I still remember the time I realized that moving to China might actually be a possibility. I was excited, scared, and really had no idea what to expect. Being considered a “third world country”, I didn’t know how to prepare. I didn’t even know what language to study! Should I study Mandarin, Cantonese or something else entirely?
To be sure, China is strikingly different from life in the West. If the possibility of moving to China is looming on your mind, it is not uncommon to think and rethink the idea before breaking the news to the family. It’s only natural to be worried about moving half way around the world. But, let’s not let our worries hinder such an opportunity to embrace new culture and truly understand and experience diversity.
Let’s take a look at some of the important changes you will experience as an Expat.
- Social Media. What do we do immediately after moving to a new place? Post a picture on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, of course! Sorry, but that’s going to be a bit harder to do in China, unfortunately. Social media is such a normal part of our lives now and it’s especially important when raising your children overseas so you can stay in touch with family and friends. But inside China, there are restrictions for accessing even the most familiar of websites, including the ones listed above. However, have no fear, where there’s a will there’s a way. Before making the trip, do some research on purchasing or setting up a VPN connection. This will effectively get you around these restrictions and will also add a layer of protection for your computer from getting hacked.
- Food.The next most important thing to keep our spirit alive that comes after getting in touch with friends and family back home is food. It doesn’t take long to understand that Chinese food in the U.S or Europe is not actually what people typically eat in China. Many cities in China – including 2nd and 3rd tier cities – have specialty markets for foreign foods. It’s usually really expensive, but if you just have to have that certain ingredient or candy bar, this is where you can find it. Tap into other expats’ knowledge about such places in the city you will be headed to.
- Hygiene.There are some things you’re going to have to get used to. Squatty potties, while challenging to get used to, are actually more sanitary than our Western toilets. At some point, sooner or later, you’re going to have to use one. Bite the bullet and just do it. Click here for a quick guide. Spitting, well, that’s just gross and you’re going to have to get used to that, too. Pollution is also a fact of life in China. You’re likely going to want to shower a bit more often.
- Personal Space. Think the lines are long in your home country? They’re longer in China. It’s crowded. All…The…Time. Everywhere you go…even at McDonald’s! And with that comes an encroachment of personal space. While visiting tourist spots or at any public place for that matter, expect to be rubbing shoulders with lots of people. And be prepared for complete strangers to stare at you, ask to pose for pictures, or just touch you. All of these are faux pas for the expat, but commonplace in China.
- The last and most important change is the cultural differences. It is not easy to keep up with all the cultural differences you will experience. What is offensive? What is commonplace? Keep an open mind and a sense of humor and you’ll do just fine in China. It is not that hard to find a Chinese friend to guide you with everyday etiquette, also to practice Mandarin and in turn help them in brushing up their English. You can always keep an open mind and try new authentic dishes along with the family. Taking a few cookery classes can help you understand the local cuisine.
It won’t always be easy, but you will learn to adapt. And not only that, you will learn to thrive.