SDE International - Shenzhen

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It’s no secret that life in China is vastly different from life in Western countries.

There are some cultural differences that I never got used to. Why do people feel the need to spit all the time? And how hard is it for a butcher to simply cut around the bone so I can enjoy eating meat?

Most of my culture shock eventually dissipated as I settled into my everyday life. Here are a few ways you can get over culture shock more rapidly, though. The more quickly you adjust, the more quickly you feel comfortable and happy in China!

1. Research

If you’re reading this blog post, then you’re off to a good start on doing your research. Congratulations!

Read travel, English as a second language, and expat blogs to familiarize yourself with what to expect in China. You can never be fully prepared (that’s half the fun of moving abroad), but you can know what some of the biggest challenges will be.

In fact, since you’re here to do your research, I’ll even give you a tidbit: My first day in China, I went to a dumpling restaurant and the server gave me a bowl and a pot of hot water. I assumed I was supposed to drink the water, so I did.

Only a week later did someone inform me that customers are expected to wash off their utensils with hot water in restaurants. I felt so stupid! I bet my server was laughing at me the whole time.

Don’t worry, your utensils are pre-washed. It’s just a cultural norm to rinse them off at your table.

2. Study Mandarin

Dabbling in Mandarin before you get on your flight to China will make all the difference in the world. Even just learning phrases such as “Nǐ hǎo” (Hello), “Xièxiè” (Thank you), and “Wǒ de míngzì shì …” (My name is …) will make your transition much easier.

Don’t forget that Mandarin is a tonal language! There are four tones, so be sure to practice. My first few months in China, locals couldn’t understand what I was saying. I knew the words, but not the tones. It was pretty embarrassing!

You can practice Mandarin by subscribing to great YouTube videos, such as Learning Chinese with Mike. Downloading the Memrise app on your phone is a convenient way to learn while you’re on the subway or watching TV.

Once you arrive in China, continue studying. You can easily find someone to engage in a language exchange with you or a teacher to give you private or group lessons.

3. Spend time with Chinese people

If Chinese culture is so different that you find yourself constantly overwhelmed, try hanging out with Chinese people. Eat lunch with your Chinese colleagues or invite that nice Chinese lady in your office to go shopping with you after school.

When you get to know people personally, the culture as a whole becomes more personal to you.

I’ll admit, I judged Chinese people pretty harshly when I first moved to the country. However, once I became friends with Chinese people, I was able to put faces with the culture. I was also able to politely ask them why the Chinese do certain things, and they helped me understand.

4. Hang out with fellow expats

Yes, spending time with Chinese people is valuable, but it’s also a good idea to hang out with expats so that you can debrief together and exchange notes.

When you speak with other foreign teachers, you give yourself a break from taking in Chinese culture. Instead, you can just be yourself and act completely Western without censoring yourself.

In these hangout sessions, you can all exchange notes about how your jobs and everyday lives in a new country are going.


SDE International - Shenzhen

New teaching jobs in China interviewing now, apply today!

About the Author:

Laura Grace Tarpley
Laura Grace Tarpley is a freelance writer and English teacher in Shenzhen, China. She enjoys tinkering with crossword puzzles, reading Bill Bryson books, and taking naps on her huge couch. Follow her travels on her Instagram and Twitter. Or you can check out her blog, Let’s Go, Tarpley!
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