Taking the plunge to teach English in China required an entire lifestyle and mental overhaul. Here are a few things I learned within the first months of arrival:
1. Always carry enough cash – most places don’t take debit or credit.
2. There is a Chinese price and a Foreigner price – as a foreigner, expect to pay more, sometimes double or triple. Unfair, yes, but that is the practice.
3. Either way, it’s often possible to haggle for better prices, especially in smaller stores. I would start negotiations at 40 percent of the asking price. This takes practice.
4. It’s worth the money to take a taxi if it means you can keep your sanity from the huge crowds on buses and subways.
5. Meet the other foreign teachers at your school. You will be each other’s sounding board, professional development team, and support provider for the length of your stay. Usually, the expats who have lived in China for a while will be more than happy to show you the ropes because they remember how tough it could be when you first arrive.
6. Try to build a community of expats both in and outside of work. Attend expat events (google city name + expats). Attend the welcome dinner at the beginning of the school year (if available). Go on the trips the school offers to teachers during holidays (if available).
7. The clothes I packed from Canada did not fit the type of humid weather along the coast of China. It was either too warm or not warm enough. It’s quite affordable to buy new clothes in China.
8. Always carry toilet paper – they are not supplied in most washrooms.
9. If you are worried about germs, carry hand sanitizer as few washrooms have soap.
11. Expect the unexpected. Because China is a completely different culture, the people will behave and react differently from what you expect. It’s better to simply observe and ask friends about it later than judging them and having a negative impression. The Chinese may interact with you in ways that may be frustrating or rude to you; just remember that most of them are trying to be friendly or polite according to their customs.