Is Anyone Here Currently Working Overseas?

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Struggle7
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20 Sep 2023, 10:27 am

Hello! I am an American working overseas and struggling with it big time.

This is a super-long post, so consider yourself warned.

I’m pretty sure I’m autistic, although I have never been diagnosed. But in grad school, things kept happening that scared me. I couldn’t understand assignments, I’d politely refuse on occasion to participate in discussions, or I’d make an appointment to talk to an instructor, only to be told I’m being “aggressive,” or expressing a negative attitude.

I moved to China about four and a half years ago, and I’m on my sixth job now. I got fired from three of them, not asked to renew my contract at one place, quit one job (I’d been offered a better job, and I was tired of being yelled at) and I’m still at my current job. However, the program director who quit recently spilled a lot of tea about how the place was run. And she confessed the company wanted to get rid of me, but she persuaded the dean of the uni to keep me and he agreed. I never would have found out this information if she hadn’t quit. And nine people have quit or been let go over the past three months.

What I don’t understand is why I keep getting fired. I don’t drink, I don’t show up drunk, I don’t drink on the job. If I’m asked to do extra things, I do them. I was asked to take over a course for an instructor this semester until his visa comes through. I show up for class on time. I have creative things for the students to do. I let them see the Powerpoint before class starts (they pretty much insist on it and the company I work for agreed the students should have access to it.) I answer questions from students promptly. I post homework assignments on WeChat, and also post reminders about when it’s due. I have office hours (not that anyone shows up for help) and if a student approaches me after class, I NEVER say, “oh, gotta go.”

Part of the problem is the saving face culture in China. You don’t really get any good feedback on how you’re doing. You basically muddle along (sometimes you’re trained, sometimes not) until you screw up several things (and you don’t know you’re screwing it up) and then they fire you. They don’t give you a chance to improve. You’re just gone.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the longest place I’ve stayed at (1.5 years) also gave me two weeks of training and plenty of training materials to study..

The lack of training is a problem too. Aside from the first job, actual training has ranged from four hours at a Starbucks, to one and a half hour sessions asking us how we would solve problems the school has had. (All of our solutions were rejected.)

I also feel like I can’t discipline the students. Twice, I put my foot down, and twice I’ve gotten into trouble. Like, lose my job trouble.

At my most recent high school job, they didn’t give me any textbooks to go by. They did provide some Powerpoint material, which I went over in class. However, during a teaching observation, I was yelled at in front of my students for the way I conducted class. I was yelled at again in the teacher’s office in front of some colleagues. Then, when I was offered a better position and I quit, I was also yelled at (by the same person) over the phone. I was breaking my contract when I quit, and I suspect the high school threatened the new school, which rescinded my job. It killed me, because it sounded like a dream opportunity. I’d only have 15 students total, and some classes would literally be taught one-on-one. The pay was awesome, and they would even pay for me to further my education. So I had to look for a new job, and I got one, but also got fired from that as well. I barely got any training/mentorship on that job as well. I had to play a video game for my job, which was game writing. I asked for help to play the game right off the bat, but no one wanted to help me. So I struggled for a month, trying to find tutorials on the web, but nothing really helped. The HR guy finally met with me and said, “I’m concerned about your progress.” I said, “me too.” I had to play a couple games and get 2,000,000 points on one game and 5,000,000 on another game within a certain amount of time. I’d never played a game like that before. Thankfully, my friend back home found a game wiki that had information that was really helpful, and I was starting to get the hang of it.

What baffled me is why the company didn’t help me with the game from the start. I asked the second week for help, and everyone in my department turned me down. I’d never heard the game before in my life, and I eventually earned the points I needed before my probation was up. However, they extended my probation for a couple of months because they felt I wasn’t learning the lingo of the game.

I’m still bitter about that job. I was hired to write, but it seemed the emphasis was on playing the game. And the HR guy who finally helped me understand the game (after I’d been there a month) brought me in for a chat one day. He basically asked me how I was feeling and I said I felt a lot more confident about things. He said, “doesn’t it feel good to know thousands of people are reading your stories?” (Part of my job was to write fiction to help sell the skins the game characters wore.) I said yes.

Twenty-four hours later I was fired.

It’s getting so I just don’t want to work anymore, ever. Not even if someone hired me for a writing job. I honestly feel like I can’t do a damn thing. I can’t learn anything useful, or if I need to be trained, they see it as a huge burden. I’m doing the best I can think of as an instructor. I’m supposed to teach in English. But my students’ English abilities are poor. But you can bet I’ll get into trouble if I switch the curriculum to ESL, which is what they need. Supposedly, they start learning English in first grade. But as we all know, studying something for 10-15 years doesn’t necessarily mean we’re good at it, especially if we don’t study well, or get practice in it.

It’s getting so bad, I contacted my credit union at home to see if I can access my IRA in order to buy a plane ticket if I need to. I’m THAT broke. And I was observed the other day in class with maybe a three-hour warning. Of course, it took me longer to do things than usual, because I decided to make a seating chart that night. My students will sit in class with ear buds in while I am lecturing, and look at their phones/tablets and so forth. But the problem is, they NEED to have that technology available so they can translate things. I made the seating chart (it’s a huge class, nearly 60 students) so when I walk around and lecture, I can see who is playing games or watching basketball on their phones and I can mark them off on class participation. Learning their names is impossible for me. I think I’m face blind, which doesn’t help.

I asked them a logic question to demonstrate retrograde analysis the other night, and no one was able to articulate the answer. The problem was, my water bill was insanely high, yet I showered once a day, and did laundry maybe once a week. I said one day this summer, I was standing in my kitchen, staring at the refrigerator and it was quiet. I said after a few moments of this, I figured out what was wrong.

I called on a half-dozen students (management said I needed to interact with students more) but no one could answer. The guy who is supposed to teach the class when his visa comes through was there, so I asked him if he knew the answer. He did.

My goal was to work in China until I’m 60 (mandatory retirement age here) and hopefully save a good chunk of money before coming home. I’m almost 56 and a half years old. Now, I’m scared that I won’t be able to find jobs, because employers are starting to question why I’ve “left” so many jobs. Well, the problem is I haven’t “left” jobs, I’ve been fired/let go/dejobbed—whatever you want to call it.

I look good on paper, but for some reason, once I get into the classroom, they don’t like what I do. If I yell at the students, they won’t like that and I’ll get into trouble, but if they walk all over me, I get into trouble. At the last high school, I had students who were cutting hair in class. I feel like I’m a f*****g joke to them.

At least I have my IRA—I know I can access that if I really want to leave. But I’m really tired of being hired and fired, hired and fired. I haven’t told anyone super-important here that I think I’m autistic, because that is career suicide for sure. I’ve had autistic students, but nothing much has been done for them. And if you tell the parents, they get mad. I think that’s why I got fired from the first job. I pointed out I thought a couple of my students were autistic, and said why. One was stimming, and I was asked what I did to stop the behavior. I didn’t want to stop it, but I WAS concerned the student would accidentally hit someone (he was windmilling his right arm). I had another autistic student at the same school, but a colleague had a behavior plan that really helped. I had another autistic student (I’m pretty sure he was) at a high school that refused to renew my contract. It’s like the elephant in the room. They know something is different about this student, but no one wants to say/do anything.

I won’t even go into the loneliness of living here and not having any really good friends to hang out with—no girlfriends to go shopping or have lunch with, or any romantic relationships.

It’s taking a toll on my mental health too. I am in constant fear of being fired, it’s just a matter of when. I want to stay where I am if I can. I love the city, and moving to another city is expensive and eats further into my non-existent savings. They reimburse travel/moving costs, but only up to a certain point. And it’s getting so if they want me to move, they are going to have to pay costs up front, because I just don’t have the money. So I’d like to stay here. If I DO have to move, I hope it’s after I’ve got some money saved.

I never, EVER thought I’d be in this situation. I did worry about being ‘trapped” in China, and ironically, that DID happen when Covid-19 hit. I decided to stay here, because I knew I’d be back to work eventually.

I’ve asked for help with jobs here, mainly how to become a better teacher. But the person I asked refused, even though I offered to pay him. He said he thought I was a good enough teacher already.

I feel like I’m running out of time. I had a goal also of buying out my brother’s share of the house we co-own and thought I’d be well on my way by now. But I’ve given up hope of ever doing that.

If I knew I could go home and get disability for sure, I think I’d get rid of my stuff and get on a plane ASAP.

I do truly feel like I have NOTHING to offer. That’s fine, if I didn’t have to work. But I do. And I have no idea what to do next. Call it quits and go home and drive Uber? (Which I did for two years prior to moving and I LOVED). Work a bunch of part-time jobs? Offer to do odd jobs? Start an OnlyFans?

And as for getting a part-time gig here, I can’t. Your visa is tied to the job you were hired for. If you work a part-time jobs, you could be fined, detained and deported. Some teachers have made tons tutoring, but also some teachers took on part-time jobs, and got nailed for it.

The living here is fine—people are kind to me, I feel like I live in a garden, it’s hot and sunny, I have access to foods from home, and public transportation is convenient. It’s the jobs which are awful. Even if I try to make them fun, I get in trouble.

If you’ve read this far, thank you, thank you, thank you so much! If you have any advice for finding work as an autistic, I’d like to see it. I don’t even care about a career anymore. I just need to make some money (I’ll even settle for minimum wage) at something I won’t get fired from. (I’ve tried factory work—been fired from that too.)

In the meantime, I guess I’ll work on improving. This place DOES give feedback. But the program director who recently quit told me how micromanage-y this place is. They DEMAND perfection. And it’s kind of a joke—the program I work for is basically a certificate in “international education.” The students aren’t that great—my high school students down south were sooooooo much more advanced. The certificate is to make them seem more advanced than what they are. The engineering majors resent the program the most. They actually came to the office and complained about having to learn cross-cultural communication—they didn’t see how it was relevant to them. I guess the only think I can do is work on the things management has told me about and document what I’ve done and how. And if they fire me, look for another job. And if one doesn’t come through, I’ll go home. With even less money than I had when I left.



Benjamin the Donkey
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20 Sep 2023, 11:39 pm

Well, that was a read. I did skim a bit.

I'd advise working elsewhere than China. I'm in Taiwan--similar culture but much more open-minded and accepting of foreigners. I've also worked in several other countries. For an autistic person (or at least myself), I wouldn't recommend the Middle East, where i spent 5 years. But I understand there are teaching opportunities in other parts of East Asian and Eastern Europe.

It's always better to transition to being self-employed, if you can manage it.


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Struggle7
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22 Sep 2023, 11:24 am

Thanks, Benjamin. I think self-employment is the way I need to go too. Trying to take steps in that direction. Thanks again!



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22 Sep 2023, 12:42 pm

I read your entire OP and I believe you are a good writer. Your experiences so far in China might be valuable to someone.

I suggest you write a book about your experiences. You might be able to sell it for enough money to buy a plane ticket to the US.

I'm not surprised by what you've encountered. I would expect China to be a stressful country in which to work at the best of times, especially as a foreigner (not clear on whether or not you're ethnically Chinese). But the COVID-19 lockdown situation really put the economy into a tailspin and raised stress levels even more. Plus relations between China and many foreign countries seem to be deteriorating, which should be bad news for any foreigner living there. TBH I'm amazed that you've survived for so long!


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Struggle7
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23 Sep 2023, 3:43 pm

Thanks, MaxE! I'm glad you think I'm a good writer. I've had some stuff published, and an article I wrote several years ago is going to be republished in a book coming out in a couple weeks.

I've certainly considered writing a book! I was thinking about that again. It helps that I have kept a journal. I'm thinking about how to organize it. Should I do it by year, or by job? Decisions, decisions!

But I DO think I should write it. I don't want to get too detailed while I'm still here. But there has been some INSANE stuff going on--the flat-out lying, the lack of training, the expectations of being able to read minds... I've never had this kind of experience back home.

I read stuff and watched videos before heading overseas. BUT--I never saw anyone write about the stuff I have experienced. You see those ads online--teach in China! No experience necessary. I've taught at a community college part-time in the states, but none of that prepared me for what I have had to face here. So I'd like to warn people who think they want to teach in China that if they are ADHD or think they are autisic, or are loners, that they won't get much by way of support here.

Too many articles and videos put such a shiny, happy face on teaching overseas. The weird part of it though is the day to day stuff--grocery shopping, riding the bus, sightseeing, exploring the neighborhood, taking pictures, etc. is fine. All that is fine. It's the jobs that have been pretty bad. What's really difficult is that it's not like I'm showing up drunk, or drinking on the job, or showing up unprepared. I feel like I sort of go out of my way to bring creative things into the classroom. What I DO struggle with is classroom discipline. I feel like my students don't listen to me or take me seriously. Yet, when I put my foot down, I get into trouble. If I don't do anything, I also get in trouble.

I'm a cynic and quite pessimistic. However, people want positivity to the core, and I don't believe in sugar-coating anything. But I also like making my writing funny. I took a memoir with me to read, and I liked the style it was written in. I plan to write the memoir sort of in that style.

I'm not ethnically Chinese. One of the good things here about China is that I'm a "foreigner." No one asks me what my ethnicity is, because to them, I'm a white American foreigner. Back home, I've got a Spanish last name, but I sound like an ordinary Midwesterner with dark hair and dark eyes. It confuses people in the US, I think. However, I can claim being Hispanic, but I'm also basically Caucasian. That always screws with people's minds.

So, the book needs to be written. I've already written two novels, so I am wondering if I should write a pitch and contact some agents, or just start writing the book and either try to get a traditional book deal, or self-publish as an e-book.

I think I might have a unique selling point in the fact that I realized that I'm probably definitely autistic after a lifetime of feeling out of place, being bullied (even as an adult) never moving up in a career, having jobs a high schooler would have, never having a boyfriend until age 39, literally being a month away from being a 40-year virgin. And it was a couple of kiddos that helped me figure that out. I had a couple of students on the spectrum, and since the school wouldn't do anything (no surprise there) I tried to help them out. I kept running into articles about adults being diagnosed late in life, and I'm like, "wait a minute..." So maybe the story of a middle-aged woman who left her parents' home at age 51 who discovered she was on the spectrum in a country that tends to ignore those things might be something people want to read.

How have I survived this long? Well, I have a tendency of not giving up on stuff that I should, and not sticking with stuff that I should have stuck with. I feel like there's not much left back home. I only have a few years to go until I reach 60, and I think it will be very hard for me to get a visa then. My goal was to save as much money as possible until age 60, then come back home. So I plan to keep going here until I can't get hired here anymore.

And I don't know how soon that will be. At my current job, they were looking at my resume and were concerned that I left so many jobs in a short amount of time. The thing is, I didn't "leave" those jobs--I was fired from three, didn't have my contract renewed for one of them, and the other one I quit because of lack of training and verbal abuse. So potential employers are seeing how many jobs I've had, and they are starting to ask why.

I'm stubborn. But I'm running out of time too. I would like to come back with more money than I left with, but even if I come back with $3,000, that is far less than what I was hoping for.

The good thing is that there are always jobs here. Not good jobs, but China, even in the very best of times, has a shortage of English teachers. And you can imagine how it is now. The borders are open, but people (Americans especially) are reluctant to come over here. And I don't really blame them. I stuck it out through the pandemic. And having an American at your school is a sign of prestige. But it's also weird. Americans command top dollar, and even though the Chinese aren't thrilled with us (we complain too much, we're fat, etc.) they tolerate us because we bring in students. That doesn't mean they genuinely like us, though.

It's hard for me to keep losing jobs. And I found out from someone who quit that the school wanted to get rid of me, but they persuaded the dean (I work at a college) to keep me. But the college didn't really go into detail as to what they expected from the classes. Like they didn't say, "spend 10 minutes calling on students, spend 15 minutes on lecture, spend 10 minutes on group work, spend 10 minutes on review, etc." This place is the most micromanaged school I've ever worked at. My favorite school refused to renew my contract, and I never quite understood why. They listed three possible reasons. But that was the best school--the HR understood the things foreign teachers were concerned about, they sponsored trips for us, had an amazing Christmas party for us, and good salary. Liberal too--I got to teach The Handmaid's Tale and 1984, and no one said ANYTHING. I couldn't get away with that at the place I am at now.

Anyway, thanks so much for reading. I need to put together a pitch letter and do some research to see if any non-fiction agents/publishing houses might be interested.



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24 Sep 2023, 3:43 pm

Thanks for all this. I recently found out I can apply for dual citizenship in a European country and was thinking of starting the process to up my chaces of a remote job. Not quite ready to move that far from my mom!

Culture kind of scares me because the US is so crazy strict about some things but chill about others. Curious if I have to take the same breaks and such.

I have the same "in your face" issue or whatever. Scared that will ruin any chances in the EU too.



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26 Sep 2023, 2:23 pm

I know a local Canadian guy almost your age who lives on a disability payment here, but when he goes to Cambodia he teaches conversational English. He told me he prepares topics to discuss, gives students articles to read, and then they get together and have conversations. Students learn, they discuss something they each at least know Something about and ideally he picks articles that are of interest to the student. etc. He told me he charges $15/hr over there, and that one of his clients - some government/military guy, think he's getting a Great deal. (I didn't tell him this, but I think he should raise his rate then..)

$15/hr Canadian is less than minimum wage here, but it goes a long way in Cambodia.

Maybe you could do private English lessons wherever you are ? Could be a side hustle, could be a full time thing. All I know is that it's pretty common for people in Asia to take English lessons from a native English speaker so quite a few people here get certified to teach English and then go on an extended working vacation (no one is getting rich, just paying bills) overseas and get paid to sit around and chat.


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26 Sep 2023, 4:25 pm

What is the common denominator in all of the jobs from which you have been terminated?

Instead of asking the folks here for advice, maybe you ask yourself what it is about you that gets you terminated. Nobody can help you if you do not help yourself. What good is advice on how to get a job when you can't keep it?



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26 Sep 2023, 4:34 pm

rse92 wrote:
What is the common denominator in all of the jobs from which you have been terminated?

Instead of asking the folks here for advice, maybe you ask yourself what it is about you that gets you terminated. Nobody can help you if you do not help yourself. What good is advice on how to get a job when you can't keep it?

I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say “Autism.”


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26 Sep 2023, 8:11 pm

goldfish21 wrote:
rse92 wrote:
What is the common denominator in all of the jobs from which you have been terminated?

Instead of asking the folks here for advice, maybe you ask yourself what it is about you that gets you terminated. Nobody can help you if you do not help yourself. What good is advice on how to get a job when you can't keep it?

I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say “Autism.”

Or that she's a Westerner working in China.


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27 Sep 2023, 12:24 pm

I read a book called River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze by Peter Hessler in which he writes about his experience teaching in China. It includes insights from his experience that could possibly be useful in puzzling out what is expected of you in that type of job. It's somewhat old, published in 2001.



rse92
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27 Sep 2023, 12:52 pm

MaxE wrote:
goldfish21 wrote:
rse92 wrote:
What is the common denominator in all of the jobs from which you have been terminated?

Instead of asking the folks here for advice, maybe you ask yourself what it is about you that gets you terminated. Nobody can help you if you do not help yourself. What good is advice on how to get a job when you can't keep it?

I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say “Autism.”

Or that she's a Westerner working in China.


How about "her"?



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27 Sep 2023, 1:22 pm

rse92 wrote:
MaxE wrote:
goldfish21 wrote:
rse92 wrote:
What is the common denominator in all of the jobs from which you have been terminated?

Instead of asking the folks here for advice, maybe you ask yourself what it is about you that gets you terminated. Nobody can help you if you do not help yourself. What good is advice on how to get a job when you can't keep it?

I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say “Autism.”

Or that she's a Westerner working in China.


How about "her"?
How is that helpful? Are you just trying to be mean? Are you suggesting that someone can change who they are, if you think the problem is "being them"?



Struggle7
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01 Nov 2023, 7:48 am

rse92 wrote:
What is the common denominator in all of the jobs from which you have been terminated?

Instead of asking the folks here for advice, maybe you ask yourself what it is about you that gets you terminated. Nobody can help you if you do not help yourself. What good is advice on how to get a job when you can't keep it?


Do you think I haven't been asking myself what it is that gets me terminated??? I'm trying to help myself, but if I don't know what is wrong with me, how the hell can I help myself?

I am TRYING to figure things out. So I'm here asking autistic people if they have had similar experiences. I don't have any access to autistic people here in China.

I'm pretty SURE I'm autistic, but I don't have any solid, concrete proof. I haven't been formally diagnosed. So I'm on WP trying to interact with people and maybe get some HELP to figure out what's going on. It takes me a VERY long time to figure certain things out. Especially if I have to figure stuff out myself, without any insight/advice/help from people.

I KNOW the common denominator is myself. However, I live in a country where people will LIE to you in order to save their face--and YOURS. I won't get the truth about why I keep getting fired from people who live here.

Before I left for China, I worked at a job for a little over 10 years. It was a job I never thought I would be at for 10 years, but it actually happened. Maybe with the proper support and training, I actually CAN keep a job.

I'm not the only person who has wondered why they keep getting fired. The thing with being autistic is the perfectly obvious sometimes escapes you, while the deeper meaning/details that everyone else ignores are like a screaming person. THAT is why I'm asking for help. I'm obviously doing something wrong. But what IS it?

Trying to find out. Don't crucify me for getting on WP to get some help.