Highlighted Articles

From the Outside In – 10 Tips to Help You Adapt to Chinese Culture

November 3, 2020


Cultural integration in China may be the Holy Grail for many expats who head over to teach, live, and experience the country for a while. Although not impossible, reaching for ultimate integration is a highly challenging task and, if anything, it may just happen after years (if not decades) in the country.

Adapting to the local culture as a foreigner may be a more realistic aim, especially if you’re heading to China to teach for the very first time. Give yourself some time to adjust to the culture-shock, follow Western International School of Shanghai’s ten tips to help you adapt to Chinese culture, and you’re guaranteed to be on the right path.

1. Learn a little about Chinese culture and history before you even arrive

Alright, cram-studying China’s entire cultural history before you arrive might be impossible. After all, this is the longest-living culture in the world! Yet what you can do and what helps expats better assimilate in China is getting a general overview of how the country has evolved over the last few centuries. Knowing how China got to where it’s at now means you’ll understand the country’s sensitive subjects (leave the Free Tibet T-shirt at home, please), and that will help you behave in a more culturally appropriate way. Moreover, learning about China beforehand will help blunt that dreaded culture-shock!

2. Leave your preconceived notions about China at home and pack only an open mind

It’s fair to say that everything you think you know about China has been influenced by foreign media. To this end, the most important thing you shouldn’t forget to pack is an open mind. Nothing about this beautiful country and its immensely hospitable people has ever been rightly depicted abroad, so take that as the single most invaluable tip.

The very best way to integrate into Chinese culture, as an expat, is to know the real story.

3. Learn (at least some) of the language

Taking Mandarin lessons is the most important “first step” to finding your place in Chinese culture, and this is one thing you can start doing before you even travel. Linguistic fluency takes many (many) years, yet even just getting a grasp of the basics (like appropriate greetings) will go a long way to helping you assimilate in your new home. Being able to chit-chat in Mandarin and the local dialect of wherever you happen to be (there are thousands!) will earn you respect from colleagues and locals you meet, and this will, in turn, help you with the next tip.

If you’re bringing children over, international Schools in China will ensure that they learn Mandarin as part of their curriculum too, allowing them to really fit in and make friends across cultural lines.

4. Understand the Chinese culture of “saving face”

Showing up a colleague and even your boss in front of others may be acceptable in some countries, but it certainly isn’t in China. Saving face and protecting one’s reputation is critical in the local culture. Once you understand this, you’ll be able to navigate your way through social and work situations much better. For example, a teacher who wants to resign because they just don’t get along with their colleagues may simply cite ‘personal reasons’ for leaving. The fastest way to ruin any relationship with local Chinese is to embarrass or criticize them in any way, especially in public.

5. Find your voice: assertiveness and confidence are key

China is no place for a wallflower, and if there’s ever a teaching destination that downright demands assertiveness, this would have to be it. To outsiders, Chinese locals may come off as blunt or rude, but in reality, they live in a fast-paced world that requires very little fluffing about. So get with the program, be ready to stand up for yourself when the need arises (with your employer or landlord, for example), and don’t let anyone walk all over you or be a pushover.

Respectful assertiveness (back to #4) is the name of the game and, if you can find that much-coveted balance, you’ll do just fine in China.

6. Show respect to elders

Respecting your elders is immensely important in the local culture. You’ll soon discover that, in China, the polite form of you (nín) is even used within the family unit – not only for older aunties and grandparents but also among siblings of varying ages. Usually, titles are preferred to first names so, when in doubt, always ask a local friend how you should refer to people before you’re even introduced to them.

Oh! That brings us to our next point…

7. Make local friends and don’t get stuck in an expat bubble

It’s far too easy to get stuck in an expat bubble in China, a country whose culture can be overwhelmingly foreign for so many expats. But fight that urge and immerse yourself in local social groups instead, and you’ll benefit from endless rewards. Your first local contacts will undoubtedly be work colleagues, and this is an amazing chance to make new friends immediately. Understand the ‘give and take’ of Chinese social etiquette (they invite you out for a restaurant meal, so why not cook them a dish from your country at home?), and you may just cement some of the most rewarding and valuable friendships of all.

8. Hugs and kisses are frowned upon – keep your hands to yourself!

In local Chinese culture, public displays of affection aren’t often seen even among couples, let alone friends. Don’t embarrass your new local friends by giving them a hug or kiss on the cheek! Once friendships are cemented, of course, the Chinese can be just as affectionate as other cultures, but you do need to let them call the shots on this one.

9. Skip the Western restaurant chains and eat like a local instead

Not only will this save you some pretty pennies, but it’ll also show you how outstanding real Chinese cuisine is. Not sure how to choose a hole in the wall on your next lunch out in town? Ask that new local friend to show you their favorite haunt, enjoy what is bound to be an awesome meal and, to show your appreciation, pay for their meal. That’s a 3-in-1 win!

10. Find your own local family!

Marrying a Chinese local to better assimilate into the culture may be a bit drastic, we admit, yet accepting that invitation to visit a new friend’s family would be just perfect. Many big-city dwellers come from small rural villages, and they often return home on special holidays, like Chinese New Year. It isn’t uncommon for a new foreign friend to be invited to come along, and this is one invite you’ll never want to turn down. The unique experience will likely be an absolute highlight for you and, who knows, you may gain a new local family of your own. Moving to China and trying to integrate into the local culture may seem like an impossible task to foreigners. But it needn’t be! Simply follow some tried-and-true tips from those who’ve come before you, and you’ll soon feel right at home.

This article was submitted by Western International School in Shanghai. Check out more about this school by clicking on the following links: https://www.wiss.cn/welcome/work-at-wiss/ https://www.wiss.cn/welcome/our-team/post=8128&action=edit

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Discussion Topics

Find out what languages your host country speaks and the level of English spoken there

March 17, 2015


Speaking the language of the host country is on every international school teachers’ mind.

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How great to speak the language of the host country well enough so that you are able to have some local friends who may or may not know English!  You might say that is every international school teachers’ goal when they move abroad.  Communication is the key, and knowing the language will also give you direct insight into the host country’s culture.

Many international school teachers do their best to fit in. Meeting new friends or going on dates in your new country is difficult, if you rely only on English language capabilities of the locals. That is why taking language classes and dedicating some of your weekday evenings to attending them is very advisable. Until you reach a comfortable level of proficiency when you can converse with the locals (at the market for example), it is important to find some of them that might speak English, especially during the first few months.

Everyone marks well in their head, their very first successful conversation in the new language. It is a tremendously liberating experience, which is inspiring one to pursue their way to a high-level speaking fluency and understanding without stuttering and asking people to speak slower.

Out of the 60 comments topics on each school’s profile page, there is one specifically about languages. It is called: “Languages of the host city and the level of English spoken there.

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From the Hong Kong International School (62 comments) school profile page.

Currently we have 150+ submitted comments in that comment topics on a number of school profile pages.

Here is a sneak peek at a few of them:

“The level of English here is intermediate I would say. Some taxi drivers know a lot and some don’t know very much. The people working in stores know an intermediate level of proficiency. People speak Italian here, but that is not to say that there aren’t people speaking other languages. There are many dialects of Italian that people speak.” – American School of Milan (Milan, Italy) – 23 Comments

“Spanish is the main language but you can get by with very minimal language skills. Most restaurants have English menus. Many taxi drivers can understand some English. In the markets the venders are usually indigenous and speak Spanish as a second language so speak slower and use more limited vocabulary.” – The American International School of Guatemala (Colegio Maya) (Guatemala City, Guatemala)– 40 Comments

“With basic level of Chinese it’s easy to manage. With zero Chinese it’s also possible but lots of things will be missed and at times it’s tougher to deal with everyday issues.” – Western International School of Shanghai (Shanghai, China) – 162 Comments

“English is spoken only in the school. Korean is the dominant language, and many, many fewer people speak English than in places like Seoul, but there are still plenty of people who can help you communicate. Many menus are in English too even if the staff does not speak English.” – Global Prodigy Academy (Jeonju, South Korea) – 48 Comments

“You will enjoy your stay here much more if you can learn at least some basic conversational Japanese. Although they study English in high school, very few Japanese on the street that you might approach for directions will be able to speak to you in English.” – Hiroshima International School (Hiroshima, Japan) – 64 Comments

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Surveys

New Survey: How important is it to be able to communicate in the local language in your current placement?

May 19, 2012


A new survey has arrived!

Topic:  How important is it to be able to communicate in the local language in your current placement?

We all dream of becoming fluent in the local language of the place at which we are living, but it is not as easy task…well for most people.  I know international school teachers that have only lived in their city for two years and they are pretty fluent in the local language in my opinion.  We all secretly hate these people.  Then there are teachers who have lived in their city for more than 8 years, and they still don’t really speak the local language fluently enough to have friends that only can speak that language to them.

When that is the case (you are not able to do many things in the local language), it is important to know what the English language abilities of the local people are.  In some cities (for example in Scandinavia) most people speak English at a fairly high level.  In other cities (for example in China) most of the locals aren’t able to speak English at a high level (with many of them not knowing any English).

Each city is different, even within the same country.  In turn, let’s (international school teachers) share with each other what the language abilities of the locals are with each other; what is it really like when living in that city.

On www.internationalschoolcommunity.com we have a topic under the City section that is specifically about sharing information about the language abilities of the locals.  It is called: Languages of the host city and the level of English spoken there.


American School of Barcelona

There have been 100s of comments and information already submitted in this topic on numerous school profile pages on our website.  Log-on today to check out the latest comments related to the language of the host country people in the cities that have international schools that interest you most.  If you currently work at or have worked at an international school, please also log-on and share what you know about the English language abilities of the locals in your host country.

So, how important is it to be able to communicate in the local language in your current placement?  Go to the homepage of International School Community and submit your vote today!  You can check out the latest voting results here.

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