Whether you are a visitor going to China, a recent grad pursuing an internship in China, or studying abroad in China, you will get a nice dose of culture shock as soon as you land.

Long viewed by the West as a vast land of mystery, with intriguing and unique customs, China still captures our imaginations. Beginning as one of the world’s earliest civilizations, China has become the most heavily populated nation on Earth and has rapidly ascended to its position as a modern economic powerhouse. As in its earlier history, the nation remains a popular destination for game travelers.

For those unacquainted with the traditions and lifestyle in the Far East, the initial visit can provide somewhat of a culture shock, particular if making the journey from a Western nation. We’ve put together a few relevant issues to consider in preparing yourself for the experience. Here are a few examples of what to expect during a visit to China

Food in China is a nice surprise. At first glance, questionable. The first bite, addicted. 

Those Chinese restaurants you frequent on a Friday night back at home? You won’t find those in China. The food in China is going to be different to what you’ll be used to in the West. Various spices, flavor combinations and even ingredients can be unique and perhaps a little daunting to the uninitiated. The best thing to do? Dive in and try everything!

People, People Everywhere

Think you know what a traffic jam is? You may be in for a wake-up call after a visit to China. I think we all know there are a few people in China; it is after all, the world’s most populous nation. Still, you may be in for a shock. Cars are EVERYWHERE and the roads can appear to be in a state of complete chaos. Despite first appearances, it is at least organized chaos and it's best to relax and go with the flow. The drivers know what they’re doing.

Be prepared for the fact that you will stand out and because of that, you’ll receive a lot of attention, wanted or not. It’s simple curiosity, not anything to be concerned about. Enjoy the momentary slice of fame!


The problem with all that traffic is the havoc it plays on the air quality. The quality of the air around the major Chinese cities was brought to the world’s attention during the Beijing Olympics and the problem hasn’t gone away. The pollution problem is more prevalent in the winter as people still depend on burning coal for heat. Blue skies are endless in the summer! It may be advisable to travel with a face-mask around the major cities to avoid any respiratory problems the smog could create in the winter.

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Cultural Norms. What is really normal?

Personal space is an unknown concept within the borders of China. If you’re planning on taking public transport, be prepared to have people push, shove and jam you into the tiniest of spaces as they make room for themselves. If you may feel uncomfortable in such a situation, perhaps it’s wise to avoid traveling during rush hour.

Coughing up phlegm and then spitting it out in a rather noisy display can be a common occurrence among (predominantly) the older male crowd. While it may be a little disturbing at first, just ignore it as best you can and soon you won’t even notice (perhaps even taking up the habit yourself?)

Western toilets are out, squat toilets are in. No, you won’t likely be able to find a porcelain throne to sit on; you’ll have to do as the locals do and well…squat. Toilet paper may also be amiss in many places so if you find it a necessity, you may want to stock up and carry some around with you.

Communication- Adventures in Sign Language, giggles, with a sprinkle of confusion!

As you can imagine, English is not a language spoken worldwide. China is no exception. Although the levels of English spoken in the nation are on the rise, you may still encounter many individuals who speak solely in their native tongue. This is particularly relevant as you venture away from the main cities and tourist hubs. You may find yourself relying on a little sign language to get your point across! Fear not, non-verbal communication is still generally effective enough to ensure you are understood on at least the most basic of levels.

Note: Chinese Mandarin and Cantonese are ‘tonal’ languages, meaning the same word means a completely different thing based on the tone that is used. This can take some getting used to. The volume of communication can also typically be much louder than many Western Nations are used to. Don’t worry; they’re not angry, just communicating normally! 

Haven't been to Asia? Come to China to start building your cultural agility! Contact Miranda for more information at mm@mychinaopportunity.com