JISHOU, HUNAN — I’ve been quiet here for the last two weeks, because I have been very, very busy, and not just for the usual end-of-the-term onslaught of activities.
I learned on June 2 that I had “aged out” of my job here in Hunan, and would need to leave China no later than June 30.
That’s the bad news — a forced separation from this place and the people I’ve grown to love. While I can still visit, I can no longer teach in Jishou on a work visa, because in April Hunan province enacted a new rule — 60 is the maximum age for a work visa. I’m now 61.
Now for the good news. Within a few days of posting my resume on Dave’s ESL Café I was offered a job at the Henan University of Technology in Zhengzhou. There, the maximum age is 64 (I asked several times to be sure), so conceivably I can work there another three years if I like — or as long as the province or the city doesn’t abruptly change the rules to screw over the foreigners again.
In fact, several English language schools in China sent me offers, but when I inquired about the maximum age for foreign teachers, they all said it was 60. So, working in Tianjin, Hangzhou, Guangzhou, Wuhan, and presumably any other city to the east or south was right out of the question.
Exploring other possibilities, I found that most (if not all) of the other Asian countries are also less than enthusiastic about teachers older than 55, and some schools specifically state a maximum age of 45.
So, until the Zhengzhou offer came, I was in a real funk. It looked like my grand dream of a semi-retired expat life, visiting exotic places on a teacher’s salary, was coming to an abrupt halt.
Then there was the small matter of becoming unemployed at age 61. Too young to collect Social Security, too old to make it easy to find suitable work.
One of the great mysteries of working in China has been the maximum working age for foreigners. Until April, there seemed to be no ironclad rule, or one that was shared with us foreign workers. My foreign affairs officer told me last week that Hunan’s max age had been 64, so she went ahead and filed my work permit papers. She wasn’t even aware it had changed and she was as distraught as I was when she told me the news.
To be clear, this was not my choice, or the university’s. We were planning on my returning for the 2017-18 school year, which ironically I had already decided would be my last — to make it an even 10 years of service.
While the Zhengzhou job was (and still is) the only job offer on my table, I did not immediately say yes. First, I wanted to talk to one of the other foreign teachers there. I asked about the students, the accommodation and how close it was to the school, the relationships with the Chinese instructors of English, the cost of living. Those kinds of things. The answers were encouraging.
Zhengzhou is a much larger, and more polluted city, than Jishou. I’ve enjoyed the kind of small town feel of this place, and the relatively clean air. On the other hand, Zhengzhou has its own airport and high speed rail station, so getting in and out will be much easier than here. Jishou is still a bit isolated in that regard.
There is at least one Starbuck’s in Zhengzhou, too.
My apartment (similar to the one below) is newer and looks more spacious than what I have now. There will probably not be a long, arduous hill to climb to reach it, which has been both a blessing (great exercise! Fitbit loves me!) and a curse.
The pay, unfortunately, is about the same as I receive here now, and less than I would be making in Jishou if I could have stayed. But the accommodation, electricity and Internet are still free, and I still get free air tickets home, and my teaching load will be likely be about the same.
The students, however, will not be English majors, but students from a variety of disciplines who need to pass the College English Test band 4 and band 6 in their first two years. I understand that the university is a top school in Henan, and so gets many top students, who are often keen to do well in the English tests. So, I am hoping I will still have the same rewarding experiences I’ve had teaching in Jishou.
At this writing, only a few teachers and a few students (mostly seniors) know I am leaving. I had to tell one freshman straight away, because I had promised her in February I would stay longer, perhaps long enough to see her graduate.
I plan to tell my freshmen Friday and the sophomores on Monday, plus post something in my Qzone over the weekend for general dissemination. The separation is going to be traumatic for all of us, but I owe it to everyone to explain why I have to leave, and why I really don’t want to go.
My last day in Jishou (as a working teacher) will be June 26, and I will be back in the States June 28. Because my Z visa expires June 30, there is no time to renew it before I leave, so I have to get a new one over the summer. Then, once I have it (fingers crossed), I will fly back to China in late August to begin my new job.
I’ll be sure to let you know how it goes.