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.

Why Study TESOL?

Thinking about teaching ESL overseas?
Thinking about teaching ESL overseas?

A TESOL certificate is your passport into the thrilling field of Teaching English overseas. There are over 300 million people studying English in China alone, so your job prospects after completing the course are fantastic.

But, this question should really be: why do you want our TESOL Certificate Course over all others? We provide a comprehensive course, which includes practicum here in Tianjin, an online specialization, and lifetime career support. We prepare our students for all aspects of life overseas.

What is TESOL? Teaching English overseas is a word full of acronyms. Here’s an overview: TESL (Teaching English as a Second Language), TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language), and TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) all teach English to non-native English speakers. The difference is: TESL is for teaching in an English speaking country while TEFL is for teaching English abroad. TESOL encapsulates them both. CELTA (Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) is the British equivalent to the TESOL, but the 80-hours a TESOL student completes at their own pace is done in a classroom setting.

Why would I want a TESOL Certificate instead of a TESL, TEFL, or CELTA certificate? A teaching certificate is an investment, so it’s important to think about the upfront costs, and the return on investment. CELTA is very well-known, but a TESOL can be completed in less time, and at a fraction of the cost. The last part is important, because unless the job you’re applying for specifically calls for a CELTA, you’ll probably be able to get the same job with a TESOL.

Which study options does ESL Suite offer? We have two different methods of study. The first is our In-class course which is offered in Tianjin, China. This is the preferred method of completion. Classes are fun, lively, and full of like-minded people. Students learn from each other, as well as the instructor. If you cannot find the time or cannot attend the course in China, you can take the course online. There is no difference in the materials covered, regardless of the method of study. So, it’s simply a matter of deciding which learning style is best for you, while taking into account your budget and schedule.

What kind of job can I get after I complete the course? When teaching abroad, you may teach students of all ages. Children as young as three go to English kindergartens, while senior citizens study English as a hobby. You might teach primary or secondary students, businessmen, housewives, other teachers, or people who study English to improve their job prospects. Most schools focus on one or two age groups, so if you have a very strong preference for a specific age, make sure you’re placed accordingly. English teachers are in high demand in China, South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey, and the Middle East, so it’s also a good idea to start thinking about which location fits your broader personal/professional goals.

How can I get started? We have weekly information seminars in Tianjin, but for those who don’t live nearby, we’re happy to answer questions by phone,email, or schedule a consultation via Skype. The course dates are listed below, and you may register for one of our sessions here.

2015 Courses

  • October 14-18
  • November 4-8
  • December 2-6
2016 Courses

  • January 20-24
  • February 24-28
  • March – Dec: TBD

“Friends of the Firm” Referrals: Don’t forget to tell a friend! We believe there’s no better source for teachers than from a trusted friend! That’s where you come in. We offer generous bonuses for referrals to our TESOL courses, or for successful teacher referrals. Here’s how it works:

  • Online TESOL referral: $50
  • In-Class TESOL referral: $100
  • Teacher referral: $100

***Bonuses are paid for TESOL referrals after the student has paid in-full; for teacher referrals 3-months after the teacher arrives in China. 

There’s no better motivation to launch your overseas teaching career than to enroll in a TESOL course. I did it seven years ago, and it completely changed my life. I came to Tianjin in 2009 and haven’t looked back. In the meantime, I’ve traveled to Japan, Korea, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, India, Indonesia, and at least a dozen other countries! And, I’m not alone – for many people, teaching English and traveling the world becomes a preferred lifestyle choice.

The Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago; the second best time is now.” Your dreams also may be waiting for you just around the corner – get started today!

http://www.eslsuite.com

ESL lesson: Alibi

group of young asian people are shouting

English Proficiency Level:

  • Intermediate to Upper Intermediate

By the end of this lesson the students will be able to:

  • Use “Wh” questions to “interrogate” their classmates
  • Ask and answer questions about the past

Interaction:

  • Student to student
  • groups of 3-5 work best, but may be more if the class size is large

Duration:

  • 45-60 minutes

Challenges:

  • It’s impossible to be two places at once, so it might be a good idea to enlist the help of a teacher’s aide to coach the suspects, rather than alternating back and forth from inside and outside the classroom.

Materials:

  • Four pieces of scrap paper for each group

This is one of my all-time favorite ESL activities; it encourages a ton of student-to-student interaction, and usually gets a lot of laughs from the students. It’s also versatile because you can grade it so it’s appropriate for different proficiency levels. I’ve done this activity with adults, teens, and even primary aged students.

When the lesson begins, I usually drill the class on simple past tense questions. You can start by modeling “Wh” questions in the present tense, (e.g., “When do you go to school?”, “What do you eat for breakfast?”), then elicit from them past tense forms of these questions.

After everyone has loosened up a bit and starts talking, you can set the stage for the “scene of the crime”. I usually like to tell the kids that someone stole my bicycle from the school parking lot, and the police saw three people running from the scene of the crime. You identify three students who will then go outside the class to make their “alibi”. The rest of the students are divided into three teams of “interrogators”.

While the three suspects are outside waiting, you coach the interrogators, and give them hints about what types of questions they should ask. Be sure to elicit past-tense questions from the students, and instruct them to write as many questions as possible.

Then, you can go outside to coach the suspects – they need to be sure their story holds water, so encourage them to agree on as many details as possible. Where were they last night? What time did they meet? If they went to a restaurant, where did they go? What did they eat? Who paid the bill?

Now, you bring in the suspects and let each of them sit with a group of interrogators for about ten minutes. Tell the interrogators to write the answers, because they will cross-reference them later. After the ten minutes is finished, have the suspects change to a different group to be asked the same line of questions. Repeat, so each suspect sits with each group of interrogators once. The class can get pretty animated once the kids’ stories start falling apart!

At the end of the class you can have a “trial” of sorts, and quiz the class about flaws in the suspects stories. Which details were the same? Which were different? You can even vote to see if they are released from custody or go to jail.

If anyone has done this lesson before, I’d love to hear how it went. And if you have any suggestions how to make it better, I’m interested to hear! Also, if you have an ESL lesson or activity you’d like to submit, please email me at: christopher@eslsuite.com

Wondering What to Pack for a Year in China?

Travel to ChinaYou’ve accepted a job offer, picked up your visa and booked your flight to China – now it’s time to decide what to bring. Narrowing down your list will be essential – after all, how many pairs of chunky heels (women) and popped collars (gents) does one really need to survive day-to-day life in China?

Most airlines allow for one to two bags, (23kg/50lb each) plus a carry-on and a personal item, so your packing strategy is critical. If you’ve got a friend taking you to the airport, forget about the luggage restrictions and pay the fee for an extra bag (or two depending on how many you can check for free). A little extra money upfront might save you some heartbreak in the long-run. Plus, most schools will send a driver and someone from the school to fetch you at the airport so you won’t have to worry about lugging three or four suitcases around your new city.

 

Personal Hygiene:

These items are important not because you can’t find them, but because it’s hard to find the brands you like OR the price is two or three times higher than in your home country. It’s good to stock up on at least six months worth of each – you can ask your family to send more about three months later (they can send a care package by slow mail and it likely won’t get opened or held up by customs). 

  • Deodorant
  • Hair gel/paste
  • Hair clippers (a great way to save money on haircuts, guys!)
  • Razors
  • Dental floss
  • Face lotion
  • Sunscreen

Body/Health 

  • Multi-vitamins (very expensive in China)
  • Protein powder: This is a must if you’re really into fitness – I buy six (6) two-pound containers every time I go home and pack it in a standard unmarked brown cardboard box, completely wrapped in packing tape. They never check the box at the airport. 
  • Prescription medicine (can be packed safely in your checked bag)

 

Misc. Items:

  • Coffee grounds (you’ll thank me later)
  • A good, sturdy bike lock or chain
  • Power adapter
  • A money belt (an absolute MUST when traveling in Asia)
  • Sleeping mask & earplugs
  • A good DSLR camera for taking memorable photos!
  • A laptop (electronics are surprisingly much cheaper in western countries)

Clothes:

Some schools have a uniform, but most just require ‘smart casual‘ attire. That said, it’s still useful to pack some formal attire –  it’s not unusual to be invited to attend events such as weddings, banquets etc. And since it’s likely you’ll be adventuring a bit while you’re in Asia, it’s also a good idea to pack hiking clothes and some basic gear.

The items below are in addition to normal, everyday clothes you’ll automatically bring with you – for example, underwear isn’t listed, but you ought to bring some anyway! You’ll also note I’ve suggested a lot of shoes. Why? Because it can be very hard for westerners to find shoes here. Anything above a size 11 (men) and size 9 (women) can be difficult to find!

  • Smart casual basics for work (and shoes)
  • One suit (men) or formal dress (women) – with the appropriate shoes/accessories
  • Comfortable sneakers (wear on the plane)
  • Sandals (if you normally like to wear them in the summer)
  • Hiking shoes/boots
  • A good day pack  (carry on the plane)
  • Seasonal outdoor clothing (if you like hiking)

Note: If you come during spring, summer or fall and don’t want to bring a heavy coat with you, don’t! You can pick up a good one for about $50 after you arrive!

 

To do:

  • Cancel your mobile service
  • Make copies of your passport (every page) social security card, birth certificate (give a set to a loved one in your home country and keep a set for yourself)
  • Rent a mailbox or set up mail forwarding to your parent’s or sibling’s home
  • Call your bank and credit card companies and tell them you’re moving overseas – they can ‘unlock’ your account so it’s not frozen for suspicious looking activity.

Packing can be a nightmare if you don’t know what to bring – with the above items in tow, you can feel confident you’ve got the basics (and then some) for your first year teaching abroad!

I’d love to hear if you have any other suggestions!

Interested in teaching ESL in China? Send us an email with your CV at: jobs@eslsuite.com OR visit our job board and apply online!

 

 

 

 

City Profile: Wuxi, Jiangsu Province, China

Wuxi is split down the center by Lake Tai and is one of the urban cores of the Yangtze River delta region. Known as “Little Shanghai”, Wuxi is one of the origins of China’s modern commercial development. Located in the Golden Triangle of the Yangtze River, Wuxi is a key member of the “Wu” region of China which comprises the triangular-shaped territory near Shanghai and includes southern Jiangsu Province and northern Zhejiang Province.

This area is notable in China for its distinctive dialect, architecture and its unique waterway transportation along the Grand Canal. Owing to its pleasantly warm and moist climate, it boasts a reputation of the ‘Land of Fish and Rice’. Relying on the near-by Yangtze River and ancient Grand Canal, it had been a port city with the busiest rice and cloth market in China before 19th century.

Besides being a rich cultural repository, Wuxi is blessed with charming natural beauty: the vast Tai Lake with its fascinating water scenes, the ‘Sea of Bamboo’ in Yixing, the Second Spring, Huishan Mountain — the ‘First Mountain South of Yangtze River’ — and so on. Various aspects of nature give you a new experience at every turn.

Located along the main intercity high-speed railway, Wuxi can easily reach Shanghai, Nanjing, Suzhou and other regional hot-spots. The international airport flies directly to most major Chinese cities and other nearby transit hubs in Asia. The new metro line offers city dwellers convenient transportation to points of interest within the city.
With its moderate climate and beautiful natural surroundings, Wuxi is an attractive destination for people to live and work as well as for tourists. With plenty of parks and green spaces, mountains nearby and its proximity to the Yangtze and the Grand Canal, Wuxi offers attractions for all types of travelers, seekers and explorers.

Take a look at the ESL Suite job board for more about teaching jobs in China and in Wuxi City!