A world of extreme contrasts, thought patterns and ways of living. China is not what you think it is, no matter your assumptions. Parts of the middle kingdom (the literal translation of the Chinese characters for China) are as old as time allows. With a way of thinking that heralds millenia of tradition, while other sections speak of modern impulses. So while China can be many things to many people the one thing it can promise you is a world of culture shock and that is a promise it shall keep in spades. This is so true that most expats who live in the middle kingdom have come to answer why questions with simply IC (It's China) and in reality it is all you need to know as Chinese people themselves will always tell you there is no why, but for for those out there unfamiliar with the ways of China, then I your humble expat are going to help explain away some of the strange occurances that occur behind the great wall.
STAGE 2: Frustration (My view is right)
3 Months to 6 Months
Some never lose it
It is time to make a choice, whether you can deal with the new world or you cannot. There is no shame in leaving as I mentioned many will, it is just the way it is and quite honestly it may very well be the best for you and everyone else involed as staying may result in things becoming much worse. For those who make the choice to stay things are going to get easier, if for no other reason than repeition has at least made things slightly more predictable. With this odd assurance your confidence will return and you will adjust, humans have proven that we can adjust to anything given enough time. One should be looking to expand your social network, make friends beyond other foreigners and those who are far too enthusiastic about outside cultures, because while they are lovely to have they are also what is anchoring you to "Chinatown Syndrome". Ultimately what is occuring is that things are making sense, even if you are seeing it as a reversed sort of logic, you are beginning to understand and that is what adaption is all about.
STAGE 1: Excitement (Naive expectations)
2 Days to 3 Months
STAGE 3: Adjustment (Adapt or leave.)
6 Months to 12 Months
STAGE 4: Reality (Better things to do than complain)
1 Year to How long do you have
The end is never the end you should know that and even in what is considered the final stage of culture shock one still is stuck in its grips, but you have moved on, grown up, matured, whatever you wish to call it. One of the greatest signs you have moved on is that you are not spending time complaining about this and that and the foreigners you are spending time with do not spend hours just discussing the strangeness of the culture or how they should do things like your culture. Where you are now is reality and that is it. You are never going to be perfectly assimilated, but you can see that you are no longer the same as those foreigners just arriving. You are now in this odd state of being and it is not always easy to explain what it is, but you have become more flexible, comfortable in your surroundings. You have become obective and no longer cling to the idea that either culture is correct. You realise that everything is simply opinion and the notion of their being a cultural perfection is just a concept we use as a tool to manifest some modicum of identity for ourselves and you for the first time have an identity that no longer relies on a country or culture to identify who you are. You are you.
First Stop Professionals
Make your first stop, the right stop.
Humans sadly are creatures of habit, which means, while that initial excitement was lovely we as humans ultimately want to fall back on what we percieve as the right way to live our life, the only problem is that you cannot do this without removing yourself from the culture you find yourself in. Which ends up resulting in what I like to call "Chinatown Syndrome" which is as it sounds. You will actively search out everything associated with your old culture, people, food, everything of the like and you will incubate yourself with it in the same manner as a 2 year old does with its favorite toy or blanket. Again you are not special this happens to everyone, to some degree and do not let the veteran travelers persuade you that they were some how special or are more intuned with the world. They are not and they felt the same thing, no matter how long ago it was.
It is said that roughly 1/3 of expats will leave China earlier than planned, which is very true and I personally (I know it is wrong) do not befriend any expats before they have been here for a year. It is just a reality that the culture shock in China can be extreme and is not always easy to deal with and one of the biggest concerns for many westerners is alcoholism, as drinking too much can be often seen in those struggling to adjust to their new world. Confrontations over values will occur and one can expect both confusion and anxiety regularly. Which ultimately leads to a complete rejection of the new culture.
Hints and Tips
Wake up that first morning and think or say "I'm in China. I am really in China. Wow." Welcome to stage one, you are not unique or special in thinking this way, so many travellers have said it before and many more will say it after you. You are simply drunk on the exotic nature, every moment and every aspect of your life is so different and challenging that it send thrills up your spine. Simply put your brain is completely naive and it is ramping up your pleasure centers in anticipation for the world of the unknown waiting for you. You will find that you are initially fascinated by all of the differences and will seek them out, while at the same time strongly emphasizing the similarities. Enjoy these first few days they are precious and every traveller would love to experience those moments again. It is during these first few days and weeks that you should grab a hold of the language while you still have tons of enthusiasm for the new culture.