If you’ve decided to come to China to teach English, get ready for a fascinating adventure. An ESL teaching position is a great way to immerse yourself with locals and meet others like you. It’s not difficult to survive in China but with that said, here are a few tips that might be handy.
Remember, when you are coming to teach English abroad, you are in a new country, which can sometimes feel like living on a different planet. This is not to say that it will be scary and that you need to reinvent yourself. On the contrary, both students and everyday strangers enjoy interacting with foreigners, or as the Chinese will call you, laowai (“lau-why”). Be yourself and let your personality come through. Don’t be afraid to ask questions – people here are approachable, both locals and seasoned foreigners.
Download a few apps before moving overseas to make life easier:
- Pleco: a translator, which doesn’t require the internet to work and also pronounces words for you
- WeChat: your gateway to social media and communication in China
- Chinese Skill: an interactive way to start learning Chinese
- QQ Music: Chinese Music platform where you can download music on the App and no internet connection is needed after to listen.
- Look for an app that has the map of the city where you will be living that you can access offline
Living in China is not the most difficult thing you will encounter, but it can take some getting used to. Social norms here vary from western countries and some things that are normal for locals might seem odd to you. One good example is the street food culture – vendors grill food on vintage charcoal pits and customers pull up a stool on the sidewalk to enjoy their food. It’s a great way to experience life as the locals do. On the flip side, queuing or waiting in line is not seen as something polite to do, so it does not happen frequently, which can be frustrating in places like metro stations or convenience stores.
Living abroad can sometimes be exciting, especially if this is your first time on your own. This is where a good budget plan comes handy. Depending on where you are coming from and your old job, pay dates are not as regular here in China as other parts of the world (one paycheck at the end of the month at EF English First). Try to set yourself a weekly budget and leave some for savings or in case a big expense comes unexpectedly. Taxis are great but can add up, learn the metro or bus system where you will be living. If you go out to eat, share dishes with friends, which is how Chinese locals eat anyway. If you feel homesick and you’re missing some food from back home, check out specials and deals before you go and you spend an unnecessary amount just because you miss a burger or pizza.
If you don’t know what this is by now then you haven’t done your homework before coming to China. It is true that China has been opening their metaphorical doors to the world and yes people here have indeed embraced many foreign customs, but China still keeps its internet availability pretty tight. A VPN or “virtual private network” helps you connect to a server back home or anywhere in the world. This allows you stay in touch with your favourite websites (Facebook and Google being the two biggest sites not available). Don’t worry about chatting up family and friends – Skype and WeChat are both accessible without a VPN.
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