My Top 5 Experiences While Living in China

I moved to China to become an English teacher. And somehow, I feel like the country chose me instead of me choosing it. After taking an online TEFL course, a teaching job came up in China and it was the first one that I applied to, eventually becoming the job that I took. Moving to China was strange, wonderful, eye-opening and life-changing all at the same time. Although I sometimes found it difficult to live in a country so different than mine, after 1 year of being an expat there, it nestled into a special little place in my heart. After 12 months of exploration and happenings, here are some of my top experiences from living in China.

Wandering Around Beijing With a Friend From Home

I didn’t get many visitors from back home in the U.S. While China is quite a far plane ride away, I did have one dedicated friend who decided to meet up with me in Beijing to explore a foreign land together. I flew in from Fuzhou and she flew in from Philadelphia and after an emotional meeting at the Beijing airport, we got our acts together and explored the city. We took rickshaw rides to nightclubs, spent an afternoon taking photos of each other around the Summer Palace and got fake dreadlocks put into our hair on the streets of the Hutongs. We wandered the Forbidden city, took a tour of the Great Wall and dealt with the language barriers and bus schedules together. It felt amazing to show one of my friends from home the country I had been living in when not many others ever got to really see what my life was like there.

Summer Palace

Summer Palace

Letting The Locals Treat Me

During my time in China, I found that a lot of the local people who saw me on the streets or in the store got really excited about meeting a foreigner. Many times, even when we couldn’t communicate by language, I was invited to join in on dinners, drinking sessions, bar games, dancing or VIP seats in the clubs. Sometimes I got invited for tea and other times I was propositioned for language exchanges, hangouts in the park and even mango picking. When I let my guard down and allowed the locals into my life, I was always pleasantly surprised at their kindness and humbled by their interest in me.


Being an Extra in a Commercial

Through a social group I was a part of, I came across an ad for foreign extras in a commercial. While I am normally quite shy and reserved, I figured it was a chance that I may never get again. I answered the ad and within an hour, I was at a professional studio having my hair and makeup done and changing into a costume. I spent nearly 5 hours on the set with a professional team and at the end of it, got a free meal backstage. I never did get to see the finished commercial, but I have a feeling it is something I may never get to do again.


Traveling Around Solo

Moving to China was intimidating at first and traveling around my new home city alone was quite daunting. Once I learned some of the language and felt more comfortable taking public transportation, I decided to take my first solo trip during one of my vacations. It was a big and scary step for me but I booked a flight to Xi’an and set out there on my own. I arranged all of my taxis and hotels, got a map, navigated myself all over the city and saw the infamous Terracotta Warriors. That solo journey was extremely empowering for me and one that I will never forget.

Terracotta Warriors

Terracotta Warriors

Partaking in The Culture

The Chinese culture is quite different from anything I had ever experienced, making it really intimidating at first. After getting a few months under my belt and giving into the local way of life, I really started to enjoy doing as the locals do. Using squat toilets became a preference, I started walking around with an umbrella for shade in the summer and learned how to properly make Chinese tea from home. I learned the language and social interactions and tried to speak to as many people as I could and learned a whole new way of eating like the locals do. I really felt like I belonged after a while and that was one of the best feelings I had throughout the whole experience.

Having tea in the park

Having tea in the park

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Shannon Ullman

Hey! I'm a published American travel blogger and teacher. My travel writing has been featured on Huffington Post, Elite Daily, Matador Network and Thought Catalog. I spent over a year living and traveling around China while I taught English there. I have also visited dozens of other countries around the world.