The first few months of life in China can be a very difficult time for the newly arrived English Teachers. I have met many foreigners who after staying in China only for a brief month or two decided to pack up their suitcases and head back home. The culture shock and the initial challenges of settling down in a country that you have never lived in before combined with the language barrier proved too much for them. It is undeniable that life in China for the newly arrived foreigner poses challenges; however with some guidance and smart planning beforehand these challenges can be easily overcome.
In this article, I will provide you with tips drawn from my own experiences on how to get through the early days as smoothly as possible and end up enjoying the exciting and pleasant journey that awaits you afterwards.
Tip 1: Vaccines
Not a lot of the foreigners I have met here went through the trouble of getting vaccinated before boarding the plane to China for the first time. Perhaps it is the overall excitement of going to a far away country and embarking on a new adventure that gets the better of people’s senses but regardless getting the appropriate vaccines (especially if you have never visited China or any of its bordering countries before) will save you a lot of potential troubles.
Visiting your local clinic to check out the recommended vaccines for travelling to China is always a good idea. In the UK for example, if you contact the NHS and inform them of your plans to travel they will be happy to administer you with the recommended vaccines, however be aware that you have to contact them at least a few weeks in advance of your scheduled departure in order to book an appointment (or appointments in some cases as some vaccines need to be administered more than once).
you can look for private clinics that offer the same service for a fee. In London you can find a number of so-called travel clinics which specialise in vaccines and usually provide a quick service, so even if you have only a week or less before you have to leave, it is not too late to drop by and get the needed vaccines done.
The core vaccines are mostly designed to protect the stomach from stomach bugs and the sort. It is a fact a life that your stomach will face some difficulties in adapting to the local cuisine. However, you can spare yourself an unpleasant hospital visit or two by getting vaccinated. Virtually all of my newly arrived friends had to deal with a stomach bug at some point in the first few months that they were here. I avoided experiencing such a problem because I got vaccinated before arriving in China.
Tip 2: Prepare for the costs
Settling down in China even if you intend is to stay only for a year can involve certain unexpected costs. For starters, most landlords in China will expect you to pay the renting fee for 3 months in advance before you can move into your new apartment. The good news is that most schools in China will be willing to help you out with the initial costs and will only want you to repay the money after you have started earning. However, be prepared for this. It is almost impossible to find a landlord in China who is willing to receive the rent payment month by month.
you will have to buy everything inside the apartment apart from the furniture. House items such as pillows, bed sheets, pans, pots and cutlery all have to be bought independently. The good news, of course, is that all of those things are pretty cheap in China and as such you don’t have to worry too much about these additional costs. That being said having some money put aside before coming to China will make things easier.
Tip 3: Have an open mind
China will likely be unlike anything you have ever seen or experienced before. A different culture, a different language and different societal norms. This can bring plenty of excitement and fun, but for some, the culture shock can be too jarring. So how to deal with this? Well, don’t expect things to be the same as back home because they will not be. And instead of fearing that prospect, embrace it instead! In my opinion, this is one of the most amazing things about this opportunity. The fact that you can submerge yourself in a completely alien to your own culture and discover things that you have never before encountered.
This is not to say that you will love everything that is different.
Of course not. In fact, you have to mentally prepare yourself for some unpleasant moments. People here often stare at foreigners in very obvious ways that might at times come across as awkward and rude even. But at the same time, these same people will be more than happy to help you out in any way they can. More than once, I have asked random strangers on the street to help me find a location I was looking for and the response I have been met with has been almost overwhelming. People would pause their journeys and focus on helping you until you have found your destination.
Those are just some examples of the way people do things here differently. The different language is another aspect altogether to prepare oneself for. Perhaps contrary to popular belief most people in the world cannot speak English. Such is the case in China. The vast majority of Chinese people you will meet on the mainland will not be able to speak English. As such you have to be prepared for this. Learning some basic level of Mandarin before arriving in China is the obvious advice. However simply acknowledging the fact that in the beginning, you will have to use body language and a lot of waving and pointing in order to get basic messages across will make your first months in China easier.
Even something as simple as not becoming upset at a Chinese’s person inability to understand the English language is a beneficial mindset to have for both you the foreigner and the local people that you will be interacting with. Not to mention you will have plenty of time to practice your Mandarin skills here in China and practice is the best teacher after all.
Hopefully, by following these tips, your first few months in China will be smooth and pleasant and you will end up enjoying the rest of the experience afterwards as well.
English Teacher in China