So you’re moving to China, and you’re not sure what to expect. You’ve come to the right place. This guide will walk you through the major changes and obstacles you’ll overcome in the most critical months of your journey: one month before and after moving to China.
The Month Before
The month before arriving is all about preparation. You’ll need to get your home life in order, prepare your Visa, pack your bags, and handle the goodbyes.
It gets pretty “real” that you’re moving to another country as the flight date gets closer. If you haven’t started packing by the month before, you’ll need to start soon. Making sure you have everything you need for a year in a place you’ve never been is daunting, but writing out a packing list which expands on items you’ll need for different situations (such as work, social, party, vacations etc) can be helpful. If a packing list is provided to you by your company, try to follow it to the best of your ability, but make sure to add things unique to your personal needs. With a little preparation you should be more or less okay and if you forget something critical, there’s always Taobao, an amazing online shopping resource in China that literally sells almost everything!
To make your life a lot easier to manage while you’re away you should get your home life to a point where it’s mostly self-sufficient. Have your bills arranged, move out of your apartment, put your things in storage, etc. This can take time so make sure that you don’t leave these important steps until the last minute. If you have the ability to do so, it can be very helpful to start learning basic characters and words in Mandarin. Downloading an app to help you practice, or picking up a few phrases will go a long way to helping you when you first arrive!
The next most important process is to make sure you have completed the necessary steps for your visa. It is essential to bring the correct paperwork with you so that you’re not turned away at the boarding gate, or worse, customs. Your company representative should help you to ensure that you have the correct paperwork, but remember that they are usually dealing with many applicants at once, so being informed and asking questions about the process ensures that nothing falls through the cracks.
The Month After
Once you arrive in China, you’ll need to deal with culture shock and changes to your body. Some of the things you’ll need to handle include: sleep adjustment, food adjustment, toilet adjustment, language and cultural barriers, finding an apartment and (if you have no prior experience) learning how to teach.
Arriving in China after a long flight undoubtedly leads to jetlag. Coming from the west (especially North America) and traveling to China is one heck of a time shift. You’ll take a few days to get used to waking up at “night time” and going to sleep in “the morning,” but with a little bit of dedication to a bedtime schedule, this will be one of the easiest adjustments to make.
Chinese culture will likely be very different from what you’re used to at home. When you first arrive (and sometimes later too), it can be difficult to handle people spitting, the concept of “face” and any of the other practices which may seem strange and off-putting to Westerners. As a guest in another country it’s important to try to go with the flow. You’ll get used to them (or at least learn to accept them) in the future.
One of the harder adjustments to get used to is the food in China. It is not really similar to the “Chinese” fast food you may be used to in Western countries, and it can be difficult to order if you don’t know how to read Chinese characters. Over time, you’ll pick up what the symbols are for different types of meat and learn a few phrases. I suggest sticking to restaurants with photos in the beginning. Once you find a restaurant you like or a food you enjoy, you can use that are a jumping off point to become more comfortable experimenting.
With new food experiences comes new bathroom adventures. Adjusting to new foods has different effects on everyone; you may find your body takes longer to acclimatize to spice or oiliness found in foods here. In addition, many places in China have exclusively Chinese squat toilets. They’re not overly complicated to use, but it will be another adjustment if you aren’t used to it. Make sure to carry your own toilet paper/tissues and hand sanitizer as they are not offered in many public washrooms. Thankfully, there are usually lots of options for Western toilets in the local apartments.
You may feel quite rushed or overwhelmed to find an apartment quickly upon arrival. The speed of this process can be very stressful, but try to make the most of it by figuring what you want in an apartment ahead of time. Do research online and set reasonable expectations for different neighborhoods. Paying for an apartment upfront is the largest expense you’ll have when you first arrive as you’ll be putting down about 2.5 months of rent between the first month of rent, security deposit and the agent fee. This is a reality of finding an apartment in China, so it’s good to be aware of how much money you’ll need beforehand. Thankfully, you won’t have too many things to move as you’ll be setting up shop with your suitcases.
Many of the teachers coming to China will have completed a TEFL course but have not had very much experience dealing with children in person. Going from learning how to be a teacher from a book (or instructor) to doing it in person can be quite the leap. Schools offer varying degrees of help, but you may be put in a classroom with 50 kids and expected to teach on day one. Learning to teach and developing your own style will be its own journey, but you should start feeling more comfortable with what does and doesn’t work for your classroom within a week or so. In most places there are experienced teachers that you can connect with as both valuable resources and friends.
All in all, moving to another country can be a really rewarding experience. You’ll meet new people and learn new things while making money and getting to travel the world. Adjusting to a new way of life can feel a little overwhelming at times (especially in the beginning), but knowing that other teachers are going through the same experiences can give you a sense of comradery which will help you pull through and really embrace your new home.