Before living in China, I had a decent life in the UK. I had a steady job, nice apartment and decent social life. I loved festivals in the summer, afternoons in beer gardens, and stewed meats with ales in the winter.
Everything was going pretty well, until October 2014. The company that I worked for was heading into liquidation. By Christmas, I would be jobless. That is until I saw an ad for teaching English in China. It’s something I’d never thought about; could I really move to China? I knew nothing about the place. I took the gamble and applied.
Three years later, I am still here and loving it. It hasn’t all been plain sailing, and if I’d have known then what I know now, I would have been prepared for the change. Here are the 17 things I’d wished I’d have known.
- TELL THE BANK YOU ARE MOVING ABROAD
- CONTACT YOUR STUDENT LOANS COMPANY
- DON’T BRING SO MUCH
- UNLOCK YOUR PHONE
- DOWNLOAD WECHAT AND OTHER APPS IN ADVANCE
- CHANGE THE SETTINGS IN YOUR EMAIL ACCOUNT
- PRINT OUT HOTEL ADDRESSES IN CHINESE
- CHINESE FOOD ISN’T LIKE HOME (IT’S BETTER)
- EVERYTHING IS MOBILE
- FINDING AN APARTMENT IS EASY
- TRAVEL AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE
- CHANGE ISN’T ANYTHING TO FEAR
- TEACHING IS A RESPECTED POSITION
- CREATING A COMMUNITY OF FRIENDS ISN’T DIFFICULT
- OPPORTUNITY IS EVERYWHERE
- THE CULTURE WILL BLOW YOU AWAY
Before I came, I spoke to someone in the bank in England. I mentioned I was moving abroad and they said that I didn’t have to worry. One week later, I was sat in a local Chinese restaurant unable to pay my bill and unable to get money out of the cash machine. My colleagues came to the rescue, and when I called the bank, they said I should have called. Make sure you do this before you come to China. It isn’t easy to do it from here.
Depending on where you are from, you will need to arrange repayments on your student loan. Initially, I only planned to stay in China for one year so, I didn’t think I would need to make these arrangements. After a year, I had a letter from the company asking me to arrange regular repayments. I had been charged interest for my first year (which wasn’t great). Therefore I needed to start making the repayments to avoid compound interest.
It’s hard to know what to bring to China, so I packed my whole life into two suitcases. After arriving and looking for apartments, I realized this was a mistake. I could buy most things here, and moving everything around wasn’t easy. Pack light, only bring the essentials!
China is a mobile country and economy. Your mobile phone will be everything, so make sure you have one when you arrive. Some phones are locked into one service provider which can be a problem when you want to use a Chinese sim card. Unlock your phone, and you’ll be ready for life in China as soon as you arrive.
WeChat is probably the single most important app in your life, or at least it will be in China. If you are an Android user, make sure you download it before you come to China. The Google play store is blocked in China, so it’s just easier to download everything in advance. The apple store is available though, so you don’t need to worry if you have an iPhone.
When you log in to your email account from abroad, it’s likely that you will be asked to confirm your identity. This is usually confirmed by a text message and a new confirmation code. When you are in China, you won’t be able to receive this code. In this situation, try and set up another email address to confirm the code, or change the number to a family members number. They can then send you the code so that you can log back in and change the settings again.
If you are coming to China to teach with EF, you’ll probably get picked up at the airport. If you are not coming with EF, or for some reason, your driver isn’t there to pick you up, make sure you know your hotel’s address. Taxi drivers at the airport don’t always speak English, but they will be patient enough to take you to where you need to be. Make sure you get the Chinese address to your hotel so they can take you there. Remember, keep the receipt as you may be able to claim the taxi fare back.
When I first arrived in China, I dropped the cases off at my hotel room and went hunting for Chinese food. I went to the first restaurant I saw, sat down, looked at the menu and only recognized one or two dishes. I ordered three dishes at random and was blown away. This mind-blowing experience happens time and time again. The food here is way better than Chinese food back home.
The mobile phone is king in China. You can buy almost anything, order taxis, train and plane tickets, study Chinese and watch your favourite shows from back home. It took me almost a whole year to get AliPay and WeChat wallet, but it has been a life changer, I wish I would have signed up for accounts much earlier.
Before I started living in China, I was worried that I would find it hard to get a nice apartment. I had googled a few things before I had arrived, but I had no luck. As soon as I did get here though, my colleagues were really helpful; I found an English speaking agent and an apartment in no time. I was worrying for no reason. Apartments are rented out regularly, and you can move in more or less straight away.
China has so much to see. I have a bucket list as long as my arm of places that I want to see. In my first year, I barely made a dent in the list (but had a blast doing it). If I could go back, I would have travelled way more in my first year.
The cost of living in China is reasonable. You can live comfortably on a teacher’s salary, but it’s easy to get carried away in the beginning. Foreign beers can be pricey and western food can be expensive. You can eat out every day if you were eating mainly Chinese food, but if you tried to do the same with western food, you’d be out of money fast. When you get here, put a good budget together, and you’ll have more money to travel with!
When I told friends and family I was going to live in China, they didn’t always know how to respond. They told me lots of things that turned out to be false. I think most people think that that the change will be too big, and no one likes change. However, if you embrace change, your life can be amazing.
One worry I had before I started living in China was the job. Back home, many students and parents have little or no respect for teachers. I was worried that I would have a similar experience, with uncontrollable classes and badly behaved parents. That couldn’t have been further from the truth. In China, teaching is a respected position. People treat me well and I love my job.
It can be hard moving to a new place. When I first started living in China, I thought I wouldn’t be able to keep the social circle like I did back in England. But as time went on, I soon found tones of little expat communities that I could join. I’ve even made a few local friends. I have a great community now; it has been great!
I came to China with no teaching experience. I thought that I would really struggle with progressing professionally, and I would have to return home after a year. I was happy with my decision, as I just wanted to take a career break. After living in China for over two years, I have found that there are endless opportunities everywhere. Within EF, I have been able to seek further training and I have been promoted. Outside of the company I have had chances to develop in more personal areas. Opportunity is all around us; we just need to be willing to take advantage.
It’s well known that China has over 5,000 years of history. But what I didn’t realize, was how culturally diverse the country is. As well as having 55 minorities, China is also very different from city to city, and from province to province. We tend to think of China and Chinese people as one unit. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Different villages, towns, cities and provinces all have their own cuisines, dialects and cultures. The stories I have heard have been fascinating, the traditions and celebrations have been a joy to be a part of while living in China.
If you’re finding yourself in need of change, you should definitely consider China. Don’t let your fears and apprehensions hold you back. There’s a colourful life out there and it’s got your name on it. But don’t take my word for it!
COME SEE FOR YOURSELF
Teach English, travel and live in China with EF English First.