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Shenyang & Guan Ya Report - BE CAREFUL!!!
A few months ago, I finished a contract at Guan Ya American English Language School and wanted to share some of my experiences and warnings.
For one thing, the climate is very hard to take. Shenyang is located in the northeastern part of China, in the sub-arctic area. It is an extremely dry climate and you will need a humidifier in your apartment to avoid having your hands and nose dry out. I had lots of nosebleeds until I got a humidifier. Also, if you have allergies like I do, you better bring plenty of allergy-medicine with you, especially in the spring and summer. You will die in the winter from the extreme cold and you will boil in the summer from the extreme heat and in the spring your face will get cut up from the sand being carried by wind storms. Most foreigners get ill, some very sick, in the first few months until you build up a resistance to all the infections and diseases that you will find here. People do not cover their mouths here when they sneeze and cough. People will spit and blow their noses (just with their fingers, no tissues) onto the floor right next to you while you are eating in small local restaurants. You should bring plenty of Western antibiotics with you. You can buy them here in local pharmacies but there is no government control so almost all Western medications are very weak or completely fake.

Guan Ya is one of four major language schools in Shenyang. The other three are Berlitz, English First and Red River. All these schools are pretty much all about the same. You will always find a couple of teachers who are somewhat content but most are unhappy and waiting to leave Shenyang.

All of these schools managers and owners hate foreigners. They need us to make money and they hate you for it. They do not thank you for a job well-done. Instead, they will nickel and dime you every chance they get and you will be frustrated most of the time.

The original contract that Guan Ya gives you is totally bogus. Don’t sign it until they remove the last clause which says they can do anything they want to do and you have to accept it. If you insist they remove it, they will. You *do* have power with these people BEFORE you sign the contract, not afterwards.

Make sure your contract says they will reimburse you for one way airfare after six months and that you will get a return airfare after you complete one full year (they will leave the six-month part out of the contract unless you insist). You will need to ask for a copy of your contract after you sign it; they will not give you one unless you ask. Just one of the many ways they show their disgust for you.

Also, make sure you put something about a “real or western style mattress” in the contract (or you could ask for a 800 RMB mattress allowance, which is enough to buy a decent standard size mattress). The mattress they give you is another way they show their disgust for you. The “mattress” you get gave me bruises. It is not really a mattress but what we call a hard box-spring in the West. I had to put on many layers of blankets to sleep on it and I still never got a good night’s sleep while I was there. As I was leaving, I found out that there was one girl there who make such a big fuss about the “mattress,” they did finally buy her a real mattress. If they tell you they don’t buy real mattresses, remind them that they promise you bedding and remind them of the girl’s name; Keri Ann. Remember, you have power before you sign the contract.

Make sure you put something in the contract about the apartment being inspected and everything being in CLEAN and in WORKING order before you arrive! Refuse to sign the contract if your apartment is filthy, if the refrigerator, stove, or A/C-Heater does not work properly. There were four f*cking people responsible for foreign teacher support at the time I got there and my apartment was filthy and the freezer part of the refrigerator did not work. It took me two days of cleaning and scrubbing to get the apartment to where I could live in it. It took two months before they replaced my refrigerator and only after constant complaining. Every time I would call to remind them I needed a new refrigerator, they would ask me to do something extra for it (overtime, English corner, etc). Just another way Guan Ya shows you how much they hate their foreign teachers. Once you sign the contract, if something doesn’t work or if your apartment is missing something, you will grow old before they do something about. Put a clause in the contract that says that they have 48 hours to fix or replace critical items such as the refrigerator, stove, A/C combination unit, the fan, etc and that they have 5 days to fix or replace other items on the contract like the rice cooker, utensils, iron, etc. Otherwise, forgot about it. (By the way, insist they put you in the Wen Xuan apartments, they are nicer than the other ones but you will have to choose between a slighter larger apartment with no kitchen or a tiny apartment with a kitchen sink and an add-on, table-top, cheap 2 range stove). 

Despite what you will be told, Guan Ya will accept reasonable changes to the contract. Everything is negotiable in China, especially if they need you and they will need you. BUT remember, Guan Ya management will NEVER do or give you something because it is the right thing to do. If it is in the contract, they do seem to honor it. If it is not in the contract or if you have a verbal agreement, you will not get it.

You should be warned that the apartments are NOT properly air-conditioned (check your contract carefully, A/C is NOT included. You should put A/C into your contract!). Some people have apartments with two floors and you will have to sleep downstairs on the floor so you don’t die from the heat. Even with a single floor design apartment, you will be very hot in the summer.

Also, what you will not read on their website is that although you do get a telephone and Internet access, you will share that line and Internet access with all the other apartments on the floor. Assuming there are couples in the other apartments, you could be sharing that telephone line with up to 10 other people. There were many times, I could not use the phone when I needed to because it was in use, sometimes for 2 hours! Terrible. The Internet connection is a slow as molasses, its like using a regular modem in Canada, or worse.

Is there any good news? Yea, there is. As I said before, they do seem to honor whatever is in the contract. They did pay me the base salary on time (although many times I had to fight with them over overtime and there was strange differences in the amounts being taken out for taxes whenever I had overtime). Guan Ya, like the other schools in Shenyang, will make up a bachelor degree for you so you can become a foreign expert. Schools in the more desirable provinces of China will require a real bachelor degree or an excellent fake with transcript to go along with it. If you have a TEFL certificate, you can teach at Guan Ya without a degree. I loved working with the kids although I found many of the headmasters and local Chinese teachers were very snotty – like they thought they were better than me.

What I would say is if you have a real degree and some experience, Guan Ya and Shenyang are probably not the right place for you. If you have a TEFL certificate, no degree, no experience, you want to experience northeastern China and you are not somebody who gets sick very easily, then fix the contract with the suggestions I made and try it for six months.

HondaGuy in Canada
Toronto, Canada