If you’ve taken a glance at our job board lately you’ll have noticed there are a ton of teach abroad jobs in China. This country has so much to offer teachers at any stage of their career including fascinating culture and language, competitive pay, great benefits, and a huge range of teaching positions.
However, if you’ve also casually glanced at the news you’ll have seen that China has some internet restrictions that don’t apply in Western countries, and this can make moving there seem kind of intimidating. It’s scarily hard to imagine life without Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube or Google, but that’s the reality of life behind China’s “great firewall.”
Can you imagine trying to get around without Google Maps or filling your lunch hour with endless scrolling? Even more importantly--how do you stay connected to family and friends with your most common methods of communication are cut off?
Well, luckily there are plenty of other options for international teachers in China.
Email might seem like more of a professional way to communicate than a personal one, but it’s one of the most reliable ways to connect with people all over the world for free. So even if you’re not planning on having long email chats with your nearest and dearest, you’ll still want to make sure you’ve got their contact details.
Messaging services have become a great, low-pressure way to keep in touch with people you love whether you want to send them some news, your favorite emojis (🐼🌏🍜🇨🇳) or just say hi. So, it’s kind of a bummer that Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and Signal are all blocked in China.
However, you might want to try out China’s own messaging service WeChat. This app is huge in China, so you’re almost sure to need it to keep in touch with contacts in your new home. But you can also download it internationally, so try persuading your friends and family back home to do so. It’s free, you don’t need to understand Chinese to use it, and some expat users like its easy-to-use interface so much they keep using it even when they come home.
Video Chat and Phone Calls
Time differences can make for some truly bizarre video call scenarios while you’re living abroad. Don’t be surprised if it becomes normal for you to be brushing your teeth in the morning while talking to your parents eating dinner or on your way for a big night out while talking to a friend who’s having her first coffee of the day. Once you get over the schedule mismatch video calling is a great way for you and your loved ones to get a glimpse into each other’s lives and really feel connected.
The messaging service Wechat also provides video messaging, but if you want to go with a service you’re probably already familiar with then Skype is also available in China. And, for those of us who get stage fright when it comes to video calls (hands up 🙋♀️🙋♂️) you can, of course, also use Skype as a regular audio calling service.
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Blogging might not be the most personalized form of keeping in touch with people back home, but it is a handy way to let everyone know what you’re up to in one swoop and create a diary of your experiences that you will enjoy looking back on.
You can’t access the most well-known blogging platform, WordPress, in China but it is possible to buy your own website from a provider, such as GoDaddy, and build your own little corner of the internet. Don’t be put off if you’re not the most tech savvy person as there are plenty of online resources to walk you through the process (that you can access while in China).
Letters and Postcards
Who doesn’t love getting something nice in the mail? While it’s not the most practical way of sharing urgent news, taking the time to write a letter or send a postcard is a truly thoughtful way to keep in touch. Remembering birthdays and holidays with a card or a letter can also help to make you feel connected to your own traditions while you’re abroad. And hopefully, you’ll get some return post too!
“Hopping the wall”
Finally, if you really can’t do without your social media, many expats in China install VPNs on their computers. A VPN (virtual private network) re-routes your computer’s IP address and gives you access to sites that wouldn’t normally be available in the country you’re in. But (and it’s a big but!) VPNs are a legal grey area and while many expats do use them, you could take on a considerable risk by doing so.
Why not try life without social media for a while first? We all know how hard it can be to unstick from the screen sometimes and many teachers come to find one of the things they really enjoy about teaching abroad in China is actually having a social media break.
A mix of all the above!
Finally, remember web restrictions and access can, and do, change all the time in China. During your time there you might find that more apps and websites you know from home are either made accessible or banned.
There are plenty of resources online to help you keep up to date with what’s going on, but your best bet is to not rely too heavily on one type of communication. Using a mix of all of the above should ensure that you always have a way to stay connected with your friends and family back home while you’re teaching in China.