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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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Highlighted Articles

Countries Closing Their Borders: A Quick Decision to Get “Home”

March 15, 2020


Sharon (Pseudonym) and I arrived back in Shanghai yesterday morning, after a quick decision to return before it became difficult.

We travelled from Edinburgh and transited in Paris before on to Shanghai. In Edinburgh and Paris it was business as usual; no questions, no extra measures, nobody wearing masks. Until we got to the gate where we boarded the plane to Shanghai. Here the passengers were all masked up as were the crew. Masks were to be worn for the full 12-hour flight. Temperature checks were taken as we boarded, then again mid-flight and before landing. Blankets, pillows, headphones were not distributed due to containment measures. There was a seating area sectioned at the rear of the plane along with toilet facilities, for anyone who showed symptoms of COVID-19 during the flight. Before landing we completed paper and online health declarations.

On landing, we were held on the plane, and called off in batches. We stepped into a different world, where all airport staff were in body suits, masks, visors, gloves. The airport had been configured to create channels for passengers to move through with stops to revisit health forms, complete more information and do temperature checks. We then passed through immigration (which was super-quiet) before being guided to an area where we reported to a regional team. Again, more health declarations and information gathered before being escorted to pre-arranged pick-ups or to pre-arranged buses provided by the airport. During this process, we were awarded a sticker (green – yellow – red) which determined our next course of action. We were accompanied to a driver who was waiting for us, to continue our journey home.

When we arrived at our housing compound, we were greeted by a team of ten people, made up of a doctor, local health team and compound management. Again, health declarations and temperature checks, before being taken into our home and our quarantine commencing. As David (Pseudonym) lives in the house too, he has to undertake quarantine with us, or we would have been taken to a quarantine facility.

So, we are home now and will remain indoors for the next two weeks. We did an online shopping order which was delivered to the gates. Then the compound guards left it outside our door for us, texting us when it was clear for us to bring the goods inside.

There are two lenses to view this through: fear or safety.
Fear, due to the unpredictability of the situation, the rapidly changing climate and lack of control. I did have a couple of moments. One where I had one foot in the amusing rabbit hole of ‘This is what it probably felt like when trying to smuggle ET to his spaceship’, then the other of ‘What if Sharon and I get separated. How do I know where she may be? What would be happening/ what could be?’ The what-ifs were lurking, waiting to grab and sink their sharp little teeth in. Families were kept together through the process. There were staff available to speak different languages and although there was uncertainty, it was very efficient and organised.

This is a country where health is priority. Containment measures are put in place to ensure the health of all citizens. Social responsibility is empowered as we are required to put others first by undertaking quarantine, to avoid any possible contamination. Everyone is mobilised to do their part for the community. Do I feel scared? The unknown is always a little scary. Do I feel safe? Absolutely. I know that the virus is a priority and is being taken very seriously. The actions of the country reflect this.

If you are planning your return – some tips:
• Make sure you have your own headphones.
• Dress in layers – the plane was cold, the airport was hot.
• Have extra snacks and water with you so that you can keep the hanger away whist you wait to leave the plane/get home.
• Bring distractions for kids. Talk to them about how staff will be dressed in the airport and that there will be temp checks etc.
• Got to the toilet before you leave the plane. Facilities in the airport are on lock down.
• Carry wipes. It can get hot and a little uncomfortable in the heat as you wait.
• Do an online shop that can get delivered as you arrive home.
• If you do not have a thermometer at home, buy one before you return. You will need to report your temp if in quarantine.
• Be mentally prepared for quarantine, either at home or in a facility, and pack a few treats to help you through it all.

Safe travels…and stay positive! If you are alone, keep in touch with someone in Shanghai and don’t be afraid to reach out as you go through the process! A reassuring text is enough to keep you calm.

This article was submitted by an ISC member living in Shanghai, China

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Comparing the Schools and Comments

Comparing the Schools and Comments: Working in Bangkok, Thailand

April 16, 2015


Around the world, there are cities that have more than one international school. Many times there is an American school, a British School, and an international school that uses an international curriculum.

Some cities, though, have MANY international schools!  When that is the case, how do the comments about each school compare to each other?

This blog series looks at comparing some of these comments, all coming from international schools in the same city.

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Bangkok, Thailand

Currently, we have 49 schools listed in Bangkok on International School Community.

Schools with the most submitted comments:
Bangkok Patana School (Bangkok, Thailand)17 Comments
Concordian International School (Bangkok, Thailand)23 Comments
KIS International School (Bangkok) (Bangkok, Thailand)61 Comments
NIST International School (Bangkok, Thailand)65 Comments
Ruamrudee International School Bangkok (Bangkok, Thailand)21 Comments
Wells International School (Thailand) (Bangkok, Thailand)18 Comments

Recent things they have taken on
“In 2012 the school implemented the Literacy by Design program for K3 – Grade 4, and the IB Diploma Programme in 2013. It also began scheduling more consistent weekly professional development meetings in 2013, including WASC focus and home group sessions, and grade-level meetings. As of 2012, it joined EARCOS and now regularly sends its staff to the annual conferences.” – Wells International School (Thailand)

“The ELD team just attended the ELLSA conference in Bangkok.” – Ruamrudee International School Bangkok

“In 2014 the school will be launching the Professional Development Hub, which is intended to be a central location for teachers in the Southeast Asian region to receive professional development.” – NIST International School

“The school is well-known for IB standards as quite a few of the teachers are IB Examiners and moderators. The Head of School is also on the Board of the IBO worldwide. Currently they are participating in a pilot study for the MYP.” – KIS International School (Bangkok)

Expectations of staff
“Teachers are assigned a maximum of 25 contact periods (45 minutes each) per week, while department heads have a maximum of 20. Minimum expectations include curriculum mapping on Atlas, and personal daily or weekly lesson plans that are attached to the maps. Weekly professional development is mandatory. Staff are encouraged, though not required, to take on extra-curricular classes or activities.” – Wells International School (Thailand)

“Expectations are high but lots of support.” – Concordian International School

“(Sorry, as admin it’s hard for me to comment, but teachers seem to work hard, but get non-contact time).” – KIS International School (Bangkok)

“High expectations, but with exceptional support and resources. Teachers are expected to participate in 2 extra curricular activities each year, which is quite manageable.” – NIST International School

Kinds of teachers that work there
“Approximately 30% of staff are from the United States, while the rest are a mix of over a dozen nationalities. While the school will hire inexperienced teachers in special circumstances, prospective hires should expect to be turned away if they don’t have a degree in education (or their subject areas at the secondary level) and a few years of experience. Nearly 70% of the teaching staff has master’s degrees.” – Wells International School (Thailand)

“Most teachers are from USA (there around 180 in total). A few are from the UK and Thailand.” – Ruamrudee International School Bangkok

“All teaching staff are fully qualified. Most are British, with some Australians, South Africans and Filipina. turnover is high. Last year 40% left. Most leave due to the lowish salary rather than because they are unhappy with the school.” – Rasami (Thai-British) International School

Housing
“Ruamrudee does have a housing allowance – B20,000, but it is part of the actual salary, so it’s taxed at 30%. So, effectively, the allowance is B14,000 – enough for a small local house/apartment.” – Ruamrudee International School Bangkok

“There is a housing allowance which is sufficient to rent a small studio. There is no extra for married teachers.” – Rasami (Thai-British) International School

“Around 40000 Baht a month for singles and 60000 Baht for teaching couples.” – NIST International School

“Small housing allowance.” – KIS International School (Bangkok)

(These are just 4 of the 65 different comments topics that on each school profile page on our website.)

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Comparing the Schools and Comments

Comparing the Schools and Comments: Working in Shanghai, China

February 28, 2015


Around the world, there are cities that have more than one international school. Many times there is an American school, a British School, and an international school that uses an international curriculum.

Some cities though have MANY international schools!  When that is the case, how do the comments about each school compare to each other?

Our new blog series will look at comparing some of these comments, all coming from international schools in the same city.

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Shanghai, China

Currently, we have 25 schools listed in Shanghai on International School Community.

Schools with the most submitted comments:
Yew Chung International School (Shanghai) (Shanghai, China) – 50 Comments
Shanghai Community International School (Shanghai, China) – 33 Comments
Shanghai American School – Puxi (Shanghai, China) – 18 Comments
Concordia International School (Shanghai) (Shanghai, China) – 37 Comments
British International School Shanghai – Puxi (Shanghai, China) – 25 Comments
Western International School of Shanghai (Shanghai, China) – 146 Comments

Salaries
“You can expect to make 16000 RMB a month after taxes.” – Singapore International School (Shanghai)

“Base pay for teachers with 3 or more yrs of experience is between $32,000 and $39,000 (tax-free). Entry level is a little bit lower at $26,000-$32,000.” – Shanghai Community International School

“I would say that teachers NET is around 21000 – this must be dependent on teaching experience etc” – Shanghai United International School

“The full salary is paid in RMB. The school adds an extra 500 RMB towards utility bills. The yearly pay is divided into 12 months. For newcomers, their first pay is in September 20th, although school starts early August. This is clearly stated in the contract but those new teachers coming in need to be aware of this that they won’t see money until September.” – Western International School of Shanghai

Hiring Policy
“Teachers need to have at least two years of teaching experience in order to be considered.” – Concordia International School (Shanghai)

“WISS starts recruiting early but is very fair to its teachers. Those who “may” leave have their position advertised and only have to make a final decision when someone has been found as a replacement.” – Western International School of Shanghai

“They rely a lot on hiring people who are recommended by current employees. You still go through the interview process, etc. My initial contact to the school was through a connection I had to somebody already working here.” – Yew Chung International School (Shanghai)

“They attend Search Associates in January. They advertise in TES and through Teachanywhere.com. They interview in person or via Skype.” – British International School Shanghai – Pudong

Recent things the school has taken on
“A few years ago, the school decided it was important to do open houses (like other international schools in Shanghai) and that added a lot more work for the teachers. But hopefully they discontinued that this year.” – Yew Chung International School (Shanghai)

“The school is now implementing ‘high performance learning’ initiative which is being implemented across all the Nord Anglia Schools” – British International School Shanghai – Puxi

“There were many accomplishments from staff and students. It is amazing how many different areas were top notch: Sports, drama department, music program, Chinese language and much more.” – Shanghai Community International School

Housing
“Furnished 2-bedroom for single & married teachers, not sure about families. Furnished means basic furnishings including TV, sofa, dining table & chairs, beds & bedding, bath linens, kitchen appliances, & basic cooking utensils & dishes. After one year, staff can opt to take housing allowance instead of school housing. Most people are satisfied with housing overall, although sometimes it takes several “reminders” for repairs or service requests in school apts. Utility costs vary but are fairly cheap. My average for electricity, gas, & water is 100-200 RMB per month. Internet is 1,400 RMB per year. Mobile phone depends on plan/amount of data.” – Yew Chung International School (Shanghai)

“Housing is provided by WISS for the 1st year. Teachers can decide for themselves for subsequent years whether they want to stay in the provided accommodation or find their own place.” – Western International School of Shanghai

“Hosing allowance provided but most staff pay a bit more out of their own pocket to live in more desirable areas Staff can chose to stay in school housing” – British International School Shanghai – Puxi

(These are just 4 of the 65 different comments topics that on each school profile page on our website.)

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