Maggie Nel

Ever thought of coming over to China to live and teach, but unsure of how much the lifestyle and culture will suit you? Here is a list of some pros and cons, based on my experience of living here for 5 years.

5 thoughts in favor of living and teaching in China:

1. You will earn stable income in a country where the general cost of living is low. You will be able to save money, especially if you learn how to budget. Chinese bank fees are low compared with other countries and paying for purchases with your phone using Wechat or Alipay is super convenient.

2. There’s a lot to see and do. The culture is thousands of years old. The food is incredible, varied and generally great. China also boasts 55 UNESCO World Heritage Sites (as of 2019), including the Great Wall and Huangshan (Yellow Mountain), both of which I visited and highly recommend.

3. You will have a stable job when signing with a company that has a good reputation, like EF. This also means you have a very big chance of renewing your contract if you chose to do so (and the year after that and the year after that too).

4. The public transportation is amazing so there is no need to invest in a private car. The subway is clean, safe and extremely convenient, buses are really cheap, there are shared bikes available on every street corner, and high-speed trains can take you to even the most remote cities in China.

5. China is a great base for travel, both domestically and internationally. Domestic train and air tickets are relatively cheap compared to many other countries (except during Chinese holidays). China is also a great base for exploring other Asian destinations. Great holiday spots like Thailand, Singapore and Japan are literally on the expat traveler’s doorstep, especially when living in Shanghai. Other must-see cultural experiences include Vietnam, Burma, Laos and Cambodia.

3 Challenges or difficulties commonly experienced for expats living and teaching in China:

1. China is culturally and socially very different from other countries in the world and culture shock is very real. Many things take getting used to, which can range from dealing with hell on the roads to a general Chinese stoicism that often comes across as rudeness (often compounded by the rushed Shanghai city-life.) Oh, did I mention Chinese men (and women) spitting on the streets? And not to mention the infamous Beijing belly…

2. Big cities like Shanghai have a lot of air-pollution, which can lead to short-term and long-term health issues. I came down with respiratory infections twice this year, and they usually strike when the seasons are changing (like in other less-polluted parts of the world). The cities are densely populated and the common cold and flu spreads quickly. It’s best to wear a mask and get your annual flu shot.

3. China is a communist country, which means very little freedom of speech and even less online freedom. You will be spending money for a VPN (virtual private network) that will enable you to get past the Great firewall of China, especially if you want to have access to Facebook and YouTube. Limited freedom of speech and government-controlled news outlets do not affect foreigners that much, at least not directly. However, do take care of what you say publicly (and online) about the Communist Party, as well as on sensitive subjects such as Taiwan and Hong Kong.

Living in China has its pros and cons, like anywhere else in the world. The key is to be as informed as possible before you arrive about topics like the ones I’ve written on above. Being prepared and being open to new experiences and people will make your time in China interesting and fun.

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