What can I expect during my first few days in China?
Depending on your point of departure, you may have spent up to 24 hours travelling. You will be tired and your internal clock could be up to 15 hours behind Beijing time! School staff understand that newly arrived English teachers will be exhausted and jet-lagged from the long trip and will give you at least a few days to get settled in and acclimatised to the new surroundings before starting any training or induction.
Those who will be teaching at a public school, international school or a university should plan on arriving at the school at least a week before classes begin as there is little flexibility with regards to when you need to start teaching, given the set semester dates, and you should allow some time to adjust to your new surroundings.
Airport pick up
The vast majority of schools will make arrangements for picking you up at the nearest airport. Public schools and universities will mostly likely send someone from the foreign affairs office to meet you, while private language schools will generally ask a current teacher or a staff member from their foreign teacher department to meet you.
Setting up a Chinese bank account
Often during your first day or two in China someone will accompany you to the school’s local bank branch so you can open up a new bank account for the purpose of getting paid every month. You may also need to convert your foreign currency into renminbi (RMB) as well.
Remember you’ll need enough money to live on until your first pay period, which is typically not until four to six weeks after arrival. YourCoordinator will be able to advise you on a suitable amount of cash or funds to have available.
Registering with the Public Security Bureau (PSB)
All foreign teacher in China need to register their presence with the local PSB. The school will assign a staff member with good English language skills and prior experience to accompany and assist you with this administrative task.
Within your first week in China you’ll be escorted to the local hospital responsible for processing physical examinations (medical check) for foreigners, which is required of non-Chinese citizen who will be residing in China for more than six consecutive months.
You will need several passport-size photos for this purpose, and a few more for the residency permit and foreign expert certificate, so the school will typically stop at the nearest photo store en route to the hospital. The school will generally pay for the cost of the physical exam and all other official documents, but you will typically need to pay for your own photos, which will cost around RMB50 – 70.
Be prepared for a shock when visiting a Chinese hospital for the first time as it will be quite different from anything you are accustomed to back home!
Support from your school
A friendly liaison staff member from the school will help you with adapting to your new environment, for example to buy staple items, use a cell phone, hook up to the internet, etc. Often this staff member is not paid any extra to do this, and will often go ‘above and beyond’ to help, so it is a good idea to be very appreciative and to thank this person publicly after you have settled in.
Traditionally, hosting a meal or inviting someone who has helped you is proper Chinese etiquette to show appreciation. Your employer may also host large welcome dinners for staff as well. Yes, you may be jet-lagged, but not to refuse such an invitation as you may be perceived as being rude or ungrateful, and it can be a good way to meet colleagues.
It’s worth keeping in mind that most Chinese people working in schools know foreign teachers are paid a much higher salary and are given special perks. The importance of inviting these Chinese colleagues out to eat cannot be over emphasised; it will not break the bank, yet will help you fit in and for them to see you as a member of the community, rather than as a ‘spoiled foreigner’.
Learning some basic Chinese phrases will also help you to get by, and win some cultural approval. Some participation in any form of meeting, teacher’s meetings, and official holiday celebrations will earn you respect from your Chinese colleagues!
Read our blog post: How to make a great initial impression in the classroom