In this episode of the Expat Empire Podcast, we will be hearing from Edu Santos. Edu learned English at an American school in Brazil while growing up and decided to turn his passion for the language into a career as an English teacher. After working in Brazil and traveling through many countries over several years, he decided to leave Brazil and teach English in China to experience something totally new. He lived in Qingdao, Nanchang, and Fuzhou in China across 5 years before getting stuck at home in Brazil when the coronavirus pandemic halted global travel. Tune in to Edu’s story to hear what it’s really like to teach English in China and live a life of adventure!
LEARN in this episode:
✔ How to figure out which visas you need to get to work in China and find reputable companies to help you get them
✔ The best way to make sure you follow through with your plans and set yourself up for success abroad
✔ Comparing what it’s like to live in three different cities across China
✔ All the different types of English teaching jobs you can find in China and the pros and cons of each
✔ What it’s like to unexpectedly get stranded back in your home country and leave your life in China without being able to say goodbye
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Video Episode Transcript
Welcome to the Expat Empire Podcast, the podcast where you can hear from expats around the world and learn how you can join them.
Hey guys, before we get to the interview, I want to remind you that we’re offering free 30-min consulting calls to anyone interested in moving abroad.
Whether you’re thinking about retiring somewhere warm, starting an international career, or becoming a digital nomad, we’re ready to help you think through the next steps in your journey.
Send us a message at https://expatempire.com to schedule your call today!
With that said, let’s start the conversation.
How to Teach English in Three Cities in China with Edu Santos – Conversation:
David McNeill: [00:00:46] Hey, Eduardo, thanks so much for joining us today on the expat empire podcast.
Eduardo Santos: [00:00:49] Thank you for having me.
David McNeill: [00:00:51] Awesome. It’d be great. If you could tell us at first a bit about your background. So where are you originally from? Wherever in the world, you’ve lived so far, and where you’re living right now?
Eduardo Santos: [00:00:58] Sure. So I was born in Brazil, and more specifically, in Recife, which is the coast of Brazil. I lived here till I was 32. And I became….I studied, I went to university, became an English teacher…work as an English teacher, but then I, when I was 32, in 2015, I moved to China. I lived there for nearly five years. And then I came back to Brazil, and because of the pandemic and everything I’ve been here for, you know, just over a year now.
David McNeill: [00:01:28] Okay, great, that’s a really good place for us to start. And I’m super excited to talk about your experiences in China to a country that is super cool. And you’ve actually lived there, it sounds like in many different cities as well. So definitely want to dive into that. But before we get into your China experience, could you tell me a little bit about where your interest in even studying English and becoming proficient in English, especially in a country like Brazil, where English proficiency isn’t maybe the first thing that’s connected with the Brazilian experience. So we’d love just your thoughts on your interest in the language and how you were able to develop your skills there to become a teacher.
Eduardo Santos: [00:02:01] Yeah, sure. You’re actually right. Like, I think there was a survey around, I think 2018 saying that less than 10% of the Brazilians are actually able to speak English. And I think out of the 10% I think it’s only like 2% say that they can actually speak English fluently. So it’s super low here in Brazil, I was really lucky because I study at an American school here in Brazil. So from pre K to 12th grade, I studied in American school. And then so English was like I was, you know, it was a bilingual school. So like most of the subjects that I’d say, apart from Portuguese, like all the other subjects were in English. So English just became like, naturally, part of my life. And then when I finished high school, some of my friends went to the US for university, I decided to stay here in Brazil, and in Brazil, we got an exam, like a university entrance exam. And it’s a bit different from what happens in the US with the SAT and then applying for college. Here is a bit different, like you take an exam, at least when I did it, it was specifically for a university. And you had to pick a course.
So I didn’t know what I was going to do. But then a friend of mine told me about this school, this language school that was hiring English teachers, and all you needed was basically to have fluent English. So I was 19, I had just turned 19. I went there, I did their three day training, got the job. And basically, it was just to get some pocket money, like I never thought of myself as a teacher. But then because I liked it so much, and six months later, when I had to apply for the exam, I chose linguistics and literature, English and Portuguese. So that means that like now I am a licensed teacher to teach English and Portuguese to middle and high school students here in Brazil. So that’s how…it was like, it was basically because of my friend because she was like, dude, do you want to you know, and but then it really became a passion. Like I fell in love with teaching and I already do English, but I really fell in love with teaching then that’s how I got into teaching. It’s been like that since I don’t know it’s for about 19 years, I think, as an English teacher. Yeah.
David McNeill: [00:04:13] Okay, great. And you start out your career then in Brazil, teaching English to Brazilians. How did it sort of change from that to thinking about maybe I would like to go abroad and have that international experience?
Eduardo Santos: [00:04:24] I’ve always loved the idea of like moving abroad, like when I was 16. And when I was in high school, we had French classes and it was an elective class but I really liked it. So I had like French from like eighth grade to 12th grade, nonstop. And then I wanted to go to France to study French but I just couldn’t, you know at that time, but then when I started working, actually two years or three years after I started working I saved up some money and I went to Nice in South of France and studied for almost a month there. I studied French, and that was my first experience, you know, abroad. It was not too much, but I really liked it . And the fact that I was able to, like meet people from all over the world and just practice, you know, a new language.
And I was like, yeah, that’s what I wanted to do. So I went backpacking in Europe, other times, I traveled a lot around South America, the US. And then I was like, I know, I know that I am going to end up abroad, you know, some point in my life. And then in 2015, it was basically like, okay, I’ve been teaching here for about 13 years, I’ve worked in like, different roles, academic, consultant, teacher, Director of studies, I was like, I need some kind of challenge. And that’s when the idea, the whole idea of like, going to Asia came up, because as I just said before, like, I traveled to, like, three different continents. And I was like, but Asia was always something like too far. So I was like, I think now’s the time to, you know, try and go to Asia. And that’s when I went online, found this job, found a couple jobs applied to this first job and ended up in China.
David McNeill: [00:06:06] How long was that process from start to finish? And what were those steps? You make it sound very easy, and perhaps it was. But if you get a little bit more in the details, I think that might help some other folks that are thinking about doing similar things.
Eduardo Santos: [00:06:18] That’s actually very interesting, because the thing about like jobs in China, like it changes kind of every year. So you got to be careful with that, like, when I went during 2015, it was a different process, the requirements, documents itself. But nowadays, it’s a bit more different. So I’m just saying like, whenever you…if you look for jobs in China, make sure you check, you know, the requirements and everything. So my process was I basically went to tefl.com, and look for jobs. And I wrote and I picked Asia, I actually found some jobs, I applied to like two jobs in Russia, as well in Turkey. But then, I thought that like Turkey is not that far from like, Western Europe, and Russia.
I mean, even though most of Russia is in Asia, you know, Moscow is in Europe, you know. So I’m like it’s not that far as well from the rest of Western Europe, because I’ve been there. So I’m like, if I want to go somewhere new, I’ll choose China. So I chose China, I basically went online, found a couple of jobs. I applied through tefl.com. They sent me an email. We had a Skype meeting, first meeting, and then the second meeting; it’s just like an interview, job interview. And then they…yeah, then they said, okay, we’ll start the process. So they sent me, I had to send some documents online, they scanned copies, they prepared like a letter from the government saying that they wanted to hire me and the government said, okay, so they sent me back. They sent me like a physical copy.
Like they mailed it to Brazil, then I got this copy, went to the…actually I used an agent, it was super easy. I didn’t have to leave my house like Brazil is too big. So I didn’t have to leave my house. No embassies, no, nothing. Like, send it to this agent. He got it all ready in less than 10 days. I had my passport with the sticker with the work visa, which in China work visa, is Z visa. So sometimes this is actually something very important. Like some jobs, some companies promise you a work visa, but it’s actually like a business visa, or come on a tourist visa. Like I wouldn’t recommend that, like it was I left Brazil with a work visa, a Z visa, and then got to China and they helped me there with everything else when I got there.
David McNeil: [00:08:39] Did you just have a good sense that these guys were going to give you the right visa and figure it out? Because obviously it was your first time. You’re saying now how important that is. And I’ve heard that from other people in my life as well as on this podcast. So if someone were to encounter that unfortunate situation of someone trying to give them the wrong visa or telling them to do something that’s not a 100% legal, let’s say, what should they do? How should they know how to proceed? Because the first time you just kind of not really sure what the right process is, right?
Eduardo Santos: [00:09:09] Sure, yes, that’s really important. Because I actually said, Z visa is a work visa, yes. But when they register the Z visa, they also say what’s your role in the company or the position. So some people who get a Z visa but are not qualified to teach English in China, they might get a visa like a manager of a company or any other thing. So just make sure that when you’re doing the interview like that, they are really going to give you a Z visa, which is a work visa, and you’re going to be like an English teacher there. If that’s the role. In my case, I worked with a small company, but it was a British owned company.
So I was, yes, I was worried because I had no idea like what to expect, you know, and if you go to these forums, and even Facebook groups, it’s like It’s not the best place to like, you know, to find motivation let’s go to Asia, especially if you’ve never been to Asia. But once I was in China, like I understood how everything worked, but yeah, I was kind of scared. So just make sure like the company, read about the companies, look for like, there’s like I think Dave’s ESL Cafe, like you have the blacklisted companies go there, you know, talk to other employees that you might find on LinkedIn and stuff. And just make sure it’s like legit, because yeah, you don’t want to get in trouble. And I’ve seen people getting into trouble, like in China. So yeah.
David McNeill: [00:10:33] Yeah, absolutely. So, how did you decide which city to move to? I suppose that was assigned by the job. But if you could talk us through, ultimately picking the destination and ending up there in your first few weeks, if not months there, what those were like?
Eduardo Santos: [00:10:46] Yeah, well, actually, I was just thinking about that now. Why did I ended up in Qingdao? Yes, it was a job. But I applied to other jobs as well. The thing is, before going to China, unfortunately, because Western media only shows like, you know, really bad things about China. So the worst things that everyone here, I mean, everyone has seen and, I’m sure he’s like the pollution in China. So it’s like you see it on TV, and you’re like, oh, my God, like, no, will people wear a mask? You know. So I avoided Beijing in the Northern Cities, because of everything that I had seen, you know, Qingdao is on the coast. And it’s if you look at it, the map, it’s actually one hour by plane from South Korea. So in South Korea, Beijing and went onto Shanghai, so it’s literally like it’s very well located. So the calls ended at 2008 Olympics, Beijing Olympics. It was in Qingdao, where they had the sailing competition, everything you know, so they were talking about Qingdao, like I read, and I saw, I watched some videos about Qingdao.
And yeah, it is…I saw the pictures. It’s like, wow, it’s a beautiful city. It’s not very warm. But I don’t have a problem with that. But it’s on the coast. And they say that there’s less pollution compared to other bigger cities in China. So that was one of the reasons why I wanted to go there. Also, I didn’t want to go. I mentioned Beijing, but I didn’t want to go to Beijing or Shanghai, to be very honest. Like, I love Beijing, and Beijing is my favorite city in China by far. But I didn’t want to live there because I really wanted to have like a different Chinese experience. It’s like, if you go to Brazil, and you go to Rio, yeah. It’s real. Like, it’s everything that people talk about. Yeah, it’s amazing. But Brazil is like, huge. So I said no, like, I want to go somewhere that like, it’s not full of expats. And it’s a bit more; I don’t want to say Chinese. But yeah, it’s a bit less Western, you know, even though it’s still Western. But yeah.
David McNeill: [00:12:52] Did you feel like one of the few foreigners there? Or did you end up…how did you actually make friends? And how did you meet people? What was the feel like where you’ve really, you know the foreigner and the Chinese environment?
Eduardo Santos: [00:13:05] Yeah, it’s funny because the whole Qingdao metropolitan area, like the bigger Qingdao, has about 8 million people. That’s yeah, that’s a lot of people. But the place where the school was, it was kind of far from the downtown area. So there were maybe two or three, or only two or three English schools that had foreign teachers, and our school was one of them. So in our school, there were 10 foreigners, 11 foreigners, so yeah, most of the time. I mean, we were, you know, it was our expat bubble there, like 10 of us we would, you know, hang out together and stuff. But then, in China, like its really common for students to invite, teachers like to hang out, go out, even go drink and stuff. I’m talking about adult students, of course, but like adult students would invite us, you know, for dinners for like, parties and stuff. So we would also hang out with students and friends of students. And then we would go to the local cafe owned by, you know, Chinese, and then this person would become our friend as well.
So we started like to expand our bubble. So we had a lot of…it was us there. But then every time we went downtown and downtown was like 45 minutes by taxi. So every time we got downtown, yes, there you had expats from like, all over the world, and it was just super International. But I really like this feeling. And I like the fact that like Qingdao has something that I had no idea about, like forgetting there. They have, I think they have the largest Korean community in China, because it’s so close, so there are many flights, like daily flights, so and stuff. So there are many factors, especially where we were in Qingdao. So I’d say that 40% of my students were from Korea. And so it was also nice to have this mix of like Korean culture and Chinese culture, and also expats, you know, as well. So yeah, that was automate, that was the beginning like how I started, you know, making friends and expanding our bubble.
David McNeill: [00:15:00] Yeah. And you mentioned that the students there, at least you were referring to the adult students, was the job specifically with adult students and how did you make a decision between that versus with elementary school kids? And I mean, there’s so many different scenarios that you can teach English. So do you have any thoughts on that?
Eduardo Santos: [00:15:23] Yeah, I’d say there are four different scenarios in China. Okay, specific about China. The number one and the largest group is English schools, okay. So they call it training centers, or language schools or English schools. That’s by far the largest market. And you can get like, anything like I mean, from 7000 RMB a month to 20,000 RMB a month, like it’s like this. And that’s the one I chose, was a training center. But you have universities, which are usually the lowest paying jobs, teach English in universities, and then you have public schools, kindergartens, as well.
And then the last one are the international schools or international programs. And that’s, I’m sure, I’m going to talk about that, because that’s, that was my second and third job in China. So but yeah, for the beginning, was an English school. And I decided to do that to teach. I taught kids, teens and adults. And I wanted to go to an English school because that was my setting in Brazil, and that was my background, like, I’ve worked here, and language schools for many years. So I said, you know, I know I’m going to change, you’re ready to like China, but at least I know how it works. Like even the materials we use. I use similar books, you know, that I use here in Brazil. So that was a bit easier, you know.
David McNeill: [00:16:38] Yeah, definitely. So you had traveled around Europe, you had done a lot of travels before in the US. And you said, indeed, you wanted to have a very different experience, you decided to go to China. And so what was that like? Were you immediately hit with culture shock, or did it not really affect you too much? And because you’re so well traveled, it didn’t bother you, or didn’t affect you. But how was that?
Eduardo Santos: [00:17:00] I thought that it wouldn’t affect me that much because I have travelled, you know, so much. But yeah, it did. It did. Like it was, China is a whole different world. And even like, just like, as soon as you step out of your house, like, it’s obvious that you’re a foreigner like, especially when you live in, like in smaller cities, so everyone is going to be staring to you. And it’s all of their liking, of course, I didn’t have that, you know, in other countries, it was the first time I actually had that. But in a nice way, people are curious, people want to know about you, they ask where you’re from, and they’re all very friendly, but it was like the food. Even eating with like chopsticks, you know, the food, the language, the culture, and you see so many babies everywhere and so many kids, and you’re like, wow, and yeah, like, the toilets. You know, these are the first things as soon as you get it, it’s all there.
But at the same time, its good that like, I can have this feeling because I think the world is so globalized. And so international that in a way, it’s bad. Like when we you know, we traveled to, you know, whichever, so far, and we kind of see the same restaurant or the same McDonald’s or the same KFC. And we’re like, you know, so it was good that I had this feeling. So yeah, I did experience culture shock, but it was, I think that it wasn’t as bad as some of my friends. Because when I left Brazil, I was like, I’m going to make this happen. Like, I was like, there’s no plan B, you know. A lot of my friends told me that they’re like, what if you don’t like China? What if you want to come back? I’m like, listen, there’s no coming back. Like, I mean, at least for two years, I’m going to stay there. And that’s it. So that was my attitude, and I think that helped me a lot. You know, getting through these first couple of months.
David McNeill: [00:18:48] So there were other people that after those first few months, they said, this isn’t for me and headed back, or did you have any tough stories with people that you knew there?
Eduardo Santos: [00:18:57] Absolutely. Yes. There were friends who got like, you know, food poisoning, which is normal. Yeah. Anyone like, you know, from I don’t know, the US here comes from Brazil, like; you’re going to get that as well. It’s normal, like so. But there were people who were like, they didn’t like, I think they didn’t want to accept that, like, it is different. And it’s not because it’s so different. That what you do, or the way you do stuff is better or anything. So they didn’t want to accept that. Like, for example, I heard teachers there complaining how the students or the parents are too, you know, nosy and they want to know more, you know, they want to watch your classes.
They want to observe. They want to, they’re very demanding, like you know over there, they want more and more and more homework and more of this. And they were like, they didn’t accept that, you know, and they didn’t accept that. For example, we worked. I mean, I knew I was going to work on weekends. That’s normal in China. Some people didn’t accept that at all. Some people didn’t accept like the holidays that, you know, it’s a bit weird the holiday thing in China, but like, yeah, like sometimes we have a holiday on Monday, and then we end up working on Sunday. And then…so these small things, you know, some people, the Chinese are a bit too loud. It’s true. And they have a problem with like, for example, okay; this is comparing to like Western standards.
Now, it’s like a personal space, you know. So which, of course, in the beginning, it’s a bit shocking, but after some time, you’re like, ah, you get used to it, you know. So these, once you go beyond this, then it’s a matter of asking yourself, okay, do you really want to make this happen? Because I thought people, some people there just wanted the travel experience and leave. But I’ve seen a lot of expats doing that there, you know, they just want to go there. Get some money so they can travel. I was not, that was not my plan. That’s what I’m saying like, so yeah, it’s fine. But some people are like, No, I want to go and spend a year. And some people literally spend a year while others, like, went there for a year. And they’re still there, like. So. Yeah.
David McNeill: [00:21:06] And you mentioned travel. So I just want to touch on that briefly. Did you get a chance to really travel around China and the broader region, or were you have more, let’s get that local environment and more just hanging around the city that you were in at the time?
Eduardo Santos: [00:21:18] Both Actually, I loved hanging around like, you know, the province and then the northern part of China to some other places like Beijing, for example. I’ve been to Beijing four times, four different lines. It’s my favorite city in China; you can be on the tourist area, like I love the culture in Beijing. I’ve been to Shanghai a couple of times, Shenzhen, the biggest cities. And I’ve also been like, two, it’s one of the things that I didn’t know about China is like how they really enjoy like hiking and mountains and nature. So I’ve traveled to other places that if I say here, like people are not going to know, but I just want to mention one place that was by far my favorite place in China.
It’s really common. It’s really popular among expats. It’s called Yangshuo and it’s in Guilin province, and if you just want to know where it is, just get a Google at 20 RMB bill, and since look at the back, and you see those mountains, and it’s just Jesus, it’s just beautiful, so much nature. So I literally spent like a week there cycling, hiking, swimming in the rivers, and it was just an amazing, it’s one of the most beautiful places that I’ve been like in the world. So yeah, so that’s a great thing about China, you get the high tech, super developed cities, like Hong Kong, for example, as well. And you get these places that or like, you know more countryside and stuff. So yeah, I tried to travel around China, and I also traveled to a couple of countries, other countries, you know, in Asia.
David McNeill: [00:22:52] Yeah, I’ve been to Yangshuo as well. And that was a really amazing place. I didn’t get to spend a week there. But even just a weekend and I think it was going down the river and taking out the 20 RMB bill, like you said, and oh, there it is. Yeah, you see it right there. It’s an amazing place. Yeah, definitely. I was also curious about if it was important for you to pick even just on a personal level to learn some Chinese or I don’t know if you’ve studied any before you went, but if you could talk about that a bit in terms of actually living in China, how important it is to speak Chinese, that would be great.
Eduardo Santos: [00:23:22] Yeah, the thing is when…something that was really shocking was when I arrived at the airport, Beijing International Airport. I had like a three hour wait, so like my next flight. And then I went to buy like coffee, a latte and a croissant. And then I literally got to this big cafe inside the country’s perhaps I don’t know, largest airport. And I just said, can I have a coffee and a croissant? And she was like, what? And she couldn’t speak English. And I know probably today it’s going to be different. But in 2015 that’s what happened in my first 10 minutes in China. And that’s when I realized I’m like, well, I’m in the largest, you know, airport, international place and they can’t speak English. So that’s one thing I would have done differently, I would have learned a bit more Chinese because for the job, you don’t need English. And they said like we offer free Mandarin classes in the school. And I had those classes when I got there. But I would have learned a bit more because I needed to be together. I need to be with people who could speak Chinese like so. I think everyone does no matter how fluent, I mean flowing, you need to open a bank account and stuff like that. But what I’m saying is to meet locals if you know basic Mandarin, like it does help a lot, even if you’re going to a big city like Shanghai.
David McNeill: [00:24:39] Yeah, yeah. And I can imagine doubly so, or triply so, if you’re going to a smaller city, right? Even though in China, the small cities are really big. Yes, it’s awesome. So, I know that you, I believe, spent about one year in that city and then moved onto the next city. So if you could talk us through that transition, how you found the next opportunity, how you pick the next city? Then that would be great.
Eduardo Santos: [00:25:02] Yes, sure. So after, when you’re in Qingdao, it was towards the end of my contract. And my boss talked to me and said, he wanted to like, you know, extend my contract, renew my contract then for one more year, and I wanted to stay there because, you know, I knew many people, and I was comfortable and stuff. But that’s the thing about China, as I said about Brazil, like; it’s such a big country that I know, China’s a bit bigger than Brazil. But like, if you say, if you go to one city in Brazil, depending where you are, you don’t know Brazil. So I’m from the Northeast, it’s three hours by plane to San Paolo, for example. And it’s like two different worlds. Like it’s almost our winter here, and its 29 degrees, and you know, it’s so and that’s how it is all year round, basically. So what I’m saying is, I was like, okay, I’ve been one year in Qingdao, it’s kind of the North of China close to Beijing.
Eduardo Santos: [00:25:54] Yeah. So I want to live when you’re in the South now. And Qingdao is a very, very wealthy province. So like, you can see that like people are wealthy and you know, the buildings and everything. So I went to Gen Shi province, which most people don’t know about, and it’s not a wealthy province at all, like everyone that I would say, like, in Qingdao, I’m going to move to Nanchang which is the capsule. They’re like, why? Why? Like. You know. So it’s in a bit of nowhere. I mean, it’s inland. It’s on the coast. Yes. But I was like, you know what, I’m going to go there. And why I decided to go there. I just basically went again, its apple.com; found three other jobs apply to them.
And then I was in between this city and a city close to Shanghai, also a very wealthy region. And I was like, I don’t want to go to another wealthy region, like I want to see more of, you know, rural China and stuff. So the second main reason was that I wanted to make this shift from language school, to international program inside a public school. And so that was the job there in Nanchang. So I had less hours working hours, Saturday was kind of the same. But I would teach international students in international programs who are all going to go abroad. So they were high school students, who are all going abroad, mostly to the US and Australia, some to the UK and Canada as well. So yeah, that was my second year in China.
David McNeill: [00:27:19] So could you just describe a bit obviously, you’ve talked about some of the demographic differences, but what was your lifestyle? How was that different from in Qingdao?
Eduardo Santos: [00: 27:29] I lived on campus for my first year. So that was amazing, because, you know, like we, I didn’t mention rents, but like in China, it’s really common for the schools to offer an apartment, or a monthly stipend, like in my case, they offered the apartment. So I lived on campus in a really small apartment with a perfect apartment with a balcony. Very nice, and I would just literally walk for five minutes, and I’d been in the classroom. So that was amazing, just to be able to live on campus. Apart from that, I think it was a bit like, how can I say; I was in Qingdao. I was kind of like, on the outskirts of the city. In Nanchang I was downtown, I like to say, but still the pace is not like Qingdao, you know, and things are not that far.
So that was the perhaps the main difference. But yeah, it was as cold, I mean, it was not that cold. But still, it was very cold in the winter and boiling in the summer. So that was perhaps the main difference but the rest of; I don’t think it was that much of a difference to be very honest. Like, yeah, I just think it’s a smaller city. So it’s around four point something million people, but it’s yeah, I think it’s a very nice city. Like it’s a smaller downtown area, so it’s easier to meet everyone. So just imagine like, you know, my friends there, the farthest we would go would be 40 minutes on a taxi to get to a place but still, that would be like the airport. Like, apart from that everything was like 15, 20 minutes away.
David McNeill: [00:29:05] Right. Right. So you mentioned wanting to also go to the city because it wasn’t as well to have a province. It was more rural, let’s say. So did you find it to be a more rural experience and what did that look like to you when you experienced it?
Eduardo Santos: [00:29:18] In Nanchang in my second year, it was not that rule, like later in my third year, yes, but in the second year, no. It’s a big city but still, it’s not as wealthy and when I say not as wealthy like my friend…like my…not my students but like friends that I met you know, locals and stuff. You’d see that they were more humble people like you know they had money but still there would be like, like the barbecue place, the restaurants, everything was kind of like more chilled. I’d say then like some posh or expensive place that they were in Qingdao. Of course you had that as well in Nanchung, you have the 200, 300 RMB for steak in a restaurant. Yes, but I’m saying that like its more laid back. No, this province, I think. And that’s what I wanted to see because not only that city, but I wanted to travel around that region. So I could see more rural China in a way because I went to like hiking in some mountains, I went to the countryside, rice fields and stuff like that. You could do that, you know, because it’s so easy with a high speed train, like just traveling around for the day or for the weekend. And that was amazing. So that’s what I wanted to do, like, go to the North, explore, go to the South explore.
David McNeill: [00:30:35] But you must have also, I guess, experienced quite different cuisine, at least I would imagine. So given in China can differ quite greatly between regions. So was it another adjustment period for you?
Eduardo Santos: [00:30:46] Yeah, that was stuff actually because food in Chinese is spicy. And then my students say, no, it’s spicy from that province. I’m like, no, listen, guys. It’s spicy period. But some provinces like Nanchang, Jiangxi Province, the second place; it’s spicier than in the north in Qingdao. So that was definitely a huge problem. Like, at the beginning, I used to go to like barbecue place, and I would say not spicy, not spicy. And it would still be spicy. And that’s just how it is like, I mean, I got used to it, of course. But the cuisine is a bit different actually, when I moved to the South, but the good thing is that, as you said, like there’s so many different cuisines in China, like different depending on the region. And then you would also have these different restaurants in both cities. So I know I really like the Cantonese cuisine. So I would just go to that restaurant. But I’d also like the local cuisine, because of the noodles they have in the morning, like it’s really nice. So I would also go there. So even in smaller cities, you would have that and a bit of international restaurants, options like Pakistani, Indian, Italian, like you’d have these different restaurants. And you could also go like American, a proper like American burger and stuff; you’d also find that but of course, much more expensive.
David McNeill: [00:32:09] And if you could talk for a bit about the experience of changing to work with the international program. So it sounds pretty exciting, actually to be able to help people that are on the verge of going to an English speaking country from China. So they’re almost doing the reverse of what you did, right? In a sense. So yeah, what was that, like?
Eduardo Santos: [00:32:27] That was an amazing experience, like because the kids like in China High School is 10th, 11th, 12th grade, so is the last three years. And I would teach these students and part of the classes were like to helping them with the exam, like the IELTS exam, or TOEFL. And the other part of the class was like grammar, public speaking, communicative skills and stuff like that. It was really cool, because I would be like teaching, like really helping these kids. Like before making this big move, they’re like anticipating problems, and helping them like, once they got accepted into colleges, we would look into, like, the college, and I would, you know, help them with that as well. So it was a really cool experience to do that.
Because it’s different when you’re learning a language, and you might never leave your country, you know, these kids were actually going to go in like one or two years, they were going to move abroad and stuff. So it was an amazing experience. And also, I was kind of tired of like, just like in language school. Sometimes, everything is so fast, you know, because you need to give that lesson, you need to cover the topic, and you need to do that. And in this school, of course, we had the syllabus and everything, but it was more like, okay, if the student can’t learn and know this kind of essay, it’s okay for you to like, keep, you know, working on that with them.
So I like the pace. And I liked that the lessons, oh I liked, again, working from Monday to Friday as well, like I wouldn’t work on the weekends. And the lessons like, yeah, it was good, because sometimes I would wake up in the morning teach from eight to 12. And then I was done. So it was a bit more…like I had much more time to plan my classes and help students and stuff. So I really like that. And I really like being an international program, so international programs, just so people can have an idea. They were 10th, 11th, 12th grade. There were about 70 or 80 students, but then they were inside one building. And the other which was inside this campus was like, I don’t know, 7000, 8000 students, but they were part of the public school, the gaokao program.
David McNeill: [34:39] Okay. So it sounds like you had adjusted well to this. Well, at least decently well, this new cuisine, this new city, different experience. You were enjoying working with the students. So why did you decide to move to the next city?
Eduardo Santos: [34:52] Yeah, so I went…I usually say that I went to China for the adventure because I wanted to see something completely different. But I stayed for the money. And it’s very, when I say that some people like what I’m like, of course, it’s not only the money of course I love the country. I love the students, of course. But once you get to China, you’re like, okay, like, you know, come here and I’ll give you double your salary. They’re like, what? And I’m not…I mean, I’ve been a teacher my whole life and I’m not used to that, you know, like, yes. And you’re like, what? So this, my third year in China was actually in the same province 40 minutes by train, high speed train. And that was more rural like in the countryside that the city called Fujian, close Nanchang, but it’s like, 40 minutes away. Also an international program the same way, it’s just described this one, it was the same thing, international program inside a public school, a big school.
I accepted the offer, because yeah, it was a great offer. And it wouldn’t be that far from Nanchang. So I could always see my friends there on the weekends. So I decided to stay on, I’m like, oh, then I had to sign a two year contract. And I was like, wow, I came here for two years. Now, I’m signing for two more years. So but yeah, it was…the money was good. And of course, the experience is also, I was having a great time, I cannot lie. So yeah, that’s why I decided to make this move. And now, I was kind of okay, like, I was not scared anymore. I could speak a bit of Chinese. My friends were there in the capital city. I always spent the weekend there with them, so I’m like, you know what, it’s okay. Like, I’m used to international programs. By that time I was already used. So that’s why I decided to, you know, make this move and go there to Fujian.
David McNeill: [00:36:40] It sounds like then it would have been a much easier transition because indeed, it’s so close. So did you feel like you still wanted more adventure? Or I mean, I guess it sounds indeed like you’re saying it’s sort of switching more to being focused on job opportunities, which is great to be able to get those options there. But did you…? I don’t know, it almost felt like maybe the third place would be yet another whole different part of such a gigantic country. So just curious about your thoughts on, you know, changing that focus, and indeed, deciding that you would actually stay for even two more years after you thought you might be headed back or somewhere different.
Eduardo Santos: [00:37:17] Yeah, I mean, it was the same setting. But I was like; I was also responsible for the English Program. So I had to like help, you know, changing and adapting and improving the English Program. But yeah, the setting was the same. The hours are long, I had more responsibilities. So but it was, yes, very similar. I still wanted to be there because I wanted to explore the region a bit more. And I also wanted to travel not only inside China, but also to other countries. And that’s how I got to like travel a bit around other Asian countries, but I did love the…I was really comfortable like…and that’s weird when you to be feeling that in China, being very honest. Like it’s weird that…but I was so comfortable that I didn’t see myself moving somewhere else at that time. I wanted to stay there because it was kind of home already for me. So yeah, like I literally just moved to another city because of the offer. But I was still in a way in Nanchang because I would go there every weekend, like, as I said, 37 minutes on the train. It’s nothing like, so yeah.
David McNeill: [00:38:23] So you’re living in Fujian, which is very near to Nanchang and you signed that two-year contract. So what was your plan going into the second year, or coming up on the end of that second year in that new contract?
Eduardo Santos: [00:38:35] Yeah, so I spent, I started my two-year contract there. And then at the end of that two-year contract, so that’s like four years in China. My boss talked to me and said, would you like to extend it to two more years? And I was like, Yes, I’ll do that. I mean, it was not that simple. But yes, I decided to stay there because you know everything was great and stuff. But then something happened, I actually went on holidays like to Europe, to meet up with my mom and stuff. And then when I came back to China, it was the beginning of my fifth year. And I was not feeling very, how can I say? Not very happy there anymore. And I didn’t know why, at first. Now, I actually realized that it was all the changes in the international program. And also some of my friends have left China because of some changes in like, visa requirements and stuff.
So that was when, yeah, I talked to my boss, I remember December 2019. And he accepted and that was fine. So the problem is, one month later, I flew to Brazil. And because of the pandemic and everything, I wasn’t able to get back to China. So my boss actually told me to go back. But when he told me to go back, it was around April, Europe. I mean, I’m sure you’ve all seen like Italy, and Spain and other European countries, it was really bad. So I told him no way, like, I’m not going to fly, because I need to fly via Europe at least. So I told him, no, I’m not going. And then I ended my contract years in June 2020.
But I came here for two weeks. And it’s been a year and three months now. But yeah. So a lot of my friends had left. And I just thought that like the school was more interested in like the high TOEFL score, instead of everything else. I’m more than an English teacher, I’m an educator I love you know, really getting the students like from medium or average level whatever to like the highest they can be. So I didn’t like that, I was not that excited anymore. You know that was when I told my boss, listen, instead of ending the contract in June 2020, 2021. I want to end my contract on June 2020. And he said, okay, no problem. You’ve been here for so many years. Don’t worry, that’s fine.
David McNeill: [00:41:02] So as you reflect on that experience, I mean, and yeah, now that you’ve been there for over a year, how has it been? It must have been so abrupt, it’s hard to even imagine what you were going through, you left all of your stuff there, you were expecting to come back and two weeks turns into this long period of time. So just you could just tell me a bit about what you experienced what you felt over this time would be great?
Eduardo Santos: [00: 41:27] It hasn’t been easy, but because of everything that’s happening in the world right now, of course, but it hasn’t been easy, as you said, because literally, I have four years and a half of China inside one suitcase. And it’s with a friend still in China. So I haven’t received like, you know, and yeah, it’s still there. Like I trust my friend, she’s also from Brazil. So it’s there with her. But still, literally, like I had a friend, a Chinese friend go into my apartment, with his phone, and his camera on and video call. And I would say open this drawer, get this, please put that back, please throw that away. Do this with this. Put it all in the suitcase, does it fit? No. So remove, throw it away, for two hours, and just going through my stuff and doing that. And that was so sad.
Like, really, because it’s, yeah, like I had everything there. So that was really sad. I couldn’t say goodbye to my students, I couldn’t say goodbye to some friends. I couldn’t go to, you know, I wanted to visit Guangzhou, I wanted to visit other places, and I couldn’t go. So that was just really sad part. And it took me some time to like digest everything. Because even though I’m in my hometown in Brazil, and my mom is here, my family is here, some friends are here. It’s not the same, because I was not expecting this. Like my plan, I actually didn’t say this in the beginning. But my plan was always to move to Europe. And then in 2015, I was thinking about moving to Europe but China was, as I said, the adventure.
So I said, I’m going to spend two years in China, and then I’m going to eventually move to Europe, but your two years turned into five. And then I’m now back home. And I didn’t want to be here like to be very honest, like I have this love and hate relationship of Brazil. And I love a lot of things. But I also hate a lot of things here about this country. So yeah, it’s great that I’m here. Like, I’m not going to complain, because I have friends who are in Malaysia, like they’ve been in Malaysia since then, like over a year. And they’re not, you know, they’re from Europe. And I have friends in Thailand and the Philippines, still stuck waiting to go back to China. So in a way, I’m lucky to be here. So my plan now is like to basically just do my stuff here, work online, and wait till things get better, and eventually the second semester, hopefully, move to Europe.
David McNeill: [00:43:49] Okay, great. But sounds like a great plan that you have going forward. But if you could go back in time, which we all know that, none of us can. But if you could, and you had ended up actually been able to…if you had been able to stay there in China instead of going to Brazil, and perhaps wait it out, however long this will take but this whole pandemic in China, would you have preferred that outcome or relative to that you’re still happier being where you are now?
Eduardo Santos: [00:44:15] Well, that’s a great question. Okay, if you had asked me that, three months, six months after I had arrived here in Brazil, I would have said definitely take me back to China right now. Yes, right now. I’m like, no; it’s good that I’m here. My close friends know me like they know that it’s kind of a joke that I’m stuck in Brazil because they know that like the last place I wanted to be was in Brazil. Like, they make fun of me actually, you know, but that’s and I think that’s actually something good because the only way for me to stay in Brazil for one year. I mean longer than two months is the pandemic or a World War like that’s the only way.
So, I’m glad I’m here because I’ve been like, last weekend I was with my mom. It was her birthday. And then my newborn nephew was there as well. So I love you know, it’s great to enjoy these moments. I love the food here, like, oh my god, like I love Brazilian food. And I love a lot of it… like, of course, my friends and everything and the weather is nice, like, so I went to the beach. You know, I live literally three blocks from the beach. So it’s like, yeah, like, you know, even if COVID and everything, I can still go and walk on the beach if I want now. So, it’s good that I’m here because I know that as soon as I leave and the border is open. I won’t be coming, oh, yeah, I won’t be coming back anytime soon. So Yeah.
David McNeill: [00:45:44] Not that I want to get into it too deeply. But I’m just curious because you mentioned it. Could you talk a little bit, even in just some high-level pointers on what it exactly is that isn’t your favorite about living in Brazil that maybe gets under your skin a bit over the last year?
Eduardo Santos: [00:45:59] Stuff. We could have a whole show about that. Maybe love and hate, love and hate relations. Well, I’m going to say, I’m going to start just saying like the things that I love about this country. I love the culture, the music, the food, the nature, like I went to beaches in Thailand. Yes, they were beautiful. But listen, I can drive for 40 minutes. And it’s something like Thailand, like, I’m not joking. Like, it’s paradise here, like, and as I said, in my region. I mean, Northeast close to the equator. So it’s 25 something degrees ,28 all year round. I love that we can literally just, you know, go to…I can go to the beach every single day. That’s why when I travel; I like to go like during the winter, where it’s snowy? Because to go to a beautiful beach. Yeah, I have it here like so. I love how people, especially in the Northeast, the Northeast in Regional Brazil, like how people are so friendly and nice.
And like they’ll talk to you, and even if they don’t know you’re going to go buy bread at the bakery, they’re going to start a conversation like, and I love that about Brazil as well. And I think, yeah, like that’s…these are actually I think the best things about the country. What I hate about the country is the fact that I don’t take like, I mean, if it’s like in the evening, like I wouldn’t walk too much. Like, if it’s like two blocks, I would go. But like I don’t walk, it’s not safe, like especially depending of course with the region where you were and everything, like some foreigners would say, no, it’s not that dangerous. Well come and live here, and then you’ll see how dangerous it is, it is not a safe country. And it’s, and I really, that’s what I really loved about China actually; it’s the safest country I’ve ever been to.
So I also love and hate the people because as I said, they’re super friendly. But at the same time, the people are super….like the government is corrupt. But the people are very corrupt as well. You know, Brazilians are corrupt they always try to find a way out, a way into doing things their own way. And I think that that is one of the reasons why we’re still the way we are, like we’re not a high superpower in the world, politically, economically. We’re not because it’s like so much corruption and like so when I was in my late teens and early 20s, I literally realized that like after going to Europe so many times after going to the US, I was like there is no way till the day I die that Brazil will ever be anything similar to a regular average European country or US. The US or like, like there’s no way and I still believe in that like, and don’t get me wrong.
I like I’m from Brazil, you know many people that I love living here, but being exposed to these other countries in Europe, and the US and Asia now , like South Korea, Thailand, Vietnam, I mean, they’re not perfect countries, but still, like, there’s no way Brazil is going to get there. Because, yeah, there’s all of these problems. So safety is perhaps, as I said before like it’s not safety. And safety perhaps is the number one thing that I’m looking for when I moved to a country and so that’s one of the reasons why as well, other countries in South America are now my first option, because even though they might be safer than Brazil, and some of them really are, of course, it’s still not as safe as I would, you know, like to be …as a place that I would like to be like my ideal place. So yeah, that’s basically
David McNeill: [00:49:45] Yeah, thank you for sharing that. I appreciate your honesty and of course, your view as someone from there and has not been back for a bit. But as we go into a kind of wrapping up our conversation here, I’d love to hear more about your series called Ready Go Expat. So I know that you’ve talked to a lot of other expats you’ve talked about your experience on there. So just share a little bit about how you started it, why you started it, and how it’s grown since you began?
Eduardo Santos: [00:50:09] Sure. In December 2019 on my birthday, actually, I decided to start the YouTube channel, Ready Go Expats, but the first video was uploaded in December, but I actually started recording the videos in June 2019. Why did I? I was thinking that like, after being exposed to like so many different cultural backgrounds, like because when you live in China, you’re not only exposed to Chinese culture, you’re exposed to like Indian, Pakistani cultures from like, all over the world. And then you’re in this melting pot of like, different cultures, different accents. Everybody is speaking English with their own, you know, accent. And I learned so much in these four and a half years there. I was like; I need to show this to the world because I don’t know. I’m going to sound like John Lennon. Like, you may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. That’s John Lennon, right? Oh my god, right?
David McNeill: [00:51:05] I’m going to say probably yeah, it sounds like it.
Eduardo Santo: [00: 51:09] I hope that is. But yeah, it’s like, it’s kind of a dreamer. But I think that there’s so much hatred in the world, there are so many people not listening to each other. That happens, of course, in my country, in China, and like, because we’re all in these digital bubbles, okay. But even on top of that, when you watch something, or you listen to, you know, the news, watch the news, like about another country, it’s usually negative, it’s usually bad. And people are not aware of how beautiful, some different cultural backgrounds, festivals, parties, traditions, people are not aware of that. So I wanted to show that like, I wanted to get a camera and literally just walk in the streets of China and say, guys, this is China. It’s not pollution and earthquake and everything and tsunami, like, I don’t know, it’s not only that, you know, like China is beautiful, the language is beautiful, the culture, the food. So I wanted to show that more. And that was the initial plan.
That was basically the initial plan, like, show more of that to people, and then get someone from Pakistan to talk about, you know, what is it like to be an international student in China, just give me your perspective. And then someone from Ghana and says, well, when I arrived in China and show his perspective, so basically show different perspectives, because what I think to be very honest, is that at the end of the day, this my friends from Spain, and my friends from Thailand, they kind of want the same thing. They want a safe place for their families. They want to party if they’re young, you know, they want to meet people, they want to experience, you know, taste different kinds of cuisines. And that’s it, like; we all kind of want the same things. So that was the initial plan. But the funny thing is that, of course, I started it in December 2019. And then January 2020, the epidemic starts, like the border is closed, nobody can travel, nobody can see anything.
David McNeill: [00:53:01] So right on. Well, it’d be great if you could tell us how our listeners can find out more about you and what you’re doing. And of course, to tune in to Ready Go Expat as well.
Eduardo Santos: [00: 53:09] Sure, sure. So if you want to watch the videos, as David mentioned, there’s the YouTube channel, its youtube.com/readygoexpat. I’ve also got my podcast, which is called Expats Exposed. So the podcast started right after the channel, actually, in 2020, but one year after the channel started, and it’s basically to get to do what David is also doing like to, you know, meet people, share their stories, get people from all different countries and different perspectives, and you know, just share their story about like living abroad, moving abroad. So that was the idea, and that’s what it is. So you can go to any podcast platform, and just type Expats Exposed and you’ll find me there.
David McNeill: [00:53:59] Awesome. Well, thank you so much for your time and for sharing your stories to add you, look forward to keeping in touch and definitely see you on the other show soon.
Eduardo Santos: [00:54:07] Thank you. Thank you very much for having me.
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