Teaching abroad can seem daunting for many first time international educators. But having your partner by your side teaching in the same school can help ease the transition. In this post, one of our teaching couples at BASIS International School Nanjing share their adventure teaching in China, from adjusting to new food and weather, to embracing technology and travel.
Flight, Adventure, Explore
As an experienced teaching couple with an empty nest (and no broken wings), we decided that 2019 was the ideal time for us to take flight, seek out a new adventure, and explore the world. By the grace of God–and good luck–we landed here in Nanjing. Although it hasn’t always been an easy journey, we absolutely love life in China.
What was one of the hardest things to adjust to about living in Nanjing? For us, an easy answer: the FOOD! We admit that having recently lived in and fallen in love with the food in Mexico City, we knew we would have some adjusting to do. We were eagerly looking forward to sampling different types of Chinese food–dreaming of orange chicken, sweet-n-sour pork, egg rolls, delicious dumplings, and other delicacies we had grown to love in one of our favorite Chinese restaurants, P.F. Chang’s. Instead, we got duck blood soup, tofu served in a myriad of ways, cumin-laden sauces in some dishes. Certainly not what we had anticipated.
Grocery shopping was another trial altogether. The first time we ventured into the local supermarket, Suguo, because of the live fish and poultry, we wondered if we had wandered into a pet store from the supermarket!
It took us some time to appreciate Chinese cuisine, but we are gradually developing a taste for a few traditional dishes. We have discovered many Western restaurants around Nanjing and have found ourselves rotating through these on a regular basis. For other foodies like us, Shanghai is just a bullet-train ride away (1.5 hours) and has dozens of restaurants to satisfy even the most discriminating tastes.
Although Nanjing experiences four seasons much the same as many parts of the U.S., nothing prepared us for the sweltering heat that greeted us in July and lasted well into September. Two minutes after you leave your apartment, you are ready for a shower. It is THAT hot. Nanjing is one of the “furnace” cities in China and it truly feels like an oven in summer. Thankfully, everything is air-conditioned.
Spring, however, with its mild, sunny days full of the sight and scent of cherry blossoms goes far in erasing memories of the intense summer heat.
On the plus side, the quality of living is quite nice. We are able to travel to places we never dreamed of going and we truly appreciate all of the rich history and cultural diversity that abound.
Our bucket list is dwindling: Terracotta Warriors (checked), the Great Wall, the Chengdu panda sanctuary, Bangkok and the beautiful beaches of Thailand (checked), the mountains of Tibet, Halong Bay in Vietnam, among others. Travel here is very affordable and the choices are virtually endless.
During the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, of course, life was disrupted for everyone. Our school, which opened in 2019 under the leadership of Head of School Dr, Mark Starbuck and Head of Operations Dr. Wendy Ren, went overboard to ensure the safety and well-being of all faculty and staff, including extra pay incentives, extravagant care packages delivered to our homes during quarantine, and arrangements for weekend trips to explore the city once restrictions began to lift. Even as we teachers are adjusting to a new way of teaching, we have the full support and guidance of our administrators. We have an amazing founding team here, and the cohesion between administration, operations, faculty and staff is something we all take great pride in.
A pleasant surprise about life here is that there is no real need to tote around a purse or wallet. EVERYTHING is paid for using an app on your cell phone. Even street vendors have a QR code you can scan, so no need to worry about carrying cash. The apps here make ordering whatever you need simple–from your favorite brands, to groceries and wine. Just order, press the button, and it will be delivered to your apartment pronto. For groceries, in a matter of an hour or two, for most other deliveries, you need only wait 1 or 2 days to receive. Taobao is similar to Amazon, on steroids. You can find practically anything on this online shopping site. If in doubt of how to search in Mandarin, simply take a picture with your camera and the item is easily located–at an extremely affordable price!
Nanjing, a city of almost 9 million people–and China in general–is very safe. You can actually walk around after dark in most areas without fear. It is common to see children playing outside and riding their bikes, a rare sight nowadays in Mexico City or big cities in the U.S. Because laws here are strictly enforced, people tend to follow them and we have not encountered any instances of crime during our 10 months here.
In short, we love life in China and highly recommend it for anyone with a sense of adventure. Our campus here is beautiful, with an administration and staff that work together and truly care about one another. We are certain this was one of the best decisions of our lives. Be prepared for some magical times, a great quality of life, and friendly people–but don’t forget to bring your own salsa!
Felix Lopez Marquez is a Physical Education teacher, and Virginia Buehler is a Senior ELL Coordinator at BASIS International School Nanjing.