Learning And Living Through Culture Shock in China


Recently, we talked to Mary about her experiences being a new TEFL Teacher in China – and she had a lot to say. While our bellies are resting from yesterday’s feast, we thought we’d share this story about the most vivid adventure she’s experienced so far, and how culture shock came unexpectedly during the holidays in China.

While the culture here is so unique and different from my life in the United States, the most vivid so far was at a grocery store. It was a holiday and the store was packed full of people. You could not move without touching someone (I like my personal bubble). People were pushing and shoving to get the items they wanted. I saw a mother breastfeeding her child while picking out vegetables, ten employees were standing around yelling and arguing over the weight of produce at the counter while 20 customers were waiting to get their price on produce (including me), fruits and vegetables were smashed all over the floor and I almost slipped a few times.

Additionally, I hadn’t adjusted to the smell of a Chinese grocery store yet; it is such a distinct smell that’s a mix of all the exotic foods and spices, but still a bit unsettling to my stomach. I finally figured the only way I could get out of there was to not be myself. It would have been easy to start building anxiety and to freak out. But, “When in Rome”…. I acted as if I knew what I was doing and I pushed my way through, just like everyone else. I only looked forward to where I was headed and hoped there was nothing on the floor for me to slip on. When I finally got to the check-out lane there were at least 25 people in each of the 15 open lanes. It may not sound like much, maybe similar to “Black Friday” in America, but the culture and language barrier puts a whole different twist on the experience. Never going to a grocery store again during a holiday.

My story just goes to show that even as teachers, we’ve all got lessons to learn – and I’m grateful for those lessons each and every day, but especially when it’s my students doing the teaching.

Mary couldn’t have said it better! It’s time to be a learner – take a look at our Teach In China program and explore something new!

This post was written by Kelsey Burns.