Teacher Kim Ooi writing for Hello Teacher!

Updated August 11, 2019
Kim Ooi

First week teaching in China

Moving to China to teach English is a life-changing experience. 

In order to help new teachers be better prepared for their new life, here are a number of things that you can expect in your first week in China.

Airport pickup and kind helpers

Most schools in China will send someone to the airport to pick you up on arrival and take you to your apartment. This person should be able to speak English. 

The schools are conscious of the fact that you may never have been to China before and do not speak Chinese. That’s why they will be keen to give you as much help as possible to settle in. 

The person sent to fetch you may even be kind enough to accompany you during your first week and to help with practical matters like translating, shopping and eating. 

If you are wise, you should plan to arrive in China at least a week before you start teaching.

Your accommodation

School apartments in China are basic.

As a minimum, your apartment should have a bed, mattress, pillows, duvet, bedsheets and pillow cases. There should be a bathroom and toilet, washing machine, and a kitchen with a stove and refrigerator. 

The apartment should also have a TV – just make sure the school has paid for the licence so you can use it! 

There is no central heating in China but your bedroom may have an air-conditioning unit. 

You may have to buy your own cooking utensils, crockery and cutlery. When you go shopping, be sure to buy mosquito repellent – you will need this in the summer!

The school will not provide cleaners so you may find that the previous occupant of your apartment has left it in a mess. 

Noise can be a problem especially when your neighbours decide to do some decorating. 

In China, sometimes there will be no water or electricity for several hours. The internet is quite robust in China but when it does go down, it can go down for up to 24 hours!

Typical English teacher's apartment in China.

My lounge room.

Typical English teacher's kitchen in China.

My kitchen.

Typical English teacher's bedroom in China.

My bedroom.

Jetlag and homesickness

China is eight hours ahead of GMT. 

You have had a long flight, during which you may not have slept very well. Your body clock has been turned upside down by the time difference. 

You may therefore suffer from jetlag and insomnia until your body adjusts to the new time zone. Remember to take some sleeping tablets with you to China.

As you’ll be in a new environment, you may miss your family and friends and have feelings of loneliness. 

Until you have met your students and made new friends, it is important that you make sure that your internet connection is working so you can keep in touch with the friends and family whom you have left behind.  

Culture shock

To Westerners, China can seem like an uncivilized country. 

It’s common for Chinese drivers to disregard the road rules and not stop at pedestrian crossings. 

Many Chinese people smoke. If you are not a smoker, you may find the environment in China can be unpleasant. They also spit and don’t know how to queue! 

When you are in a bar in China, total strangers may come up to your table and help themselves to your drinks without asking you first. 

This may seem rude at first but it is important to understand that they are just being friendly. They will share their drinks with you too! 

In Chinese culture, ‘face’ can be more important than truth so you may sometimes feel that you cannot trust what a Chinese person has told you. 

You will also have to adapt to an education system that is totally different to what you are used to or what your TEFL training has prepared you for. It’s important to be resilient.

Many Western medicines are not available in China and you may be prescribed a whole cocktail of pills just for a common cold. This may seem strange at first but the medication works, trust me!


Shortly after you arrive, your school will take you to the local entry-exit quarantine bureau hospital for medical tests. 

This is quite thorough and will include blood and urine tests, X-ray, ultrasound, weight and height measurement, sight and colour blindness tests, an electro-cardiogram (ECG) and a blood pressure check. Your school will pay for this. 

If you test positive for HIV, you will not be allowed to work in China. 

Assuming you get a clean bill of health, you will then be taken to the local Public Security Bureau who will issue a residence permit for the duration of your contract. 

This process may take a few weeks and your passport will be retained by the PSB for this period. 

Your school will also help you to open a bank account where your salary will be deposited. 

As a foreign teacher in China, you are an honoured guest and your school will be keen to make you feel welcome. 

You can therefore expect to be invited to a welcome meeting where you will be introduced to your boss, other senior members of staff as well as the other teachers in your department. 

At this meeting, you should also be told what classes you will be teaching and given your textbook and timetable. The meeting is usually followed by a welcome dinner at a local restaurant.

Access to certain websites

You may have heard that certain websites are blocked in China. These include Google, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. 

Before you arrive in China, you should therefore subscribe to a virtual private network, or VPN. I use ExpressVPN but there are a number of other options available, including VyprVPNNordVPN and StrongVPN.
All the best in your first week!

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