Congratulations on deciding to move to THE most exciting country in the world! You’re in for a total rollercoaster of a time and I promise that by the end of your stay in China, whether it’s a few months or a few years, you’ll be a changed person. But even if you’re the most prepared individual your first time in China can be quite daunting. So what can you expect?
1. Lots and lots and lots of people
China’s huge population is on show from the moment your plane touches down. Airports tend to be extremely crowded and full of exhausted people jostling to get their bags and get home as quickly as possible. My advice: get your head down, collect your bags and make your way out ASAP to meet your school’s representative.
2. Different weather
I’ve met dozens of new teachers in China and most were not prepared for the climate. The north of China in particular is a land of extremes with freezing cold months in the winter and dry hot summers. Southern China is a lot milder throughout the year but can be incredibly hot and humid in July and August. Do your research before you land so you know what you should be wearing.
3. Real Chinese food
So it turns out the Chinese food you eat in General Tso’s or Oriental Star isn’t that authentic at all. But what counts as authentic? The spicy food in Sichuan province is markedly different to traditional Beijing cuisine which is also different from the Cantonese style of Guangdong province. Here’s something to note: every province, even every city in China has its local specialities and you probably won’t have heard about any of these before. You’re going to have to step out of your comfort zone!
4. Language problems
OK so you might have dabbled in a bit of Chinese before you arrive but most people don’t so in your first couple of days it’s going to be overwhelming language culture shock. There’ll be lots of “huhs?!”, “what?” and “Do you speak English?!” but you’ll soon realise that hunger is a great motivator. Hand gestures, pointing and phones will help you to survive and order your first meals. Plus, any decent school should help you out with dedicated administration staff and lots of settling in assistance. In fact, York English has an unofficial tradition of helping out new teachers by arranging meals out for them over the first few days (and best of all you don’t have to pay for these!).
5. Wowed by the evening lightshow
Chinese cities have grown hugely in the last 20 years with lots of rural villagers flocking to them for work. This growth has manifested itself with skyscrapers often adorned with multi-coloured flashing lights showing everyone who visits that this is the place to be and that it’s growing rapidly. At night this can be really quite impressive and it’s not just Beijing and Shanghai. Most cities are so covered in neon and LEDs that you definitely feel you’re in a different world.
6. The noise
Life in China seems to happen on the streets as much as in the apartment. It’s a 24 hour environment with plenty of hustle and bustle. While exciting, this does come with it’s own problems: noise! At York we find apartments that are as secluded as possible but I’d definitely recommend bringing earplugs if you’re a light sleeper, just for the first few nights at least.
So after all of that it’s going to be time to buckle down and start working at your new school. If this is your first job make sure that you know what training the school provides during your first few days, weeks and months. Ideally this should be a continuation of where you left off from your TEFL/CELTA/TESOL course. And once you’ve started you’re well on your path to becoming a successful English teacher in China! Then all you need to do is learn the language, practice teaching and get over the jet lag!