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Society & Culture

When and How to Come to China

Oct 09, 2013
  • Ryan Todd

    History & East Asian Studies Graduate, Pepperdine University

For the young and intrepid, China offers a world full of possibilities. As an American living in China I can honestly say it’s been one of the most fulfilling experiences of my life and definitely one on the best choices I’ve ever made.   For those brave enough to make the plunge and stick with it, life will most likely be skewed in their favor.  If not, there is one thing I can promise.  With four times America’s population, thousands of years of culture and history, and radical social changes due to economic growth, there will never be a dull moment.  

As an American expatriate, the community joined will also enhance this innate liveliness.  The expat community in China is massive and accommodating.  Various nationalities meet from all over the world and are largely in the same boat.  Immersed in a tradition, culture, and environment very different from their own.  The transition can be a shock at first.  But it’s easy to find comfort and support among the other foreigners. 

There are over one hundred thousand foreigners living in Shanghai alone and thousands more throughout the rest of the country.  It is a relatively elite group as China doesn’t just allow anyone to live here. There are essentially two general categories to which expats can be classified.  First are those living in China for business reasons; second are those living in China for educational reasons.  

The first category includes corporate businessman who are stationed in China because of their company’s needs.  Due to big business interest in China, either in making or marketing their products, this makes up a large chunk of the expatriate population.   With its’ vast market and growing economy it is easy to see how these people do very well. This category also includes expat entrepreneurs, or those who came to China to roll the dice and start a business. This country isn’t just for gigantic corporations. 

There’s plenty of money to be made by driven and enterprising Americans.  The wealth of opportunity is waiting to be tapped.  There are many expatriate-owned businesses throughout China and room for many more.  These businesses usually employ other expats when they can.  Small businesses still rule the roost.  Coming from a corporation-dominated background that might be a shock for a lot of Americans, but it’s true. China and Chinese culture is a friend of the little guy, and perhaps the most small business friendly culture in the world.

In the second category lie students and educators.  With it’s incredible history, growing economy and increasing prominence in the world it is easy to understand why people come to China to learn.  There’s never a shortage of topics and Mandarin is becoming increasingly popular considering its growing prominence worldwide. 

For those lucky enough to make it to China during their time at University, this is a tremendously enjoyable experience.  The U.S. dollar still goes far and there are some experiences you could never have back in the States: like cheap travel to historical and tourist destinations throughout Asia, local foods that make even your most adventurous epicurean squeamish and night clubs where you feel like a movie star. The lucky students in this category soon discover that they ironically have more freedom as a foreigner living in China than they ever did in the Land of the Free.  Most will cherish these memories forever and long to come back after graduation.  

For those who have passed their University heydays, becoming an English teacher is the most attractive choice.  Teaching your native language is one of the easiest jobs you can ever get and there’s an insatiable demand for native English speakers in China.  For those with the right qualifications and the willingness to move to China, a job is almost guaranteed. While it can be hard at times and, like any job, you will have responsibilities that demand effort, it sure beats sitting at a cubical back home. 

Additionally, for an entry-level job in China, it is a perfect set up.  Comparatively, teaching English pays well for the cost of living.  Pay scales vary according to experience and location but every new teacher can count on being paid well enough to have more buying power than most entry-level jobs in the United States. Considering America’s current economic predicament, this is an especially attractive option. 

The Middle Kingdom is making a comeback in all its glory and Americans should not discount the possibility of being a part of it.  There are tremendous opportunities and great adventures waiting to be discovered.  If the American explorer spirit burns within, living in today’s China should be a top priority. 

Ryan Todd is a History & East Asian Studies graduate from Pepperdine University. He has extensive experience teaching and traveling in the Asia-Pacific and currently resides in Taiwan. 

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