WeChat is an app available for your phone that is more or less a Chinese government allowed combination of Facebook, Facebook Messenger, YouTube, Instagram, and Whatsapp all rolled up in one. You can message people as well as call or video chat with them. This is the one service that we found words very well while traveling in China.
If you are planning on going on the VIPKid Field Trip to China, you will be highly encouraged to get on WeChat. Our tour guide would use it to find us if we got lost and post updates on meeting times and places. It was very important that at least one person in every room had a working WeChat account.
That being said, there are some issues with WeChat. It often decides that you are an unauthorized user and you have to get someone to scan in your QR code and verify you. The problem is that it can’t be just anyone. They have to have had their account for more than 6 months and they can only help one person per six month period. My first account was blocked and I was never able to get back in. I had to “borrow” a phone number from a friend in order to open a new account. (This person will never have a need to use WeChat). I’m not sure why it worked the second time, but I have a good theory. The first time, I downloaded the app and opened an account, but didn’t do anything more. The second time, I did the same, but set up my profile, added a few friends, and had a short chat with one of them. I highly suspect that WeChat freezes any account that doesn’t complete the profile or add users. So set up your account when you have enough time to add a couple of friends and add a profile picture. (I can’t guarantee that this will work, but that is my guess why my first account got frozen).
Also, you need to start arranging with your students in order to meet them. We had a very small window between when we found out about the trip and the actual trip, that I was only able to arrange one meetup. I suggest even if you aren’t planning a trip, start adding your students’ parents to WeChat. It’s fun to get to know their personal lives a bit more and they will appreciate learning more about you. I struggled a bit with this as many of my students are lower levels and we had a hard time understanding each other. However, holding up your QR code and saying WeChat usually does the trick. I also add my WeChat name in feedback (although I haven’t had any additions from doing this yet). I highly recommend adding a nickname to the WeChat as the request comes through so you can match the student with the parent (and most of my names have come through in Chinese characters).
WeChat is not like Facebook in the fact that you can go back and look at posts from years ago. The “moments” only last a few days. I usually get on WeChat a couple of times a week to check up new moments and I usually only post about once a week. I don’t have a huge following. I have a few students’ families and some of the new friends I met on the trip (although we tend to use Facebook more now that we are home and away from the Great Firewall).
Some teachers choose not to use WeChat. I was on that side of the debate until I traveled to China. Since then, it has helped me develop more of a relationship with the few students moms who have added me. I love seeing pictures of my students on their trips and doing things with their families, and they always “like” the pictures that I post as well. As always, keep your WeChat super professional and don’t post anything that would be against the Chinese government’s policies so you don’t cause any issues to your students. Also, keep your professional standards when talking with parents and always be respectful of your work with VIPKid. This is not the place to air your dirty laundry.
I still don’t think of WeChat as essential for my teaching. Nevertheless, it was essential on the trip. I do feel that it has helped develop a deeper relationship with the families that I am connected with.