Nearly four years after leaving this place, it's finally time to review HKD, where I worked as an English and sometimes history teacher for a few years. My perception of the place and of Zhengzhou is a bit skewed by them being my first Chinese workplace and city respectively, so subtract a half star from my rating for realism if you like.
HKD is not a very good place to teach. It's an OK place to live. The latter is important because the main campus is a good bit outside Zhengzhou centre and almost feels like a separate town in its own right.
Work - the students are largely mediocre and have a bad attitude (with noble exceptions), the staff are disorganised and usually don't care about the teachers, the classrooms often have no equipment for sound or video, and the pay is pretty dreadful considering how much ZZ developed in the 5.5 years I lived there. Unless you get "lucky" and are sent to teach English majors (which is rare - I was lucky enough to teach them for the first five of my six semesters), you will find most of your teaching in HKD to be deeply unsatisfying and occasionally enraging. On the other hand, holidays are good, flights are paid for and not too much is expected of you as a worker.
Social - this aspect is rather better than the teaching and might convince you to stay for more than a year, especially if HKD is your first teaching experience. The isolation from the city encourages both teachers and students to develop a social life on campus. If you choose to stay in the (somewhat shabby) apartment provided for you, you'll be right next to - and above or below - most of the other English teachers. This is both a blessing and a curse, as on the one hand you can sit in one of the lobbies and chat to others over a beer, but if you're not a party animal you may not enjoy the drunken revelry on the rooftop or other rooms that happens at least once a week. The other teachers have a wide variety of backgrounds and characters so you're bound to make at least a few friends. As for students, if you're living on campus you'll again find yourself making friends with at least one or two of them, which can be nice as the campus is pleasant to walk around in the evenings. There are also activities like English Corner and movie nights which allow you to meet others. If, however, you're a hermit or only make friends outside campus, you're going to be quite isolated and might be better off renting a place in the city proper.
Zhengzhou - an industrial city in central China, this place has changed so much since I first arrived in 2011 that it almost feels like another city entirely. For better and for worse. It's certainly cleaner, better organised and has a much better supply of imported goods and cafes (mostly Starbucks unfortunately). However, the "atmosphere" in the city has taken a noticeable turn for the worse in the last four or five years. The locals are even ruder and less friendly than when I first arrived, the English Corners (which used to be excellent places to make friends and network) are getting smaller, and overall, I doubt you'll have as much fun living there these days as I did in my early years there. A pity.
Zhengzhou was my first city in China, and HKD was not only my first workplace but my first home in the country. If it's neither for you, I doubt you will want to work and live there. But if you're a total newbie to teaching and China, it can be a good starting point - just be careful not to stay there too long...
I've been here for two years. It is far below any international standard for a "college". The leaders run this place like a kindergarten. If you can get past that fact, just do your best and not worry about the rest, it's a fine place to work. The lower level office staff that we usually have to deal with are good people.
I'm a veteran of Huanghe Science & Technology College. Here’s a list of 10 ups and downs according to my experience.
The pay (5000rmb/mo) is usually on time, 2-3 days late on rare occasions. Raises are not an option.
It's free, and you get what you pay for. If you're opposed to living in a college dormitory-style building, with all the night noises and fauna (usually people's cats and dogs, not roaches) best to pay for an apartment off campus. And be prepared to battle mosquito swarms in June.
3. Saving Money
I have been able to save about 2500 RMB a month, so half of my salary. I rarely go to bars, and my main expenses are train tickets for weekend / holiday travel, taxi fare, restaurants downtown, and groceries. I would STRONGLY recommend cooking your own food. Your intestines will thank you for it.
4. School Cafeteria Food and You
Don't eat it. Unless you just adore explosive diarrhea. There are a variety of alternatives. RT Mart is one of the best and closest for groceries.
Huanghe College is about 45 minutes from the city center by bus, perhaps 25 by taxi. The area outside the school’s main gate is awash in vehicles, so you’ll have no problem getting out and around.
6. The International School's administration
I never have any real problems with the Chinese staff. Some very mild resentment that is, at least in my case, expressed through nothing more than good-natured ribbing.
To understand their situation: They deal with foreigner's complaints daily. They get paid a fraction of what we get, for working 3 times the hours that we do. They'll be friendly to you if you treat them with respect and are open to understanding that basic tenet of human behavior: reciprocity. Show some face around their office; bring back small souvenirs if you go on a weekend trip to another city. Talking to them only at times when you want something is not going to get you very far.
That being said, if you want favors from them such as changing a bad class or switching to a different school within Huanghe, you must be willing to grow a spine and let them know that you're not going away until you get what you want. The key is to be persistent, while remaining civil and polite. Hardly rocket science.
What gets people into trouble is the faulty notion that the admins are there to act as personal butlers. They're not.
7. Making Connections
Breaking out of the foreigner bubble and meeting a few well-connected Chinese people can open up rather unusual opportunities for you in Zhengzhou. For example, some foreign teachers have been able to appear in local TV commercials and put their artwork in galleries, all because they met the right people at Huanghe.
8. The International School's Students
In the International School, you teach students who are not majoring in English and are required to take your class. You get some students who are genuinely interested. You basically teach your classes for those students. The rest don't care and can't fail your class. Give a student an F and be prepared to see him back again second semester. Totally not awkward.
The Foreign Language School's students are far better, as they’re English majors. But the admins randomly assign teachers to either school, regardless of experience.
9. The Uighur Minority
Academically, Huanghe separates Han Chinese students from the Muslim students who hail from Xinjiang Autonomous Region. Xinjiang students do not get to take English classes that are taught by native English speakers, and they live in separate dormitories.
During my time here, I’ve befriended several Xinjiang students. It’s been quite refreshing to see a different side of China that is so different from Han culture, and I would recommend reaching out to these students for a more well-rounded perspective.
What you should know if you're planning to live here:
Zhengzhou has the 17th worst air quality among major cities in China, according to the World Health Organization. The Economist marked Henan as one of China’s two most polluted provinces in terms of air quality. I knew this when I signed on to work there. But then, I fancy myself to be in possession of steel lungs, in addition to being one badass muthafucka (or at least, a foolhardy one).
The air around our school (which used to be OK compared to downtown) has grown markedly worse over time. I’d try to make a comparison to somewhere back home, but there really is none. Google search “Zhengzhou pollution” if you want to see how bad it can get on some days.
As the review above states, Huanghe is right next to Yutong Industrial Park, which is the largest bus factory in Henan Province. You can drink the air like a coal-dust and rubber smoothie, is what I'm getting at. Take it or leave it.
An environment like Huanghe's is alright for the short term, if you want to see a place that's not teeming with foreigners.
However, when your cough starts to sound like a septic system backing up, you know it’s time to go.
After having taught at this "college" for nearly nine months, I'd highly recommend avoiding this place or at least thinking twice. While the flexibility in the classroom and paid holiday make it somewhat bearable, this place has numerous other serious problems. Compensation is low, with instructors stuck paying for basic items such as visa/permit/medical costs and copies/printouts.
More bad problems with this school include a complete lack of long-term viability, no support for real teaching/skill-building, VERY low standards for classes & personnel,a completely superficial purpose for inviting foreigners,inability of students to speak (even in Chinese), a desolate and poor living area, no respect at all for other cultures and serious attitude problems among most students.
The very lazy, inept, politically-chosen administrators covet the handful or perks given to us as foreign teachers. The location where most students study is remote and next to a bus factory, causing serious pollution issues. No incentives whatsoever are given for teachers who stay more than one year, with no salary increases or tangible course selection opportunities.