Enjoy Chinese Life

Advice for Teaching English in China


I’m proud to say that before leaving China I had a great 5-year run. During my time spent I met a bunch of people that enjoyed life in China, and just as many that couldn’t stand it. Some of those that don’t enjoy China life leave in their first few months, and while others stay for years and gripe. The ones that have it figured out, and really, truly enjoy China life have made a few decisions, and followed a certain mindset that I’ve found to be the key. Below is the combined advice of many people who have figured it out and truly enjoy their lives in China.


1. Learn the Language

I can’t stress this enough, so I’m going to keep it really short . People that make a half-ass attempt at learning Mandarin (or no attempt at all) don’t enjoy China as much as those that makea a serious effort at learning the language. There are so many ways you can do this, even if you’re not good with languages. My personal favorite is drinking games with Chinese flashcards. “Study” with friends at a local restaurant until you work up the courage to chat with some locals.

2. Never Let China Become Normal

” Keep Exploring” . What a cheesy over-used line. It probably got you pumped up at during your college commencement but quickly wore off when you realized there was no tangible way to apply it. Well you know what, you’re in China now (maybe because of the speech!), and there’s a ton of ways to actually take this advice to heart.

The thrill of China in the first place is seeing something new every day. You came here to get a new experience, and in your first few months you’ll see a TON of new and interesting things. But we are creatures of habit and comfort. We quickly start to fall into routines, and suddenly China-life is just life-life. All the new and interesting things become annoying inconveniences. Here are a few tips of things you can actually do to make sure you enjoy China and that it never becomes normal.

  • Go to a restaurant you’ve never been to, don’t know the menu, or don’t know how to order food. Understand that the awkwardness will fade and the food might suck. Take in that new experience. (maybe you’ll love the food!)
  • Get up early in the morning and watch (or do) Tai Chi with the Chinese elderly. It’s actually pretty relaxing.
  • Just walk around and take photos. You did it your first month, why not walk down a new street.
  • Take a random bus and get off at a random exit.
  • Organize a dinner with your friends to eat Chinese food together. Too often I’ve met other foreigners that fall out of the habit of communal meals.
  • Drink baijiu. Something interesting will happen, it always does.
3. Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously

It doesn’t take long to get tired of the constant”HELLO!!!”drive-by-shouts coming your way from completely random middle-aged men. At first it seems nice, somewhat odd, and maybe a bit charming, but very quickly you’ll start to lose it. These types of situations and more will come at you from all directions. China can be overwhelming, and the constant reminder that you are different from everyone else around you can really start to wear on your ego and disposition towards China.

So here’s the thing, I’m not telling you that you should always smile, wave back, and shout “Hello! How are you??” to every passerby, but at least take a moment, maybe a deep breath, and avoid the anger and frustration from seeping in when you’re having a BCD (bad China day). I promise this will help you enjoy China more than getting all worked up every time.

Here’s an example: I lived in Shenzhen and crossed back and forth from Hong Kong on a daily basis. The most annoying thing about crossing back into Shenzhen was how the black taxis (non-registered) would immediate set me, the foreigner, in their crosshairs and simply yell “TAXI! Guangzhou??”. It was like clockwork the moment I rounded the corner out of customs. So instead of ignoring them, I started to “get excited”. In Chinese I would yell back “啊,非常好!去长城吧!“[translation: great! can you take me to The Great Wall of China?]. They would either freak out and ask me if I knew where I was, or get the joke, and wander off to their next victim. Either way, I had a good laugh.

4. Take Your Work Seriously

I’m going to switch gears here real fast. Take your work seriously. I don’t care what kind of job you have or what role you play, if you don’t take what you do professionally with a serious attitude it’s going to bite you in the ass later on, in a number of ways. On the other hand, if you do take your work seriously, and take pride in what you do, China can be a great place to jump-start your career.

If you don’t take work seriously, you’ll eventually start to feel like you’re wasting your time. You won’t feel challenged, and (especially for English teachers) you’ll start to decrease your standards for remarkable work. Fall into this habit, and you’ll have a ton of trouble finding work after your squat in China is over.

If you develop a habit for working well, and respecting what you do, people will notice. China is a great place to develop your career quickly. As an English teacher I was given the oppotunity to become a manager, to regional trainer, to national trainer all in the span of a year. With that position I was then able to find work outside of English teaching and work in manufacturing & international trade. Hint: I was never that great of a teacher, I just really cared about being good.

5. Visit the Countryside

There’s a reason that English schools and job recruiters flood their articles and ads with beautiful pictures of China’s landscape. Because it’s incredibly beautiful. However, aside from that, it’s the small towns and villages where much of China’s real character and culture remains intact. Get out there and remind yourself that you’re living in a foreign country.

When Chinese New Years rolls around, you’ll have a decision. Accept the offer to travel back with a friend or student’s hometown to celebrate, or waste away in a city where everything shuts down.

6. Get out of China

China is a HUGE country, and I spent a lot of time exploring it. What I didn’t do well was explore all of the other countries around China. It’s an excellent jump-off point for countries all over East Asia, and you’ll never have a better opportunity to visit those countries. On top of that, China will start to ware on you if you dont get out from time to time. I’d recommend planning a week-to-month-long trip outside of China every year that you’re there.

7. Eat Chinese Food

The great thing about Chinese cuisine is the incredible diversity of regional styles. Once you’re in China, you start to get a real feel for how Chinese cuisine and many Chinese dishes are completely different from each other. It’s easy to fall into the habit of ordering Kung Pow Chicken or Baozi every day, so try and get a feel for which of the different cuisines best fit your style, and make an effort to add a new dish to your ordering every time you’re out with friends. You can check out our free guide to ordering Chinese food if you want some inspiration!

8. Drink with the locals (especially in Dongbei)

I’m hoping this picture sums it up, but some of the best times that I’ve had in China were shared over a glass of crappy Snow Beer or horrendously powerful shots of baijiu. Chinese people can be some of the most personable, friendly, and entertaining drinkers in the world. and once you’ve had a few, you’ll definitely get a chance to work on your Chinese without too much embarrassment.

It’s easy to forget why you decided to move to China, so do what you can to remind yourself every day. Make yourself uncomfortable, learn the language, learn the culture, and be ready to accept that there will be bad China days. Once you move back home, you’ll be able to look back on your entire experience with some incredibly positive light.