Congratulations! You have accepted a position to be a Foreign English Teacher with SDE and bought your plane ticket to China. So exhilarating! But there’s something holding you back from feeling as excited as you know you are. Maybe it’s that you subconsciously recognize just how little you know about what your first days in China will look. If you’re like me, you may have never even been to China before, let alone packed up all your things and moved across the world on a whim to start working there. Here is some information about your first days so you don’t still feel the dizziness of the waves after getting off the boat.
Your phone is probably your beloved personal assistant, so it can be unnerving figuring out the details of having a working phone while you’re here. Fortunately, SD will help you handle this situation. You can buy a Chinese phone once you get here, but if you plan to use your own phone, make sure it is unlocked before coming. I called my phone carrier and they unlocked it remotely after I paid off what I still owed. Also, check willmyphonework.net to see if your phone will work in China. Once you find the best Chinese carrier for your phone, SDE will help you set up an account, pick a phone number, and choose an appropriate plan. This will probably be one of the first things you do after checking into your hotel, as you need a Chinese phone number to handle many tasks here!
I would also like to introduce you to an app called WeChat. WeChat is one of the most popular apps in China, and it can do everything. You can use it as your texting app, make phone calls or leave voice messages, translate Chinese text to English, pay your phone bill, and so on. I am still discovering new uses for the app. I do not understand why WeChat isn’t used worldwide. Either way, when you get your SIM card and your new number, familiarize yourself with WeChat as much as possible. You won’t regret it.
SDE will help you set up a bank account rather quickly. I got mine just hours after reaching the hotel. You will get a bank card you can use just like at home. You will then want to transfer your money to your new account, either by withdrawing and re-depositing cash or by bank transfer. I would recommend exchanging for about 500 RMB cash when you arrive to cover any expenses you face before getting your bank up and running.
Remember that WeChat thing? It’s back again. You can pay for just about anything using WeChat by scanning a QR code. You can also pay others if you are all splitting a meal (for example, when you go to hot pot). Someone with SDE will help you set up WeChat Wallet, and after that you will quickly fall in love. I’m telling you, I almost never use my bank card or carry cash with me.
After getting picked up, you will head to the hotel to drop off your things. If it is not late, you will then promptly set up your phone and bank, which should relieve a lot of stress already. The next couple days will be spent handling various small tasks such as getting your metro/bus card—which you will come to appreciate as a convenient and cheap means of getting around the city—and getting your health check and photos done.
Within a few days, you will learn where your potential school is and will be taken to meet them. What happens here varies. Some schools may ask for you to prepare a demo lesson. Others will have you teach one on the spot. It’s also possible they will welcome you without either of these. My school gave me 30 minutes to prepare a 20 minute lesson which I would teach to a 7th grade class using a provided textbook. I panicked at first, because I was told I would probably be asked to give a 10-15 minute lesson for 4th-6th graders, but it went very smoothly. Do not stress! Just be friendly, be yourself, and show you are excited to be there.
Don’t forget to ask the school some questions too! You want to make sure things work out well for all parties involved!
Once you know where you will teach, it is time to search for your apartment. Do not worry about finding an apartment before you come here. But, do recognize that the process will move fast. I got visited my school on Tuesday, and I was in my new apartment on Friday. I spent Wednesday searching, Thursday paying and signing paperwork, and I moved in Friday morning. Things just tend to move quickly here.
Another quick warning about getting settled: costs are rather frontloaded here. To get an apartment, you will likely have to pay commission (half of one month’s rent), the remainder of rent for the month, and two full months’ rent as a deposit (which you will get back at the end of your lease). You might have to pay for your internet plan all at once, instead of monthly. It will all balance out in the end, though, and SDE helps to make the transition as smooth as possible.
“I am terrified because I don’t know any Chinese!” That may be you, and that’s okay. For the most important things, SDE will have someone by your side to help you. I would recommend learning basic phrases like “thank you,” “toilet,” and some food words. Download the app Pleco and a translator app to help you get by, and make sure to start committing words you find useful to memory. You will begin picking up the necessary Chinese quickly, especially if you take an interest in learning the language.
I was personally surprised by how similar life here felt upon arrival. Perhaps I had hyped up the differences too much in my head, or perhaps I did not feel the language barrier as strongly. My city, Shenzhen, is a very modern city with a lot of Western influence, so I am sure that played a role. Nevertheless, there are some aspects of life in China that may take some adjustment.
Honestly, the biggest one for me is that most of the meat you order at a restaurant will have bones in it. The Chinese like to eat their meat with bones. Although I am a fairly skilled chopsticks-user, I still can’t get used to pulling the meat off the bone, let alone the fact that meat comes in much smaller bites.
You may also be surprised to find a chaotic road system. Watching cars, all sorts of bikes, and pedestrians dance with one another in a symphony of horns and close-encounters can be quite intimidating. It almost feels lawless. Make sure to pay attention to what locals are doing, and you will adjust to this system quickly.
Lastly, with strangers in public, locals can tend to be a bit pushy and aloof. I think this tends to be a factor of being in a mega-city more than anything else, however. I have made a number of experiences with strangers who have happily let us meet their dog or wave hello to their child. A few people have actually approached me curiously to chat or ask where I’m from. And just about everyone I’ve actually met has been hospitable and friendly. It’s a running joke among my coworker that we can’t tell anyone we like something they have because they will make us accept it as a gift.
Depending on where you are, you may find it tough to find a Western-style toilet. Lucas covers this in another article, however, so I will let him discuss this potential culture shock.
There is still a lot to say about your first days in China — get excited, because it truly is a thrilling and adventurous transition.
**Note: For the most accurate information regarding on-boarding, please refer to our online orientation and speak to your specialist about your specific on-boarding schedule**