Published on:
June 12, 2018

by: Guest

Teacher Guest Post: When Typhoons Bring More Than Just Bad Weather: Culture Shock in Focus

China is exciting, exhilarating and ever changing, but with all of this comes a unique set of challenges. This week Opportunity China’s Shenzhen Blogger, Zoe Brent, shares an insight into dealing with a typhoon and the magnification of culture shock that this brought on.

This week, I may as well be posting from under the sea. Shenzhen was visited by Tropical Storm
Maliski this week, although when it did visit us, it was considered to be a red level typhoon, one of
the highest that you can get. What happens in a typhoon? The city shuts down almost entirely. I
have never seen a city, normally so crowded and full of people darting this way and that, suddenly become so empty in just a few short hours. The warning was called around 1 o’clock on
Wednesday morning and within two hours, you could not see anyone out on the streets. Shops
were closed, the metro was running a reduced service and there was almost nobody about that
wasn’t heading home to hide from the storm. Luckily for us, the main problem this time was the
extreme flooding. I basically swam home from school on Wednesday!

For most of Wednesday and Thursday, the city was effectively closed for business meaning there
was no school and nowhere to go and nothing to do for two whole days. Life in China is normally
pretty hectic, there is hardly any time to rest or stop, so this sudden change of pace was pretty
hard to adjust to. Public school placements are a 9-5 job, with plenty of classes and interaction
with students and other colleagues. The weekends are an opportunity to explore Shenzhen, with
plenty to see and do. Since coming to Shenzhen, I hadn’t really had any ‘down time’ to stop,
pause and think and needless to say, I did not adjust well!

Culture shock is something that I don’t think was discussed often in the expat community until
very recently. It certainly wasn’t something I had heard of until I started on this journey to come to
teach in China. It is not an easy topic to discuss; in short, culture shock occurs when a person is
living in a country (and therefore a culture) which is not considered to be their home culture which
they grew up in and therefore is isolated because of the cultural differences between their home
culture and their adopted new culture. It wasn’t something that I had even thought about often. I
guess I simply hadn’t had time to deal with these thoughts or feelings until an found myself stuck
inside a very small apartment with only BBC iPlayer for company.

It is not a good feeling. Everything that is different to your home culture begins to bother you,
starting with little things that slowly build and build until you get a feeling of ‘I don’t want to be
here anymore! I want to go home!’ For me, the culture shock experience started with the typhoon.
We were told only ten minutes before we needed to leave school that we had to leave right now or
risk being stuck at school as it was unsafe to leave. That’s China. You don’t hear anything from
anyone until it’s an end-of-the-world emergency, whether it be because of a typhoon or because
your class got switched to a different time at the last second. It started there for me and slowly
started spiralling into other things I really dislike about China, like the fact that nobody queues for
the subway or to buy things at the store or the fact that it is almost impossible to find a decent
cup of tea here unless you want milk tea. It seems like silly things and that’s what makes it worse.
You tell yourself you’re being silly and push those thoughts to one side and don’t deal with them.

As I discovered, that is a recipe for disaster.

What I learned was that it’s okay to feel these things, it’s okay to be annoyed by small issues that
seem so alien to you and your culture but are completely normal here. What is not okay is to let
those thoughts and feelings bother you. It’s okay to reach a point where I did where you just need
to check-out into a small bubble of England built in your apartment for a little while, but you will
feel worse if you cling to that and do not adapt to the new. Find simple things, whether it be a way
to watch the television shows from home that you love, or buy a favourite food online and to get it
delivered which will make you feel more settled and that will really help. There also places, in
almost every city in China, which are catered more towards the tastes of foreigners. In Shenzhen,
Shekou is a foreigner’s paradise filled with restaurants (including a German beer bar!) and
international stores which can help bring a little bit of home to China if you need a quick fix.

Living in China is all about being flexible. Go with the flow, try everything and try not to let
something unexpected put you out of your rhythm for too long. As for me, I found a quick fix to
culture shock. Once the weather had cleared, I went out for a delicious hot pot meal with friends
and went back to exploring, eating and having fun in my new country. There is so much here to try
and it would seem a shame to miss it just because you are feeling a little down. Go outside
(providing there isn’t a typhoon!) and eat that hot pot. You’ll feel better for it.

Zoe is part of the February 2018 Teach China Graduate Program. Learn more about the program and how to apply here.


Comments are closed.

Apply Now