Columbia College graduate Tyler Wells earned his bachelor's degree in English Literature and considered teaching K-12 in the United States, but decided instead to teach English as a second language overseas.
Wells lives in Chongquing, a major city in southwest China, and works at Yitong College in Hechuan, Chongquing.
The Columbia native is the grandson of Frances Schooler (and the late Dr. Robert Schooler) of Laddonia and the son of Mary Wells and Richard Wells of Columbia. Wells has two brothers, Jackson and Matthew, and uses the Internet to share his experiences with his family and friends.
Wells said he is the first American to ever teach at Yitong College. He teaches around 25 first-year university students. He said the only other English teacher is Scottish. The staff also includes a Nigerian, a Frenchman, and a German, who teach German.
Most of his students, Wells said, have studied English for many years, throughout elementary and high school. However, they are very shy and unaccustomed to speaking English. His job is to help them practice their oral English.
"They lack confidence, even if they are quite good at speaking English. The only challenge is to get the students interested and participating," Wells said.
One popular activity among Chinese college students, he said, is karaoke. "Hundreds of students pack into a smoky basement bar and wildly (and often drunkenly) cheer on their peers who belt out American rock classics slightly off key, with poor pronunciation."
Wells, 26, said most of the "foreign faculty" at Yitong College is between 40 and 70. So, he often interacts with his students after school to learn more about his new home.
"Of course, my dependence on them would often end with me getting meals like a plate full of boiled chicken feet for dinner. That only happened a few times, until I learned to say "no chicken feet." Nothing motivates you to learn a language like the fear of getting a plate full of boiled chicken feet."
Wells said it is not difficult to learn how to speak the language there, but it's "quite difficult" to learn to read and write it. In terms of grammar and syntax, he said, Mandarin is pretty simple.
Chongquing is a massive metropolis, with roughly the same population as Canada. Life there, Wells said, is chaotic.
"It is crowded, dirty and loud. Construction is never-ending. It goes 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It isn't uncommon to hear jackhammers pounding away at 3 a.m. It seems like the government never stops tearing down old buildings to build new ones. On the outskirts of Chongqing, farms and land are swallowed up by cement and skyscrapers," Wells said.
Wells lives in a two-bedroom furnished apartment with a kitchen, a living room and three balconies, on the 25th floor of a high-rise overlooking his college – all expenses paid.
"It's great. The apartment, along with all the utility costs, is covered by the university. This is a standard perk of any English teaching position in China."
On an average day, Wells said, he spends about $5 on food. The defining character of Chongqing's cuisine is spiciness. Everything is cooked with peppers.
"Food costs could not be lower. My breakfast, a sandwich with chicken, lettuce and peppers, is usually around $1. I buy it from a cart on the street in front of my apartment complex," Wells said. "I can cook some simple Chinese dishes, but I don't cook often. It's easy to afford eating out, since the food so cheap."
Wells said he chose to teach English as a second language overseas because he knew he would "enjoy a high quality of life relative to most K-12 teachers in the U.S.," and because "teaching English overseas is one of the few work arenas where an English degree has value."
"When I graduated with a bachelor's degree, I joined the "recent college graduate" club that was already saturated with unemployed qualified individuals in their 20s and 30s all vying for the same few positions. I felt silly applying for entry-level positions that still required 3-5 years of experience," Wells said. He said the pay is nice, the teachers are appreciated and there are no "politics" that "strip teachers of their integrity."
Wells has been traveling a bit in his last week of winter holiday. He has befriended many of his students, and also has a Chinese girlfriend, who is a student in China, but not at his college.
Wells said he hopes to teach in China a long time. "The people are friendly and the big cities are extremely safe relative to the United States. There's very little violent crime," he said.
His next plans are to move to Wuhan, another city in China, to continue teaching closer to his girlfriend.
"Finding a teaching job in China is as easy as searching "Teach English in China, on Google," Wells said. The only difficulty in finding a job in China, that he noted, is avoiding employers who want you to work on an illegal visa.
Visit tylerwells.imgur.com to see photographs Wells has taken in China, which includes a trip to the panda farm in Chengdu.