How I chose where to live in Chongqing

Having moved to a few different cities in China myself over the years, I have, sort of, worked out a list of things that I look for when I choose my apartment. I have been living, a little like a nomad for the past few years, even changing apartments within the same city a couple of times. Most recently that has been in Chongqing where I have lived for the last almost five years, so this is going to be my reference point.

Moving to a new city, especially if you’re also moving to a new country, is a big deal, and I put a lot of focus on where I choose to live because that, in turn, helps decide my experience in that place. Personally, I prefer to live somewhere near the center of the city, well-connected to transport and with everything within reach. Some may be more focused on prices, which is also an important thing to consider, and some would prefer to be near a specific area, close to parks or such. Thankfully, China is all about conveniences and in any major city, there are several websites and accompanying apps that can help you! If you are new to China and not comfortable with Mandarin just yet, Google Chrome’s website translation function will serve you well! If you know basic Chinese and have some basic knowledge of the city you are moving to, the apps will be even more convenient.

My personal favorites are http://www.fang.com, http://www.anjuke.com, http://www.lianjia.com, and http://www.daojiale.com They’re well organized, they offer apartments that you can buy, and also rent either directly from the owner, or you can rent apartments directly through the community that owns the building. These four websites also have apps that allow you to search on your phone.

When you sign a contract with your school or employer, they will undoubtedly help you find a suitable apartment but I like to look into things myself by getting to know the central districts of the city I am moving to and the locations that I will need to visit most, such as my school, nearby supermarkets, public transportation and so on. In Chongqing, my location of choice is 渝中 district. 渝 is an old name for the city of Chongqing, and 中 means middle which means that it is the central district. Living in (or near) the city center is going to be more expensive than living closer to the edges of the city, and with the very efficient subway system in place in Chongqing, you do not necessarily need to live in the middle. Using the websites, you can quickly get a feel for the kind of apartments you can find as well as the price levels in each area.

The area in 渝中 (YuZhong) where I live is called Daping. And one of the main reasons I chose this area is because of the central location. I am close to two of the subway transfer stations, so I have easy access to subway lines 1, 2 and 3 the three main subway lines in Chongqing. On those subway lines, I can reach all 10 school campuses, the airport, the train station and the Jiefangbei, Nanping and Guanyinqiao shopping centers. Also, the subway station, one of the biggest shopping malls and the hospital are within a 10-minute walk from my apartment, and it is about a 20-minute walk to the Chongqing Olympic Sports Center where you can play basketball, bowling, badminton, table-tennis, and tennis.

Apart from being central, another thing I really like about this area is how much there is to explore. The shopping mall has nice shops and restaurants but often when you want something different or more authentic, you need to look along the smaller streets or in the nearby community areas. Attached to the mall near where I live there is a small community of apartment buildings where the lower 4 floors are all small private shops and restaurants. I actually used to live inside of this area in the past, but now live across the main road because it is quieter here. But that community area is full of shops, 24-hour grocery stores, hairdressers, you name it all within a 10-minute walk from home.

But, there are my other very attractive places to live in Chongqing. Shapingba district is considered the educational center of Chongqing and has most of the training schools’ main offices and lots of universities. Jiangbei, north of YuZhong district is very modern and vibrant, home to another large shopping mall area and the city’s most famous bar street. Jiefangbei which is the financial center of the city at the edge of YuZhong district and then there i Nanping, south of YuZhong which is also fairly large and well-connected!

How to improve your lesson planning with Board Order

Over the past several years, I have witnessed training schools moving from a more traditional style of teaching that mostly focused on either a blackboard or whiteboard, to using modern multimedia content and interactive whiteboards. However, when I started teaching, almost 8 years ago now, I learned to teach my classes only with a board and the occasional PowerPoint presentation.

Despite being a tech-savvy guy, it took me a while to get comfortable with using interactive whiteboards and I still, to this day, teach more than half of my lessons using the whiteboards. It is a habit, at this point, because this is how I got into teaching in the first place, but it is also because I feel like children and students spend enough time looking at computer screens already, and I can teach entertaining classes without having to turn on a computer. Also, I also like being prepared if the computer doesn’t work, the software doesn’t load, or another problem keeps you from using the interactive board.

A critical element that I paid a lot of attention to, during my own teacher training was board order. I think board order is included in pretty much every TEFL program today, but it is something that I think many teachers, new and experienced alike, tend to pay less attention to. But for me, board order is just as important to teach a class, as it is sketching out my PowerPoint presentation before I start making it. It gives me an idea of how my lesson is going to progress and transition between steps of your lesson.

By including board order in your lesson planning, you can reduce the time it takes you to get the information you want on the whiteboard, it reduces unnecessary erasing and re-writing, which will, in turn, help your class to flow better. As a teacher, you are engaging in a sort of public speaking, and one of the critical rules of speaking to an audience (your students) is that you have to face them. Talking into the whiteboard dramatically reduces the students’ ability to hear you, and the more time you have to spend facing the board, the less time you have to interact with your students. Also, what are your students doing while you’re writing on the board? Most likely, they’re doing nothing which is precious seconds taken away from your class time.

Many teachers put a lot of thought into how they progress through their lesson plans, their instructions, gestures, target language, and teaching aids. But less focus is being put on how you put all that information on the board.

If you know, that you will need to have your target sentence structure on the board, along with flashcards for an activity or a game, try to plan how you want it presented to the students so that they understand it. Make sure that, by the time you want to put up your flashcards, you do not need to spend 15-20 seconds erasing the board first. You cannot entirely avoid having to erase and re-write words or phrases, but you can limit it by planning your board use along with your class.

Just like with a PowerPoint presentation, seeing your slide can often help you remember what you are going to talk about next. Including a board order drawing along with your steps in your lesson plan, can sometimes help remind you of what you’re going to do next, and often, looking at your drawing will be faster than reading your teaching steps.

Here is a quick example using vocabulary as the part of my lesson I will illustrate. Now, this is not an in-depth lesson plan but it demonstrates how I make a simple plan for using my board in advance.

I am teaching 6 new animal words, in this lesson and what I like to do, with classes like these is that I start out with a brainstorm to get the students talking, and also get a sense of what animals they already know. So the first picture (top left) is my brainstorm, using most of the board, but arranging the animals my students tell me in a grid. Now, if they happen to say one of the word I am teaching today, I write that animal in one of the 6 boxes I marked on the left. All other animals go randomly into the other boxes. This means that my vocabulary is where I want it to be, for the next step. Once I am out of spaces or (even if some of the target vocabulary is missing), I will fill out the rest of the vocabulary words and move to the presentation.

Picture two (top right) I have erased the words and boxes I don’t need, and replaced them with a larger box or drawing area that I can use for illustrating each vocabulary word as I present it, and maybe have my students think of a few adjectives to describe each animal as we talk about it. I’d have the students do a crude drawing of the animal, write the word underneath with the adjectives we all mention in class and go through the animals one by one.

Picture three (bottom left) I will stick flashcards to the board inside of the large drawing area and remove the vocabulary words from the left hand side. Now, the left side will become a list of 6 example sentences, one for each animal, that we make as a class. For example “1. Tigers are very scary”, “2. Monkeys are very naughty”, and so on.

Finally, on picture 4, the right- hand side turns into a circular target area where the students can throw a ball and select a word, and now they can use the example sentences on the left to make their own sentences with the target vocabulary.

This method and procedure is very simplified, but illustrates my use of the board and minimizing my need for erasing and re-writing words. It gives me more time to teach and to interact with the students and less time where I am turning my back to them trying to get the board cleaned up for my next part.

6 of my favorite go-to activities to do on the fly


As a teacher, sometimes you need a backup plan, something you can fall back on in case you have an extra 10 minutes of class, or you just need to rouse sone energy in your students. Lessons do not always work out he way you want them to, and for a variety of reasons, sometimes you have to think on your feet.

Recently my absolute favorite toy is a sticky-ball i bought for 1 yuan on the Chinese website Taobao. This ball, when thrown, will stick to just about any surface, either glass, a whiteboard or even a TV. By drawing a grid on the board with vocabulary words, a grammar structure or a picture studebns can throw the ball to choose a topic or a word to use. With two balls, you can make two grids, for example one with animals and one with adjectives, and students have to mske a sentence using the two words they hit.

For vocabulary and spelling practice, i tend to use a soft dice. I write the vocabulary words on tje board and number them 1-6. The students then roll a number and get 5 seconds to look at the board before they have to turn around and spell out the word. Each time i erase a letter from the word that was just used.

Another spelling practice i do has all thr studbets standing in a circle around me. I point to a student who says the first letter of a word and then i randomly selec another student to continue. This means that all the students have to pay attention. Students to say the wrong letter or are too slow are out of the game and i keep going until only one student remains.

With younger kindergarten students, recently i have had great success with making our own memory games. With a piece of paper divided into 4 or 6 squares i have the students draw pairs of vocabulary words. Two shoes, two dogs etc. Then I rip up the paper and put them face down on the table. The students then take turns turning over two cards to see if they match. If they do, they can keep them, if not they’re turned back around and the next student has a go.

With slightly older students and with two whiteboards, I have played a game of, let’s call it Vocabulary Battleships. On the main whiteboards I draw the two game squares, either 4×4 or 5×5, I divide the students into two groups with one smaller whiteboard each and ask them to draw the same. Then, they choose a vocabulary word and randomly write the letters inside their squares in whichever way they please. The students then take turns guessing at the other teams squares and I keep track of the movements on the master board. So when group A asks for “E5”, I check with Group B and make sure if there is a letter or not. The game then continues with each team taking turns until one team guesses the other’s word.

Over the course of this summer, I created a lesson plan based on weather and giving an actual weather forecast. I designed a PowerPoint presentation that the students could easily edit while in class and then present their 2, 3, or 5-day forecast to the class. Start by reviewing weather types and done of the more common phrases heard during a forecast and then let the students have a shot at it.

How to Turn ESL Teaching into a Career

Teaching English as an ESL teacher can be a rewarding experience in many ways. For some teachers, it is all about being able to travel and see the world. For some, it is about getting some valuable experience in their field before searching for a job at home. Others still, find it rewarding just to be in a classroom full of eager students looking to learn, whether they be kindergarteners, primary school- or high school students, or even college students. There are countless ways of feeling the rewards of teaching English to speakers of other languages, and I don’t presume to know them all, only my own personal reason.

Many of my current colleagues would never believe me if I told them, that I’d never thought I would be teaching in China, let alone for almost 8 years now. Even 10 years ago, if you had told me that I would be teaching and living in China, I would likely have looked at you with wonder, and thought to myself, how you’d have that idea? But here I am, 8 years in and I am probably staying for at least a few more years. Many might not know this, but there is definitely a career to be made in ESL teaching, not just in China but in several places and your career can be built in many different ways.

When I started teaching in China, a career in ESL wasn’t my long-term goal. I initially saw ESL teaching as a stepping stone to getting into China and try to either find a job in marketing, study for a Master’s Degree or become some kind of consultant. I didn’t really have it all mapped out, but when I finally did arrive in China and started teaching, I realized that I liked it. It was hard at first, and for a few months, I felt uncomfortable in the classroom. However, as time went by and I started to understand how to put together a lesson, make the students laugh and actually teach them something, I began to feel a great sense of achievement, much more so than anything I had ever felt before. And I decided that a career in Education was going to be my choice!

Through the years, I have found that there are several ways turn your ESL teaching job into a long-lasting career. Either by staying with your school or by transitioning to other schools or other cities.

If you value your free time, and you prefer traveling and seeing new places, it might make sense for you to work for one or two years in a school in one city. You can gain valuable experience and references, and when you want to explore a new place, you can apply for jobs in a different town or country. This is ideal if you re desire traveling and seeing the world while doing something familiar. While locations vary and procedures change from school to school, what you are doing in the classroom is mostly the same.

If you are looking for career progression, it may we smart to stay with a single school for a longer time and work toward one of the higher-level positions they may have. Some schools may have a position as a foreign teacher supervisor or Director of Studies, other schools may have positions along of academic trainer, marketing or even course curriculum development or teaching research.

I find that not every school advertises positions like these but if you ask, most, if not all schools, would be interested in having their foreign teachers assume a greater responsibility at their school, working to improve their overall quality. Over my time working in China, I started as a Foreign Teacher myself, I have since then been involved in arranging marketing activities and events. I do language and pronunciation training with the Chinese teachers, I plan activities and events for our current students, I train and oversee the foreign teachers in my department. Also, my school is using my voice for some of our in-house teaching materials.

Academic Training, Marketing, Recruitment, Management, Content Creation, Curriculum Development or Teaching Research, the options are endless if you want to advance your career. And many times, all you have to do, is show your supervisors what you can do for them. I never saw ESL teaching as just a “teaching job that I got because I couldn’t get anything else.” For me, it became a calling, a passion and the chance to give something to others. But I have also been able to advance myself, advance my career and find ways to make my school better for myself, the students, my colleagues foreign and Chinese. The possibilities are endless, you just have to go for it!

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!

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.

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!

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.