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Waiting on Your Papers? No Worries! Here's 6 Reasons Why It Can Be Positive!

Guys, it's finally happening! 

My papers have all been sent in, and by the end of the day, I will have an email in my inbox telling me how and when to book my flight to China. 

I'll be honest, I never really thought that this day would come. I have been waiting to hear this news since the end of August, when I saw many of the other CIEE Teach in China teachers updating their Facebook statuses about boarding their flights and starting their TEFL journeys. For the whole month of September, I got their WeChat messages about what they were doing in Chongqing and what they were seeing. On Instagram, I saw countless pictures of Chongqing restaurants and street foods, Chongqing scenery, and all of the schools where the other teachers had begun teaching.

Over the past month, I have felt a rainbow of emotions as I have watched everyone else leave for China and have waited for it to be my turn. In the beginning, I felt a little disappointed and let down. I wondered if my school secretly didn't want me to teach there because I was under-qualified in their eyes. I speculated on every reason why my school might have been taking so long to send in my paperwork, which only made me paranoid.

Really, I was just wondering when it would be my turn to post Instagram pictures that would make all of MY followers jealous and finally post that beautiful status I had been saving in my head: 

"It's official: I'll be leaving next week to begin my adventure as a TEFL teacher in China! So long, America! Or should I say, 再见!" 

Eventually, I had to tell myself to stop being jealous of other people's happiness and to start focusing on my own.

It is true, my situation was very different from most of the others'. I was originally expecting to be on a plane and in China by the second week of September. When I saw the other teachers post about their first days of class, I instantly became nervous. "What if I won't be able to start teaching for another month?" "What if my students automatically resent me for arriving late?" "What if I can't assess their needs fast enough or build good relationships with them due to time constraints?" "What if I don't deliver quality material in the short amount of time I have with them?" 

All of those thoughts plagued me for a good two weeks or so. On top of dealing with my own thoughts, I had to deal with people always asking me, "When are you leaving for China?" "You still don't have a date yet?" "Are you sure you're actually still going to China?" "What if it's all a scam?"

All of these thoughts and feelings combined made me want to give up on my dream of ever living in China. I thought that this was the universe telling me to just pick a new aspiration and move on already. That is, until I gained a new perspective. 

The truth is, living in China for 9, 10, 11 months is a huge deal. There are so many preparations to be made and so many details to sort out. After quite a bit of self-reflection, I have compiled this list of reasons for anyone experiencing a delay with their paperwork (which, as I was told frequently, happens a lot when dealing with foreign governments) to take a step back, take a breath, and realize that your situation is not a condemnation but a key for your success. 

 1. More Time for Buying What You Need

One of the first things I realized when I was selected to teach in China was that I needed to improve my wardrobe. I had just graduated college, so I was used to rocking yoga pants and t-shirts every day around campus. When I did dress up, you couldn't really call my choice of clothing "business casual." As a college student, I only owned two or three outfits that could actually fall under that category.

For future teachers in China, business casual is generally the best way for you to dress at school. Business casual in China may not be as strict as it is in the United States, but when it doubt, you can always reference the American standard when shopping. Basically, you want to look presentable and professional, which means no jeans and no t-shirts or tank tops. Also, for the female teachers, it is always a good idea to be mindful of the length of your skirts and dresses and of exposed shoulders. I was always told to be on the safe end of the spectrum by in China by covering up your shoulders if you can. Cover-ups and cardigans really can and will be your best friend! 

To bring things back on track, I knew that I had a lot of shopping to do to become a young professional. And BOY, did it take me a while! I'll get more into this in a later blog post, but if you are especially tall, wear a large shoe size, or are plus-sized, then you're really out of luck as far as shopping goes in China. So, for a plus-size woman such as myself, finding the right style and sizes can take an eternity. I also have the big feet problem, so I had to throw in shoe shopping into the mix as well. For bigger people like myself, clothes shopping can be a hit-or-miss activity. It really took a lot of the pressure off knowing that I had plenty of time to find items that were suitable for the job that I would actually love wearing. 

2. The Ability to Save Money and Spread Out Payments

When you start paying the fees associated with your teach abroad journey, you may become a bit overwhelmed when you see your monetary supply slowly disappear. The costs for the physical examinations required for your visa paperwork, your CIEE fees, and the cost of all of the clothing and personal supplies you will need to live in China for a long period of time can quickly add up.

The more you can disperse your payments, the better. The extra time between payments allows you to save up money so you aren't scrambling for it later. This is especially true for those of us who just graduated college and are relying mostly on our parents for help. I know that my mom appreciated the ability to space out our shopping trips so that she could budget her money better. Plus, I had extra time to earn some money of my own to cover some of the necessary expenses. 

 3. More Time for Packing

When it comes to shoes and clothes and makeup, I am a major girly-girl. So, being confronted with the thought of having to fit all of my favorite clothes and shoes into two suitcases caused me quite a bit of anxiety.

Your two suitcases can only be 50 pounds each, which means that you have to be selective when it comes to clothing items and personal supplies. To pack and unpack and still be at the 50 pound weight limit is an ongoing process. The more time you have to analyze what you really need to get by in another country, the more likely you will be to avoid overweight baggage fees. You will also be more confident that you have everything you need and everything you will use. Most importantly, you will have time to check and double check that you actually packed everything you planned to pack so you don't get a shock when you start settling into your apartment in China. 

 4. More Time to Study Chinese

Okay, this one I probably should have taken advantage of more. When you are in the waiting period, you have plenty of time to set aside for studying Chinese. If you study Chinese often, you will see and feel an improvement in your language ability before leaving the States, which can be a huge confidence boost. Even just 30 minutes a day is better than none!

If you really don't feel like studying, you can watch a Chinese movie or start a Chinese TV series to get yourself accustomed to listening to the language. Or, if you're more into learning about Chinese culture, then you can also allot time for researching Chinese culture online. All of the extra time you spend learning about your new destination will result in you feeling more comfortable than ever with the thought of living in a new place with a different culture. 

 5. More Time for Yourself

This one may sound selfish, but the importance of rest and rejuvenation cannot be disputed. As a Psychology major in college, I have read multiple studies showing the benefits of reducing stress through leisure activities. Some of the benefits include increased happiness and life satisfaction, better quality of physical health, and decreased likelihood of depression or anxiety. 

When you step off that plane in China, it's going to be go, go, go all the time. Between lesson planning, exploring, building friendships, helping out at your school, and actually going in to teach each week, you're going to get back to a life of strict schedules and time management. You're going to constantly be thinking about your students and your colleagues and focusing less and less on yourself. Teaching is one of the most selfless fields out there, which can make it feel highly rewarding. But if you focus too much on everyone else and not enough on yourself, then you're sure to burn yourself out. 

During this waiting period, take advantage of the time you get to rest. Sleep in, indulge in your hobbies, catch up with your favorite series on Netflix, and have fun-filled weekends. Especially for those of you just coming out of college, you can think of this time as an extended summer vacation. Now that I know that my summer vacation is actually coming to an end, I'm already starting to miss it.

There is nothing wrong with treating yourself to some substantial you-time. Soak all of it in now before you go and get back on the daily grind! You're going to wish you had it all back once you fly into a new time zone and start to feel the jet lag sink in. 

6. More Time for Friends and Family

Of all the items on this list, this one resonates the most with me. I am really close to my family, and the thought of having to leave them and my friends almost made me want to back out of teaching abroad altogether. While I was swimming in self-doubt and speculating on everything that could have gone wrong to keep me in the States, the consolation that I had more time to spend with my loved ones was what kept me above water.

Thanks to this month-long waiting period, I had so many opportunities to make fun memories with my friends. I got to take new pictures with them, which I will be printing out and hanging on my walls in my apartment in China. I got to share everything that I was excited and nervous about with people who wanted to listen. I even gained some shopping and preparation pals to help me make the move easier and more fun! 

I am having my final goodbye dinner with my friends this weekend, and I am actually not sad about it. The extra time I have had to spend with my friends has made me feel confident to take on China. It has made me realize just how strong our bonds are and just how much they are looking forward to seeing me pursue my goals. Knowing that I have that strong of a support system behind me, there is no need for sadness or fear. 


The true gem of China

Honesty is something that is frequently underestimated. The honest pursuit of wealth, or rather the honest gain of material wealth, Whats-more, the more important things: Happiness. Health. How often have you neglected your body? How often have you said you would put it off. I’m guilty. Be honest. Be true to who you are, what you will become. Always grow. Growing as you breathe, you can then learn to be one with yourself. Meditation is a key to knowledge. In order to elevate yourself, you must lower yourself. Let the qi and blood course throughout your body. You are alive. Make sure you always remember: this life is a gift. It is a beautiful, precious, and fragile gift. Don’t live it like you are dying. Live it like you will live forever. Don’t drown your pain in alcohol or material possessions. At the end of your life, what will you have to draw from? One second by every second, slowly, slowly. Rome was not built in a day, or even in many years. People died. People suffered. Everything revolves around time. 


In China, honesty is a huge part of the culture. Rather than the pursuit of money and power, they have thousands of years of history to draw from. They are the world’s oldest civilization with a rich language that much of the Western world feels is a mystery. We know their symbols, their emblems, and the main idea of their culture. Honor your father and mother. Honor yourself. Honor your relationships. Honor is the root, but honesty and compassion tie hand in hand with that. Without true expression of emotions, you are simply a “human doing” not a “human being”. 


China has taught me valuable lessons about my life, but it is not the society itself or the complex language or any of those things that are the true gem of China. Chinese culture is the true beauty. Chinese medicine has been proven to work across thousands of years. Why now, in the west, we consider it quackery is a bigger mystery than the traditional script itself. 


In the West we honor the Asian society but we know nothing of its wonder and beauty. There is so much left untouched, so much more left to be explored. Don’t get my meaning confused.. China is not a utopia. There is ignorance that runs in families even.. just as frequently as the United States. It’s a deeper wound than we thought in the world. We all bleed the same red blood. We are one, but so drastically apart from one another that some bleed to forget it. 


I won’t pretend to have knowledge of anything I am not capable of having knowledge of. When I came to China, I could barely form correct English sentences due to my physical and mental exhaustion prior to my arrival. I am still very damaged and I will revel in and embrace the brokenness of both myself and society for as long as I live. But I will improve my body. I will improve my mind. I will train to control my mental and physical health. I have the capability to be the master of myself.  


The basics of Chinese medicine are still very new to me, as I am an Amateur in every since of the word spanning across hundreds of different subjects, much more than I had ever realized. I am weak in ways that I never thought imaginable, but yet capable of much higher-level thought and power. Releasing yourself of the fear of failure. Releasing and being free. Flying higher.


In Chinese traditional thought, the yin and yang is seen as two opposing forces that contrast and compliment one another. The word for nutrition in Chinese is actually “yin yang”. In the West we say, “You are what you eat” 


Think about it. Consider the impact you have on other people, but more importantly yourself. Another phrase, “You can’t help others unless you help yourself!”  


And thus, begins the process. I will clean my body and mind over the next couple of months and years. 

More updates to be coming soon.  

Living in China: Authentic Urban Life, Travel Galore, and Lifelong Friendships

Allison S. taught in Hangzhou in 2011, then moved to Shanghai for two years to polish her language skills and help Chinese students study abroad in the United States. Read about her three years abroad here.   

Authentic City Living 

When I first moved to China in 2011, I was continuously asked, “Why China?” My immediate answer was, “Why not?” After living there for three years, I could go on and on listing reasons why China is now a second home to me. One is the incredible city life in China that most travelers don’t get to experience. From marathons and music festivals on the Great Wall in Beijing to lying by a pool on a hot summer day in Shanghai, there is something for everyone in China’s amazing cities.

Living in Shanghai for two years gave me the opportunity to really understand the city and experience the many social activities expats and locals alike take part in throughout the year. It’s such a thrill to walk down a little alley, pick up a bowl of noodles or dumplings from a street vendor for lunch, speak with locals, and watch them play an afternoon game of cards or mahjong. Around the corner, there’s an Italian restaurant, a Starbucks, and European parentsteaching their son how to ride a bike. 

Access to Amazing Sites and Destinations

One of the greatest aspects of living in a foreign country is the convenience of traveling to a new destination every chance you get. When I lived in Shanghai, planning a weekend trip to Beijing, Nanjing, or Hangzhou meant deciding to go on a Friday morning and hopping on a train that afternoon. Even after three years in China, I had barely begun to explore all of its amazing sights.

Beijing is an obvious destination for travelers around the world, and for good reason. The first time I went to the Great Wall, I couldn’t help but think how remarkable is was to walk on a piece of history like so many have done before me. Plus, it’s another Wonder of the World I can cross off my must-see list!

In addition to well-known destinations in Beijing, China offers many other can’t-miss sites. The Chinese say (loosely translated): “If there is a heaven on Earth, it is Hangzhou in China.” One of the most unique memories I have of China is spending a spring afternoon learning a traditional Chinese dance near West Lake in Hangzhou.

The Chinese also tell foreigners, “If you haven’t been to Xi’an, you haven’t been to China.” After hearing this, I traveled to Xi’an and realized the Terracotta warriors – a collection of terracotta sculptures depicting the armies of the first Emperor of China – were one of the most amazing sights I’ll ever see in my lifetime.

The more I traveled through China, the more I was astonished by what its society is capable of.  I was continually impressed by the consistency of Chinese culture and history in each city, yet every place I visited was completely different from the last. My interest in China will never end because there will always be something more to learn – which is why I love to travel in the first place.

Relationships You’ll Never Forget

If you’ve traveled, you know the bonds you form when traveling are unlike any others. In a country like China, relationships, or guanxi (关系), are very important to all aspects of life. One of the best guanxi I had in China was with my ayi – the equivalent to an American aunt. These Chinese women typically take care of your home. My ayi became a part of my family in China. She helped me with learning Chinese, made me warm ginger tea crammed with sugar when I was sick, and invited me to her home for Chinese holidays. Without living in China, it’s unlikely that I would have formed a bond with a Chinese lady 20 years older than me, who didn’t speak a word of English! While she never owed me anything, she was like a mother to me when my own family was more than 7,000 miles away. That is a person not easily forgotten.

The friends I made while traveling and living in foreign places are unlike any others. Traveling can be a bit of a roller coaster. While my time in China had some bumps, those are not the memories I look back on (unless I am laughing at them!). I’ll always remember the people I met and their indelible influence on my life.

Now, if someone asks me, “Why China?” I tell them that it’s the unexpected city life, the opportunities for incredible travel, and the lifelong relationships that you’ll gain that should make you choose this amazing country.

中国欢迎你-Zhongguo Huanying Ni – China welcomes you!


Ready to start the journey of a lifetime? Apply now!


雷雨 (Thunderstorm)

If I had one word to describe Chongqing's weather, it'd be HOT. If I had two words, the second would be thunderstorms. The only redeeming thing about the weather in this city is that it has great thunderstorms.

I'm from the Pacific Northwest of the U.S. and we definitely don't get storms like this. Last night, a huge storm rolled over the city and knocked out the power. People had trouble driving on the roads. The thunder rattled my windows. And the lightening lit up the entire sky every few seconds. It was incredible to sit on my bed and watch out the windows of my 28th floor apartment because I have a great view of the entire city. I managed to get a video of the storm. I apologise in advance for my excitement. I also got two videos from Alexis that I'll include too. Enjoy!




洪崖洞 (Hongyadong)

One of the most beautiful places in Chongqing, in my opinion, is Hongyadong. It's a small area in Jiefangbei district full of shops, restaurants, and bars. By day, it's a beautiful little spot with old-style buildings that look like they belong on a postcard:

At night, though, Hongyadong lights up and it's absolutely incredible:

My favorite part of Hongyadong is the food. There are countless shops along the main street on the 4th level. You can buy grilled meats on sticks, bowls of spicy soup, milk tea, beef noodles, and fresh fruits and vegetables. There are also some foreign restaurants such as Cactus, which serves delicious (although expensive) TexMex food. There are also a number of bars scattered throughout the village and it's a fun place to explore at night.

Look for a small imports shop in the back corner on the 5th floor behind the souvenir stalls. There are two wonderful ladies there who immediately sat me down for a cup of fresh tea when I wandered into their store. 



It's also the first place where I found a Subway here in China. Let me tell you, sandwiches are definitely an American thing because this was the first place in all of China where I was able to buy a sandwich. Of course, like all foreign food, it was a little expensive, but it was definitely worth it.

Hongyadong is a great place to hang out day or night. During the day, there are plenty of tea shops and restaurants with wifi and outdoor seating. At night it's a bustling center for snacks and bars. It is definitely worth checking out here in Chongqing.

火锅 (Hotpot)

This post is long overdue because one of the most iconic things here in Chongqing is its cuisine. Among its many local dishes, the one that most natives will say represents their city is Chongqing hotpot. 

The picture above gives a great idea of what most hotpot meals are like. In the center is the boiling pot of broth and spices that give hotpot it's unique flavor and name. Like most Chongqing food, hotpot is very spicy and the longer the pot boil, the spicier it gets. You can order it non-spicy, but where's the fun in that? The locals say that the spicy food helps them sweat in the summer heat and stay cool. I've even heard Chongqing people say that they must eat hot pot at least once a week in order to survive the summer.

When you order hotpot, you get a giant menu full of different vegetables and meats. When the food arrives, it's uncooked and separated onto different plates. You then choose whatever uncooked food you want, and you put it into the boiling broth to cook it. 

I've noticed that the locals always start by eating all the meat. They won't touch the vegetables until all the meat is done, even going so far as to bring the vegetables home, rather than waste space in their stomach. And the meat is not what you would expect in the United States. They do have strips of beef and slices of chicken and even hot dogs. But they also order duck intestines, cow stomach, chicken feet, coagulated blood, and a variety of other organs. If you keep an open mind and aren't too concerned with texture, I've found that the organs are actually my favorite part of hotpot. Plus, you only cook them for a few seconds and basically eat them raw. If anything, it's a very unique dining experience.

You have to be careful though. This dining experience can be a little rough on foreigners at first. Not only do the exotic food choices throw your body out of whack, but the spiciness alone is enough to upset your stomach. I suggest easing into this dish so that you can learn to enjoy it. You also must be sure to eat with a local who can show you the best dishes! I've only recently gotten to the point where I can go to a hotpot restaurant by myself and order, but it's become my favorite dining experience here in China! Happy eating!

Chongqing Heat


If there's one thing that I'll never enjoy about Chongqing, it's the weather. This isn't just because I'm a foreigner though; the locals complain about the weather on a daily basis! But it's particularly bad this time of year: the summer.

For example, yesterday it was 116F and there was 60-70% humidity. In this kind of weather, you really don't want to do anything. I wake up in the morning before my alarm goes off at 7:00am because by that time, it's already too hot to sleep. I take a cold shower and spend the rest of the morning in front of my fan keeping cool before I head to work around 8:00am. By that time it's already in the mid-eighties. 

Luckily, most buildings have air condition. Unfortunately, Chinese people think it's unhealthy to keep the windows closed, so there is a constant struggle between the outside heat and the indoor AC. I close the windows every opportunity I get though.

After work, the walk home is brutal. It feels like there is a hole in the ozone layer that insists on following me around everywhere I go. I get home, immediately change out of sweaty clothes, and sit in front of my fan again waiting for nightfall so I can venture out and explore. 

There are tricks to staying cool. For example, I've found that buying clothes here in China rather than bringing them from the US was helpful. The clothes they sell here is made for hot weather so it dries easily and is very breatheable. You also HAVE TO find a friend with a pool. Many apartment complexes have them and I can't tell you how nice it's been to go swimming on a hot day, even if the pools are unbelievably crowded.

All in all, I have to admit that I'm adjusting somewhat. I still hide inside every chance I get, but every day I spend more and more time outside with the locals, suffering through the heat and griping about our city's weather. It gives you a sense of solidarity and acclamation to put up with the heat like a local.

The Skylines of Chongqing


Longest Escalator in Asia and Graffiti Central

I rode the longest escalator in Asia with my friend and other fellow CIEE participant Eric. It was crazy! It is so long! 


After the zoo we went to a part of Chongqing not far from where we were, where all the buildings have graffiti on them. It was pretty cool. It’s the Huangjueping Graffiti Street 黄桷坪涂鸦街 and is said to be the largest graffiti art region in China and the world.










Trip to the Chongqing Zoo


A few months ago I went to the zoo with my friend and fellow CIEE participant Derrick. We had a blast. Who knew the zoo could be so much fun? Although the animals don’t have big cages and don’t seem to be taken care of as good as in the USA, they weren’t in bad shape. I could go on and on about the zoo and the animals we saw but I think it’s better to let the pictures do the work. And yes I did feed a giraffe and a hippo :D