Winter is Coming, 8 Tips to Prevent Sniffles

October is well underway by now, and with each passing day, Winter comes closer. As the weather starts to change it is high season for the sniffles. The common cold and the flu are high on the agenda and teachers are very much exposed to heightened risks by being around children all day, children who have been in contact with maybe 40 other classmates and their parents that day. I used to get colds and sore throats quite often when I first started teaching, and I tended to blame it on my students rather than myself. But there are some easy ways to try and avoid catching the sniffles during the changing weather season. Here are 8 tips to prevent the ESL sniffles this winter!

1. Wash Your Hands, Regularly

As a teacher, you are often in contact with students, but you are also often touching flashcards, books, pens, and pencils or even whiteboard markers that the students have come into contact with as well. I do this as much as I can, but especially during the winter months, I wash my hands before and after my classes, sometimes even in my breaks too. If the bathroom isn’t near, I keep a bottle of hand sanitizer with me at all times.

2. Avoid Touching Your Face

Cold and Flu viruses enter your body through the eyes, nose, and mouth. Those are also the parts of our face that we touch the most during the day. On average, we touch our faces 3-4 times per hour. Try to be mindful of this and avoid touching your face unless you have washed your hands.

3. Contain Your Coughs and Sneezes

When I worked in a supermarket a long time ago, the staff were all told that rather than covering a sneeze with our hands, if possible we should sneeze into our elbow if we do not have a tissue. Covering your mouth with your hand is a natural reflex, but the bacteria and virus will stick to your hands until you have a chance to clean them. Sneezing or coughing on the floor is better than into the air, but containing it all together is the best choice. A single-use tissue that you can throw away is the best, but your elbow is a good alternative.

4. Sanitize Whatever Your Students Touch

I often have students who need to borrow a pen or pencil, I have them write on the board with my markers or the children accidentally touch something else on my desk. Every now and then, I clean all the things that my students tend to touch. I have taken things a step further, and I have specific pens and pencils and markers that I let my students use, and then I have a set that only I use. But I clean them both when I have a chance.

5. Sip Tea

When I was a student myself, I used to think that coffee was only for old people and teachers. Here I am 20 years later pushing 30 and teaching myself, and I do love my coffee. But coffee isn’t always good for your immune system. Instead, herbal tea will do wonders for your sore throat and for keeping warm and fight off a cold or flu. I recently purchased a few bags of chamomile tea that I share with the Chinese teachers at my school. I also bought a big hand sanitizer that we could share so we don’t have to walk to the rest room all the time.

6. Relax

Relaxing may be a no-brainer, but it is actually quite essential for the basic functions of your body. Your immune system is always on alert during changing seasons, and it is important to give your body time to rest. Get plenty of sleep at night, and try to relax your mind for an hour or two before going to bed.

7. Vitamins

As a child, I used to hate it when my parents made me eat my vitamin pills, but today I tend to supplement with vitamins myself, especially during the colder months. I don’t really know if it has any effect, but together with everything else that I am doing, at least it couldn’t hurt, right? Most supermarkets or pharmacies will have vitamins either in pill form or as tablets dissolved in water (sometimes with pleasant flavors, too). I carry those around with me and do a vitamin shot when I can.

8. Hot Water

Any teacher who works in China will know that the number 1 recommendation (for just about anything) in China is drinking hot water. I personally dislike drinking hot water, I prefer it cold, but tea would also be a good substitute. Basically, it is about your body stay hydrated, and drinking water that is closer to your body temperature makes it easier for your body to utilize the water efficiently. It is also a great way to get warmer if you’re feeling cold.

Following these eight tips is how I try to stay clean of cold and flu in winter. I’d say I am mostly successful, but nothing is completely fool-proof. Is there anything that you find particularly useful for doing in winter to prevent the sniffles? Let me know in the comments below!

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Founding of a Republic – China’s National Day Holiday

As October approaches, so does one the major holidays held every year in China, the National Day of the People’s Republic of China, also known as the National Day Holiday or Golden Week. There are in fact three holidays all called Golden Week, but the National Holiday is what I often hear associated with the Golden Week Holiday. The other two are the Spring Festival holiday and the Labor Day Holiday. In Chinese, the National Day Holiday is called 国庆节 (Guóqìng jié).

The holiday commemorates the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 and the forming of the Central People’s Government. What many people do not know, is that The People’s Republic of China was actually founded on September 21st, 1949. The Central People’s Government was established on October 1st, and the Resolution on the National Day of the People’s Republic of China was passed on October 2nd, declaring the National day as October 1st.

All over China, you’ll find the Chinese flag hanging on almost every street corner, in malls, and on pedestrian streets. National Day is celebrated typically with fireworks, speeches, concerts and media coverage. In certain years, large, and often impressive, military parades take place at Tiananmen Square in Beijing across from the Forbidden City, an event attended by thousands and broadcast to millions. The military parade is typically followed by a parade of civilians showing their love for their country, with colorful costumes and displaying pictures of revered leaders since the founding of modern-day China.

The National Holiday is also marked by traveling and is one of the busiest travel periods in China from October 1st to October 7th. Popular tourist destinations like Beijing, The Great Wall, Shanghai, The Avatar Hallelujah Mountains, and others see thousands of visitors within these days. I traveled to Shanghai myself back in 2010 during the National Holiday, and while it’s exciting experiencing Shanghai like this, it was hard to enjoy the views and the beautiful scenery while also fighting to stay in place.

A lot of Foreigners tend to travel locally during these days or try to travel outside of the of the first and last two days of the holiday where the lines are the longest.

This year, the Mid-Autumn Festival falls on the National Day Holiday on October 4th. I wrote a previous article on the Mid-Autumn Festival and some of its traditions in an earlier post that you can find here. The National Day Holiday in China is observed from October 1st to October 7th. However, the official holiday is only from October 1st to October 3rd.

How to Practice English Pronunciation with your students using WeChat

While I found it hard to accept at the beginning of teaching in China, it is widespread that teachers here use a single WeChat account for their work as well as personal life. It is not uncommon to see people using China’s most popular messaging app and have both their bosses, colleagues, friends, and family all together. It makes everyone easily reachable but can also blur the line between work life and personal life. But most of my colleagues have found a healthy balance, and in time, I did too. So much so, that I am now entirely comfortable having my family, friends, co-workers, my supervisors and students on WeChat. But that’s another story, what I want to write about, is how I, for a time, used WeChat to practice vocabulary and pronunciation with some of my one-on-one students.

Pronunciation is an important aspect of English learning, and sometimes, it is difficult for Chinese students to master the sounds of the English words. Foreign teachers are often asked to focus more on speaking and pronunciation, but we do not always see students as often as we’d like to practice with them, which is where WeChat comes in. I have had the pleasure of tutoring a few adult students, and WeChat became an essential tool for us, in between classes. We could practice for 5 minutes during lunch breaks, or after dinner when we were relaxing and catch up and review the content of the last lesson, and I could check their pronunciation of the vocabulary and their sentence use. We did not always use books to teach from, so I could also use my own voice to record a model of pronunciation for words and sentences directly on my phone and send it to them to listen to.

While the voice messaging works well for a single student, it becomes tedious if you have to record yourself multiple times. You can add multiple users in a group, but that made giving individual feedback time consuming, and if not all the students are at the same level of the same book, that only amplifies things. Thankfully, WeChat has a “favorites” function that lets you save files on your device for later use. Using the voice recorder on my phone, you can record a part of your lesson, name it, add it to your favorites and send it to the students who need it. If you add all your files neatly into folders, you don’t even need the favorites function. Your student can then download your voice file and listen to it again, and again, straight from their phone.

It is really quite simple. First, you need to locate your voice recorder. Depending on your brand of phone, it may be on your main screen or in a folder named something along the lines of “tools” or “(brand name) apps.” I have a Samsung smart phone, and my voice recorder is found in a Samsung folder on my main screen.

Using the voice recorder, I can record my voice for the words, sentences or dialogue, name it and save it on my phone.

Then either directly from my voice recording app or through the file explorer on my phone, I can find the sound file I want to send, long press it and I click the “share button.” Then, add it to the WeChat favorites for later, or send it directly to the student who needs it.

The difference between sending a file and just sending a voice message is that the file can be downloaded and saved, and also has an identifiable name. Voice messages in WeChat do not carry any information, and you have to listen to the message itself to know what it is. Also, voice messages cannot be downloaded or forwarded, and they are not searchable.

Using WeChat in this way, student can keep learning when they are on the move, or on the subway and likely looking at their phone anyway. It is also great for conversation practice as it can happen any time in any place, as long as you’re connected.

How I Stayed Sane While Experiencing Culture Shock in China. Part 6: Reverse Culture Shock

Now that we have looked at the different stages of culture shock that you go through in a new country, it is time to look at how some people experience a sort of Reverse Culture shock when they come back to home after years abroad. For me, coming from a small country like Denmark with considerably fewer people than China, it was the open spaces and emptiness that made me feel awkward being back in my once familiar surroundings.

Above, I have a photo I took in Shanghai on the pedestrian street known as Nanjing Lu. It is the main shopping street in Shanghai, and there are thousands of people walking here. I took this photo back in 2010 on my first trip to Shanghai, but the sight is the same today if you are there around the time of the Spring Festival like I was. The street is absolutely packed with people.

For contrast, try and look at the photo below, taken in Ringsted in Denmark, close to where I grew up. And then consider the next photo from the main shopping street in Copenhagen, the biggest city in Denmark.

Now, to be honest, the picture in Shanghai is taken around the most important Chinese festival of the year in China, the photo from Ringsted is taken during a weekday in the summer break and so is the one from Copenhagen. You cannot really compare the images, but still, the difference is striking.

Whenever I come back to Denmark, I am amazed at how much space I have, how few people I see and, how expensive everything suddenly is. I don’t have to worry so much about getting on the bus, there are plenty of seats, but unlike China, in many parts of Denmark, the bus only leaves once every hour. And where in China, taking the bus costs about 2 yuan, in Denmark a single bus fare is closer to 20 yuan, and don’t even get me started on the trains.

In China, everything is convenient. I live close to everything, I can have just about anything in the world delivered to me, and I haven’t actually considered getting a car, there is just no need. In Denmark, we spend a lot of time driving around to get to places, because not everything is within walking distance.

Speaking Danish again after two years abroad and only speaking it a few times a month is also an adjustment. I suddenly understand everything around me, even people who just walk past me on the street. I feel connected to other people even though I do not know them.

Reverse culture shock is real. It doesn’t happen to anyone in the same way, but many feel a sense of awkwardness when they return to their own country after spending a few years abroad, getting used to how their life is there. It isn’t usually as severe as culture shock you experience living abroad. When I go home on holiday, I a typically at home for about three or four weeks. It takes me, sometimes a week, to get adjusted to living in Denmark again, and then, when I travel back to China I need a few days to get back to normal life there again.

How I Stayed Sane While Experiencing Culture Shock in China. Part 5: The Adjustment

When the depression finally hit me in China, I made a conscious choice that I wasn’t going to let it ruin my time here. I decided not to give in to the homesickness, focus on my work and try to learn about the things I didn’t understand, instead of just complaining about them. I also knew that my time in Changsha was going to be limited. Once I would finish my internship, I would likely move somewhere else, and I’d have a chance to start over fresh.

This method isn’t necessarily the magic cure, just bite down and focus on work, but for me, it helped. Focusing myself on working and learning as much as I could about my surroundings, meant that I kept myself busy (too busy to think about other things), and I also accumulated a lot of knowledge about the local culture, customs and their way of life. For some, they’ll need to focus more on physical activities, or do sports or go to the gym like they’d do in their home country to feel more at home. We are all different, and we will need different ways of dealing with the depression phase, if and when it sets in.

Doing observation classes with teachers and the school principal at my school in Changsha.

After a while, things started to get better. Once you start to accept your new surroundings and how different everything is, you can focus on learning more about it, understanding it and take it in to make it part of your new life. You won’t be able to live in the same way as you did back home. Luckily for me, I didn’t want to. I moved to China to explore something different, to live differently and more independently than I had ever done before. But when I first arrived, I still had blinders on, expecting the Chinese people to behave like Danish people. It doesn’t work like that, and you have to embrace it, learn from it and make it part of your new life.

It isn’t quite as easy as it sounds, and it takes a bit of work finding a suitable compromise between being who you are and changing just enough to fit into your new surroundings. You learn to appreciate the 2-hour lunch break, the energy of the people around you, the funny little things you see every day that you’d never see back home. You also learn to be flexible. Danish people tend to love schedules and to have plans for weeks ahead. In China, things are sometimes more fluid, and you have to adjust your plans a lot. That used to bother me a lot at first, but now, it is just a way of life.

I have learned to embrace and love the life I live now. I still miss Denmark, and how quiet and calm everything is. As I am writing this, I am back in Denmark on holiday for three weeks, and I love everything about being back home. Being home makes me realize how much I am missing all the things I took for granted when I lived here more than seven years ago now. Which brings me to my next article, about Reverse Culture shock, which is what you experience when you have been away from home for a while and come back to what your life used to be, which is typically quite different from your life in China. It can sometimes feel like Culture Shock all over again, but in your own country and in your own home.

Living Like a Local: How Do I Get an Alipay Account?

Alipay or 支付宝 (ZhiFuBao) is an excellent example of one of those apps in China that just make life so much more convenient. I am from Denmark, and we consider ourselves pretty tech savvy, but China really has it nailed when it comes to convenience and going cashless. I rarely have to pay cash anymore, as I can pay anything from utilities to groceries a flight, or train tickets directly using my phone. On top of this, Alipay is safe, and transactions are insured against fraud! Also, the app is in English! Bonus!

Once you have an Alipay account and you have it setup on your phone, you can use Alipay to:

  • Pay utilities for your apartment, such as Water, Gas, Electricity, and Internet Services.
  • Charge your phone bill.
  • Order a Taxi or a Didi (car service)
  • Transfer and Receive money
  • Shop on almost all Chinese websites like TaoBao and JingDong.
  • Pay in stores, bars, and restaurants, even most street vendors.

To set up an Alipay account, you will need to have your passport handy, along with your Chinese Phone number and your Chinese Bank Card.

I will go through the process of setting up an Alipay account on my Android phone, but the process is the same on an iPhone with iOS.

Step One: Downloading the App

The first thing you need is to downloads the app on your phone. You can download the app from the Google Play Store (using a VPN) or any other App Store you have access to. I will be looking through the App Store on my phone.

Finding and Downloading the Alipay app

Step Two: Setting Up Your Account

When you open Alipay for the first time, you’ll be asked to log in or Sign up. Select Sign up and use your Chinese mobile phone number to create your account. Alipay will verify your phone number and send you a 4-digit confirmation code that you need to enter. You will also be asked to choose a login password for Alipay. In the future, you can login using your phone number and this password.

Signing up for a new account using your phone number

Step Three: Adding your Chinese Bank Card

While adding your bank card isn’t strictly necessary to use Alipay, it is definitely the best way to go. You could ask a friend to transfer money into our Alipay account, but linking your bank card means you can top up your balance by yourself or pay with your card directly. When you open up Alipay you will be taken to the front page where you can see some of the most used mini apps.

Alipay Homepage and Account Details
  • Transfer – Send and receive money
  • Card Repay – If you have a credit card, you can pay it off here
  • Top Up – For charging your phone account
  • Yu’E Bao – Chinese Investment Opportunities
  • Movies – Ordering movie tickets
  • Didi Taxi – Order a taxi or a private car (Think Uber)
  • Utilities – Here you can pay utilities for your apartment
  • Zhima Credit – Points used to exchange for gifts
  • Air & Rail – For buying Flight and Train Tickets
  • Activity – Shows your recent transaction activities
  • ShareBike – Some cities offer bike sharing
  • More – There are many more uses for Alipay.

You can also see a snippet that says I spent ¥136.00 so I can easily keep track of the money I spent through Alipay.

After clicking the Me button in the lower-right corner you will be taken to the account management screen. Here you can check your balance, fill out your information and more importantly add your bank cards.

Step Four: Adding Your Bank Card

Note: Due to the standard naming convention used in China, I highly recommend that when you have your bank card opened, that you enter your name in ALL CAPS and in the order “LAST NAME” “FIRST NAME” “MIDDLE NAME”. For example, my name is Mikkel Stig Larsen, but my bank card will say LARSEN MIKKEL STIG.  This is how they will enter your name off of your passport, so if your name in your bank account has a different order, you might not be able to link your card!

Here I have clicked the “Bank Cards” option and clicked the plus icon in the top corner to come to the first screen below. Start by entering your bank card number (the one printed on the card). Alipay will already know which bank you are using.

(Alipay might ask you to create a 6-digit payment password before you can add a bank card. It may also ask you to create this password later, after adding the card).

Depending on the kind of card you are adding, Credit card or Debit Card, it may ask for different information but you will always need to confirm your name, ID Type (usually passport) and your passport number as well as the Chinese phone number you used to open your bank card with.

Note: In order to use your bank card through a phone app like Alipay you have to request the feature when you open the card or you can go to the bank and request it be opened.

Adding a Bank Card

You will receive another verification SMS message on your phone for linking your bank card to Alipay, once you have entered the text, you should be good to go.

If you are unable to link your bank card, it could be because of how your name is written on your Bank Card. When I first opened my bank card, they wrote my name as MIKKEL STIG LARSEN which is correct, but it doesn’t work when linking the bank card.

Step Five: Paying with Alipay

Now that you have your Alipay account set up and you have your bank card linked, you can start topping up your account, shopping on Chinese websites or paying at restaurants and shops.

On the main screen, you’ll see 4 big icons on a blue background.

Alipay Top Bar

Scan – lets you scan a shop or a person’s QR code and transfer an amount to them. Street vendors, Taxi drivers, and some stores prefer this method. You will see a QR code with an Alipay logo on it, just scan it and transfer the amount you have to pay.

Pay – opens up a QR code that a seller will scan on your phone. Typically bigger stores and supermarkets use this. When they scan your QR code they automatically withdraw money from your account.

Collect – lets you receive money from others.

Offers – will have offers like discounts and coupons for you to use.

Note: When you are paying shops and sellers, make sure to choose which “wallet” you are using to pay with. Using your “balance” means paying with the money that is in your Alipay wallet. Paying with one of your linked cards is the same as physically taking out your bank card and paying with it. Regardless of the method you use, you will have to enter the 6-digit payment password you created when you added your card!

Congratulations, you are well on your way to Living like a Local in China!

How I Stayed Sane While Experiencing Culture Shock in China. Part 4: The Depression

This article is part of a series on experiencing, and dealing with, culture shock in China. The articles are based on my own experiences moving to and living in China, looking back at how I overcame each phase of culture shock, making it through to the other side and having stayed in China for over seven years.

Previous (The Honeymoon Stage)

Have you ever had that feeling, when you wake up in the morning of just not wanting to go to work? We all have it occasionally, but it can be an indication that your depression stage is setting in. For the first few months at your new job, you’ve likely felt full of energy, excited and happy about where you are, so how come suddenly you no longer want to get up and do it?

This very feeling, was how I knew my mood was about to change and that harder times were coming. Having experienced it before, meant I could start to prepare for it mentally and already now start processing it. I began to notice a chance in my attitude and my energy towards work. I’d usually arrive smiling, greeting students and having my can-do attitude. But it was slowly changing into me rushing to the office and avoiding people as much as possible. Getting up in the morning got harder and rather than arriving 15-20 minutes early I started arriving more or less on time. I spent more time by myself than with others, often going straight home after work, not attending social events or going out to dinner with anyone.

Even though I had gone through this before in Australia, it is different in a country where people do not speak your language or behave the way you are used to. I wasn’t the only one, though, and some of my other foreign colleagues were also dealing with this stage to some degree, but handling it in different ways. There is no recipe for getting through this stage, everyone is different. But I remembered one of the things that helped me in Australia was not sitting around by myself. I had to force myself to go outside, meet people, and try to have fun. Who knows, if I tried, I might have a little fun by accident. But I also decided to give myself a purpose. I liked teaching but I always knew I wanted to do more than just being a teacher and the next day I decided to devote myself to my job, and let everything else come to me naturally. I was going to be one of the best teachers this school had ever had, and it was going to be my way out of this little bubble.

Over the past few weeks, since the onset of my more negative emotions, i had changed from this outgoing and welcoming person into someone who just wanted to be alone. I was going to change that, and become more sociable, more active and more appreciative of my new surroundings. I volunteered to every assignment I could get my hands on, participated in every activity I could and started making myself known for my work. I spent more time planning my lessons, stayed late at the office if I hadn’t finished my work and started to arrive early again.

Focusing on my work, gave me a purpose and a goal that I could work towards. It worked, but it will not necessarily work for you if you are facing this situation. The most important thing was that I kept myself busy. I spent time planning classes, I went out to dinner, participated in activities and helped do observations for the Chinese teachers giving them suggestion on how to improve their English. I did not leave a lot of time for sitting around and not doing anything. There more I was on the move, the better I felt and before I knew it, the depression was as good as gone.

From listening to others who have dealt with culture shock and the depression that sometimes follow, one of the most common things I hear is that isolating yourself only makes the depression worse. As hard as it can be, going out and being social really makes a significant difference. It can also be tough if you only have non-local friends. Having local friends means someone can explain you to the things you don’t understand. By understanding why people say or do what they do, life also becomes much easier. Everything is about balance and finding a mix that works for you.

Depression is a natural stage of culture shock, at some point we all have to go through it, but with a little preparation, the depression will not be as crippling as it can sometimes be. But you will need to make an effort and take control of your time and your feelings. The good news is, it is easier than it seems. Go out, meet people, learn about the culture and the things that are different and confusing. Focus on your work and become the best that you can be and before you know it you’ll be feeling much better!