Moving abroad can be an exciting time – it can also be really scary! There’s a lot to think about and take in, with a new culture, new food, a new language, and new people. Whether it’s your first time or your 50th time (lucky you!) moving abroad, it doesn’t hurt to have a helping hand. So, I’ve put together a short guide on how to survive your first three months in China.
Street food – One of the first things I wanted to do when I landed in China was sample the delicious street food. I love trying new foods from around the world, and street food is some of the best food out there. BUT, when you’re trying street food in China (and most other places for that matter), the key is to go easy at first. Your body (most importantly your stomach) is still adjusting to a new environment, and going hard on the street food early on will likely mean a few extra trips to the bathroom than you bargained for.
Spitting – If you’ve done a bit of research ahead of time, you’ll have found that spitting in China is very common. Most foreigners find this difficult to adjust to when they first arrive. To be honest, I didn’t find it that hard to get used to. For me it’s just another sound you hear when walking the streets. If you find it bothers you, try to tune it out and focus your other senses on something much more pleasant (like the amazing smells of street food!).
Air Pollution – It’s no secret that China has some of the worst air pollution in the world. Some days can be quite shocking – you can’t see the sun and people back home comment on the ‘fog’ in your photos. There are also days that are just gorgeous, with blue skies and fluffy white clouds (particularly after rains), so as they say, you take the good with the bad. You’ll definitely learn to really appreciate the crisp, clear days when living in China. Also don’t be afraid to wear a mask on days of high pollution, as most people do, and there are even apps you can download which show the pollution levels in your area each day.
Health – Most expats you talk to in China will tell you that at around three months in, you’ll get sick. At about my two month mark, I thought this was just something people said to sound ‘seasoned’. But sure enough, three months after I’d arrived in China, I came down with a pretty bad cold where I lost my voice and had to stay in bed for several days (not a great situation for a teacher to be in). To try to avoid this, or at least lessen the symptoms, I recommend a multi-pronged attack! Try eating plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables (the local markets are great for these), getting regular exercise, taking multivitamins, and wearing a mask on days with high pollution levels (and during peak cold and flu seasons).
Driving – For me, roads in China really are the definition of ‘organized chaos’. There are so many crazy turns, varied speeds and traffic jams that wouldn’t work back home, but here seem like a natural part of the flow. You’ll see people stop randomly in the middle of the road, drive the wrong way down the street (sometimes in reverse), drive on the sidewalk – and this includes cars, trucks, bicycles, electric bikes, and motorbikes. The best way to deal with this is to stay alert if you’re driving or walking – make sure you look both ways even when you don’t think you need to – and simply marvel in the wonder that is driving in China.
Staring – No matter what you look like, how you dress and what you say, as an expat in China, you’re going to attract attention. This attention will vary from passers-by yelling ‘hello’, to people trying to strike up a conversation with you (in Chinese, even if it’s clear you don’t understand), to prolonged staring. Whilst you’ve most likely been taught that staring isn’t polite, here it’s just part of the culture. You’ll see Chinese people staring at each other all the time, it’s just that you’ll get more of the stares, and for longer. It’s best just to embrace this part of the culture in a light-hearted way and smile, wave or say ‘hello’ or ‘ni hao’ (or all three!).
Hopefully, this short guide on how to survive your first three months in China will help you prepare for your move, or maybe even help you cope with some of your feelings of culture shock.
What are your tips for surviving your first 3 months in China? Tell us below.