Ambassador Year in China: A Review

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So you’re here because you’re thinking about applying to Ambassador Year in China, or AYC for short (Formerly known as Ameson year in China). You’ve probably heard good things and bad, and are looking for an unbiased opinion on whether or not you should take that AYC job.

Well… you’ve come to the right place.

UPDATE DEC 2018: Ameson Year in China has now changed its name to Ambassador Year in China. I’m guessing this has something to do with all of the bad press they got from their first year. Ameson Year in China and Ambassador Year in China are the SAME company. 

Do you want to teach abroad in China? Here's the best way to teach abroad and make money in China! #teachabroad #China #expat #travel

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Should You Teach Abroad With AYC?

To be fair, I taught abroad with AYC in their inaugural year of 2013-2014. Ambassador Year in China was brand new, and definitely made a lot of mistakes getting started.

I know that AYC has fixed many of these issues over the last few years, but I still don’t think this company is a great choice for teaching in China for many reasons.

Yes, they have a great website. Many universities recommend working with them. AYC offers a free TEFL, Chinese lessons, an orientation, and so many things that new teachers in China crave.

But after over 5 years of living and working in China, I can tell you that AYC isn’t a scam, but it certainly isn’t a great program either. You can do better, and I’m happy to show you how.

Free Guide: 10 Steps to Landing a High Paying Job in China

teaching english china

My coworkers in Ningbo

The Main Issues with AYC

My experience with AYC was kind of a disaster (more on that later), but even if they fixed all of their problems, I still can’t recommend this program. Why? Because it’s not a good deal!

1. The Salary is WAY Too Low

Firstly, Ambassador Year in China upped their salary from 5,000 RMB/ month to 6,000 RMB/ month. Either way, this salary is way too low. As a new teacher in a second-tier Chinese city, you should be making at least 8,000 RMB/ month with free housing, if not 10,000 RMB.

Personally, I was willing to sacrifice a higher salary for the support of AYC. I wanted the free orientation, free TEFL, Chinese lessons, excursions, and community. However, from my experience, none of these were worth the money I lost by taking such a low salary.

Chinese people posing

Traveling in Tibet before my program started

2. TEFLs Aren’t Expensive

Many in-person TEFL providers like to play up how expensive TEFL certifications can be. Yes, an in-person TEFL usually runs around $2,000 USD. However, at the time I was applying, the AYC TEFL was actually an online-TEFL with a short in-person component during orientation.

Did you know you can get a reputable online TEFL for around $200 USD?

Seriously, you don’t need to spend a fortune or make a lower salary to get a great TEFL that will work for your Chinese visa. From my experience, most schools in China just see a TEFL certificate as a means to an end. They don’t care which brand your TEFL comes from, as long as it’s from a reputable company.

I’ve been recommending MyTEFL to people for years, and I’ve never had any complaints. Use my discount code ASIAADV for a 35% discount. You can get your TEFL for just $195 online.

Screw the “free TEFL”. You’ll have made your $200 back in less than one month by taking a better paying job. There’s no such thing as “free”.

Jingshan Park

Want to teach in Beijing? too bad!

3. No Say Over Where You Teach

When I first applied to AYC, I listed Nanjing, Hangzhou, and Suzhou as my top choices. I was one of the very first people to be placed, and all of us first-wave placements ended up in Ningbo. It turns out none of us had put Ningbo on our preference sheet at all, yet we were placed a solid month before anyone else.

What does this mean? AYC didn’t take our preferences into consideration at all. A school in Ningbo chose me before my resume was even shown to any schools in Nanjing, Hangzhou, or Suzhou.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a say in where you’re placed? I had a few friends in Nanjing and really wanted to work there. I could’ve easily gotten a job in Nanjing had I directly applied without AYC.

teach English in China

Eating dumplings with a fellow AYCer

My Personal AYC Experience

As I said before, my experience with AYC was not the best. While Ambassador Year in China is not a scam and I did end up having a good time in China, I had a TON of major issues with them.

1. The Pre-departure Experience Was a Complete Mess

Firstly, China changed their visa laws right before we all came, which was a huge disaster. Many schools pulled out of the program, and most of my friends who were also applying decided they didn’t want to deal with the uncertainty. While this wasn’t AYC’s fault, it was still a huge mess that could’ve been avoided by applying to the school directly or through a more experienced recruiter.

Next, I was placed at a school in Ningbo in the first wave of placements, even though Ningbo was not on my preference sheet. I had almost killed myself trying to be one of the first people to complete my TEFL certification so that I could get a job in Nanjing, and instead, I was just given to the first school that showed interest in me.

teach abroad in China

I was so stressed out about visas during this trip to Tibet

2. Major Visa Issues – Teaching on a Tourist Visa

I originally arrived in China on a tourist visa because I wanted to spend the summer traveling. The plan was for my school to send all of my visa paperwork to my apartment in Beijing so that I could get my visa in Hong Kong at the end of the summer.

My month in Beijing came and went- no visa paperwork. I then contacted each of my hotels, asking if important visa documents could be sent there. They never arrived.

I harassed my school literally every day for the paperwork, which never came. I ended up heading to Hong Kong with no visa paperwork and had to start teaching on a tourist visa.

It ended up taking over a month for my school to get the paperwork. They originally wanted me to pay for my own SECOND flight to Hong Kong, but I put my foot down until they at least covered my plane ticket.

Many of my other friends had similar problems and had to either arrive on tourist or business visas or show up to the school two months late. AYC actually had to create a second orientation for all of the people who came late!

If you meet all the requirements for teaching in China, there is NO LEGITIMATE REASON for you to teach on a tourist or business visa.

Ameson Year in China

My High School

3. My School Wasn’t Legally Allowed to Hire Foreigners

It wasn’t until I received the visa paperwork that I realized that my school wasn’t legally allowed to hire foreign teachers. The school had me sign a second contract with a different school’s name on top, and the school on my work permit wasn’t actually the school I was working for!

My school tried to convince me that this was normal. However, one of my good friends from Ningbo was actually DEPORTED for the same thing a few months later. AYC still has her picture on the front page of their website too. Really, AYC??!

UPDATE Dec. 2018: Her photo is STILL on the front page of the website. Really? Really??

It turns out the reason why it took so long for me to get the paperwork was because my school didn’t want to pressure the other school to get the paperwork done on time since this school was doing them an illegal favor. Awesome.

The worst part is that a solid third of us in Ningbo weren’t working legally. FOUR of us were working for schools that weren’t legally allowed to hire us.

Read Next: Worst Case Scenario: What if I Get Scammed Teaching in China?

TEFL training Shanghai

I still had fun though!

4. The Orientation Was a Joke

I was SO excited for the AYC orientation, but to be honest, the entire thing was a disorganized mess. I couldn’t help but feel I could’ve easily planned a much better orientation myself.

We spent a huge chunk of time watching taped videos of Chinese people teaching ESL. Could they not afford to hire a real teacher to teach us a demo lesson or at least show us videos of foreign teachers teaching?

We also had to attend a Chinese class that was pointless for those of us who spoke Chinese, but way too fast for those that didn’t speak any.

Overall, I had fun but wow- this orientation was a complete joke.

Ningbo countryside

The view from my balcony

5. I Was Placed in the Middle of Nowhere By Myself

During my interview with the DC office I asked two questions:

  1. Will we all be placed in cities?
  2. Will any of us be placed at schools by ourselves?

I was told by the DC office that 1) We will all be in cities 2) None of us would be placed at schools by ourselves. When I learned that I was placed at a school by myself I wasn’t really concerned. I was in Ningbo, a second-tier city with a bunch of other AYC teachers. I’d have the opportunity to create a close relationship with other Chinese teachers at my school and then I could hang out with the other AYC teachers on my own time.

It wasn’t until I arrived at the school that I realized I’d been misled. Sure, I was technically in the city boundaries of Ningbo, but in reality, I was living on a factory-lined highway in the middle of nowhere, about 30 minutes driving from the city and 45 minutes driving to the nearest AYC teacher.

I had nowhere to go to meet people, most locals didn’t speak Mandarin as a first language, and there were no other foreigners for miles. None of the teachers in my school even knew any of the bus routes because they all had cars.

Oh, and the bus also stopped running at 7 pm, which meant I had to take an expensive cab ride home or crash on a friend’s couch every time I wanted to go into town.

My coworkers were all married with little kids and were too busy to hang out with me, so I spent most of my time in my apartment by myself. I drank a lot of wine, I watched a lot of Netflix, and I eventually started talking to myself out of loneliness and boredom. It was great.

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Ameson Year in China

My school’s main road

6. The Shanghai Office Didn’t Give a Sh** About Me

A few months out here? Sure. A whole year?! No way.

I wanted to leave and be placed at a different school. I even called the AYC Shanghai office to ask for a new placement. To be honest, they didn’t even seem to care until I started crying and threatened to quit.

This was not at all what I was promised in my interview and online, and I had not prepared myself mentally for the shock of arriving at a factory-lined highway. It angered me that AYC didn’t even think to look into the schools’ locations, especially since Ningbo is just a quick train ride away from Shanghai.

Instead of moving me to a new school, AYC called my school to inform them I was thinking of leaving. My school freaked out and immediately started trying to help me acclimate by overwhelming me with teachers who were “assigned” to hang out with me.

It was nice, but it also guilted me into not leaving. You can read more about my meltdown in my post I Guess I’m Not as Cool as I Thought I Was.

What to do in xian

I really wanted that Chinese class

7. The Chinese Classes Never Happened

The Chinese classes with AYC literally never happened. Apparently, the advanced Chinese teacher couldn’t figure out the online technology we were supposed to use for our Chinee lessons and gave up. I was actually really angry about the whole thing, considering the free Chinese lessons were one of the biggest selling points for me.

I complained more than once about the lack of Chinese classes, but my complaints fell on deaf ears. At that point, I wasn’t even surprised. It was pretty clear that the Shanghai office couldn’t care less about all of us.

AYC also told us that we’d have Chinese tutors at our school. When I asked my school about this, they told me they’d never been told they needed to provide a tutor for me.

I see that AYC is still promising Chinese classes. Let’s hope they’ve figured that out by now.

8. Our Excursions Also Never Happened

When AYC promised excursions, I pictured the amazing weekend excursions I went on as a study abroad student in Beijing and Xi’an. Instead, these excursions ALSO never happened.

Some people were placed in cities by themselves, making a group excursion impossible. I was kind of near Ningbo, where there were at least 10 other AYC teachers placed. Did they ever plan an excursion for us? Of course not.

I now see that AYC is not offering excursions anymore, which is probably a smart move on their part.

expat life China

I didn’t want to leave China!

9. My School Could Demand $8,000 USD If I Left Early

When I first arrived at my school, I signed the contract without really thinking. I thought everything was standardized through AYC, and I was pretty overwhelmed by the fact that I was in the middle of nowhere.

It wasn’t until I realized my full situation and wanted to leave that I noticed my contract stated the school could demand up to $8,000 USD from me if I left early. That was my salary for the entire year!!!

Even if your school is great, you should never sign a contract that allows your school to demand large sums of money from you if you leave early. If your school treats you unfairly or you’re very unhappy, you should be able to quit.

Paying back your flight, or forfeiting a month’s salary is acceptable. The possibility of being extorted for an entire year’s salary is not.

AYC should double check all contracts and weed out statements like this that are ridiculous or unfair. However, in my experience, AYC was not involved with the contract at all and really couldn’t care less once they had their finders fee from the school.

Chinese cafeteria food

A typical lunch in the cafeteria- Yummy!

So Many Horror Stories

I could go on and on about all the ways that AYC disappointed me, but the facts remain the same. For every person that had a good experience, there was someone else that had a horrible one.

There was my friend who was deported for teaching at a school that wasn’t legally allowed to hire her. I had another friend who was placed in a factory city by himself where he was literally one of two foreigners in the whole town. His hair started falling out due to water pollution, and his school fell two months behind in payment. Eventually (and not surprisingly) he left early.

There were the Shenzhen teachers who lived in bug-infested dorms for over a month and had to work WAY more than what AYC promised. There was the guy who’s school encouraged him to overstay his tourist visa, and he ended up owing the government hundreds of dollars in fines when he was deported.

There’s even an entire Facebook group dedicated to AYC horror stories! (Google Ameson Year in China and you’ll find it).

Read Next: What if Your Chinese School Doesn’t Pay On Time?

Teach Abroad TEFL

My students in Ningbo

There’s a Better Way to Teach Abroad in China

If you want to teach abroad in China, you don’t need AYC to find you a job. There’s a better way to find a well-paying position, and I’m happy to help.

1. Grab My Free Teach Abroad 10 Steps Guide

If you’re at all interested in teaching abroad in China and want to learn more, I highly suggest grabbing my free guide: 10 Steps to Landing a High Paying Job in China (that’s not a scam).

This step by step system is designed to help you land a high paying job you LOVE and rock your first year in China! Trust me, if you want to teach abroad in China, you need this guide ASAP!

Grab your FREE Teach Abroad Guide

Teach Abroad China

Dressing up for Halloween!

2. Apply on Career China

Career China is my favorite jobs site in China. You apply to Career China the same way you might apply to AYC. They’ll take a look at your resume and recommend a few jobs for you.

However, unlike AYC, you are in control. You can decide which jobs you like, and Career China will take your preferences into consideration. The salaries are much higher too!

Search for Jobs!

Ameson Year in China

Tutoring students in Ningbo

3. Get Your TEFL Online

A reputable online TEFL will cost around $200+ USD. There are plenty of amazing TEFL providers online, and there’s no need for you to have a lower salary just to get a “free TEFL”. The added income you’ll make by getting paid the going rate will pay for your TEFL in less than a month.

Again, my recommendation is MyTEFL. I’ve sent a ton of people their way (seriously, at least 200 people), and I’ve only heard good things. Be sure to use my discount code ASIAADV!

Read Next: Do I Need a TEFL to Teach Abroad in China?

AYC review

Get a friend to teach you Chinese

4. Organize Your Own Chinese Lessons

You know what else you can do with your higher salary? Get your own Chinese tutor! You can easily find an affordable Chinese tutor in your city, or take online Chinese lessons!

Trust me, having control over your Chinese lessons is the way to go. You don’t want to be stuck in a class that’s not your level, or completely disappointed like I was. Overall, getting a local tutor isn’t very expensive at all, and if you’re making a higher salary, the small extra cost shouldn’t be an issue.

college counselor China

My first few weeks as a college counselor in China!

5. Join the Teach Abroad Squad!

If you’re looking for a recruiter who works for YOU and not the schools, you can always work with me! As part of my Teach Abroad Squad course and community, I offer job placement assistance.

In addition to the full online course and Facebook community, members of the Teach Abroad Squad get access to my curated Approved Jobs List, which is an awesome list of schools and recruiters that have been fully vetted by me. They all pay well and on time, offer great benefits, and have excellent reviews.

Not only does Teach Abroad Squad help you narrow down your job search and ensure you don’t get scammed, but we also have multiple lessons on signing and negotiating contracts. In TAS I analyze three real-life contracts on the screen showing you what I like and don’t like about each of the positions. You even have a downloadable Good Job’s Checklist to make sure the position meets all your needs!

TAS will also teach you how to negotiate for an extra $3,500 USD per year with our contract negotiation lesson. Talk about getting your money’s worth!

If this sounds amazing to you, then you definitely want to join Teach Abroad Squad!

I open up TAS to new members every few months, so the best way to know about future course openings is to get on the Teach Abroad Squad Waitlist. Once you’re on the list you’ll be the first to know about any course openings, as well as awesome free training and opportunities for free 1-1 strategy calls with me!

Join the Teach Abroad Squad Waitlist!

teach English China

My students and I on Sports Day

What Do You Think?

Now I want to hear from you- Do you still have any questions or concerns about whether or not you should teach with Ameson Year in China? Do you have any questions about finding a job in China? Be sure to leave me a comment below!

I’m always checking for new comments and I’ll be sure to get back to you as soon as I can!

Do you wan to teach abroad in China but not sure which program to choose? Here's my review of Ameson Year in China, and how you can do better for your first year as an expat in China #China #teachabroad #expat #travel

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This post was originally published in April 2014 and was last updated in December 2018



About Richelle

Expat, traveler, and spicy food lover, I've spent the last few years living in China and traveling around Asia. In my spare time I enjoy salsa dancing, exploring night markets and stuffing my face with street food.

14 comments on “Ambassador Year in China: A Review

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  4. I am having a really hard time. Do you have any tips for me to make it through the year? I was placed somewhere that wasn’t even on my preferences. I feel like AYC doesn’t respond to any of my concerns, but if I break my contract, I will be charged “agency fees”. I am so upset!

    • I totally understand where you’re coming from, and I felt that way when I was with Ameson too! I think if you REALLY want to leave, you should come up with a rough figure that you will owe Ameson and your school. Has your school reimbursed you for your plane ticket and TEFL yet? Have you signed the contract? Does the contract say they can demand money from you if you leave? Then, if that amount of money isn’t ridiculously high, you should start looking around for recruiters and making connections. Maybe take a visit to a city you want to live in and see if you can find a recruiter there. You’ll be able to make much more money this way: maybe 8-10K a month.This may cover your costs in a matter of months.

      For me, I would have to owe my school up to 8k USD if I left. Therefore, there was no way I could get another job in China without them blackmailing me through my contract. My options were: stay in China or go home. In that case, I recommend you just let it go and enjoy yourself. Try and immerse yourself in the local community as much as you can while the weather is still nice. Are there other expats you can be friends with? Are there any cool coworkers? My time with AYC didn’t turn itself around until January, when I decided I was going to stay for another semester. Once I stopped feeling sorry for myself and decided to make it work, then my experience was a million times better.

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  8. Hi Richelle,

    Thank you so much for taking the time to write of your experiences, it has been so helpful for me. I have been accepted by Good Teachers Union, though I have yet to begin the interview process they have asked me when I would be ready to start. I’m a qualified teacher here in the UK but still need to do EFL training, which I am quite happy with.

    Wow, what an adventure you had! How I felt it for you, suddenly finding yourself on that factory-lined highway and with everything at the beginning going awry and not at all as planned. Your response is so inspiring, and I bet you’re glad now that you stuck things out.

    I’m hoping to be placed in Hanghzou, or a similar relatively serene area. Hopefully learning Mandarin isn’t too difficult! Could you recommend any specific phrases I should learn?

    Thanks again and best wishes


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