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10 Things NOT to Do on a Short-term Trip to China

It’s that time of the year again!

Believe it or not, the summer season is just around the corner and we know many churches and ministries are gearing up their teams for short-term trips to China.

To assist in your training and preparation, here’s a helpful list of things to avoid on a short-term trip to China. We hope that with these things in mind, your team will have a fruitful experience serving those in the Middle Kingdom.

一路顺风 (yīlùshùnfēng), Wishing you a pleasant journey!

1. Don’t be afraid of ambiguity.  Ambiguity, or that feeling of not knowing what in the world is going on, is a permanent state of affairs when living cross-culturally, as you grapple with a language that is different, customs that seem strange, and social systems that seem opaque. Don’t fear it; learn to tolerate it! You don’t have to agree with it, but you can say, “I don’t have a clue what’s going on around me and that’s just fine!”

2. Don’t try to change China. People in China have been doing things their way for thousands of years, and they are not going to change just because you showed up, no matter how noble your reasons for being there might be. The burden of change is on you, not the locals. In many cases, just because things are different, doesn’t mean they’re wrong.

3. Don’t take your sense of entitlement with you. In the West, we have many rights that we should be thankful for, but they are not automatically transferrable. We cannot speak freely on any topic that comes to mind or form some sort of social organization without permission. We are not even entitled to the level of convenience and efficiency that we are used to “back home.” Leaving our sense of entitlement behind frees us up to view everything (good or annoying) as a privilege.

4. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Look for the humor in everyday life. Remember that you are often the main source of the joke. Laughter beats fretting every time!

5. Don’t be afraid of making cultural mistakes; they are an inevitable part of cross-cultural living. You will make them. In most cases locals are gracious to foreigners and their cultural mistakes, especially when they see that a person is genuinely trying to be a learner. And remember, mistakes are a necessary part of learning.

6. Don’t ask too many “why” questions. If the question is driven by a true desire to understand, then it is fine; however, most of the time, it simply means “it’s not like this back home, so it shouldn’t be like this here,” and excessive use of the question just opens the door for a rant.

Having said that…

7. Don’t assume. As foreigners, we are guests in someone else’s country. Approach an unfamiliar situation with a humble learning posture. Those in the Chinese culture may be too shy to come out and tell you if something is offensive. So to avoid damaging a relationship, don’t be afraid to ask when you are unsure. Locals will appreciate that.

8.  Don’t try to become an “insider.” By nature and definition, a non-Chinese is a foreigner; an outsider. There is nothing that we can do to become insiders. Instead, strive to become “an acceptable outsider.”

9. Don’t talk too much. This is a particular challenge for anyone going to China as an English teacher. After all, talking is what teachers do. That’s true, but away from the professional teaching venue, try to spend more time listening and learning.

10. Don’t forget about the relationship. With great enthusiasm and passion, we want to share the love of God with those we meet in China. However, sometimes our exuberance overtakes our ability to see each person as an individual. The fact is that you won’t be there for very long but you’ll want to make a difference. Remember that each person you meet in China has a story that is very different from anything you can probably imagine. Suspend your agenda, and just focus on being fully present. In the end, they’ll be blessed by your sincerity more than by anything you say.

This top ten list was gathered from the ChinaSource Institute’s online course Serving Well in China.

During the month of May, we will be offering a discounted price of $20.00 for this course (Serving Well in China) as well as for the course The Church in China Today.

You can access the courses via our website here, or go directly to the course pages on Udemy:

To enroll in the courses using the discount, enter the promo code MAY.

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Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman

Joann Pittman is Vice President of Partnership and China Engagement and editor of ZGBriefs. Prior to joining ChinaSource, Joann spent 28 years working in China, as an English teacher, language student, program director, and cross-cultural trainer for organizations and businesses engaged in China. She has also taught Chinese at the University …View Full Bio

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