Whichever program you choose to join, a trip to China can be overwhelming and intimidating to first time travellers. While different, China is a beautiful, unique country with a lot to offer foreigners – but planning and preparation is key to a successful time. These are the fundamentals of a trip to China (things to know before you go!):
Preparing for a trip to China doesn’t mean you have to become fluent in Mandarin, but there is a lot of things you can do to make the most out of your trip. Here is a few simple things you can do to help get you ready:
Wechat is the primary social media & messaging app in China. Wechat is a must for those going to China for longer periods of time, since it’ll quickly become a part of your daily life. For shorter trips, Wechat is the best way to talk to and update friends back home (most American & western social media apps will be blocked). Before you go to China, download Wechat! Make your friends and family download Wechat! Get comfortable using it now and it will become your favorite app while you’re away.
Research (and download) VPN providers
Not everybody will think VPN is necessary to buy, but almost all younger foreigners who use it find it worth the money. You can find VPNs that will get you access to Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, and Youtube for a relatively cheap price. More than anything, VPN can keep you be connected to your circle back home, and it can help with feeling lonely or homesick while you’re traveling abroad. Whether you think you need it or not, take a look into VPN providers before you go, and seriously consider using one before you leave.
Research specific locations
China is a huge country, and experiences can vary across the board. Take some time to find information not just about China in general, but the specific areas and cities you’re going to. This strategy will also cut down on the preparation you have to do, since there will be a lot less information to wade through.
Sometimes it really is the little things that matter. What some people might call cultural differences, or even the “cons” of being in China, I like to think of as quirks. There are a lot of things that make China unique or special compared to other countries, and knowing about them beforehand can help to adjust while you’re there. Here is a few of the biggest culture shocks of being in China:
I feel like somebody’s watching me
This is something a lot of foreigners struggle with in China. There will likely be more than a few times you catch people looking at you. The best thing you can do is remember it’s never because they want to make you uncomfortable or are being rude – they are most likely just curious, and probably don’t even realize they’re staring. Never take it personal, don’t over think it, and you get used to it eventually.
Hot water anyone?
If you’ve read anything about China, you know you can’t drink the tap water. Anytime you want water that isn’t bottled or labeled for drinking, you need to boil it before you drink it. Even when you go out to restaurant, the water is usually served hot. You’ll get used to it after being there long enough, but if not you can always buy cold water at a convenience store.
Look both ways
Traffic can be a huge culture shock for a lot of first time travellers to China. There is a lot of cars, motorbikes, taxis, buses and people, which can make things chaotic. Be prepared to feel overwhelmed by it. But there really is nothing to be afraid of, just be careful when you cross the street and stay vigilant!
For the love of GOD don’t wear your shoes in the house
If you get invited to somebody’s apartment/house, make sure to take your shoes off when you enter. Remember when I told you it was the little things that matter? This is one of them. Nobody in China ever wears shoes in the house, for cultural and also practical reasons. Whether it’s a coworker or friend, you’ll save yourself from an awkward exchange by knowing beforehand to take them off.
Do you have any paper?
This is one of the pieces of advice for China that can make people cringe, but it’s worth talking about. Public restrooms in China don’t have toilet paper, so you need to carry your own. Bigger cities have started to shift to providing toilet paper, so this is most applicable to rural areas, but taking chances is a game I have played and lost dearly (Forbidden City. porta-potty. don’t ask.). You can buy little pack of tissue at any connivence store in China, or stalk up before you leave.
The best advice I can give for first time travellers to China is to just be gentle with yourself and keep a positive attitude, even if there are moments where you feel uncomfortable or out of your element. All of these things that make China different are the reason it’s worth visiting, so have fun with it and enjoy your program!