Hi again, this is actually an article I wrote for a Chinese website, but I want to share it with you guys as well so here it is…
In my six month I have been confronted with a lot of challenging and strange situations, and here are ten (mental) things that helped me to cope with the cultural differences:
1) Don’t get scared
Before you come to China, lot’s if people are going to tell you a lot of stories and give you a lot of well-meant tips. Some of them (Chinese people love to eat dog, for example) are completely made up, others might really be valid and helpful. Keep in mind through that China is a huge country, where life in different environments can lead to totally different experiences. So get informed, but see your trip as an opportunity to get your own picture.
2) Tell yourself it’s China
Coming to the middle kingdom, you will encounter various habits or phenomena you will not understand in the beginning, like drinking hot water, eating warm breakfast or pushing into a crowded subway. Well, you came here to experience something completely different, so embrace all that might seem weird to you and accept that you are at the other end of the world where things might go differently.
3) Don’t worry
I have used three strategies when coming up against a problem in China, say a dispute with your company over working hours or failing communication with your family. The first one is the easiest one, of course, and the most popular strategies of many Chinese: Wait and see what is really going on. Often, there might be a misunderstanding or a way out you didn’t see before and the situation is not as bad as it seemed at first. Plans in China are often flexible, so why worry about not getting your weekend off when your host family is finally going abroad after all?
4) Don’t take your eyes off the ball
My second problem-solving advice is the opposite of what I just told you: Don’t hesitate to raise your voice and demand your right if you are really being misleaded or denied something that it yours. For example, if you don’t get your payment or the Sim-card your company promised you, you will never get it if you just keep quiet. Keep nagging all people that might (or might not) be responsible for you until you have what you want, in a friendly but determined tone. Or if you only fight with your host family, don’t hesitate to change families because after all, you are here to have a great experience and you deserve to be heard.
Last but not least, some problems simply can’t be solved. If there is no way for you to get a certain product you are used to from home, you have to ask yourself if you really need it. If you can’t find a room where you can relax undisturbed in your host family’s home, see if there is a cafe nearby you could maybe go to. Keep your eyes open for solutions that you might not expect.
6) Talk to people around you
China is a country probably totally different to your home, and you might feel the need to talk about all the strange things you soak up with your senses. Friends who are in the same situation as you might help you feel a lot better, because most of the time you will have the same thoughts and it will be easy to understand each other. Even when you are slightly the homesick, for example, you should be open and talk about it, you will certainly find out that some of your colleagues can perfectly relate to you.
7) Be active
A friend of mine once said that the Au-pairs who are enjoying their experience the most are those who do something besides working and Chinese classes. No matter if you go sightseeing, join meet up groups about a topic you like, love to sing in a choir or go out- you are in China to have a great time and to get to know other people (especially Chinese), and doing something outside work will definitely help you to socialize. It will also make you have something to look forward to on long working days, and something to talk about when asked “What did you do Yesterday” during Chinese class.
However, sometimes life in a huge city Beijing or in any foreign environment can be super exhausting. There is so much to take into, just when taking a subway ride or going shopping, for example. Give yourself a rest from time to time, if you stay for more than 3 month, no sight nore meet opportunity will run away from you if you wait a day.
9) You already won!
If you have made the step to go abroad, you have already been brave enough to face another culture and mature enough to leave your nest. And, seriously, this is more than many others can say who stayed at home. Even if you turn back halfway or leave your program early, you lost nothing and probably learned a lot from your experience, culturally and personally. Keep your head up, even if it is not easy, it is an adventure and you will certainly gain from it.
10) Be positive!!!!
This is the most important rule for going abroad, and it cannot be said often enough – SAY YES! Embrace your country’s culture, take up all the new situations, be open to the people around you, admit all of the mixed feelings you have and soak up what you can! So try to focus on the good things and look at the bright sides of a situation, even though it might be difficult. It is your life, it is your time and your chance – use it and take it!