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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.
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
5. I Was Placed in the Middle of Nowhere By Myself
During my interview with the DC office I asked two questions:
- Will we all be placed in cities?
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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. Take My Free Teach Abroad Mini Course
For me, the teach abroad orientation with AYC wasn’t all that helpful. So I’ve designed my own, 5-Lesson Teach Abroad Mini-Course that you can take from the comfort of your own living room!
From TEFLs and visas to all the mistakes I made and how to avoid them, this 5-Lesson Mini-Course will walk you through the process of getting ready to teach in China!
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!
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?
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.
5. Join the Teach Abroad Squad!
If you haven’t already heard of the Teach Abroad Squad, let me fill you in! The Teach Abroad Squad is my super close-knit course and community for people who want to teach abroad in China the RIGHT way and avoid all of my mistakes.
I’m now offering premium job-placement as part of the Teach Abroad Squad, and I will help you find the PERFECT job for you. No randomly low salaries or crazy kickbacks, just one-on-one helpful job searching with my guidance.
While the Teach Abroad Squad isn’t open for new members right now, we’ll be opening up again very soon! In the meantime, you can enroll in my Free Teach Abroad Mini-Course, and you’ll be the first one to know when spots open again!
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!
This post was originally published in April 2014 and was last updated in December 2018
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