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“Culture shock” describes the impact of moving from a familiar culture to one which is unfamiliar. It is an experience described by people who have travelled abroad to work, live or study and includes the shock of a new environment, meeting lots of new people and learning the ways of a different country. It also includes the shock of being separated from the important people in your life, maybe family, friends, colleagues –people who give you support and guidance.

When familiar sights, sounds, smells or tastes are no longer there you can miss them very much. If you are tired and jet-lagged when you arrive in China, small things can be upsetting and out of all proportion to their real significance.

No amount of research can prepare you for culture shock, but being well informed about life in China and what to expect will help you. We also welcome you to contact us if you are struggling with anything.

Culture shock can hit you whatever culture you come from and however experienced or well-travelled you are. There are a few things you can do to help so that some of the effects of culture shock can be minimised…

  • Understanding that this is a normal experience may in itself be helpful.
  • Keeping in touch with home is an important part of living in a different country. However, maintaining very regular (perhaps daily) contact with home, especially when you first arrive, or if you are finding aspects of life in China challenging, can actually make the process of settling in more difficult. Try to balance maintaining contact with home with taking time to get to know your new environment.
  • Have familiar things around you that have personal meaning, such as photographs
  • Find a supplier of familiar food if you can, or bring some of your favourite things from home to last you for the first couple of weeks!
  • Eat a healthy and balanced diet.
  • Take regular exercise – good for your health as well as meeting people.
  • Make friends with other English teachers
  • Take advantage of all the help that is offered by your school to help you settle in
  • Find someone to talk to who will listen uncritically and with understanding, rather than isolating yourself.

It is important to stress that culture shock is entirely normal, usually unavoidable and not a sign that you have made a mistake or that you won’t manage living and teaching in China. In fact there are very positive aspects of culture shock. The experience can be a great learning experience, making you more aware of aspects of your own culture as well as the new culture you have entered. It will give you valuable skills that will help you in the future and which will be part of the benefit of an international work experience.

Read more on our blog post: Settling in to life in China: culture shock becomes cultural immersion