I thought I knew everything about China when I moved there at twenty-one. In 2009, I took part in the study abroad program in Beijing. I stayed for a year and went back. Because I took so many Chinese courses, I didn’t think I needed to do any other research about living there.
Within the first week I arrived, I found out how wrong I was. I tried to go on Facebook to connect to my family and friends, but I couldn’t get on. One of my classmates told me, later, that Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter are blocked in China.
My first month in China was me trying to figure out VPNs. If I spent time researching, I would’ve found a reliable VPN before I came. It might’ve cost a little money, but it would’ve been easier to get a hold of loved ones at home.
No matter how much you think you know, there’s always an unexpected plot twist in your expat adventures.
You think you know, but you have no idea.
Take every opportunity to move to another country like the quote from MTV Diary. (I hope I got the name of the show right.)
My major in college revolved around the Chinese language and culture. I ate, drank, dreamed, thought, and shat China. But there were still things I didn’t know. Things that should’ve been common sense for someone that studied as extensively on China as I have.
You don’t have to be an expert before you move.
You don’t have to go so deep in the history of the Great Firewall that you know whose idea it was. However, it’s a good idea to research enough that you’re prepared for something as simple as needing to look for a VPN before you come to China. Sometimes, there are things that research doesn’t prepare you for.
In China, banking is a slow process. Imagine the sloths from Zootopia. That is the most accurate depiction of Chinese banking I’ve ever seen. No amount of research could’ve prepared me for something as unexpected as that.
If you have special dietary needs or have certain medications you need to take, this is where research comes in handy as well. Especially medicine. If you can’t get a specific pill in another country, you will need to research what the alternative is for that country.
Researching things about everyday life in another country will help fight off culture shock, as well.
I don’t limit this to places I’m living in. I’ve been to a lot of Asian countries while I lived in China, and I made sure to look up every single one. Not just for the different tourist spots to go, but things a tourist might do that would be offensive to the locals. I wanted to make sure I was as good as a guest to any country as I could.
For me, it was a lesson learned
After I came back from my year in China, I made sure I knew what I was getting myself into before I traveled again. I went back to China years later, and I remembered to buy a VPN before I came to China.
A good thing, too. Because four years after I arrived in China, the country banned all VPN usage. Now you can’t buy a VPN unless you do it outside of China. The free ones aren’t reliable at all.
Moving to a country blind is one of the worst things you could do as a fresh expat. You could end up cut off from your loved ones that way, or it could be potentially dangerous if you don’t know the laws of the country.
If you know the culture of the country, the locals will appreciate you more. It will make your stay in your new home a more pleasant experience.