This is the real-life experience of Chandre who we placed at a primary school in Chongqing City. The biggest challenge Chandre found when moving to China was the language barrier – no big surprise. This initially made going to the supermarket to buy groceries…umm…’interesting’ as the labels made no sense so things took much longer than normal. Bus and taxi rides also involved a lot of hand gestures, the drawing of pictures or even showing the driver the address she needed to get to.
Fortunately, the HR person at Chandre’s school was extremely helpful and helped with basic translations and getting a translation app on your phone is ESSENTIAL. Once you have made friends at your school with locals and expats you tend to shop and go out in groups and they do help all new teachers a lot when it comes to translating.
Opening a bank account took a bit of time for Chandre as she had to wait for her Residence Permit to be processed; the school paid her salary so she had the money (cash) but everyone in China pays for groceries etc. via their phone and you need a bank account for that. As soon as her bank account was opened, this challenge vanished and now most of the shopping Chandre does is online.
The first few weeks in China are tough, they can be overwhelming as you miss your friends and family and your familiar surroundings – this is what is called Culture Shock…and it is real. Chandre coped by realizing that these feelings would pass and she just had to get through the initial rocky patch – this is completely normal.
Going to school and being introduced to colleagues really help as you then have a shared experience and the expat teachers quickly become friends. The local Chinese teachers have a good grasp of English so you are able to communicate, and Chinese people are EXTREMELY friendly and go out of their way to help you so this goes a long long way in helping you cope with that initial feeling of isolation.
Getting used to the food in China also takes a bit of time as they do not waste any part of the animal so everything is used. They are also extremely stuck on the freshness of all of their food (meat/fish/fruits/vegetables) which explains why in the grocery stores there are tanks of fresh seafood, and fruits and veggies are often still a little dusty as it all comes ‘fresh from the farm’. In South Africa everything is neatly packaged and cut up already, so seeing everything in it’s ‘natural state’ is a bit of an eye-opener but you appreciate the emphasis they put on freshness and enjoy it.
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