A lot of our posts are funny. Sometimes intentionally; other times merely because of the subject matter. This one isn’t really intended to be – this is directed at those of you who are considering a move to China for an extended period of time. We remember doing a ton of research and asking lots of questions of ourselves and others before agreeing to come. Here is what we think you should ask yourself when trying to decide if moving to China is a good idea for you.
Obviously this can’t be comprehensive as personal details will greatly impact your choice. What your job will be, where you’re from originally, what part of China you’re moving to, will all impact your experience. However, we’ve seen the following as challenges that we or other expatriates have had trouble with and think you might too, regardless of your personal details.
So are you ready to move to China?
Do you get bothered by a lack of cleanliness?
Everything is dirtier than in the West. From the air pollution to the streets to the interiors of buildings. I think it’s a mixture of overcrowding, lack of health/sanitation education, and generally a cultural disregard for the individual. If you’re OCD (Obsessive-compulsive) or a germophobe, you really should stop reading and pick a different destination.
Are you open to trying new foods (or willing to cook for yourself)?
You’re mileage may vary but at some point you’re going to be in a situation where you’ll have to eat Chinese food (and not the Westernized version). Can you handle that? You probably will need to become proficient with chopsticks as well or you’re going to have to constantly bring your own silverware with you to restaurants (and look like a weirdo).
Are you willing to give up seeing your friends and family back home for a few years?
This depends on where you’re from but for anyone from Europe, Africa, or the Americas, it is quite a long flight back. You may miss weddings or funerals, spend time away from a niece or nephew that is learning to walk, or just lose the chance to grab a beer with your friends every Friday night.
Can you be patient?
Even though everything moves pretty fast over here, normal processes that Westerners are used to take a lot longer in China. Whether it’s in business or personally, most employees and companies are not going to move quickly at all. Customer service is usually very poor and rarely will someone follow-through on a problem without you personally addressing it multiple times. This is very hard for many expats in business as we have much higher expectations than a typical Chinese person would.
Can you deal with misunderstanding?
If you hold grudges or get easily frustrated, this is not the best place for you. You will have language or cultural misunderstandings quite often. When you get into a taxi, they might throw you out if they don’t want to go where you’re going. In a restaurant, they’re going to misunderstand your order. In a business meeting, you’re going to think you were going easy on someone and they feel like they lost face. The relationship is ruined, possibly with big repercussions depending on their personal influence level. Can you cope with this?
Do you have a sense of adventure?
This probably goes without saying but just in case you thought you’d come over here, make a lot of money and basically live the same life you do somewhere else, you’re sorely mistaken. Some people that we’ve talked to actually have this opinion. And they’re very, very wrong. Every day you will see things you’re not used to. Internally, China is changing at incredibly fast speeds and if you’re resistant to change, stay very far away.
Are you convinced that you or your culture has the best way of doing things?
My motto when moving to China was and still is… “It’s not wrong, it’s just different.” I find myself referring back to this whenever I come into contact with the inefficient processes or paperwork or medical checks. The way things are done over here may not necessarily be the way you would do them, or the way you’re used to seeing them get done. But you have to remember, just because it’s different, doesn’t mean it’s wrong.Â If you can’t accept that and you’re going to spend all your time complaining about the way things are done, please spare the rest of us and stay home.
And the most important question,
What are my family members answers to these questions?
Over half of expat assignments fail and the number one reason is the trailing spouse or children’s failure to adjust. Can they handle these challenges too? If not, the experience will be miserable for everyone.
So what do you think? Are you ready to move to China? If not, which one counts you out?
For those of you who already live in China… What do you think is the most important question to ask yourself before deciding to make the move?