Blog EntriesCross-cultural

Our First 13 Days

If you ever move to a major city in Southwest China to study an obscure language at a Chinese university, perhaps the following insights from our first thirteen days will aid your transition.


Rent prices, like so much in China, can be bargained so entering the search prepared to pay for six months up front helps in bargaining down the monthly charge. Expect to also pay a realtor fee and a deposit (both are usually one month's rent).

Before signing a contract, the realtor will ask you to search the apartment and compile a list of improvements that you would like the landlord to make. Search thoroughly—checking things like drains, lightbulbs, appliances, and peeking behind furniture and cabinets. Only after signing our contract did we discover a major clog in the kitchen drain and that our refrigerator did not work. Thankfully, we have an understanding landlord who fixed the clog and replaced the fridge free of charge. We cannot promise your landlord will do likewise, however, so thoroughly check before agreeing.


Many people in China sleep on a bamboo mat. If they use a mattress, it is usually much harder than the Western counterpart. If your apartment comes with a mattress, you will probably think it uncomfortable. (A two-inch thick, rock hard mattress came with our apartment.) You can purchase a Western-style mattress, but it takes time. We recommend having your camping sleeping pad(s) at the ready to place on the rock hard mattress for several nights while you search for a new one. We also suggest starting your search at Ikea, but other outlets exist as well. Also, before using any mattresses included with your apartment, make sure to check the underside for black mold. And, as a warning, the amount you find may disgust you . . .


Speaking of black mold, it is a big nuisance in this humid region. You can, however, purchase cheap, non-electric dehumidifiers at Walmart and place them in closets to keep the mold away.


Reduce your stress level by not worrying about cooking. You can easily afford to eat out for twelve or more days as you settle into your new home. Plus, this region's Chinese food is delicious and you can find restaurants everywhere.

Language classes

As for classes, they exist if you study Chinese, but if you study a minority language the university here only offers six hours of tutored sessions per week. If you want a year-long visa you must immediately pay two semesters of tuition. Although we opted out of this option, you may pay by semester but then you can acquire a six month visa only. Thus, you will have to go through the time-consuming process of applying for another visa before you begin your second semester of study. Also, if you wish to save some money, the school will slightly reduce your tuition if you partner up for your tutored sessions.


Do not expect your tutored sessions to begin on the scheduled start date. The Chinese tend to hold schedules loosely. Always keep in mind that you will receive what you paid for—sixteen weeks of instruction per semester—regardless of when you begin (end dates are equally flexible and you can make up missed sessions). We advise patience and flexibility. The school must find you a suitable tutor and, when learning a particular dialect of an obscure language, this is not an easy task. It may help to have some previous connections with students at the school as they can send out a request for a tutor in their own networks. The school is very open to, even requests, you submiting a name for a tutor. Remember, your patient effort will pay off. This week, we found our tutors and have begun our sessions.

Visitors in White Coats

Lastly, we have little to advise about the woman that may come to your door in a white lab coat with a syringe in one hand and a notebook in the other. We shook our heads “no” and quickly shut the door. Perhaps you can find a more polite way.  Or, at the very least, find out what brought her to your door.

Image credit: IMG_2878 - Version 2 by Q via Flickr.

Jason Odell

When Jason Odell first arrived in China five years ago, his discovery of the country's ethnic diversity shocked him.  His piqued interest led him to teach English in a unique region of China for three years.  He, along with his wife, currently live in Southwest China and have started to... View Full Bio