For the past couple of years I’ve been wanting to see Asia and I knew it needed to be more than a 2 or 3 week vacation. One day I looked around and decided that nothing was keeping me in Canada but some cute family dogs (sorry family, I guess there’s you too.) So I booked a flight and let my 2 connections in China know that I was on my way!
Consider visiting first
Consider being a tourist first, not only will this show potential future opportunities that you’re serious, you’ll be able to really think and reflect on this huge move and if you’re up for it. For me, I was sure within a week of arriving. But I was also sure I needed to return to Canada and exit that part of my life responsibly. I will mention that many arrive in China to start new jobs without having ever visited, but many end up switching jobs in the first year when they learn more about which cities they like, what type of work they like best etc. It’s absolutely possible to do a lot of the important research before hand, but if you can stand the hit to your bank account - I recommend visiting first. If you know you’d like to eventually work here and you’re not interested in teaching English, it’s unlikely a corporate employer will take you seriously if you’ve never even been to China. Think about it, would you?
Better yet, study Mandarin in China first
One way to visit first and make a few new like-minded friends is to study Mandarin. I recommend choosing a small local school over a university class. The small class sizes are a better fit for many, instructors usually cater to where you’re at in your learning and not necessarily a set curriculum or schedule. Consider a school that has an immersive program like Mandarin INN. You’ll be learning Mandarin 4 mornings a week and attending different cultural workshops each month. From beginning to end, Mandarin INN will help you secure your visa, lodging and act as your home away from home while you’re here.
Exit North America like a responsible vagabonder
What will you sell, keep or give away? Selling takes the most effort, but if you have just a couple days dedicated to this it will be worth it to help fund your travels. Join your local Buy/Sell group on Facebook, post there and kijijii and you’re sure to get some hits. Think that old Christmas tree would never sell in January? I sold mine January 9th. For things you’re keeping, label and organize things in a way that you could send someone looking for it. Make a plan for your mail. Do you trust someone to open it and check for urgent things while you’re away? That’s ideal. Check with your phone company to for options about your cell phone. Obviously it’s cheapest to get a local sim card, but you’ll need an unlocked phone and in China it’s difficult to rely on any android phones because google applications won’t work here. I realized just how much I rely on google maps this way. I elected to keep my Canadian phone number live for the first few months, with Koodo I can keep their cheapest plan and receive phone calls and texts from back home. If I don’t respond it’s no charge over and above the plan rate. I asked around and an uncle of mine had an old iPhone that I could use for full map functionality. I also liked this approach because it meant the device I was taking with me had a story, it actually belonged to a late cousin of mine so it’s a nice momento to hold close.
Goodbye party or a never-ending saga of “when are you leaving?”
You may want a big shin-dig or if you’re anything like me you’ll want to spend quality time with the folks that matter most. The latter could take the better part of a month so get started early and take pictures that you can look back on when you’re homesick. If there are things you can’t live without, favourite chocolate, coffee or handsoap – stock up so you don’t have to say goodbye. This may seem ridiculous, but you’ll notice expats return to Asia with suitcases full of consumable items like this. Depending on your size (if you’re small) it’s easy to buy whatever clothing you couldn’t fit in your luggage once you’re here, it’s impossible or super expensive to buy your favourite lip balm. Burts bees for life.
Set yourself up for success – emotionally speaking
I know I’m going to be homesick - I’m planning for it. There’s my late cousin’s memorial tournament, my close friend’s wedding, my father’s 60th birthday, Christmas, and new babies being born, just to name a few of the huge events I have just signed up for probably missing. But I know there will be plenty smaller events and precious moments I’ll also miss out on. So I’ve printed out photos, even taken videos and I’ve signed my key family and friends up for wechat. These people will miss me too, so when they grumbled about having to download another app, I grumbled back that social media isn’t as accessible in China and the good ones got wechat.
*Note: If you have a loved one in China, get WeChat. You really have no idea how much it will mean to your loved one.
Stay tuned for part 2 where I’ll continue my story and maybe even write a portion in Mandarin! Here’s hoping my instructor Cici will help out.
Love and cheese,
About the blogger: Candice is a cheese-lover, a yogi and has a deep interest in languages. She’s from Ottawa, the capital of Canada and her favorite past job was as a manager at a bilingual summer camp in Canada. She already speaks English, French and is enrolled in group classes at Mandarin INN. When asked why she chose to come to China, her answer is a bit unlike others. China chose her, things all fell in place pretty quick and she flew over to this huge beast of a beautiful country without hesitation.