Settling in to life as a Kindergarten Teacher in Foshan
This week’s blog comes from Mahalia Peake. Mahalia has a BA in English from the University of Nottingham and is currently teaching in Foshan as part of the 2018 Teach China Graduate Program.
A Fast-paced introduction to life in China, and making New Friends
‘Fast-paced’ is a term you will often hear when talking about China, and my first day in Foshan certainly did not disappoint. After arriving the night before, I was taken to my school the next morning to start observing classes; being introduced to some of the children, fellow staff members, and the head teacher. As the first few days continued in this manner, I definitely felt a bit overwhelmed as I tried to take in all this new information while still recovering from jet lag, but by the end of the second week, I started to find myself adapting to this new, faster paced, lifestyle.
One thing that helped me immensely in adapting to the Chinese way of life has definitely been my work colleagues. They have all been in the exact same position, and so they are always happy to help the new teachers get settled in. For my first weekend in Foshan, the teachers took me to a western restaurant in order to help dampen any homesickness or culture shocks that I may have been experiencing. There are also many western bars in Foshan where one can meet expats from all around the world and discuss anything from life back home to adapting to life in China, all while enjoying a drink and some music. China is one of the most homogenous countries in the world, and so you will always find a friend easily at a western bar, as they are always excited to see a new foreigner like them. My first time visiting western bar resulted in me being added a group chat of 500 other expats and multiple invites to other fun events!
Adapting to Culture Shock
However, even if you surround yourself with foreigners, you will most likely never be able to avoid experiencing culture shock. When I first came to China, I had already told myself that I should be prepared to get stared at; however, I was not prepared for the level of intensity of such stares. In most western countries, it is considered rude to stare. In China this does not seem to be the case, so get ready to not only be looked at but to be stared at for what will most likely feel to you as an uncomfortably long time. However, if you keep in mind that seeing a foreigner in China is almost synonymous with finding a needle in a haystack, it is easy to understand their fascination, and eventually, you will no longer even notice that you are being stared at.
One culture shock that I prepared for but am happy to be wrong about is that no one has asked me to hold their baby or take their picture! Before coming to China, I had heard horror stories about foreigners having babies shoved into their hands by the locals and having their pictures taken. In my case, even though I have been stared at, it has always been at a respectful distance, and not once have I felt like my personal space has been invaded.
Foshan is Green!
A major misconception that I am also happy to be corrected on is that of the greenery of China. I came to Foshan assuming that I would be entering a concrete jungle with neon lights flashing everywhere, and while China does indeed have many of the tall concrete skyscrapers and exaggerated light shows, Foshan also has beautiful greenery surrounding these buildings. One cannot turn a corner in Foshan without seeing some form of greenery. Many apartment complexes, my own included, are built around massive gardens, that make it appear as if you are living next to a small forest.
To conclude, I would say that my introduction to China has been a whirlwind of activity, in which I have been both hit with culture shock and had to adapt to a new way of living; but also been pleasantly surprised to be proven wrong in my previous misconceptions. I’m looking forward to what lies ahead.