Manage and Overcome the Challenges in a Foreign Land
The Journey Begins
While moving to a new country is very exciting and liberating; it can also be daunting after the initial honeymoon phase is over. How do you deal with it and what can you do to make sure this doesn’t scare you back home?
For many experienced TEFL Teachers/Trainers who have been doing this for a while, dealing with the difficulties of adapting and settling in a new country is more of a breeze than many new TEFL Educators. At the same time, for some experienced Teachers who have lived in more Western or modern societies, moving to a country that has a very different culture and a few more barriers can be enough to throw in the towel and opt to leave for an easier way of life. For example, a Teacher who is from a Western country may have lived in Thailand for a few years and loved it but when they move to China and live in places like Beijing or even smaller cities; they may find adapting much more difficult. There are no exotic beaches to escape to for the weekend and it may be just a little more difficult to find that favorite bar to frequent in the beginning. For new Teachers; this could make you rethink teaching abroad altogether. It all boils down to your experience, your capacity to take on new challenges and your threshold to be able to stick out the rough, challenging times until things get better, which they most certainly will.
I start with highlighting this, because in my experience I did meet a few seasoned TEFL Teachers who started working in China (Beijing) and left a few months later because they couldn’t adapt and knew an easier way of life in other foreign countries and there were some new Teachers who couldn’t wait for their contract to be over. It was very interesting for me to meet individuals who I could identify with in terms of the challenges that all expats face and also learn and understand their different mindsets and watch their ultimate decisions…to stay or leave. I chose to stay and don’t regret my decision one bit.
The truth is teaching English in China is favorable for many reasons and the most popular one is that the package is quite high compared to other countries. Why is this the case? Well, if its isn’t fairly obvious then here are some reasons why the unfavorable living conditions lead to a favorable package:
- finding the right apartment can be difficult without help
- the language barrier – this affects a variety of things like transport, restaurant experiences, shopping
- banking and general admin can be difficult to do on your own
- access to social media
Despite some of the unfavorable conditions; many believe that the package is worth it. This is a personal opinion so it really depends on what your objectives are. With the background set; here is my experience and advice on why I chose Beijing, China and how I made it work for me. If you are considering moving and working in a new country, then it is very important to do your research and know the pros and cons for expats. Once you do, you can equip yourself better, ahead of your move, to make life easier for you. Information is key and knowledge is power so once you are well informed, you will be able to be well equipped to manage the challenges, quickly overcome them, settle in and enjoy a great quality of life. Here are some steps to manage your move and the challenges you may face with some ease.
- Get an app on your phone and start practicing some basic Mandarin. Learn how to greet, say please and thank you and make a list of questions you may ask when you are just finding your way and get them translated in Chinese even if its just on a piece of paper so that you can show it to people/taxi drivers. (E.g.: Take me to ……; How much is this? Where is the subway station?) When you first arrive, you will need this mainly for directions and with taxi drivers and if you need to buy food. Once you get settled at work, your colleagues will be able to help you
Social Media and other apps (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Skype, G-mail, Google etc)
- Most of these apps are inaccessible in China so make sure to install a VPN on your phone ahead of your move as it can be more challenging to do it when you are already there (that was my issue). Once you pay for and install a VPN; you can access these social media apps and stay in touch with the rest of the world.
- Get an app like Uber – there are different ones in China and again your colleagues can assist with setting this up. You can get them to save your home and work address so that you can use it on your own and this makes getting around much
- If you take the yellow cabs, then learn how to say the following in Chinese – “I know where I am going”; Left; Right; Stop; and your destination of course – get the pronunciation right because saying it with an accent may make it difficult for your driver to understand you.
- The subway is very efficient and popular and once you learn how to use this system; getting around will be a breeze.
- If you intend to send money back to your home country; the process can be really frustrating. In my time there; there was a daily limit set at 500 USD (you could only send maximum 500 USD a day) so if you wanted to send more then you would need to do this a few times and with bank charges and the time it takes, it makes it very
- Another option to send larger amounts involve getting your HR department to give you documents and this needs to get stamped at the Police station in your area and so on and just getting the right documents can also be a time waster.
- You can Western Union the money – You would need to go to your bank first and change the money from RMB to US Dollars and then go to a Western Union office and send it. Make sure to call the Western Union office first to make sure they are actually in service. Buildings and departments change frequently and you don’t want to waste time traveling to a place only to find it no longer exists.
- The option that I used was having a Chinese friend help If you have a friend you can trust, this works out much easier because they can send large amounts of money. You would need your banking details which includes the Swift code (this may be different based on your country/bank); If you and your friend bank with the same bank then all you have to do is an inner-bank transfer at an ATM and transfer the amount you want sent to your friend. You may add an extra amount for bank charges. (For me this was an additional 200 RMB) Your friend would have to go to the bank and transfer the money for you. If you can trust your friend, they can do it on their own or you can accompany them.
Choosing an apartment
- This varies for everyone and if you are lucky then you will get a great landlord and all will be well. Usually the landlords take 3 months rent and the deposit upfront so make sure you have enough money for this. Ahead of your relocation; ask your employers if they are able to assist with helping you find an apartment or linking you with a reliable agent who has helped other
- When you do go looking for an apartment and find one that you fancy then here are some tips to make sure that you are happy with it long term
- Find out about the electricity and water payments; how this works and who will be your point of contact if you need help with this
- Aside from your salary; you need to be very clear about your other payments (Pension; Medical Insurance) and
- For example: After asking questions and following up; I received my medical insurance card (6 months later) and had no idea what to do with it – I later found out that if I didn’t use it then I could actually draw that money and get the cash (This amounted to an additional 4,000 RMB for me) and none of my colleagues knew about it. Now they are all aware and able to either use the card for medical reasons or get the cash.
- At my former company, your pension is usually paid within 6 months after you leave which means you will have to draw the money in the next country you will be in. As a result; find out which bank allows you to use your Chinese bank card and you will need to have your account open and active so keep at least 10 RMB in your account.
If you prepare yourself and equip yourself with some of these suggestions then your transition can be smoother. Once you settle into your work life, secure your apartment, know how to get around and make some friends then life will get easier. You will find your favorite hangouts and restaurants (and there are so many!), you will find that the cost of living VS your salary works in your favor and traveling to other countries and their exotic beaches is not far fetched. There will be other cultural adaptations to be made and there will be things you may miss but if you can get through the first one to three months and overcome the challenges; you will begin to enjoy all the differences and the rich food and culture that China has to offer. If you are friendly and genuine; you will find that people in China are very generous and extremely helpful. I was lucky to have so much assistance and guidance and no matter what challenge presented itself; there was always someone to assist and help me get through it. Aside from the external fascinations and fun that can be had in China; you will grow immensely as an individual and can adapt many good qualities and traits from the new people you will meet.