Q. How big or urban is Shenzhen?
A. Shenzhen is the 4th largest city in China with a population of over 20 million people. A lot of people are less familiar with Shenzhen because it has grown rapidly over the last 30 years. It has gone from being a small fishing village to the Silicon Valley of China. It also shares a border with Hong Kong, which adds further importance to it as one of the richest cities for commerce in China. Its rapid expansion continues to this day.
Q. Is it easy to get around?
A. Shenzhen has very convenient public transportation that features 11 subway lines (soon to be 13 by the end of 2016), a massive bus system, and its own airport. Taxis are also ever present and generally start their meters at 10-12RMB, which is around $1.70-$2.00. A trip all the way across town would cost around $15. Shenzhen also has gorgeous bike paths through most of the city.
Q. Does it have modern amenities?
A. The vast majority of apartments have everything one would expect from an apartment in the west—including air conditioning, a western toilet (squat toilets are very common in public places though), and a kitchen with basics like a stove and a fridge. It’s also very easy to set up internet and WiFi, but it’s recommended to get a VPN before arriving in China (more on this later).
Q. Is Shenzhen safe?
A. Obviously all cities have petty crime like theft and personal belongings should be treated with care. Beyond that, Shenzhen is likely safer than most western home countries in terms of serious crimes like murder. One should still be wary of small issues like counterfeit money, especially at bars or when given change by taxi drivers or at small convenience stores. This is a rare problem, but not unheard of.
Q. How much money can I save in Shenzhen?
A. This really varies based on lifestyle and starting wages. A safe estimate would be that food will cost around 3,000 RMB a month, and bills will probably range from 300-600RMB. If extra expenditures are factored in, an output of 4,000 RMB is a reasonable estimate for costs outside of housing. Apartments also vary by area. Places in a more suburban neighbourhood like Longgang will be much less expensive than an apartment in the heart of Futian. Most of the studio apartments and 1 bedrooms range from 3,000- 4,000 RMB in the city center. After all of these costs are accounted for, most people still save around $500-$1000 from their base pay. Of course, it’s very easy to get extra classes at a training center or to do private lessons, which could raise a person’s wages by 50% rather easily and make those savings even greater.
Q. What is the teaching environment like at a public school in Shenzhen?
A. Generally teachers have anywhere from 12-16 classes a week at around 40 minutes each. Sometimes schools ask for teachers to be involved in some extra activities, but that is usually not the case. Office hours are from 8:00am to 5:00pm with a two hour lunch. A lot of schools don’t require teachers to desk warm and allow them to leave after all of their classes are finished. This is not always the case though, so teachers should still come prepared to work their office hours if required. Classes will usually have 50 or more children per class. This number can sound daunting, but sound classroom management and Chinese co-teachers usually help alleviate some of the problems that crop up. However, teachers should be aware that this can present a challenge at first, but perseverance, patience, and humility will be richly rewarded.
Q. What is the teaching environment like at a private academy?
A. This can vary even more significantly than public schools because the management style will largely depend on private ownership. With that said, most teachers have around 25 classes a week, though they also usually get higher starting pay. Private schools give less vacation time as well, but they also tend to be more malleable to personal situations or giving time off for emergencies. Unlike public schools where elementary tends to represent the greatest demand. Academies usually have a wider range of demographics. Adult and high school classes are not uncommon. Class sizes also tend to be much smaller, from 6 to 20 students. As these are usually extracurricular programs for most students, the working hours are usually from the late afternoon to evening. Late risers tend to prefer this arrangement.
Q. What’s the nightlife like?
A. Though it’s not the 24 hour party culture of Seoul, Shenzhen has many bars and several clubs to go to. KTV (karaoke) is also hugely popular. Friends often get together for hot pot and then head for different bars or parties on the weekend. It’s comparable to the nightlife in most US cities (not Vegas).
Q. Will I have trouble with the language barrier?
A. Yes! One of the great things about traveling and working in another country is overcoming the challenge of the language barrier. Most people in Shenzhen speak Mandarin, but traveling to different provinces will reveal that even fluency in Mandarin might not help in all situations. Fear not, though—body language and preparation can solve most problems. Also, Shenzhen, as an international city, has quite a few ESL speakers, especially in important government offices or banks, so most language barrier problems will not affect important matters. It would definitely be helpful, though not necessary, to take Mandarin lessons while working in Shenzhen.
Q. What’s a VPN, and do I need one?
A. Most people will not have a satisfactory experience in China without a VPN. This is a program that unblocks popular websites like Facebook, Google, and Youtube. It’s best to purchase a VPN like Astrill or Express VPN before arriving in China because their websites are blocked here. With a VPN, surfing the internet in China is basically the same as any other country without the Great Firewall (though download speeds can be affected).
Q. What should I bring?
A. Shenzhen is a hot and humid place, so it’s important to pack a lot of light clothes. The winter can get a little chilly, so a light jacket or two might also be helpful, but it will be hot for 6-8 months out of the year. Outlet converters are necessary for foreign phone chargers or computer power supplies. Any over the counter meds that are commonly used would also be helpful—Pepto, Ibuprofen, Advil, and Benadryll, for example. It’s possible to find anything, but deodorant and any large size clothing or shoes can take some time to track down, and it’s probably better just to come supplied. Make sure to keep all visa documents secured, especially prior to receiving the residence permit.