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Overcoming Adversity: 5 of the Most Common Fears of China Expats

Apr 20, 2017 By Trey Archer , Comments (6)     Add your comment Newsletter

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Living in a place like China that has a very different culture, language and ideology can definitely make the average person shake in their boots. I remember being apprehensive about the smallest things when I first arrived here five years ago just because it seemed like a distant planet in a galaxy far, far away. In the end I prevailed and faced my fears through trial and error, but for those who have just arrived, or for the ones who still haven’t gotten over the hump, here are some useful tips to help you integrate and conquer your biggest fears in order to become a true China expat.

Becoming a true China expat
Source: Renato Ganoza

1) Language
This one is a killer! Mandarin is one of the hardest languages to learn, and with thousands of convoluted characters, ear ringing tones and enough homophones and homonyms to turn a simple greeting into a burst of profanity, it’s easy to see why. For those living outside of major cities like Beijing and Shanghai, the fear of using Chinese is even greater since not many people will have a solid (or any) grasp on the English language.

There’s hope. Most people coming here want to learn the language, so, even in 4th tier cities it should be easy to find a language school that caters to foreigners, and/or a language exchange partner. Furthermore, there are numerous Chinese language apps to make the learning process a lot smoother, while some apps can even translate for you on the spot in case you’re still having problems with those tricky logograms.

2) Friendship & Dating
It’s certainly intimidating to meet new people from other countries since their beliefs, customs and habits are different from yours, and many of us expats work alongside other expats which makes getting caught up in the foreign circle away from the locals too easy. Meeting Chinese people is part of your experience here and can be an enlightening experience, so don’t let the cultural barrier scare you; there are ways around it.

First, get a hobby; I myself have met most of my closest Chinese buddies through martial arts classes. Second, kill two birds with one stone and find a language partner to practice your Chinese and meet new people. Third, use social networking portals like Weixin or Weibo. Fourth, for those specifically looking for a significant other, try a dating site like eChina Dating or OKCupid. Fifth, be active and get out of the house; friendships and relationships are often formed in the places you least expect, and not by sitting on your couch at home by yourself.

3) Food
This is another problem many foreigners have. Eating anything out of the ordinary can be a real struggle in this country if you’re not accustomed to it; and this matter is only complicated given the fact that the Chinese are notorious for eating anything that “walks, crawls or flies.” Like some of the other points listed above, sampling China’s rich culinary past is part of the culture, and it would be a shame to miss out on thousands of years of delicious traditions by eating Big Macs every day.

There’s no other way to slice it: To overcome your fear of eating Chinese food, you simply just have to dive in chopsticks first and give it a stab. The absolute worst that can happen is that you won’t like it. The best is that you’ll discover something amazing and broaden your horizons. Now, I’m not saying go out there and try dog meat or cicada right now. Just maybe try a new dish once a week.

4) Pollution
Pollution is a legitimate fear especially for those moving to big polluter cities like Beijing. China has 16 of the world’s top 20 most polluted cities, and spending a significant amount of time under a blanket of smog can create serious health complications. In fact, many expats, especially in Beijing, have decided to pack up and go home due to the pollution problem.

There are ways to “face the smog”: face masks and air purifiers are great tools to help reduce your pollution intake, while exercise will combat the negative effects pollution has on your body. The government is also doing their part and slowly but surely acknowledging these problems by implementing measures to reduce these complications (albeit at a slow pace). In fact, China is the world’s largest investor in green energy, so if you stick around here long enough, things will probably be a lot brighter in the future.

5) Safety & Health
Apart from pollution, you may feel like your personal well-being may be in jeopardy with all the other things China throws at us. With countless reports of fake alcohol, food contamination and even a slight increase in crime, China can certainly be daunting. First and foremost, becoming seriously ill or dying from food poisoning, drinking fake booze or getting mugged is still extremely rare here. I play the numbers and don’t take too much precaution and voila, I’m still here.

But for those who are more concerned, just try to use common sense. Don’t drink at sketchy bars or brand names you don’t know. Don’t eat off the street or purchase cheap goods at the supermarket. Don’t walk around the street at night in a sketchy neighborhood or go around looking for trouble. Using your head is the best way to prevent a problem from happening, and most of the time it’s a lot easier than you think. So next time you shoot down a 5 RMB White Russian made with Chinese milk and bootleg vodka in the outskirts of town with a group of gangsters, think twice.

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Keywords: foreigners in China Fears in China; China expat culture shock

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6 Comments ( Add your comment )


How about fraud, extortion, theft, and breaking contracts?

Apr 21, 2017 13:12

How about racism, bigotry, xenophobia, rudeness, and disgusting behavior like spitting everywhere?

Apr 21, 2017 18:04

How about horns blasting outside your window and people not making way for others coming out of the lift even in the most expensive areas in town?

Apr 21, 2017 18:43

Thanks ecc. I just became more stupid after reading that article.

Apr 21, 2017 23:00

I don't think any of those things in the article are "fears" except maybe for pollution. I've lived in China for 10 years. I still can't carry a conversation in Chinese. This hasn't stopped me from making dozens of good Chinese friends. The women will come to you with a cell phone to get your QQ and/or WeChat. All will have translation software. Although, most of the ones who do approach you will want money or a ticket out of China. So dating or finding a wife is never a fear. Food: yeah could be an issue; then again there are 1.5 billion people who eat Chinese food and are alive.

Apr 22, 2017 03:43

the worst thing that can happen after you try a new dish is not just that you might not like it but that you will spend hours and hours squating over a toilet. (true story)

Apr 24, 2017 13:10

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