Stranded alongside a busy road on a cold night in China. Little money, not knowing the language…carrying all my belongings on my back. Technically, homeless and unemployed. When my wife and I decided to come to China to teach English, this was probably our biggest fear. Teaching English is big business in China, and unfortunately, that means there are a lot of scams out there. Just a simple search on Google is enough to scare most people.
Luckily, our fears couldn’t be further from our reality in China.
We arrived in China on a cold December night, but contrary to our fears, our pick-up driver arrived right on time. He hopped out of the car and walked up to us and greeted us with a friendly smile and a handshake. “My name is CJ.” We introduced ourselves and he took our luggage and placed it in the trunk of a nice and big car. Then he opened the door so we could hop inside.
“Oh, it’s so cold out here tonight.” He said as he got in the car and began to drive. “How was your flight?” He asked us. “Oh it was great.” We replied. As we drove in the car, we looked around at the bright flashing, neon lights of the big city. It’s crazy to think that this neighborhood was actually a suburb. With the traffic, tall buildings and lights, it seemed busier than any city I know back home in the States.
During the drive, CJ pointed out to us important locations as we passed by. From hospitals, to restaurants, big malls, and the famous KTV (karaoke like you’ve never experienced!). He also noted the bus stops and bus numbers that we would likely be using to get around the main parts of town. He explained to us about the metro / subway here in China and how he would help us to get a metro card that we could put money on to easily use public transportation.
Finally, we arrived at the hotel. CJ hopped out of the car and insisted that he carry our luggage for us. He checked us in and escorted us all the way to our hotel room, a very comfortable and much nicer room than we were expecting. “Tonight, we had a big Christmas party at our school for our teachers.” He said. “But they have finished already. So tomorrow, we can pick you up and take you around to get settled. Have a good sleep.” He said cheerfully and gave us another handshake before departing.
Laying on the bed, we let out a sigh of relief. So far, our biggest fear didn’t come true. And we were so comforted by the level of kindness and consideration we had experienced on our first night in China.
Before coming to China, we were told by our recruiter that there would be a team to assist us with settling into our new lives in China – beyond just picking us up on arrival. But we weren’t sure what that entailed.
We awoke the next morning and met up with some people who were going to help us. They promptly greeted us, then took us out to a lovely late breakfast. Afterwards, it was time to take care of the details to get our lives set up. We went to get a SIM card for our phones, then we went to set up bank accounts. After that, we got our metro cards and our new friends showed us how to use the bus and even took us to the mall and supermarket. True to their word, they also helped us get our apartment in China.
Through it all, we couldn’t thank our new hosts in China enough for all the help they gave to us during our transition to living in China. Immediately, we felt so safe and comfortable. They gave us their personal numbers and assured us that we could call them at any time, and they went out of their way to answer our questions and show us around.
After only being in China for a few days, we felt like we already had a little network of friends who we could count on to help us. That’s really important, especially when you are so far from home. And it’s not just getting your life set up. It’s the communication and culture barrier that can be scariest of all.
But with the help of our hosts in China, we were already picking up some of the language and they helped translate everything for us. They showed us apps on our phones, explained how things worked, and gave us many other tips to help get a grip on our new neighborhood.
Our experience was so great from the very beginning, and it makes us feel bad for those who come to China and don’t get this kind of experience. We felt so lucky, and a little spoiled. It really helped put us on a good path, and was only the beginning of what has turned out to be an amazing experience living and working as English teachers in China.
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Who knew that a casual bet with my friend in the UK would take me on an adventure through China and beyond.
Nile is a First Leap teacher living in up in Nanjing. Check out his video all about expat life and how he came to China.
From the UK, Connie shares with us her personal experience about coming to China to teach English.