teachers.
Language institutes are few and far between, and you run the risk of incurring the wrath of the immigration authorities if you chose to work for them. On the other hand Tibet expects three-million visitors this year, and there is a great national sense of urgency to be able to communicate with foreigners. Hence, entering the country with a position gained through a VSO, and then teaching privates in addition to your regular workload is a strategy that could be employed.
Another thing to be aware of is that many students will have been studying English for a number of years, and may have considerable awareness of grammar, such as tenses. Be on your metal, and prepare well. You don’t want to have your knowledge of tenses tested by your students, who learned them all by heart before they were ten! One often finds a disparity between knowledge and oral and written dexterity. For example, students may be quite unused to hearing English spoken by a native speaker. Conversely, some, from experience in the tourist industry, speak and comprehend with great dexterity, but perform poorly in writing.
Because of the huge variety of standards in education you can expect a commensurately patchy student body. Some will have very little experience; however, others, with more experience in English, will have many years experience in studying English.
Classes tend to be large, but schools are clean, and reasonably well resourced. Tibetan students are a joy to teach, and show great enthusiasm for learning English, since it is regarded as a passport to a reasonable standard of living.
Work permits are to all intents and purposes impossible to get - particularly for Americans. There is a suspicion amongst the Chinese authorities that Tibetans will some how become corrupted by their interaction with westerners and people from other countries.
Tourist visas are so brief - normally fifteen days- and so difficult to extend to any reasonable length of time that this is not really an avenue to pursue, unless, that is, you fancy doing some tourism.
Having said that there is a super abundance of VSOs working in Tibet, and this is the best bet for gaining entry to this still rather closed part of the world.
If you do want to go the visa route then perhaps the wise job-seeker, in the best of all possible worlds directs their attention to their visa requirements and entitlements. This will depend on what your country of origin has fixed up with the host country. You can find all about this from your local Chinese or Tibetan embassy. Think about also what you have to do to renew your visa. All the way back home, or does a cross-border trip do nicely? How many times can you renew your tourist visa?
There are avenues that can be utilised to gain a placement prior to setting out. Princeton (firstname.lastname@example.org) and Stanford (email@example.com) Universities run volunteer programmes in various countries, a component of which is TESOL teaching. Stanford’s programme, for example, is open to graduates and graduating seniors, and charges a fee of $1,975 for one year, and $975 for two. This covers the cost of flights, training, visas and insurance.
Hence, one of the best and most realistic propositions is to build a working life based around working for a VSO, and perhaps seeing if you can build up a network of privates here and there, bearing mind that revenue from ‘privates’ can double a teacher’s income, one should always be on the lookout for private students, whatever one’s employment or visa status. The market for those wanting private tuition or conversation practice is huge, and potentially very lucrative, therefore, not be neglected. Give yourself time to build a portfolio of work. This is best safeguard to both your income, and employment status.
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