Moving from the United States to China is about as drastic of a move as possible, at least in terms of distance. Every aspect of your life endures a necessary transition as you adjust to your new home. From trivial to significant matters and everything in between, there will certainly be some hurdles you will need to overcome in order to live comfortably and confidently in the new location. Below, I’ll share some of my advice based on my personal experiences of living in China over the past five months.
Overcoming the Language Barrier
For most expats living in Asia, the most prominent transition that they must deal with is the language barrier. I had been more nervous about this than anything else when I first came here; Mandarin is an extremely difficult language to learn! Fortunately, as it turns out, there is no need to worry. I knew no Chinese at all – save for a few basic terms such as hello, thank you, and how to count to three – and honestly don’t know much more even now. Here’s why: very few expats that I’ve met here, including those who have lived here for several years, can speak Chinese. The fact is that you can get by without it.
Depending what part of China you’re in, residents will know enough English to be able to communicate with you and if, like me, you’re working at a school, there will be other English teachers that you can communicate with. Further, there are countless translation apps available to assist you as necessary (I personally use Microsoft Translator the most frequently). However, should you be interested in developing your language proficiency, there are plenty of options to do so: apps such as MemRise are a useful to utilize as you practice the new language; my school offers weekly Chinese lessons for free; and, of course, nothing is better than fully immersing yourself into the language by practicing what you know with native speakers.
Coping with Homesickness
My move to China represents the farthest and the longest amount of time I’ve ever been away from home. Of course, I miss my family and friends, my house, and all of the many events I cannot enjoy from over here – especially watching my infant goddaughter learn to walk and talk and celebrate her first birthday! It is entirely natural to experience these feelings of homesickness but fortunately, there are definitely ways to help handle them. First and foremost, I feel that a psychological “switch” helps more than anything. Do your best to not harp on what you’re missing out on, but rather focus on all of the incredible things you do get to experience. After you’ve flipped the mental switch, act on those refined thoughts. Spend time with your fellow expats, new friends, and locals. Book a spontaneous flight to somewhere new. Explore the ins and outs of your new home. In short, to forget about being homesick, take advantage of the infinite opportunities you have at your disposal in your new home!
Maintaining Your Constants
With the language barrier and natural homesickness, specific changes to your day to day life are recommended. However, many things can – and should – remain the same after such a big move. While you will be in a new workplace and perhaps an entirely new career, you should absolutely maintain a high level of professional throughout all of your employed duties. Outside of work, also strive to stay true to your personal values and what you identify with.
The trick is to find a happy and healthy balance between the person you were at home and the person you are here. Further, do your best to adapt to the new cultural norms, but know your limits. Most importantly, allow room for growth. You can continue to be yourself even as you grow and develop throughout the entire journey – embrace it!