China is one of the most diverse countries in the world, home to fantastic scenery but an even more interesting culture. For many westerners, travelling and teaching English in this part of the world can be an exhilarating experience but overwhelming all the same.
Living and teaching in a country is a completely different experience as opposed to spending a two week holiday there. On arrival you may well be in awe of your new country but what happens a couple of weeks down the road when it dawns on you that you can’t just nip into your local shopping centre and there isn’t a starbucks just down the road? Not only do you need to be aware of how you should behave when you get out there but also prepare yourself for what to expect out in China to ensure that your transition to life in China goes as smoothly as possible.
So take a look at how to prepare yourself for Chinese culture, so life isn’t such a shock once you’ve touched down on the runway!
1. How can you overcome culture shock on arrival?
Arriving in China can be an attack on the senses: so many new sounds, sights, smells and food to taste! It can be a little overwhelming and can make you feel out of your depth. The best way to overcome culture shock is to take a deep breath and explore. The more you learn, the more you realise that China is not a scary place. What seemed daunting at first becomes familiar and friendly. Exploring will also help you to get to grips with the surrounding area and make you feel less disorientated and comfortable in your new surroundings.
2. Does culture shock affect ages and gender differently?
Culture shock affects everybody differently but you can notice some subtle differences with the way different groups of people react to their own culture shock. Men tend to be less vocal about their experience and the most likely to be embarrassed about feeling some culture shock whereas women tend to be more vocal about their experience.
3. What are the attitudes of parents towards teaching?
Contrary to parents in the West, China’s parents are heavily involved with the schools their children will attend and expect the best. Parents who pay for their children’s education consider it an investment and will expect results. That being said, they are often very open to new teaching ideas brought in from the West, with education methods like Montessori becoming more popular in the bigger cities.
4. Do students still see teachers as an authoritative figure?
Teachers have always been held in high esteem in Chinese culture, with the word for teacher literally translating to “old master” – pupils will not question their teacher and accept their teachings as the truth. However this doesn’t mean that all children are angels in the classroom, kids will be kids and you will still experience some need for classroom management. However as a direct comparison, Chinese students are much shyer, quieter and more respectful than their western counterparts.
5. What cultural faux-pas should teachers be aware of?
There are many things interns should bear in mind before coming to China to help them avoid appearing rude or offensive. Firstly, money, gifts and other tokens (such as business cards) will often be given with two hands and they should be received as such. The gesture of offering something with two hands shows that they are giving it with their whole body and is a mark of respect, so you should show you respect their values by receiving their offering in the same way.
Mostly though the biggest faux pas are made at the dinner table which, if you are unaware, can turn into a nightmare of etiquette for the unprepared. Firstly, guests should always wait for the host to start the meal and should not eat before him or her; food is served and shared from the “lazy susan” (a revolving table that allows access to all foods), guest should not pick and play with the food as this shows disrespect to your host. Guests should also not tap their bowls with their chopsticks or place them upright in their rice bowl. The first action is considered rude because it is similar to what beggars do when asking for money; the second is a visual reminder to the incense burned to honour the dead. If fish is served, the guest should not flip the fish over to get at the meat on the other side; Chinese superstition states that doing so will cause the boat that caught the fish to capsize. Mostly with the younger generations they will forgive mistakes and faux pas as they feel these superstitions are growing more antiquated.
6. What are the biggest changes seen in the China iterns?
Independence. It’s great to see students that, on arrival, were perhaps quite cautious yet by the end of their 5 month stint in China have adapted to a new culture and even stayed on in a new teaching position of their own.
Thinking of heading out on the China internship? The great thing with an intern is that you’ll receive 24/7 support from our expert in-country partners; so if you’ve got a mental image of being waved off at Beijing bus station on your own after your orientation, then rest assured that this couldn’t be further from the truth!