Western Educators' Experiences Teaching and Living in Mainland China: A Case Study of Acculturation and Transformative Learning

This study investigated the challenges and opportunities that foster acculturation and adult transformative learning of western teachers in Chinese private schools. Using a case study design, western teachers were studied who were in their first year of teaching at a private, K-12, bilingual school in China. Five teachers were interviewed during one school year about the aspects of culture shock that they experienced upon arrival in China, how they developed cultural competencies through their adaptations and experiences of acculturation to the host country, and whether they experienced adult transformative learning as part of acculturation over the course of a school year. The major themes that emerged from the analyses of the interviews and written responses were culture shock, personal adaptation strategies that helped their acculturation process, professional adaptation strategies that helped their acculturation process for teaching Chinese children, development of cultural competencies, and personal and professional adult transformative learning gained from the international teaching experience. Several subordinate themes emerged including personality traits of the successful expatriate and the importance of organizational and social support for expatriate teachers. The teachers in the study all described similar processes of culture shock and subsequent full acculturation to the host country. The teachers described how they adapted to their new culture by adopting specific effective personal and professional coping strategies. They described immersing themselves in the culture and developing strong social support systems. All of the teachers described what they felt was a high degree of cultural competency and adult transformative learning by the end of the academic year, through the successful adoption of these key strategies. Since China has become the single largest English language teachers’ market in the world, a growing number of private international schools are hiring western teachers. The findings here contribute to teachers’ decisions and planning for teaching abroad and school leaders’ support of western teachers personal and professional acculturation and experience of transformational learning.