How to Prepare For Life In China

Did you just land your first TEFL job in China? Congratulations, you’re in for a wild ride. Your career just might take off. Your social life may explode. And your wanderlust may finally be satisfied. That was my experience at least.

The list of benefits that surrounds your new job is perhaps longer than The Great Wall. But, moving to China takes some getting used to.

In fact, life in China is something you may want to prepare yourself for. So, while you’re getting your visa sorted out, and trying to decide how to condense your life into a single suitcase, here are a few others things to think about.

Google and Facebook Don’t Work in China

That’s right my friends. Both Gmail and Facebook won’t work while you’re living in China. You won’t have to rely on snail mail to talk to your mom though. Before moving to China, make sure to get a VPN (Virtual Private Network.) You can pay for a year’s subscription (it’s very affordable) and use it to get on any website you want. It works by tricking your computer or phone, making it look like you’re using the internet from a country outside of China. I used one called Astrill, but there are quite a few to choose from.

You’ll Actually Need to Learn Some Mandarin

Life in China

If you’ve traveled before, you know that it’s relatively easy to get around relying on only English. In China, not so much. They speak their local language (as to be expected) and don’t stray away from it too often. Street signs, packaging, and restaurant menus will typically not have any English. So, you’ll actually need to study up on some Mandarin. I ate stuffed buns for every meal during my first three days in China. I could point to them at the stall near my apartment and didn’t have to worry about speaking. Learning how to say a few dishes is really helpful if you want a diverse diet. Also, it will help you avoid eating pig brain soup (honestly, it was an entire brain…in my soup) and other dishes that may make you cringe.

You’ll Need to Practice Your Balance For The Squat Toilets

Squat toilets are not a thing of the past in China. In fact, you’ll find them even in the nicest clubs and restaurants.  While your apartment will usually have a western toilet, out in public, you’ll need to squat. Bend your knees and get low to the ground. The toilets even have two spots for your feet. It may take a few tries, but you’ll figure it out. And, you may just learn to love them. I know that I did. Not having to sit on a public toilet seat seemed pretty great to me.

Life in China

You Seriously Have to Learn to Use Chopsticks

At home, I ate sushi all of the time. So, I learned how to use chopsticks pretty well before moving to China.  In fact, I thought it was pretty obvious that chopstick skills were a necessity before agreeing to take the job.  However, I found that a few of my co-workers had never used chopsticks before. And, some of them admitted to thinking that the restaurants in China provided forks (just in case).  Let’s just say that these coworkers of mine struggled. A lot. One of them couldn’t eat much during group meals, and ended up buying a little baby spoon to help him out. He carried that thing with him everywhere he went.  Learn how to use chopsticks; it’s worth it.

There are some pretty bizarre things you’ll need to prepare for before making your move. These are only a few of them.

Want to know more? Check out this post for 11 more ways to prepare for life in China.

Author: Shannon started her life abroad when she got a teaching position in China. After seeing her life open up to new opportunities, she decided to inspire others to do the same. You can visit her at Lives Abroad for more inspiration.

The Beginning of My Teaching in Hong Kong

After spending a semester in Thailand teaching English, I knew I wanted to live and work  in other countries in Asia and of course Hong Kong was at the top of my list. Trying to find a job in Hong Kong was more difficult than I first anticipated and I was relieved to find On The Mark who assisted in finding me potential jobs and then setting up interviews with potential employers.

my classroom in Hong Kong

I decided to accept a job from a language school that has language centres throughout Hong Kong On the Mark helped me set up with. They were extremely helpful from the get go and were able to answer any questions I had about the company itself, the students and what I was going to be teaching. Before I left the UK they assisted me in the processing of my visa, including help with all the documents and paperwork.

I was in contact with staff from my school throughout my wait for me visa which turned out to be a long 4 weeks wait and then also upon my arrival into Hong Kong. I started work four days after I landed and I was instructed to attend their North Point centre. As I had arrived during the summer, the centre was running their summer programme of classes which are based around more fun and creative aspects of education. This was the perfect time for me to start as I was given the opportunity to observe a variety of different types of classes and interact with the full range of ages that the school currently caters for. It also gave me to opportunity to meet my co-workers and start getting to know everyone’s names and classrooms. My first day was a bit of a whirlwind and before I knew it, it was 6:30pm and time for me to finish up and to go home.

Hong Kong Street View

I woke up the next day to a message telling me that I was needed at another centre in Tai Koo to cover a class. It was not something I expected to be doing on my second day with the company but I got ready and headed out to find the centre. I was met at the MTR station by the head teacher of the centre who was surprised to find out I’d only been in the country less than a week. Nevertheless, I was taken to my classroom and given the lesson plan, materials and worksheet I needed for my cover lesson. So for my first lesson in Hong Kong I was going to be teaching about “Africa and African Tribes”, not exactly the first topic that comes to mind when you thinking about teaching in a language centre. My first class had 5 students, 1 girl and 4 boys and throughout I was utterly entertained by the chit chat. I was surprised by how high their level of English was and how interested they were to learn about Africa. The whole lesson was going to plan until it came to the craft section and then the lesson hit a bump, the craft required was an African Tribal Necklace, the last thing the 4 boys in my class wanted to make. However, with a little bit of persuasion and the promise of playing a game (educational of course) the boys reluctantly attempted to make the necklace. All in all my first solo lesson was successful and although it happened a lot quicker than I expected, I was happy that it was done and I had survived.

My first two days as an English Teacher in Hong Kong was full of new experiences and challenges and went by in the blink of an eye. If the next 12 months go by a quickly I might have to renew my contract and stay a little bit longer.

The Real Class Clown

You’re smart, wise, interesting and above all, you’re eager to lend a helping hand; and those are all essential qualities in a teacher. But you’re forgetting one key attribute, entertainment.  What’s the point of a show if it doesn’t hold your attention? Teaching is a set of short shows, and no one wants a flop.

Christian Bale sums up teaching when he says, “It’s the actors who are prepared to make fools of themselves…who come to mean something to the audience.” What does acting have to do with teaching? Everything! The classroom is the stage, the subject is the script, the students are the audience members (and critics, ouch) and the teacher is the lonely one-man show. It’s up to each teacher to play to their audience and as we know, the more entertaining the actor, the more the audience will beg for more.

I Am Your Teacher, Not a Clown

Teach in Thailand

“I’m going to be a teacher, not a kiddie clown” you’re saying to yourself. Ha! Write me after your first day with that attitude, Professor! Honestly, entertaining students is the best part of being a teacher, and the best part of teaching English in Thailand. Language is so exciting, but grammar rules and teaching six year-old how to say, “Po-tat-o chip” can get tedious, for everyone! The teachers can become even more bored than the students, and nothing breaks up monotony like a little unabashed silliness.

Thai students are different from every other student in the world in that they are encouraged to laugh all the time. They laugh at each other, their parents, TV stars and even their teachers. The children are especially ready to laugh; they make fun of each other all day long. If somebody doesn’t know the answer, every child will laugh, but when it’s their turn to answer, turn-about is fair play and they get made fun of just the same. The best part of teaching in Thailand is the student’s willingness to play along and have fun.

But this absurdity doesn’t just instantly occur, it has to be created by the teacher. The person in charge (that’s you, by the way) has to demonstrate that it is fun to be laughed at. No one wants to be the tail end of a joke, especially in a micro-society environment like a school. However, if people see the leader intentionally putting themselves in a position of ridiculousness and getting attention, they too will want that same attention, and then everyone is playing charades.

Teach in Thailand

Can we just state the obvious, foreigners are funny? Foreigners, speak with weird accents, move in awkward ways, they wear abstract clothing, in general, a foreign teacher is wild. And my recommendation is to totally play to that stereotype. It’s ok for students to make mistakes and take their licks with their new language, but the only way for you to tell them this, is to show them. You too have to take your licks with a new culture and let them correct your pronunciation, your tones, and make it entertaining for all of you.

There is a fine line between putting yourself in an inferior position and making the students laugh versus losing their respect. A teacher has an obligation to be a leader, to facilitate the student body into a state of learning while maintaining a healthy and safe environment; but does it have to be so boring? I’m not recommending you act stupid or literally be an actor, but I’m recommending you let down some of your barriers, dare to be entertaining and have a little fun.

Robin Williams said two great things, “Comedy is acting out optimism,” and “…Words and ideas can change the world.” So what do you say, Teacher? Let’s combine both and set the stage for a whole new world. 

Dining Out in Beijing

I spent my childhood in the United States restaurant environment as my family owned small restaurants, and I have found in my travels that one of the ways you can first start integrating into a new culture is by eating at local restaurants. Dining out norms can differ between cultures and it’s usually these times where we see the smaller cultural differences that sometimes take us by surprise.


Let’s start at the beginning of the dining experience. In the United States, at most restaurants, you enter and tell a host/hostess how many people are in your party and they will either take you to a table or put you on a waiting list. In China, you will tell them how many people you have, and they will usually simply gesture to whatever tables are open and you can seat yourself. They will bring you the menu after you sit down. They might only give you one menu for your table, or two if you have several people.

In the USA, they will give you the same amount of menus as you have people, and then will walk away while you look through the menu. Chinese servers will stand over you as you look through the menu, which took me awhile to get used to. Sometimes it’s still a little off-putting, but I’ve learned not to feel rushed. If we want to really look through the menu, the server will usually leave after a few minutes and come back when you call them.


Dining Out in Beijing

Which brings me to the next difference. In the United States, servers will periodically stop by the table to bring different parts of the meal and to check how you like it. They will take orders for drinks and sometimes appetizers 

first, and then come back later for entrée orders. This works very well for the US dining experience as normally, everyone orders their own meals. However, in China, while I am teaching English in Beijing, I realize that it is more common for dishes to be served what we think of as “family style,” so they are big enough to feed multiple people. When you order your food at a Chinese restaurant, you order everything you want all at the same time, including drinks and dessert.

And also unlike in the USA, there is not necessarily a specific order that the food is served in. Normally it’s drinks, appetizers, soup/salad, entrée, and then dessert. In China, it is not uncommon for entrees to be served and then for your rice to come after the entrée, and sometimes desserts are served first. The food is brought to you in the order it is ready. Because of this, it is a perfectly acceptable practice to call out to the server if you need something additional. You can simply put your hand up and call to them and they will come to get you something else you need, or bring the bill.


Dining Out in BeijingTypically in the US, the server will drop the bill on the table and tell you there is “no rush,” (not true, but let’s pretend) and leave you to divide up cash, decide whose card to put the check on, or split the bill. In China, they will not bring you the check until you ask for it, or if you approach them to pay. And for payment, it’s almost unnecessary to bother splitting the bill, because most restaurants will except WeChat Wallet. WeChat is a smartphone app that China basically runs on and WeChat Wallet is similar to ApplePay, and most places in China will accept it, even taxis and street food vendors. You can transfer money to people (similar to PayPal and Venmo) so when my friends and I go out, usually one person just pays the bill while everyone else just transfers money to the person.

All in all, while I’m still getting used to certain aspects of dining in China, in general I find it enjoyable and easy. Getting a Chinese phone number to be able to use WeChat Wallet made it even easier, and the servers are usually willing to be helpful. And even at the fancier and/or Western restaurants, the food is usually pretty well priced when compared to expensive places in the big cities of the USA, so it’s no surprised that I eat out a lot!