Working abroad can be an extremely rewarding, yet challenging experience. One of the most arduous tasks you are faced with when working in a foreign country is adapting to a brand new culture and environment that is completely different from the one in which you grew up. This is especially the case if this is the first time you are traveling to China and Chinese is a completely foreign language for you.
We don’t usually realize how inherently our sense of self is shaped by the people, things and environment around us until they are no longer there. In an environment where you don’t know what to expect, everything can seem out of control. Adding to this is the frustration of not being able to communicate and understand or be understood. It can feel like you are back to being an infant again, vulnerable and helpless, except this time around there is no one there to hand-hold you through the experience.
Patience is key, as it takes time to navigate a new environment and cultivate some new skill sets. Imagine you are a tree being completely uprooted and placed in new soil. It simply takes time to regrow the roots, and feel completely grounded again. It is also important to have an optimistic outlook and trust that things will get better in time.
In your home country, you are able to easily do and handle all sorts of things by yourself. Remember though that it took years of learning and practice to get to this level of freedom.
When you first arrive here, you may find that you have to depend on others in order to complete the most basic tasks, such as having to ask questions about what certain things mean, what food to order at a restaurant, where to get the basic supplies you need. Other things like setting up a bank account, charging money into your cell phone, setting up internet at your home, figuring out public transportation, etc., can seem intimidating.
While it is important to do your homework and be prepared before coming, it is also important to keep an open mind and maintain a flexible mentality after you have arrived here. Often it is not the experience itself, but our reaction towards it that defines it as positive or negative. Always reach out for help. People here are usually happy to help and interact with foreigners. This gives them an opportunity for them to learn about your language, culture and home country as well.
The process of adapting may not be easy, but once you have overcome these hurdles, you will find that the experience will have greatly enhanced your confidence in your ability to solve problems and deal with challenging circumstances. You may find that you are much more capable of tolerating discomfort, as well as communicate with and understand people with different upbringings and value systems. These are all very valuable skills to bring home with you and will be extremely beneficial for your career and your own personal growth.
Post by Eunice Ku,
Eunice grew up in Hong Kong and the US and currently lives in Shanghai and Taiwan. She is a part-time fashion design student and enjoys practising yoga as well as the violin and piano in her free time.