If you’re considering moving to China, you might wonder how your first couple of weeks will go and what it’s like settling into a foreign country and culture and a new job all at the same time. I just finished my first two weeks here in Fuzhou, so read on to get a glimpse of what it was like for me.
After nearly 24 hours in travel from Utah in the United States, I arrived at the Fuzhou airport late on a Tuesday night, where I was met by a member of the York English staff who took me to my apartment and gave me a welcome bag with some snacks, information about York and Fuzhou, and a Walmart gift card so I could buy things I needed for the apartment.
My apartment complex (or “community” as they’re known here) is located right on the Min River, and my view from the 20th floor is really nice. It’s relatively quiet, except for the sound of occasional fireworks (a common feature of Chinese funerals) and a couple of roosters early in the morning from somewhere in the neighborhood. The apartment is modern and spacious, with a balcony overlooking the river, and having lived in tiny bedrooms in New York City for the past few years, I was impressed by the size of my room.
Learning the Ropes
Because my school, the Cang Shan branch, has only just opened, I completed my two-week training at Ping Dong branch. The day after I arrived, my Academic Coordinator picked me up on his e-bike (which are everywhere here) and took me to lunch by Cang Shan so I could see my school, and then on to Ping Dong. It might seem crazy to begin training about twelve hours after arriving, but I think it was best to just get into the swing of things.
At Ping Dong, which has about a dozen teachers, I began to read training guides about York procedures and pedagogy, and I observed classes as well. When I wasn’t nearly dozing off from jetlag, class observations were a really enjoyable part of training. I got to see the kinder classes—the cutest little four year olds struggling to grasp basic phonics—up to the junior courses in which older students learn more complex vocabulary and grammar. The training also included workshops on modeling activities to your students, using the interactive whiteboards, and teaching phonics. I got to know other teachers from around the world, including a couple of new arrivals like myself and many who had been here for one or two years already.
Taking Care of Business
On my third day here, an administrator took me to a health center for my medical check, which is government-mandated for new residents. This includes blood and urine tests, an x-ray, ECG, and even an ultrasound. I was initially nervous, not just because of my inability to communicate with the doctors in Chinese but also because I’m afraid of having blood drawn. As it turned out, the whole process was quick and highly efficient, the admin was able to help with all of the necessary translation, and thankfully I didn’t faint when the needle came out.
After the hospital, the admin took me to the bank to get my account set up, I exchanged some dollars to yuan, and we went to the phone store to get a Chinese Sim card for my cell phone. I definitely recommend getting your phone unlocked prior to arrival to make that possible. If you can get your money changed prior to arrival as well, that will be one less thing to have to do here.
Hiking at Qishan
On my first weekend, I went with several other teachers to take a day trip to Qishan, a national forest park. A teacher had arranged for a van to take us there, a trip that took a couple of hours after some navigation and communication issues, but we finally made it to the mountain and began our hike. It was great to get out of the city and see the mountainside, even though it rained the entire day and some of the best scenic views were completely obscured by mist! The trip was also a way for me to chat with teachers from other branches and hear about their experiences.
Shopping in Fuzhou
Because my apartment was pretty bare when I arrived, I spent my first week making treks to Walmart and to my closest supermarket to buy things like silverware, dishes, trash bins, and clothes hangers. As you can imagine, simple transactions can sometimes be a challenge when you don’t know the language; one day after my total at the supermarket ended up exceeding the amount of cash I’d brought with me, I was red-faced as I attempted in vain to explain to the cashier that I needed to remove some items from my order! It’s all the more motivation to make a serious effort at studying Chinese, which York supports with free weekly lessons for its teachers.
I’ve found that many products have both Chinese and English on their labels, but some don’t. At the supermarket, I had difficulty picking clothing detergent, wanting to know what was in it but finding only Chinese packaging. Thankfully another teacher told me about Google Translate’s app, which has a feature that automatically translates Chinese characters if you hold your camera over them. A lot of other useful apps have been recommended to me, from translation and local news to video streaming and online shopping, as well as Didi, China’s version of Uber.
Exploring the Neighborhood
Because I did training at another branch, I haven’t been able to explore my own neighborhood as much as I’d have liked, but I’m slowly learning my way around. I like walking by the river at night after it cools off a bit, seeing the city lit up, people out walking on streets lined with beautiful banyan trees, and women taking outdoor dance classes.
You may have heard that foreigners can get quite a few stares in China, and that’s certainly been my experience. Usually it’s limited to just that—staring—but sometimes people will ask to take my photo or to take a selfie with me. I tend not to mind if they ask first, but I get a little creeped out if they don’t—like the other night when my taxi driver stopped at a intersection toward the end of my ride, wordlessly took out his phone and snapped my picture with flash as I sat in the backseat! It’s an element of life here that will take some getting used to.
With my training period complete, I’ll begin to teach my first classes at Cang Shan. My roommate arrives this week, and a six-day National Day holiday is just around the corner in early October, which means I’m scrambling to plan a trip for myself, which is difficult because there are so many different places I’d like to go! I’ve enjoyed my time here in Fuzhou and how supportive and helpful every York member has been, and I’m looking forward to getting more settled in to the city that will be my home for the next year.
Helena Duncan is a teacher at York English from the USA.