Tips to survive Winter

shutterstock_743819602.jpg

China is a huge, diverse country with a suitably wide range of climates to match.

Whilst some Southern cities may have the pleasure of being warm and temperate all year round, many of the cities further north can be less forgiving. Long, hot Summers and equally long cold and dry Winters are bookended by just a few a few weeks of perfect weather in Spring and Autumn.

In this helpful guide, we will focus on how to stay healthy in the Winter months.

Layers

Winter need not be a time to hide away indoors, if you layer up properly. As you go about your daily routine you will experience many different temperatures as shops and other public spaces normally crank up their air conditioning to furnace-like temperatures.

We suggest getting some good base thermals from Uniqlo or Decathlon. Then make sure you have lots of wool jumpers, fleeces, and feather down jackets to add on top, but which can be easily peeled off when you step inside.

shutterstock_518323120.jpg

 

Invest in a good jacket and shoes

Thick jackets and sturdy boots take up a lot of valuable space in your case, (that would be better taken up by your favourite snacks) so you could be forgiven for having left them at home.

Don’t worry though, as it is pretty to get your freezing cold mitts on a warm coat here in China. There are many western shops, markets and even Taobao (China’s answer to Amazon) to choose from. There are few things worse than cold feet, and if you think you’ll get away wearing converse all winter then think again, invest in a good pair of boots to keep your feet nice and warm.

Eat plenty of fruit and vegetables

We’re not your mom, but a good diet is one of the best ways to ensure you stay healthy and survive the Winter.

If it is cold outside then there is nothing better than tucking into some comfort food such as a nice hot cheesy pizza, but don’t forget to put away some fruit and vegetables to get your vitamins. The best way to fight a cold is to eat and drink your way through it.

*Side note: The Chinese like to put fruit on their pizza, so if you can stomach that, then you are in luck!

bicycle.jpg

“Anti-bac” the s**t out of everything

We can’t stress this enough – germs get everywhere and we know that many of you are here to work with children, who are little germ machines (bless ‘em). Carry a bottle of antibacterial dry handwash in your pocket at all times, and when you hear that sneeze, anti-bac!

Wear a mask

Stop those germs getting in (or out) by wearing a mask. If you are sick, you will be doing everyone else a favour and if you’re not, it will help prevent you from getting ill. Also, it’s great for those polluted days which roll around once in a while.

Don’t scrimp on heating

You are here to work and you are not a student anymore, so put that heating on! Why freeze your ass off in a cold apartment when you could be nice and toasty with the heating on. Besides, energy bills are much lower than in Western countries.

Moisturise

The Winters can be super dry – especially in places such as Beijing which is right beside the desert – so make sure you stock up on plenty of moisturisers and lip balm. As you may be aware, the Spring Festival holiday is in February and, if you stay moisturized, you won’t be all flaky when you are lying on that beach in Thailand.

shutterstock_710575402.jpg

Drink hot water

This is the Chinese answer to everything and despite our initial scepticism, we are now firm believers in this as well. The best way to get through winter is to drink plenty of hot water 24/7, seriously!

We hope you found our tips helpful and if you are already a seasoned China expert, then leave a comment below with your own advice on how to stay healthy in Winter!

Advertisements

How to ace a Skype interview

Preparing for face-to-face job interviews can be nerve wracking. You’re usually deciding what to wear, what to say, and thinking about how you’ll impress the interview panel. When getting ready for Skype interviews it’s likely you’ll have the same sort of thoughts running around in your head, however there are some major preparation differences you also need to think about. Before coming to China, I had numerous Skype interviews while living in Panama. Most of them went really well (and I got offered several jobs!), so I’d like to share my tips for how to ace a Skype interview.

 

Headphones with microphone on white background.

Before the interview

Before you give out your Skype details, think: Do I have a Skype name and profile that is professional? The interviewer doesn’t want to see some party pic in your profile, nor do they want to know what your cute nickname is (no matter how cute you think it is!).

One of the most important things to do is to check your internet connection well before the interview. There’s nothing worse than having connectivity problems during a Skype interview, where your picture freezes, your sound comes in and out, or the call drops altogether.

Check that the camera and microphone are working. This sounds simple and you might not have had any problems with your camera or microphone before, but this is one less thing you’ll have to worry about. Remember, there’s an option in Skype to do a test call.

Turn the camera on and look at what’s in view of the camera. Make sure that your head and shoulders are centred in the view and make sure there’s something neutral behind you (like a plain wall). You don’t want the interviewer seeing your unmade bed, or laundry in the background!

It’s crucial to check the time difference between where you are and where the interviewer is. There’s nothing worse than agreeing on a time to Skype, then either being way too early, or being late and missing the call!

Make sure you wear an outfit appropriate for an interview (at least on your upper body) and you look well groomed. Sometimes the interview might just be a voice call, but often it’s going to be a video call, so you need to make sure you look professional (and not like you’ve rolled out of bed and you’re still in your pjs!).

Test the lighting in the room and how it looks around you on camera. You should make sure there is enough lighting for the interviewer to clearly see your face, but not too much so that all they see is light!

Have a pen and notepad ready beside you. Before the interview it’s a good idea to write down all the questions you have, and you’ll then be able to take notes during the interview on the main things you need to remember.

Make sure you know who you’re talking to! This sounds strange, but you may have several Skype interviews scheduled over the course of the day or week, and it can be easy to confuse who you’re talking to on which day at which time!

White Keyboard with Sell Yourself Button.

During the interview

Look into the camera. There’s nothing worse than Skyping someone who’s gazing off screen somewhere. On the other hand, too much gazing directly into the camera can also be distracting. Just relax and give your interviewer a measured amount of eye contact, as you would in a normal conversation.

Speak clearly and loud enough for the interviewer to hear you. If you’ve done a test call in Skype before the interview, you’ll know just how loud is loud enough.

It’s easy to become too eager and get closer and closer to the computer screen, but don’t sit too close to the camera. You should’ve checked your camera view before the interview, so make sure to try and maintain that distance throughout.

Don’t have any noise in the background. You don’t need your flatmate blasting his favorite music or tv show, your kids wanting your help grabbing a snack, nor your cat or dog craving a cuddle.

Maybe most importantly of all, be yourself. Even though you’re not face-to-face with the interviewer, be sure to let your personality come across in the interview, and don’t be camera shy. Just relax and nail that interview!

student Man sitting and using computer

After the interview

Send a follow up email thanking the interviewer for the opportunity, asking them to contact you if they need any more information, and that you look forward to hearing from them again soon. This doesn’t take much of your time and shows that you’re keen and thoughtful.

Some of these tips might seem like common sense for Skype interviews. But, it’s surprising how many of these things people just don’t think about, or don’t realize how the little details can make the difference between landing a kick-ass job, and being passed up for someone who was better prepared. So follow these tips, and hopefully you’ll be on your way to an awesome new job and be experiencing a fascinating part of the world!

What are your tips for acing a Skype interview? Let us know in the comments.

Living Like a Local: DiDi Car Services

If you’re like me, and you tend to move around a lot, having to hail a taxi and try to explain to them where you want to go, can be a struggle, even if your Chinese is pretty good. As I live in Chongqing myself, many of the taxi drivers speak a local dialect of Chinese, which I do not fully understand and in turn, they do not always understand my mandarin. Also, the Chinese traffic is, on occasion, a little rougher than what many westerners are used to. But fear not, there is a quick and efficient way to get around town in a hired car that is easy to use, efficient and of good quality. Uber didn’t really take off very well in China, but instead, another app called Didi has become hugely popular, and now their app can also be found in English.

Apart from being in English, one of the things I really enjoy about DiDi is that you select your pick-up location and destination ahead of the car arriving, meaning that the driver already knows where you are going. Usually, they will use their own GPS to take you to your destination, or you can ask the driver to use his own judgment.

From the DiDi app, you can call a regular taxi, an express car, premium or even a luxury car. The different categories have different prices, but an estimate of your trip will be displayed before the car is ordered. You can also order a car for the next day, for example, if you are going to the airport early the following morning, you can arrange the car now, and the driver will pick you up at the arranged time.

There are two little caveat’s to using DiDi though, that might be worthwhile to mention. While the English version of the DiDi app does support finding locations in English, generally you’ll see fewer results, but if you have the Chinese address of your destination, you can easily find it by searching. Another small obstacle is that even though the app is in English, the drivers in most cases may not speak English. After ordering a car, the driver will usually call you to confirm your pickup location. Thankfully, the GPS location on the map is generally pretty accurate, but knowing a little Chinese might help. Fortunately, a friend can order a car for you, in your name if you need the assistance. In some cases, if I cannot understand my driver, I’ll send them a picture of my current location and send it to the phone number they called from.

DiDi has also, very successfully, been integrated into both WeChat and Alipay, the predominant social media platform and payment apps. These mini-apps are only in Chinese but the primary function of the app is the same, and if you’ve already learned a bit of Chinese you should be able to pick up how the app works quite quickly.

Another great feature of DiDi is that, like in a taxi, you can ask for a receipt. When your driver has taken you to your destination, you can step out of the car and pay at your convenience. After the ride has ended, in the DiDi app you can then request a receipt (fapiao) to your email to use if your workplace will reimburse you for your trip.

Didi is very easy to use. You can find it in any app store under the name DiDi or (滴滴). Once open, you’ll be able to choose your service (the type of car), your pickup location, which is usually automatically filled in, and where you’d like to go.

 

After choosing your pick-up location and your destination, the app will search for a moment until a driver accepts the trip. This sometimes takes a few seconds and sometimes a minute or two depending on the time of day. Once that’s done, you’ll be greeted with a screen that shows the driver information, the make and model of the car (likely in Chinese) as well as the license plate number.

The driver will call you to confirm your current location, and when they approach they often have all their blinkers flashing. Keep an eye out for the license plate number.

This screenshot is one I took after a finished ride, but the information shown will be very similar. For this trip, I had a driver who already has a rating of 5 stars, and I can choose to call him or message him or review his trip. The drivers are very professional, some are wearing suits and gloves (premium service) and will have free water in the car for you. They are also quiet, they drive really well (smooth) and some even open the door for you when you arrive.

I tend to prefer renting these cars over taxis because of the overall better experience and convenience, and because they drive very well I can relax more while I am in the car, even take a little nap.

So, if you’re going somewhere, and you don’t want to be in a crowded subway or a bus the comfort of a  nice car ride (of course subject to traffic) is right in the palm of your hand!

 

Enjoy your ride!

How I Stayed Sane While Experiencing Culture Shock in China. Part 3: When everything is Cool

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 (What is Culture Shock?)

The first time I visited China was my trip to Shanghai in 2010 right before the Chinese Spring Festival, the Chinese festival similar to our Christmas and New Year’s Eve put together into one. Everywhere I went I saw red lanterns, happy people, and tall skyscrapers. I fell in love instantly.

Shanghai Skyline

A friend of mine, a local Chinese girl, was working in Shanghai at the time, and she agreed to show me around. Coming to China for the first time as a tourist can be a bit overwhelming. Many do not speak English very well so having someone around who could help was valuable.

Having someone around to talk to the taxi drivers, show you around and take care of you was great. I got to experience everything while worrying about nothing. My visit to Shanghai was smooth, energetic and full of excitement. A great experience, everything was cool!

I finally moved to China in the summer of 2010, starting out with a month-long TEFL training program in Beijing and then moving to Changsha in Hunan province for my 5-month teaching practice. The time in Beijing was like a study-holiday. We would study during the week, but we would go on trips on the weekends.

The Great Wall of China

Arriving in Changsha, we lived at a privately owned boarding school for primary grade students. We worked in the English teachers’ office, and all the teachers communicated well. They took care of most things for us, and we were even assigned a kind of “buddy” who would help us out with anything we needed.

It was great! It was not my first time in China, but it was my first time in Changsha, entirely different from Shanghai and Beijing. Every day was a new experience, and something as simple as going to the supermarket was a new feeling. Shopping alone was a challenge and an experience. Missing your bus stop was an excuse to wander and get lost, talking to a person saying more than just “hello” felt satisfying. “I could live here!”

New people, new tastes, and smells, the language, the culture. I felt like I was living an adventure, nothing could compare. I was not making much money or anything special, but the experience was fantastic, and I loved every second.

Chicken feet, you gotta have’em!

Moving to China was, however, not my first time to live in a foreign country for an extended period of time. I spent one high-school semester studying at the TAFE institute in Wagga Wagga (Yes, that’s the name of the city) in Australia. Wagga Wagga is the biggest inland city, about 400 kilometers east of Sydney. I knew that eventually, I would face a wave of discomfort and slight depression because I’d gone through it once already when I was there. Having traveled a lot with my parents and sister as a child, I am very familiar with this feeling, and I can sense when it is starting to change. For me, personally, this is a great tool because I can then prepare for the coming phase of uncertainty where the excitement is replaced with worry, confusion and, sometimes, anger. Having had this particular experience before, also made me able just to enjoy how I was feeling, and mentally prepare myself. I wouldn’t be surprised by the onset of the depression stage, I was anticipating it.

In Australia, everyone speaks English, so even when I was feeling down, it was easy to talk to people around me. In China, I was surrounded by English Speaking teachers who all communicated quite well, but where Australia shares a lot of culture with other Western countries, China is vastly different, and sometimes the culture and how people behave can be tricky to adjust to.

While you are enjoying yourself, wandering around, getting lost and tasting the delicious food, remember to get to know the people around you. It is easy to get lost in your own agenda when all you want to do is explore your new surroundings. But your friends and colleagues will be an essential lifeline for when you start feeling down. Take them with you, explore together, share memories and your adventures. Don’t forget to talk to your friends and family back home, the more they know about what you are doing and experiencing, the more they will be of help when you need them later.

How I Stayed Sane While Experiencing Culture Shock in China. Part 2

Culture shock is complicated. Moving to another country long-term affects people differently. I’m no expert on Culture Shock, but I’m happy to share my experiences trying to stay sane while experiencing culture shock in China. Everyone experiences culture shock differently, but it does affect everyone.

The model below shows one of the simpler illustrations of culture shock. It shows four phases that travellers or expats go through when visiting- or moving to another country. The four stages are called honeymoon, negotiation, adjustment, and adaptation.

We first experience the honeymoon phase when we visit another country. Everything is new, exciting, and interesting even though we can’t communicate with the locals. Little setbacks such as getting lost, or not finding what you needed from the supermarket, you shrug off as being on an adventure. Also sometimes called positive culture shock and this is why we like travelling. When we visit a new country or place, we experience this feeling, falling in love with the language, culture, food, and history.

When the second phase, the depression, sets in, this is what most people refer to as culture shock. You’ve been in the same place a while, and you’re no longer on an adventure, now it’s everyday life. You notice you can’t communicate efficiently, find what you need to buy, or order food at a restaurant without help, this leads to feeling powerless and dependent. The locals act differently than what you’re familiar with, and you start missing home and your family. It’s natural to feel sad, irritated or depressed and it’s important to have someone to talk to and lean on for support at this stage. Stay in touch with friends and family, keep a positive outlook. Some make it through this stage very quickly, but others need more time to adjust.

Everything improves when you reach the adjustment stage. You begin to overcome your depression and learn why you’re experiencing these emotions. You learn more about the people around you, the customs, traditions, and how to interact with your surroundings. Your view of your new home changes and starts to make sense. You’re on the right path, already further than many who go through culture shock. It becomes easier to take care of yourself, you learn the language and get into a routine of working, playing, socialising, and relaxing by yourself and your newfound social circle.

Finally, you’ll experience the adaptation stage. Also known as the acceptance stage, you feel that your horizon has broadened, you’ve become more open-minded and more tolerant of what bothered you before. Your more proficient in the language, you’ve made local friends, and you’re starting to make sense of everything. Life is more comfortable and normal and although you might not reach the same high as the honeymoon stage, you’ll feel like you belong.

Traditionally, culture shocks ends with the adaptation stage but I think it’s also important to consider how you feel going home after spending years abroad. When you return home you can experience reverse culture shock, having to get used to your old surroundings all over again. Reverse culture shock is not as prevalent as culture shock but it remains somewhat common.

Culture shock isn’t a disease and it is not the same as a depression. You should never be afraid to talk about culture shock. Admitting you’re experiencing it, sharing with friends and relatives and other expats are the first steps of dealing with it and getting through it.

How I Stayed Sane While Experiencing Culture Shock in China: Part 1

Around eight years ago, I found myself sitting in front of my computer, experiencing a broad range of emotions. On the screen in front of me, was a “thank you” note, confirming my application for a teaching internship in China. This program eventually leads to where I am now, living and working in China, making this my chosen career. I was 21 years old, scared to leave everything behind but excited about what my new like might be. I was hopeful of what the future might bring, but doubtful if I would be able to pull it off. I was proud that I made such a dramatic decision but remorseful that I didn’t include my family more in the process.

Nonetheless, I called my family to tell them the good news. I remember my mom being emotional and my father’s resistance. But they understood this was something I needed to do, and they even lent me the money I needed to pay the program fee. They were worried because China is so far from Denmark, and so different. They couldn’t fathom their son living so far away, let alone imagine how I could get used to living there. The image Western people have of China is distorted, and coming to China is vastly different from anything you think you know from movies and the news.

Before making this decision, I had just returned from my first overseas trip alone. I spent two weeks in Shanghai, looking for a university to study at, but ended up spending most of my time just touring around. I experienced the kindness of the people, the great food, amazing architecture, and stunning views. I had always known I was a big-city person, even though I’d only ever lived in smaller towns, and I fell in love with Shanghai in a matter of hours. My camera was glued to my face, and I still go back to revisit my photos to relive my memories of my first visit. For those two weeks, I was euphoric; everything was new and exciting, and I loved every second.

Copenhagen Airport on my first ever trip to China
Copenhagen Airport By Mikkel Larsen

Traveling to a new place, be it on business or holiday, makes us feel excited. I have traveled to a lot of locations in the past, and the feeling is always the same. But, that feeling of excitement is just a fraction of the emotional rollercoaster you go through when you visit another country. Your holiday is typically not long enough, for you to experience the rest of the ride. Being on vacation for one, two, or even three weeks, you only feel the newness. When you get lost, you see a chance to explore, and when your food tastes funny you just photograph it, post it on Facebook with a comment and quickly order something else. You’re only experiencing what is commonly known as the “honeymoon” phase of culture shock, something you are likely to face if you move to a new country for an expected period. Knowing about culture shock and how to deal with it, can significantly improve your experience of living abroad.

Culture shock happens in four distinct phases known as “honeymoon”, “depression”, “adjustment” and “adaptation”. Each step, its length, and impact vary from person to person. The honeymoon period is what you experience in the beginning when you first arrive in a new country. Everything is new, the language is interesting, the habits of the locals, and the food will almost get you high. But when the honeymoon ends, reality starts to set in, and you start feeling depressed with your surroundings. The language barrier, traffic, safety, difficulty of doing things without assistance, and missing home are all very prominent feelings. The second phase is usually the hardest, and it can last anywhere from 3-9 months. This is the stage that makes some people return home. But once you make it past this stage, comes the adjustment. Here, you will start to grow accustomed to what is going on around you, you develop a routine, you start learning the language, and you can support yourself. You develop skills to deal with everyday problems, and adverse reactions to the culture around you lessen.

Finally, adaptation sets in and you begin to take control of your surroundings. You participate in social events, you make close friends, you learn to accept the new culture, and you become somewhat bicultural. Now, living in the country is, in many ways, similar to living at home. You’re no longer bothered with the new culture, but start to embrace it.

In the following articles, I’ll talk about each of the stages I experienced, and I will touch on how you can overcome each of the stages of culture shock while living in China.

The Nasty Truth About Teaching ESL in China

Anyone who spends ten minutes reading online reviews of schools in China knows this: teaching English in China is a horrible, miserable experience you wouldn’t wish on anyone.

But why is it when people come here and actually speak to expats who have been teaching for a while, they hear a different story? Their friends say: it’s fun, they love their school, and they plan on staying two or three more years.

The reason is simple: selection bias. Wikipedia says selection bias occurs when, “…groups or data for analysis in such a way that proper randomization is not achieved, thereby ensuring that the sample obtained is not representative of the population intended to be analyzed.”

So what is it about the people who write these horrid reviews of ESL schools that skews the sample? Generally speaking, those who gather on ESL threads to bash their school are negative people who’ve developed a herd mentality. They say “misery loves company,” and what better way to increase your feeling of self-worth than to join into a frenzied mob of disgruntled teachers with an ax to grind?

Their posts often start like this: “I worked at Blah Blah Blah English School for three years and boy they were a bunch of….”.

Riiiiight. So, this place was so incredibly terrible you stayed for how many years?

Many people forget an important fact: You’ll have problems at your job in China….just like you did at your job at home! There’s no such thing as a “perfect job,” and being able to cope with difficulties in your workplace is a part of life. Learning how to deal with these problems means you’re not lying when you write, “Works effectively in cross-cultural settings.” on your CV.

There’s also a subset of people in China who “can’t hack it” in their home country, and are forced to stay in a foreign country for much longer than they’d like. They’ll tell you how much they hate the food, the people, their school, etc. If you talk to this person long enough, you’ll probably also discover they think their home country is rubbish, too. These people have no business teaching, especially teaching children!

 
Okay, okay – I’ll get off my soapbox now! Do you want to know the truth about teaching ESL in China?

  1. You’ll be surrounded by the laughter of happy children every day
  2. You’ll work with a diverse group of really interesting people
  3. You’re doing something bold and growing as a person
  4. You’ll see sights, eat foods, hear sounds, and smell smells you never imagined
  5. You’ll earn good money while doing work that’s challenging and rewarding

I know it can be pretty shocking to hear, but that’s the nasty truth! The people who teach overseas (and stay because they love it) generally don’t spend their hours trolling ESL message boards. Ya’ know, because they’re outside…enjoying their life. Maybe eating dumplings, or climbing a mountain, or writing in their journal.

 

Have you spent a year or more teaching overseas? We’d love to hear your thoughts and stories! If you have incredible travel photos, please send them our way!

Also, if you’d like to learn more about how to become a guest blogger, write us at info@eslsuite.com with the phrase “Guest Blogger” in the SUBJECT LINE.

Written by Christopher Ribeiro | Managing Director at ESL Suite

roundedChristopher came to Tianjin via Buffalo, New York, and Los Angeles. He’s lived in China since 2009, and has traveled to over 20 countries on six continents. Christopher has been in teaching and recruiting for over five years – he’s the co-founder of ESL Suite, a husband, and father to two strapping little boys. If he’s not at work, you’ll find him in the gym, or narrowly dodging oncoming traffic on his fixed-gear bicycle.

Home | TESOL | Teach English | Testimonials