EF Education First Teachers

Eleven things I've learned and/or wish I knew (let sink in) prior to coming to China

Hey!  So when I was going through the visa process for Guangzhou, I found it frustrating that people recently here would not post or reply.  Then I arrived and found out.  They were all too busy!  Whether it was out partying or seeing all the sights between training, they were overcoming jet lag and enjoying each others company.  BUT I told myself, I would logon to be sure that anyone else behind me would have some reassurance that giving this the old college try was a great idea.  I must preface this with - I am extremely adventurous and adaptable and I have no clue what the future holds so I'm here with an open mind and heart.  My experience won't necessarily be yours and is no way to be taken as exactly what you will experience, but I'm willing to bet that if you are optimistic, kind, wise, and patient, you'll absolutely love every minute of it.  It will be overwhelming at times (jet lag, new information, new culture, foreign language) but just breath and think of how much this experience is enriching you!

Without further delay, here are my Top 11.

11)  Carry Toilet paper and talk to your recruiter about China's indoor plumbing.  Trash no flush. Do you have strong thighs?  Nuff said.  :-p   

10)  Be prepared to be served some hot water when you are at restaurants.   This was probably the only... well the second thing that culture shocked me.  I try to stay hydrated, especially with the jet lag and the go go go.  At first I thought it was a fluke, but at least 4 restaurants have served me piping hot glasses of water with my meal.  Not room temperature.  Hot. with steam.  I've joked about starting a juice bar called "HOT AS WATER".  I'm extremely convinced it will do well with tourists searching for room temperature or cold water while simultaneously appealing to the fact that....

9)  There are tons of places with English or English sounding names.  When going out, you will see that English is embraced throughout the city so don't worry about everything being unclear.  With that said, there will be awkward moments when you stand in the isle for 15 minutes trying to figure out what a product is.  You find yourself looking at a restaurant menu for 10 minutes trying to figure out if what you are about to order is pork or chicken before you just aim and point, hoping you didn't order a ducks head staring back at you.  Until you become fluent in Mandarin, one thing you should do beforehand is download the google translate photo app.  It will allow you to hover over the native language so that you can see the translation live.  You're welcome.    

8)  You will see a lot of people "risking it all".  I saw a young mother holding her sons bare bottom on her arm as she shopped in a clothing store (1st culture shock).  While that's not what I initially meant when writing this subject, you have to agree that's like a risk level most moms aren't willing to take.  I've seen people on bikes & mopeds ignore lights and people walking.  Along with cars that drive as if it's always the other cars responsibility to stop and move out the way.  While I have not witnessed an accident myself, some others in my cohort have seen a woman on a bike with a small child get hit by a taxi.  :-(  But just as in any other country, do your best to mitigate your own personal risk and walk safely and pay attention.  NO JAYWALKING!

7)  There will be a lot of people and a lot of people on phones.  I knew it would be a lot of people and I traveled for a while before I arrived so I think that helped me not only adjust to the time difference, but also being around a lot of people.  If you're the type of person who does not like crowded elevators, you will have to take the stairs and take a cab every where you go. If you flip out when strangers touch you - Sorry, public transportation and public spaces are NOT for you in China.   If you love people watching, THIS IS probably one of the greatest cities to fulfill that desire. If you know that accidents happen and sometimes people will bump into you or touch you when going along their way, it'll be easy peasy.  No Divas here.  Just cool people going about their every day lives. With that said...

6)  There will be words said that aren't what you think they mean.  It's natural when listening to a foreign language to try to fit what is said into a latin system, but Mandarin is... Mandarin. They aren't talking about you and no they didn't say what you think they said.  LOL.   Until you learn the language fully, you can't assume anything about what you hear.  So Lauren, why are you stating the obvious when you speak other languages?  This is important because....

5)  People will be mesmerized by you and may even take photos.  Think about how many people there are in the world and how many actually make it through the visa process and visit?   Not to mention come for a year to teach English!   There are roughly 200 teachers with EF (Top Recruiter) and over 9 million people in the city.  Think about the first time you saw someone that looked different than your family.  Maybe you don't remember.  Maybe you don't remember your first day at Pre-School and your mom trying to pawn you off on some woman that didn't look a thing like her.  You either clung to her leg for dear life or looked around with glee and excitement.  Maybe you hugged this stranger or touched their face?  While these experiences aren't always small kids, but adults; these adults are still excited.  People are people and even when they grow up, new things and experiences excite them.  Meeting people from far away places excite them.  They feel honored for the connection. That you chose to come to their home.    

4)  The Apartment Hunt.  I feel extremely lucky in this category so far.  It was the thing that I worried about the most prior to coming and got zero answers on.  But after talking to the other teachers at my school, I selected a locator based on their experiences.  I made an appointment with her and saw 5 apartments.  Out of the 5 apartments, I liked 3 apartments.  And finally decided on 1 that was over my budget, but definitely less than the one closest to my school.  So I have a 45 minute commute to my school, BUT 25 minutes of that is walking through parks.  :-)   To set you up for success on this, you may not find something as nice as what you would have at home.  But with your budget, you will definitely have one of the nicer apartments in the city.  Most likely, you won't have a dryer for your clothes, but a washer.  You also may not have a full kitchen, but a hot plate or single burner.  If you ball out, you may get two burners.  You won't get an oven.  Your toilet and shower may not be separate.  And all of this sounds ominous, but it truly isn't.  To my posh girls, I'll post pics of my apartment (and maybe other teachers apartments if they don't mind) after I get moved in next week to help you feel more at ease.  Essentially, if you'd be good living in a bachelor style apartment and/or without laundry, finding the perfect apartment is going to be a cake walk.  I'll go in depth later because I know some people want more details.  :-)

3)  Food glorious food.  OMG, like there is no shortages for hot meals.  Food is everywhere and cheap.  If you ate out 3 times per day at the semi-pricey restaurants, you'd probably spend $45 (300 RMB) the whole day.  There are places you can eat really cheap as in $2.25 (15 RMB), but the average expenditure per meal I've experienced is $4.63 (32 RMB).  Sure, about day 7, I needed something home based in my system and balled out at Pizza Hut for $12 (83 RMB) on a small pizza, but my food budget will lower and steady once I start cooking at home. Can't wait for that, Wednesday here I come!!!  If you're worried that you'll get tired of eating Chinese, not only will you be able to find everything you could possibly think of at a grocery store, but there are American restaurants from the expected places (McDonalds, Burger King, Subway, Pizza Hut) and the unexpected (Outback).  There will also be unique spins like KFC which in the mall at GZ6 serves only ice cream - No Chicken.  No biscuits.  Oh how I'd love a biscuit!  But there are stores that give you ice cream cones with your purchase.  Thank you NoMe.    

2)  Money and Malls, Malls, Malls.   There are no shortages of malls.  If you love to shop, you may want to leave your credit cards at home.  Actually, you can bring them.  You won't be able to use them!  Thank goodness!  LOL.  I know the guidebook prepares you for this part, but I'm going to mention it again so it's crystal clear.  So no one accepts Visa, so your debit card is no good here.   Check with your bank beforehand about the withdrawal from the ATM fees and foreign transaction fees.  If you can withdraw from the ATM at a rate you feel comfortable with, you'll probably get the better deal withdrawing once you're here.  I personally bank with Chase and it's $5 and a small currency conversion rate.  There's also paypal which you can use to help you with longer term digital transfers back and forth.  However, you may get a good deal ordering currency from your bank so I recommend bringing enough cash to carry for at least a week until you get your Chinese bank account set up.  Once you get your Chinese bank account, you'll want to deposit your excess cash because everyone buys everything using we chat or alipay.  I was obsessed with Apple pay at home, so it was the better of the transitions and I paid my security deposit and first months rent using we chat so no complaints and no need for physical cash.  With that said, if you find yourself unemployed or super strapped for cash and trying to figure out how much money you can bring and survive until your first pay check and apartment advance, I'd say work bussing some tables and save up - $750 US dollars for food until you get your first paycheck and maybe a stay week in a hostel (this is worst case scenario - you will find EF works to ensure your transition is as easy & uneventful as possible - thank you EF)  until you move into your first apartment.  If you want to be comfortable and fully prepared with no hiccups $1500 - $1800 minimally.  And if you want to have zero stresses or issues transitioning, "ball out drinks on me" at party pier, decorate crazy at Ikea, or on Tao Bao, $2,500 minimally.  :-p  Everything here is cheaper than home and because of that, you must still be fiscally savvy.  The temptation is so real. Download XE Currency to make sure you still keep track of your true spending.  

1)  UNLOCK YOUR PHONE.  Be sure to unlock your phone before you arrive.  This is another thing you're told before arriving.  Your phone rep may say that it's already unlocked because it's an iPhone 6 or higher.  Still have them make sure before you leave.  A few people had issues with their phones not being unlocked and software not being installed.  Unlocking your phone can save you spending 799 RMB ($115 USD) unexpectedly on a cheap transition phone.  You will absolutely need a working phone when you open your Chinese bank account.  This is a non-negotiable.  They send a verification text and if you don't have a way to get the text, you don't have a bank account.  Also, at the bank, you'll want to bring your Social Security Card.  They won't do a credit check, they just need to verify your foreign tax id number.  

So those are the Top 11 things I wish (and I'm sure some other teachers) were posted on this board before coming.  Much of this information is in the guidebook or told to you by your recruiters,  but I figure when someone who is going through it tells you, it probably not only gets you more excited about coming, but helps you to prepare better and ensure your expectations are set correctly because it's someone who is in the moment that you are preparing for.  :-)   

If you have more questions or want me to write about a specific topic, please chime in below!  Happy to help.  :-)  

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Comment by Dani on November 21, 2018 at 5:12am

Soo helpful. Thanks!

Comment by Tiana Bailey on November 19, 2018 at 11:10pm

Thank you so much! This was so helpful!!

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