Posted by Obio Ntia in Guest Bloggers
I’m Moving to China for a new job that I am supposed to start in two weeks but I don’t have my Chinese employment visa (Z-visa) yet. My employer is waiting to receive my approved work authorization papers from the Shanghai Foreign Affairs Bureau. They will then send me the employment authorization and visa invitation letter which I am supposed to take to the Chinese Consulate in New York. It can take close to a week for the docs to arrive once they’re mailed and close to another week after I apply to get my Z-visa. My nerves are starting to boil up and I’m beginning to worry needlessly about ludicrous potential processing hiccups.
This will be my fourth time going to China. My first was ten years ago during a college spring break trip. I’ve been as a tourist, a student and as a business traveler. Now I will be going there as an expat employee. It’s a much heavier concept when you know you are not coming back home after a semester or summer; when you know you are, in fact, Moving to China. Indefinitely. But definitely at least a couple of years. So, I need to make China home. And if you are reading this blog, perhaps you do, too.
To help make China home, add these three tasks to your own pre-departure checklist: Learn the language, connect with people (expats and locals), know which belongings you can and can’t purchase in China.
Learn the language
This task can’t just be checked off a list as if it’s as simple as sweeping the porch. But you can make great strides toward a workable comprehension and facility with the language if you put in some pre-departure time and effort toward the endeavor. It will get you far and you will thank yourself later when you know how to recognize the character for cashew on a restaurant menu and you’re severely allergic to nuts. And you’ll feel a strong sense of reward when you can successfully negotiate simple interactions like asking for and receiving directions in Chinese.
The bottom line is that since you will be in China for an extended period of time, it will never feel like home if you have no command of the language. We can talk of study techniques, resources and materials later, but all of that information is abundantly available elsewhere anyhow. For now, it’s best to move on to the people who can help you feel at home in China.
Connect with people
You are not the first person who is Moving to China, so why would you embark on it without interacting beforehand with people who have already made the move? Perusing this website is a start–kudos! Online expat forums are also helpful because they often offer robust discussions of issues facing foreigners in the cities you may be moving to. Then reach out in a more targeted way to closer connections who live(d) and work(ed) in China: alma mater alums, people in your professional organization/company or profession, friends and friends of friends.
Individuals who know you and your background can be a much better info source on China expat lifestyle than most generally available information. So, be sure to do an exhaustive search of contacts in your circles for the old China hands. The idea is both to minimize the cultural surprises and to establish relations with folks who may be part of your community in China.
Minimize your belongings
Throw out, donate or sell many of your things knowing that you can buy new stuff in China. For the things you need to replace in China, make an effort to go out and buy them in planned shopping trips so you get used to shopping in China. This is the biggest challenge for me. I just did a massive purge to fit all my stuff into four suitcases, but it was tough. If your company offers an ample shipping allowance where sending over pianos, sofas and sculptures is not an issue, by all means, move everything you own. But Moving to China can provide a chance for you to downsize and then buy new belongings which will give you a sense of belonging in a new country.
Have you done these suggestions in preparation for a transition to China? What other preparatory measures have you taken? What should be added to the list? Let us know in the comment section.
About the Blogger
Obio is an international educator who happens to write sometimes. He is moving to Ningbo.