How Much Do You Need to Prepare to Move Abroad?
This week, Amy, a New Zealand native and seasoned expat, shares how she prepared to move to China.
Here’s what she had to say:
When my partner and I moved to China, we didn’t prepare a thing.
We decided we wanted to travel the world while working to sustain an income. So, we did a TEFL course, applied for a teaching job and landed in China, all in under two months. In the month leading up to us leaving, my partner proposed, and all of a sudden we had a leaving and engagement party to organize.
These time restrictions combined with blissful ignorance meant we were entirely unprepared. China, how different could it be? We went to school with plenty of Chinese kids in our hometown of Auckland, New Zealand, we knew how to eat with chopsticks, and everyone speaks a little bit of English… right? How wrong we were.
We landed in Fuzhou, China with our backpacking packs half-full for the year we were to live there. For some reason I packed exclusively crop tops to go with my floor length velvet skirt…? On the first night out with our friends I wore a crop top and got hissed and glared at by several older people. My failure to research cultural norms in 3rd tier Chinese cities left me feeling incredibly red-faced and disrespectful.
But it was more than just clothing, it was my shock when we stumbled across our first squat toilet. I thought those were just a rumor? No. Squat toilets make up 99.999% of public toilets in China. (in my opinion) So I sucked it up, took a squat, and pissed on my foot.
Our first morning we were tired and jet lagged, no bother! Wee thought a coffee on the way to school will sort us out. Wrong again! In Fuzhou in 2013, café culture was in its infancy and there were no places near us serving anything except warm soy milk.
The list goes on; my horror of watching a chicken being killed by the butcher under our apartment building, my partner wearing fish blood after passing by the hatchet-happy chef to use the facilities out back. Every single thing, every single interaction, every little moment of every day was completely foreign to us. We never really had any idea of what was going on around us.
It took us about a month of living off the same three dishes we knew how to order at a restaurant before we thought fuck this. So we set about learning Mandarin, understanding the culture and trying to do things the “Chinese” way.
And sure, I know how stupid we sound, we were young and naive and had lived our lives in absolute comfort in Auckland. We had no idea what we were getting into. We couldn’t conceptualize how different Fuzhou would be, because we simply had never lived that experience before arriving there. Imagining how different it would be from our normal lives just wasn’t a possibility.
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Looking back, I wish we would have packed better and learnt some Mandarin before making the big move. But the truth is that we worked with people who had packed properly and could speak some Mandarin, and knowing all of this never made any one of them more prepared. Emotionally, mentally, it is draining living in a country so foreign to your own. You can never prepare enough. The only way to prepare is by being there and living the experience.
So to answer the question – how prepared do you really need to be to move to somewhere like China? Well, that’s up to you. Really all you need to prepare is your sense of adventure.
…And your passport.