Living in China as a Foreigner: Expectation vs. Reality

teaching in China expectations vs reality

It doesn’t matter how much you read about China before you get there, whether to travel or to teach English. Your expectations will almost always be different from reality. Maybe not every single one of them, but it’s funny how quickly that reality check can set in.

Expectation 1: Everything looks like ancient Chinese temples.

Reality: Nope!

There is no doubt that China is a beautiful country. In just about any place you can go, you will see things that will truly make you happy to be alive and have the experience of being in China. But not everything has that ancient style to it. Some of it does, but other things are incredibly modern in the bigger cities. What’s fascinating is seeing the modern architecture juxtaposed next to ancient relics of the past.

is everything in China old?

Expectation 2: My students will all hang on my every word.

Reality: Nope!

Just because you’re their English teacher doesn’t mean they’re going to listen to everything you say. Kids are kids anywhere you go. Your Chinese students will mostly be a wonderful bunch anywhere you teach but you will always have those that are bored because their level is higher and those that are behind the rest of the flock. It’s up to you to be engaging to capture their attention and make them excited to learn English.

–> Everything You Need to Know About Teaching English in China

Expectation 3: I need to know Chinese to live here.

Reality: Nope!

Learning Chinese will definitely help and it will enrich your own experiences, but you can arrive and even survive living and teaching in China without knowing more than “ni hao.” You don’t need it to teach English either and many schools often prefer you don’t speak Chinese to your students so they can fully immerse themselves in English.

At the same time, knowing some basic social etiquettes will help you transition to the local life more smoothly! 

do you need to know mandarin to live in China

Expectation 4: No one will notice me.

Reality: Nope!

Chinese people are really curious about foreigners. In the big cities, it’s less of a problem, but living and teaching in China, you WILL have people come up to you and ask to either take your photo or take a photo with you. You may even feel like a celebrity at times. Try to embrace it and remember they’re just excited to meet you.

Expectation 5: I love Chinese food. I’ll just order what I loved back home.

Reality: Nope!

Chinese food is very different in China. You may see some similarities to dishes you loved at the Chinese restaurant in your neighborhood back home, but for the most part, it’s going to catch you by surprise. Don’t let that stop you though. Surely there will be some things you will not like at all, but there are going to be even more things you’ll want to eat every day.

what food you can get in China

Expectation 6: I can enjoy the sights during the holidays.

Reality: Nope!

In China, you’ll need to get used to the crowds. Even if you’re from a big city, the crowds in China are larger than you’ve ever seen. If you want to do some sightseeing, avoid it during the major national holidays as that’s when they are most crowded. Do use your school schedule to your advantage though. During summer or winter break on weekdays for example, it’s a great time to go to the Great Wall and other landmarks. During Chinese New Year or National Week? Not so much!

Expectation 7: China is an interesting country.

Reality: Yes, very much so!

You may have days where you can’t handle it and want to hide away, but most of the time, you’re going to love living and teaching in China!

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