How To Overcome Culture Shock In China
Make a Nice Home
IF YOU ARE LIKE most foreigners, visiting China for the first time can be quite overwhelming. You will inevitably experience culture shock in China and sometimes homesickness.
Maybe a certain person will annoy you, maybe you will grow weary of disorganization of some sort, or maybe you will just miss your friends and family back home. In this section, I give you some ways of dealing culture shock and how to combat it effectively. One of the best ways of combating culture shock in China is to make your apartment a place you look forward to going home to.
Most places I have lived in China have generally been in a good location with nice amenities as far as Chinese apartments go. Decorate the interior of your apartment with things that remind you of home or make you comfortable. At the same time you do not want to be overly reliant on these little comforts because if you are, you may not ever adapt and integrate into the Chinese culture. Some things I recommend are warm lighting, a DVD player, a nice rug, some art to hang on the walls, and pictures of family and friends.
Other conveniences that may also help include a George Foreman grill, XBOX or other gaming system, and musical instruments if you are musically inclined. Also, spend extra money on some foods that are a little more expensive in China that may remind you of home, such as different cereals. You will be able to buy most of the above in China at shopping malls, music stores, or shops selling artwork.
See Also >> Hire A Chinese Interpreter In China
Be Patient and Go With The Flow
One skill all successful expats living in China develop is their ability to be patient and go with the flow. You will experience moments when you want things to be like they are back home. Maybe a class is cancelled with no prior notice and you show up to no students in class.
Maybe you make plans to go exploring in the mountains of Sichuan, but when you get to the bus station you are told no foreigners are allowed to leave the city for certain areas of the province during the holiday.
Or maybe someone remarks that you are fat for the third time in a single day — the Chinese views about being overweight are very different than in some countries and it’s not taboo to say someone is fat. Yes, you may be justified in getting angry and judging the ways things are as feeble.
It’s okay to get a bit angry and worked up, and don’t pretend like something uncomfortable didn’t happen if it did. But one of your best allies will be being patient and waiting. Learn to avoid situations that cause too much discomfort. When in China, I try to never go to the supermarket or shopping mall on weekends because there are too many people and it gets loud and crowded. If I know a particular restaurant is notorious for making different food from what I order, I stay away from it. If one of my colleagues is a jerk, I stay away from him or her. From time to time, you may also need to follow a system that seems backward in order to get what you want.
Plan More Accordingly
Train tickets are only sold a couple weeks before the departure date and so this may make planning trips ahead of time difficult or nerve racking at times. Your school might not tell you your class schedule until the day before classes. You will wonder why you get paid in cash and why the school doesn’t just deposit money directly into your account. Whatever the seemingly strange and inefficient system is, don’t get worked up about it, just go with it.
Embrace ambiguity and you will go far. Living in China teaches you to be comfortable with not knowing. It’s not only the foreigners who don’t know what’s going on. The Chinese people don’t know either. Everything is changing too quickly.
Call Back Home Regularly
You probably don’t need me to tell you, but calling your friends and family back home is also a good way to combat culture shock in China and homesickness. Although you may have many good Chinese friends, speaking with them is not the same as speaking with someone from your home country. You will be able to vent a little to them, but don’t expect them to understand what you are going through.
They probably haven’t had that type of experience to know what you are feeling. I usually use Skype to call home since it is free from computer to computer and very cheap (2 US cents a minute) to call a cell phone.
If you haven’t figured this out by now, you should. Complaining doesn’t change anything, it brings others down and it drains a lot of energy. When I hear foreigners complaining to each other in China, I typically stay away. If my closest foreign friends are complaining too much, I limit our interactions to hanging out only once or twice a week. People whining and complaining around you will kill your mood.
Complaining is definitely warranted sometimes and you should feel free to complain to your close foreign or Chinese friends when it’s really needed, but don’t make a habit of it. Complaining about China with fellow expats may be an easy way to bond, but the cost is high.
Watch or Read Your Home Country’s News
Watching or reading your home country’s news is probably not something you would immediately think of when you are experiencing heavy culture shock in China or homesickness. However, it is one of the best techniques. Hearing about what the Republicans are doing to attack the Democrats or what the Democrats are doing to the Republicans for five minutes is usually enough for me to feel excellent relative to my present circumstance in China.
Watching a car commercial or hearing about a reality TV show will also help. Reading stories about life back home or even hearing how slow life is in comparison with China will make me feel much better about being in China.
Even dropping an email to a friend for news of home and hearing that nothing very exciting is going on makes me happy. I know I am not missing out and that my present situation is okay. You are trying to experience what life back home is like without being there.
For me, the news and talking to people always helped me remember how mundane and routine life back home usually was in comparison with life in China. Learning about life back home will put everything back into perspective, and you probably won’t feel homesick for very long.
Return to Your Home Country Once Per Year
Returning to your home country once a year will keep life in China fresh. From time to time you might feel that you are missing out on life back home, but I assure you, at least if you live in the United States, not that much is changing. Leaving China for a while will keep it interesting, and when you come back you will be re-energized.
After being in China for a year or two without leaving you will probably have the feeling of “I need to get out of here!”, and leaving for a month or two before returning will be a good thing. Going to Hong Kong for a mini retreat to escape the craziness from time to time is also a good idea.