How to Survive Your First Weeks In China

Career China Digital Marketing Manager
Aug 21, 2018

Stacey, a twenty-five year old from England, just recently moved to Shanghai to teach English at an international preschool. She shares some of her advice for other new teachers below!

Meet Stacey

Traveling and exploring the world has been one of my favorite things to do since I can remember; my dad has always said the most important thing to have is a passport. I wasn't on course to become a teacher - it just sort of happened. I actually applied for my current position through an ad on Facebook.

My dream job was to work as a translator, but I chose a completely different career path. I completed a BA in Archaeology, History and Heritage Studies in 2014 and an MA in Egyptology in 2015. I went on to complete a graduate employment route into teaching and now I'm working for one of the largest early education groups in the world.

I've been in Shanghai for just over three weeks, so I'm still a bit of a newbie. That said, I've learnt a lot about China in such a short space of time: things about Chinese culture, etiquette, how to navigate my way around the suburbs, order Starbucks, and say 'hello' and 'thank you'.

For fellow newbies or soon-to-be expats, this is my not-so definitive guide for your first few weeks in China:


1.  Didi is my lifeline!

It's the equivalent to Uber and is absolutely vital for navigating around the city and to and from work.

Learn how to download and use Didi here.

2. The Shanghainese are the most patient of people.

Language is my biggest struggle, and I have to point, gesture and Google Translate a lot. I've never ever experienced any rudeness or been given the cold shoulder which has been wonderful.

3. You need to adjust to the food.

I love good Chinese food with a beer on a Friday night; but seven days a week? Not so much. I was nursing a noodle baby until at least the Thursday after I arrived, so I recommend trips to the fruit market or fruit section of a grocery store to offset the dense carbs. And no, I haven't eaten dog or cat. I have eaten pigeon, which is delicious; and tried chicken feet… not so delicious. It’s impossible to eat poorly here. For fussy eaters, Pizza Hut, KFC and McDonalds are well established.

4. I was warned before leaving the UK that foreigners, as Expats are lovingly called, are still a rarity.

I'm blonde so I prepared myself for lots of concerned faces. To date, no picture-taking has happened. I've had a few stares from young children, but it's completely understandable.

5. I don't know why, but I feel so much more confident in myself here.

I no longer have concerns about my appearance. I do what I want outside working hours and I'm fully in the swing of city life. 

6. The mosquito bites hurt.

A lot. I'm weirdly allergic to some insect bites so I ended up at the pharmacy on my first day here and had to act out what was wrong. Embarrassing. Miniso, a popular Japanese store in China, sells an abundance of anti-insect lotions and potions. The patches work really well and are 10 RMB for 12, around £1.14!

7. Very few people carry cash.

My Didi driver had a little chuckle to himself when I pulled out a 10 RMB note. Download WeChat or Alipay for a quick check out in stores, restaurants, taxis… anywhere really. 

Check out how to set up Wechat Pay.

8. International teachers, particularly those from the UK are incredibly sought after.

This is perhaps most reflected by my salary. I am financially comfortable and I am even able to save extra cash to buy a house on my return to the UK. Schools may also offer extra benefits - these might include return flights to your home country and performance-based bonuses at the end of the school year. If your goal is to teach, utilize this opportunity and invest in your future endeavors.

9. Download Duolingo from the App Store to introduce you to some day-to-day survival language.

The more I've heard Chinese colleagues speak, the more phrases I've picked up and using Duolingo made an excellent starting point.

10. You are most definitely not alone.

China is gigantic and a little overwhelming at first, especially when moving here from smaller countries. There are so many friendly bloggers on Wordpress and other social media platforms that are easily contactable for any burning questions or anxieties.

11. China is so diverse and full of history and culture.

It is also the perfect hub for international travel, as Japan and South Korea are a short plane ride away and return tickets are extremely reasonable. There are also high-speed rail networks connecting most major cities. I'm looking at exploring both Nanjing and Beijing in the next few weeks.

Learn more about how to buy train tickets and travel by high speed train in China!

China, in a nutshell, is phenomenal, though obviously I can only speak for Shanghai. There are, of course, tough moments at the beginning which I think is to be expected, especially when moving from the West. This period passes quickly though, and I now have to pinch myself sometimes to realize it isn't all a dream.

Get more great advice about expat life in China! Read The Ultimate Guide for Moving to China


Stacey is an English teacher living in Shanghai and loves sharing about her experiences in China! You can read more about her adventures in China on her blog and follow her on Instagram: @staceyscales


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