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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Beijing, China

Submitted by orkst

What is the name of the city or town that you are reporting on?


Did you receive any cross-cultural training for your move abroad? If yes, was it before or after the move?

Nope, actually it all happened so fast. Once I decided on china as the destination, I only had about a week to prepare.

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If they speak another language in your new country, do you speak the language? If yes, did you learn the language before you moved or while abroad? If no, are you planning to learn the language?

No, i bought a translation guide before leaving,after a few weeks of being in china, I managed to pick up a basic Mandarin vocabulary. It's surprising how little you need to learn to be able to still accomplish so much. I was able to travel everywhere, go shopping, ask directions, meet and greet new people, just with about 20 terms. being polite though gets you a long way in the communication field.

Were you worried or concerned about culture shock before you moved abroad?

of course. my first trip to china was in the beginning of 2006. It was before the Beijing Olympics put china back on the map. at home in the states china was a mystery. it was considered almost in the same vein as North Korea, Burma, and the likes. Known to be a harsh place, where people struggle and live under a strict regime. I didn't know what to expect. But that's why I choose china in the first place. I wasn't interested in going to a major tourist destination. Hehe, it's funny to think of it that way now post- Olympics. tourism is a major industry all over the country. cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Qingdao, are just as modern as American cities. china's economy is getting better. Although even though now that I live in Beijing, and I don't see the struggling like I did in Shandong, I know that most of china is rural, and my original perceptions weren't so different than the reality.

How significant was the culture shock you experienced when you moved abroad?

I expected the people to stare, point and laugh. And that all happened. But I guess I enjoyed the attention. People are really friendly here. Things that shocked me at first were: people spitting out bones from chicken and fish onto the tables in restaurants, babies pooping on the sidewalk, guys peeing in public, no toilet paper in any of the bathrooms, toilet stalls with no doors, squat toilets, tough looking guys walking down the street singing backstreet boy songs out loud, the list goes on, but what's to expect.

Expats often talk about going through the "stages of culture shock." Examples include the honeymoon phase, the irritation-to-anger stage, the rejection of the culture stage, and the cultural adjustment phase. Do you feel like you went through these or any other stages as you settled into the new culture?

At first it's the pure thrill of being away from home, travelling abroad, cool sights, great food. But then, a bit of loneliness sets in. In the cities, it's not a problem, there are probably thousands of foreigners and Chinese who can speak English, but it's a different story in the rural areas. Your friends are limited to your co-workers, for me and most foreigners in the country side who are English teachers that is. But, something else happens. when you make friends, and they are really interested in YOUR own country. You start to think of all the things you used to enjoy whether it be music or movies, anything to show them. Then you realize just how jaded you have become back home. And, you start to appreciate things much more. Life seems fresh again. It's a great feeling. On another aspect of being abroad for a long time, meaning at least several months or a year, some things can get a little annoying. Like, you know when your saying a word correctly, but people fail to understand you, or if you do happen to go to a touristy area, it's annoying to be treated like a tourist. Please note, you always find that the closer you are to a tourist area, the ruder people become, the more scams there are, and the more thieves there are. I try to avoid those ares the most.

What, if any, were some of the changes you noticed in yourself that might have been caused by culture shock? These might include things such as anger, depression, anxiety, increased eating or drinking, frustration, homesickness, etc.

More open minded, I always thought I was open minded before, but I think its just an awakening being in a different culture. the longer you live anywhere the harder it is to keep being polite all the time as the foreigner. you start to miss food that you loved so much at home. I travelled all around China, and all the Chinese people and foreigners I met were always really friendly, but I found when you go to major cities like Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, the more you find foreigners you wished had stayed in their home countries. You meet disgruntled people here because their company transferred them here, or you meet college age kids who get drunk every night and start fights, or spoiled rich kids. It sort of ruins the experience. But, then again, if you stay away from the tourist areas, you might happily miss them.

What are some things you appreciate most about the new culture?

Everyday being a new experience and adventure.

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

Nothing is challenging as long as you have an open mind.

Did you "commit" any embarrassing or humorous cultural blunders? If you did and you'd like to share them, please do tell!

Go into every situation with caution

Do you have any advice or thoughts about culture shock you would like to share?

If you get angry or frustrated or lonely easily, living abroad won't be for you. You really need to love adventure. And remember to always be polite, you get more with suger than with salt.

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Comments about this Report

Mar 30, 2011 00:45

Thank you for the blog. I am an American and I have been a "foreigner" almost all of my life, having lived in 13 countries. We really want to move and work in China. Please advise what type of work or small business could be done there. Thank you,Wayne Email:

Aug 25, 2014 23:42

Very good insights, thanks for sharing :)

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