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 to teach English? 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 better prepared for the changes. Here are the 17 things I’d wished I’d have known.
Before I came, I spoke to someone at my bank in the UK. I mentioned I was moving abroad and they said that I didn’t have to worry. One week later, I 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 to advise them of the change before traveling. 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, but 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 before you arrive and you'll be ready for life in China.
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.
Logging into your email account from abroad usually includes a text message confirmation to prove your identity. You won’t be able to receive this code in China, so 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 a 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 so providing the Chinese address keeps things simple. 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 set up the AliPay and WeChat wallets, but they have been a life changer. I wish I'd signed up for the accounts much sooner!
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. Apartments are rented out regularly, and you can move in more or less straight away.
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 rude 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.
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. Western food and drink can be expensive. You can eat out every day if you eat Chinese food, but if you try to do the same with western food, you'll 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 teach in China, they sometimes told me things that turned out to be false. I think most people worry that that the change will be too big. But if you embrace change, your life can be amazing.
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.
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 many 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 and thought that I would really struggle with progressing professionally. But I have found that there are endless opportunities everywhere. Within EF, I took further training and was promoted. Outside of the company I had chances to develop in more personal areas.
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!