by Clark Nielsen, author of Yes China!
1. A laptop
You will need a computer while you are in China, whether it’s to look up new teaching ideas or to stay in touch with friends and family back home. Now it’s possible your school will provide a computer for you. It’s also possible that said computer will be a piece of junk. It’s even possible that this computer won’t even exist, and any mention of it was simply a lie to get you to stop asking questions. Bring your own laptop. It’s actually cheaper to buy a laptop in the US than it is in China, and most (if not all) laptop power adapters can support the voltage in both countries.
2. 3×5 cards
You can find just about any teaching supplies you may need in China, but the one thing that proved surprisingly elusive was a 3×5 index card. Oh, sure, there’s no shortage of small pieces of paper in a Chinese supermarket, but nothing feels as sturdy and versatile as a 3×5 card. These are great for flashcards, fake money, name cards, etc., and the thickness of the card means it’ll take the students longer to destroy them. Anything you pass out to students will get destroyed eventually, but I’ve found that 3×5 cards tend to last a little longer.
3. Gifts from home
It’s a good idea to take gifts from your native country that you can give to the Chinese teachers you work with or the other people you befriend along the way. You have to be careful what you bring, though, because the recipients of these gifts will often check to see where the item was made. If there’s a big MADE IN CHINA stamp on it, it can come across as tacky. Trust me, they’ll notice it. A unique local product (like candy) or a picture book of your home state can be a great present.
4. Extra shoes
I could never find comfortable clothes while I was in China. The shirts were too ugly, the pants were too tight, and the shoes were too small. If you’re going to be there for any extended amount of time, bring extra clothes! Especially shoes. You’ll be walking a lot more than what you’re probably used to, and your shoes are going to wear out very quickly. You do not want to have to go shopping for shoes while you’re there.
5. A friend
This may seem like kind of a cop-out answer, but I’m serious. Find a small friend or relative and pack them in your suitcase. I know the idea of braving a foreign country on your own is glamorous, but it really does get lonely out there. While I fully support making friends with Chinese people, at the end of the day, they’re not going to understand the struggles you’re facing in regards to the culture shock and being a foreign teacher. It’s a huge relief to have someone you can bounce ideas off of, someone who can relate to what you’re going through in this new and exciting adventure of yours.
Clark Nielsen taught English in China off and on from 2005 to 2010. He’s written two books about his experiences: A Quick Guide to Teaching English in China and his more personal memoir, Yes China!