My first month in China: Expectations vs Reality


Six months ago, I had never visited Asia, or even spent more than 7 days outside of the UK. The thought of moving to China was exciting but also terrifying. My family thought I was crazy, and some days so did I. I expected the first few weeks to be extremely difficult. I needed to find an apartment, start a new job, navigate a different culture and deal with a language barrier.

My biggest fears moving to China was the fear of being lonely. I am a very sociable person and I’m used to having a strong group of friends and family around me. The thought of going to China and knowing no one was terrifying. I knew that I would be able to stay in touch with friends and family online and over Skype, but I was afraid because nobody I knew would be physically there in China with me. Yet, the greatest allure of moving to China was the chance to embrace this independence and explore. I had been working in an office for two years since finishing University and the urge to stretch my wings and see more of the world felt like an itch under my skin.


Day 1 – Arriving in Jinan Airport

Leaving my family and getting on the plane was the most terrifying yet exhilarating thing that I have ever done. The journey of 20+ hours flew by (pun intended), and before I knew it was touching down in China. I was met at the airport by the company boss who ferried me to the office, where I briefly met some of the other foreign teachers before I was whisked to the estate agents to view apartments. Within 10 hours of being in China I had met my boss and colleagues, found an apartment and shopped in a Chinese supermarket.

Day 5 – My first night out in China

That evening once I was settled into my apartment the stress, fear and exhaustion hit me. The tears came, and I remember doubting my decision to move to China. Then there was a knock on my door and on the other side was two Irish girls offering support, friendship and tea. Since being in China, I have never felt lonely. It started with that knock on the door and before I knew it, I had friends in China that I could go to for anything. In my first month in China I had danced, ate, drank, and shopped with so many different and interesting people. This strong network of friends who were always there to offer me support and advice, meant that my fear of being lonely in China quickly vanished.

Day 6 – MEF September Training Group

Within the first week of being in China I begun training with a group of other new English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers. We watched classes, got comfortable with the teaching equipment and learnt songs and games to use. I taught my first kindergarten class that afternoon, it was a 25-minute class made up of 10 pupils and there was a trainer on hand to offer advice and support. I quickly realised that working as an English teacher for M.E.F. (Making English Fun) really did mean making English classes fun. The children are able to sing, dance and play games all whilst learning and when they’re having fun, you’re having fun too. My worries about starting a new job in an area I had limited experience were quickly resolved and I found it really easy and tonnes to fun to get stuck in.

Before I came to China, I expected the language barrier and cultural differences to be a real challenge to endure. However, the ease of using translation apps and the help Chinese colleagues offer meant that the language barrier has never been too hard to overcome. Though I am a far, far, far, far way from being proficient in Chinese I am proud of how quickly I was able to pick useful words and phrases. There were times when I did struggle trying to communicate with someone, but I was always met with so much kindness and friendliness.

Day 11 – Me and some other teachers on a weekend trip to the Hunan Mountains

My first month in China went so quickly and there was never a dull moment. I made close friends, memories that will last a lifetime and grew so much as a person. Moving to China was terrifying and I have never been prouder of myself for biting the bullet and doing the thing that scared me. All the negative expectations that I had were quickly quashed and the positive expectations have all been met. As the famous quote by Saint Augustine reads: ‘The world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page.’ Moving to China has given me the chance to start reading that book.