5 Tips to Beat Culture Shock in China

Consuming insane amounts of YouTube videos is not adequate emotional preparation for a new life teaching English abroad. There’s something acutely different about actually being the only expat inside a jam-packed metro in China, and seeing a picture or video of the same scene. I’m taking nothing away from the importance of arming yourself with as much information as you can about your future medium to long-term home. It’s a necessary exercise which gives us a sense of intangible peace that the more we “know” about the “unknown”, the better we’ll be able to cruise through our near futures. Yes, information has its’ place, however emotional preparation is a little trickier to navigate.

What does culture shock really mean? Well, to put it quite simply, there will be days you just want to hear a familiar language, or you miss your family and the food you’re used to. Suddenly you find yourself in a setting where on a normal day strangers constantly stare and take photos of you. Adjusting to this new cultural environment will have its’ challenges. There is no cut and paste formula to prevent culture shock. What we can do is prepare ourselves, by deciding in advance that we’re going to make a habit out of choosing to manage our perceptions and experiences in a manner that is constructive.

In this post, I have collected the best five tips for dealing with culture shock from my co-workers at EF. If you follow these steps when you arrive in China, culture shock may no longer be a concern.


Make New Friends

“I’m from a very close-knit family, where everyone is always in each others’ faces. I was particularly grateful that I wasn’t alone when I arrived. The presence of my onboarding group helped with the anxiety I felt about the possibility of being alone. Luckily I made friends within that initial social circle. Together we’ve explored the city and offered emotional support to each other. I’d say I’ve found my Shanghai family.” – Ashley Brown, EF English First Online


Try New Things

“I was so afraid to try the new food, it’s so different from what I’m used to. I spent so much money eating at places that were somewhat familiar to me. Not a sustainable habit! I let my guard down eventually, with the help of a local co-worker. This made it easier because she knew how to order and read the Chinese menu. Over time I learnt to say the names of the dishes I enjoyed, so I now regularly eat and enjoy some local food.”  – Carmen Davids, EF English First Adults School


Reach Out

“After my third week in Shanghai, I was ready to pack up and go back home. It was all so overwhelming. I had gotten lost so many times using the metro. I was struggling with the students in the class. I couldn’t understand why strangers were always staring, all the while missing my family. It was all too much. One day I just started crying in the staffroom and my DOS pulled me aside to ask what was wrong. After we spoke, I was reminded that there was an entire support structure available for every challenge I was facing. I was trying to be superwoman, and do everything alone from fear of coming across as weak. I’ve since learnt to ask and since my experience has been better for it.” – Alex Perry, EF English First Kids and Teens



“Not knowing where anything is, is inconvenient and it can be frustrating when you need something urgently. To deal with this I decided to get to know the city on foot by walking the streets. I challenged myself to exploring every stop on the metro line. Every week on my day off I would get off at a random station, choose any exit and just walk. Throughout the day I would eat whatever was nearest when hunger came around. I found shopping malls, museums, bookshops, bowling alleys, English libraries etc. Now, I know exactly where to go when I need a certain kind of entertainment, restaurant, gadget etc.” – Tom Miller, EF English First Kids and Teens


Use Technology

“Learning Chinese takes time. Fortunately, EF offers free lessons. Now that I have settled in, I have the time to attend the classes. Before that, however, the language barrier posed some challenges in my daily life. When you’re at the convenience store, and you need popcorn, but you don’t know how to ask in Chinese or ask for directions, etc. This is where technology saved my life. There are apps you can download that translate your questions into Chinese; these apps made my first three months much easier.” – Charles Houston 

Managing Culture shock effectively boils down to staying focused on the end goal and being solution orientated. Always ask yourself, what can I do to make this easier? What are my options? More often than not, you will find that there are more solutions that not. Don’t forget, at EF there will always be someone who can help or someone you can talk to. If you do find yourself feeling a little homesick or overwhelmed by your new home, reach out.




How will you overcome culture shock?

Teach, Travel and work abroad with EF English First





Post by Perpetua Mbali

Perpetua Mbali - Head Shot 1Trendy geek who sneezes alphabets and cries sentences for a living. South African writer, blogger, speaker. Find me Instagram/Facebook/Twitter @africanredhead

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