How comfortable are you with not knowing what tomorrow brings? How adventurous are you? The initial reason for moving abroad is often the wish to explore foreign cultures. Are you really interested? If you are moving to China or you are already here, we might give you an insight how things work over here and few tips on how to get ready for the challenge. Stay with us and don’t forget that: Hombre prevenido vale por dos! (forewarned is forearmed!).
From our experience we can say that living in a foreign country is hard enough as it is with all the administrative procedures and cultural shock, but while you might feel a little confused and frustrated at first, moving to China can be also exciting and a challenge to be proud of.
Living in this crowded and rich in history country can provide you with the experience and the opportunity to learn from people who have a very different perspective of the world.
In any case, you will just need to be aware of the following major facts and be ready to handle them. After that, your life here can become very comfortable!.
Fact # 1: THE CULTURE SHOCK
It is definitely exciting when you arrive in China for the first time. Everything is different from what you know, wherever you are coming from. You might enjoy the attention of the locals staring at you in awe or even asking you to take a photo with them like if you were a movie star. After a few days, the little things that you initially considered charming may begin to annoy you and you might tend to stick to what is familiar to you. If you stay too long in your comfort zone, it could be possible that you might never make the transition from expat to compatriot. After all, understanding and trying to be part of the local culture is probably the hardest part of life abroad but the best way to enjoy your life and a healthy state of mind.
Fact # 2: THE WHINING PHASE:
It is tempting to share your experiences of living in a foreign country with other expats or whoever is open to listen. At first, you will need to whine, and a lot!. You’ll need to talk about how everything ran on schedule back home, how clean your former hometown was and how different your people handled bureaucratic issues. You’ll need to share your hesitation to try the local food after the explosive diarrhea it caused you, your problems adjusting to the pace of life, how noisy everybody is, their spitting on the ground and the horrible sound that comes with it, the weird smells everywhere, the poor hygienic standards, the horrific toilets, the smoking in elevators and everywhere, the terrible pollution, the lack of privacy or how intrusive some locals are, and how different their social and professional customs are. The list goes on and I would have to make another post to describe each of these issues. However, although the process of making the transition from living like an expat to living like a local takes time; if you wish to adapt, you need to be sure that your whining phase doesn’t take longer than 5 months and try to eventually see the positive aspects of this society as their politeness, their unconditional help and respect for foreigners. If you let go of preset stereotypes and prejudices, then you might be willing to adapt and feel comfortable here.
Fact # 3: THE LANGUAGE
China might also be a place of significant challenges that are impeded by language barriers although English is becoming increasingly important every day and there are more people able to communicate in it.
I have personally learned that living in a foreign country simply does not make you speak the country’s language well. It does not force you to learn good grammar, good pronunciation, or a large vocabulary, because you can do quite well without those things in everyday life.
I, for example speak mandarin like an infant which means that I speak in an understandable way, but with lots of mistakes and I’m still able to shop or talk to random people without major problems.
I have only felt forced to learn what is necessary to survive, to buy in the store, to explain my feelings, to give instructions to my students and to be polite when I meet somebody new. Also I recognize some of the very common characters and I can read few relevant things. However, my low level of Mandarin doesn’t allow me to have deep relationships with locals who can only communicate in Mandarin. I am a bit restricted in that sense because I’m not able to keep deep conversations. So, you can do like me or get your motivation and ability to learn ready and amplify your social world…which will only bring you benefits, of course!
Fact # 4: THE INTERNET AND SOCIAL MEDIA
It might not be a surprise for you that China has strict policies about News filtering, Internet and Social Media access. Here, you can’t access to Facebook, Youtube, Google, NY times, Gmail, Instagram, Twitter and many of other sites. They are all blocked and you need to get a VPN connection ahead of time that you can install in your laptop to be able to jump the Chinese Firewall and continue your cyber life as usual.
Fact # 5: THE TRAFFIC, WAY OF DRIVING AND PEDESTRIANS
You might not want a car because the traffic jams are sometimes chaotic. If you get an e-bike or a bike be ready for the unimaginable. Driving or crossing the street as a pedestrian here can be terrifying and dangerous. In many cities, most of the standard rules are not followed. There are just too many cars and too many people trying to get to their destinations at the same time. E-bikes and small vehicles come from all directions, even from the opposite direction same as walking people. So, I recommend that you go as slow as possible and keep your reflexes on maximum alert.
Fact # 6: ADDICTION TO MOBILE VIDEO GAMING
This is a social illness that is affecting all stages of life here, especially young students are being obsessed with their phones and the video games on it. It can be a real problem in the classroom. If you plan to be a teacher, be aware of it and try to handle it without losing your temper.
Fact # 7: THE COST OF LIVING
This topic is often misunderstood. China is still a developing country and the living standard for the majority of the population is very low. However, the majority of expatriates are offered salaries that are much higher than those provided to the locals. This means that expats who are based here have a higher standard of living than the one they previously enjoyed in their home country.
Fact # 8: JOB MARKET
A large proportion of expats in China find work as teachers and there are always opportunities available for people who are qualified in teaching English as a foreign language. The truth is that before the policies changed a couple of months ago, a large number of westerners resolved their lives by teaching English without any certificates. Things might be changing now with a new law that demands proper qualifications to do such a job.
Nevertheless, other opportunities for foreigners are becoming common and there are high demands on other academic fields. Expats who have skills and experiences in technical (IT, manufacturing), financial or international marketing skills may be also of interest for many companies here.
Fact # 9: ON-LINE TRANSACTIONS
I wont extend much in this topic but Chinese on-line banking, on-line stores, on-line reservation for restaurants, massages, hotels, etc are very efficient. There are few apps for your phone that will facilitate your entire life here. Once you learn how to use them and with the help of the translator, your world here will be expanded and you will have many more options to find things to do and ways to be connected with others.
You would be able to pay your taxi, pharmacy, or in any store through a couple of clicks with your phone using Alipay, purchase whatever-whatever you need/wish and be delivered to you in record time using Taobao, ask for a Taxi to pick you up in matter of minutes (Didi), find restaurants and entertainment options (Dianping)… All of them, really useful!
Finally, I would like to share with you few tips that might help you to adapt faster and nicer:
- Prepare for the new culture and transition challenges in advance as you are doing now.
- Be open to get the most of your experiences abroad.
- Try to settle in to your new life quickly and find the help and assistance you need.
- Find the right places to meet like-minded people that suit your lifestyle and budget.
- Make friends with your neighbors and watch where the locals go. The restaurants and sites where the locals go might give you an insight of the local culture and at the same time be more affordable.
- Engage in activities where you get to be social with locals and foreigners.
- Don’t over react when feeling frustrated because things don’t go as you expected. Remember to be firm but at the same time patient. People might be willing to help you better that way.
- Learn your way around town as soon as possible.
- Learn some every day useful words to make your life easier.
At last I learned that everybody who decides on living in a foreign country needs some time to adjust to their new environment and accept that things are simply not the same back home. However, for some people, it can take a significant period of time to adjust to life here and many of them return home, deciding that China really wasn’t the place for them.
Until you get to this point, try to be respectful, patient, and humble, although sometimes it can be almost impossible. After all, you are a guest living in a foreign country and somehow you might be grateful for the opportunity of having an experience that you might never forget.
What has been your experience moving to or living in China? How did you overcome the difficult times? Tell us! we will be glad to hear from you!.