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Moving to China: Settle in and Start Work
Published:2011-10-1 【Back

Moving to China can be one of the most exciting and challenging experiences of any Westerner’s life. However, it can also be a complicated and potentially stressful experience. Possibly the most stressful and certainly the most complex part of the whole China experience is the process of upping sticks and moving to the Middle Kingdom. In fact, in many cases, arriving in China and the experiences in the first few weeks can determine whether or not newbies will settle in and enjoy their China experience and, crucially, be successful in their job. This is true no matter what type of job the expat will be doing. For teachers and businesspeople alike, so much rests on the first few weeks. Below are a few tips of helping bridge the gap between West and East. These are by no means categorical – coming to China is far too big a process to be able to cover so easily – but they are some of the key factors to remember.

Do your homework

This one is, by far, the most crucial. It is important to know exactly where you are going and what you are getting yourself into. This means researching the job and city thoroughly. There is a big difference between big cities like Beijing or Shanghai and smaller cities in the interior. The best way to do this is to go online. Google and Wikipedia everything about the city you may be headed to. If a city has plenty of well-used websites dedicated to expats, then the city is likely to be far more cosmopolitan than others where information is scarce. Depending upon your aims and expectations, this can indicate which is the best city for you.

The type of research mentioned above could easily be seen in a negative way. It could be viewed as though I were saying, “It is important to know exactly what you are getting yourself into otherwise you will never cope in China.” In some cases, sadly, this can be the case. However, the opposite is also true. China can offer some very pleasant surprises these days. It was only when the couple arrived that they realized how modern and cosmopolitan the city had become – they experienced an enjoyable two years before moving back to Germany.

Put down roots before you arrive

Nothing can be as disconcerting as arriving in a new country knowing no one. This can often lead to any expat thinking about home and feeling depressed. This will have two clear effects. First, they will certainly not perform to their best at work. Second, they are likely to contemplate a swift return home. Therefore, it is important to be in contact with people in China even before you fly.

Obviously, the first way to do this is through work. Many major companies will have programs in place for expats coming to China where the newbie will be in contact with the people who will be his or her colleagues and will be gently ushered through the acclimatization process. Others will not be so lucky, they will have to fend for themselves much more—many teachers, who have arrived with the help of a recruiter, will make contact with people from their school only when they actually arrive on the doorstep. Therefore, it is important to get in contact with outside organizations as well. For businesspeople, Chambers of Commerce can be a great way to meet people in similar fields. And, for anyone, sports clubs and societies can certainly help—China ClubFootball (An organization that runs football competitions and matches) in Beijing certainly helped me meet several people with similar and begin to feel at home in China.

Begin to learn the lingo

An inability to speak the language can make adjusting to any country a difficult process. This is true in China more than anywhere else. Therefore, taking lessons as soon as you arrive is a great idea. Not only will this help with everyday survival – in the taxi or at the supermarket – but it will also help you communicate with your new colleagues. Even if they speak English, learning a little Chinese will go a long way to breaking down cultural barriers as well.

A second aspect to learning Chinese quickly is that it also creates the opportunity to bond with and get to know English-speaking Chinese people. For example, many major companies will offer their expats free Chinese lessons, but will also encourage local staff to speak with the expats in both Chinese and English as a way of (i) practicing languages, and (ii) getting to know each other. For those without the luxury of free lessons, the idea of a language exchange could prove immensely useful. Obviously, the first aspect of this is the improvement in language skills. And, secondly, it will allow you to get to know Chinese people better. However, the third major aspect is in combating loneliness. No one enjoys feeling alone, and, making friends can take time. So, getting to know someone who can speak English and show you around town can be a great help.

Details, details, details

This one should, for most expats arriving with a job already lined up, be something of a technicality. Visas, residence permits and registration should all be taken care of by the company or school. However, it is worth remembering that this can be one of the most stressful aspects of arriving in China. The bureaucracy can be stifling, frightening and often over-powering. It is crucial to be aware of the potential headaches and be prepared to spend time waiting for the right stamp and the right piece of paper.

From China Daily

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