In July, 2011 I arrived in China armed with a CELTA and job a lined up with a big ESL company. I interviewed via skype from England and told the interviewer that my only preference was somewhere in the South of China. The majority of the previous two years was spent backpacking around South East Asia and Australia and I had long decided that the warmer climes were for me. However, July in Shanghai was slightly more than I had bargained for.
I was meant to complete my 3-day onboarding and then head down south to a city called Foshan in Guangdong province but I soon learned that the construction of the school hadn’t been completed. After a couple of weeks of limbo in Shanghai (which was great!) I was told of a new plan to send me to a recently opened school in the city of Wuxi as an interim solution. They were paying me so they needed to do something with me after all!
Wuxi turned out to be a good move. I started to get more experience in the classroom, met the staff and made friends (one of them recently sang at my wedding!). Being a second tier city, there was obviously less in the way of international flair compared to Shanghai but for me this was ideal. I had to explore and try a little harder to find places off the beaten track. I started to learn Chinese there and had ample opportunity to practice.
After 6 weeks in Wuxi, I finally landed in Foshan. It was the end of November and it was warm compared to Wuxi where winter had arrived. Now it was time to find an apartment and get settled for the remaining 10 months of my contract. Foshan felt very different to Wuxi, everyone could speak mandarin but the predominant dialect was Cantonese. There was a more SE Asian feel to the place, one of my favorite things was the night time outdoor street BBQ’s, similar to the streets of Bangkok.
There was a lot of uncertainty and moving around in my first 3 months in China but I kept an open mind and tried to go with the flow. I found that learning some of the basics of Chinese really helped, not only in terms of being able to order food or get directions but also in connecting with people and having daily interactions. It can be lonely when you first move to a new place and these little interactions help.
Seven years later and I’m still here and enjoying life, having also lived in Nanjing and Shanghai and travelled around a lot. It’s not always easy to live in China, it’s very different from the UK, you have to learn to be flexible and exercise patience. Keeping an open mind and trying to assimilate into the culture a little bit will help you to make sure your experience goes a long way.