Teacher Sarah Bucknall writing for Hello Teacher!

Updated November 17, 2018
By Sarah Bucknall

Fuzhou expat

The long wait for another vacation was never going to satisfy these itchy feet of mine that find it impossible to stay rooted to the ground.

The direction I found led me to obtaining a TEFL certificate to teach overseas, and the path I followed brought me to my first expat destination – China.

Admittedly, China was not my first choice. I longed for the beaches of Thailand but I couldn’t wait for the next hiring period of November.

Staying true to my impulsive self, I looked for countries with an earlier start date and within a week had set up five interviews, four in China and one for Vietnam.

Vietnam would have won me over if it wasn’t for the lack of confidence in the school after having the Skype interview. And so China became my number one choice.

The schools were all in different provinces; I chose Fuzhou as it was described as a city surrounded by mountains.

Fuzhou is surrounded by mountains and lovely for expats and ESL teachers

Fuzhou is surrounded by mountains (pictured: Forest Park).

I am fortunate to also have a base here. My step mother’s family reside in Luoyuan, an hour’s bus journey from Fuzhou.

And so here I am, an expat in Fuzhou, Fujian, China, since July 2016.

Preparing for the move to Fuzhou

From accepting the teaching position in Fuzhou to moving to China was a six-week time frame.

I gave five weeks’ notice to my employer, moved out of my apartment in the North West of England, and ventured home to Wales to spend a week with the family and store the little I had decided to keep.

The moments when my attention was focused solely on uprooting my entire life, to a country I didn’t know, gave way to absolute panic. I think I experienced two panic attacks during this six-week haze.


The numbness allowed me to continue with all the preparations. I don’t know how better to describe how I felt as I didn’t allow myself to dwell on the fact that this wasn’t a vacation. This was a new life!

I wasn’t going to be a tourist this time. I was going to be an expat, in a country whose language I couldn’t speak and whose culture is very different from my own.

The excitement didn’t really take hold until after I arrived in the city I would now call home.

A hectic start to my adventure

My first two weeks were hectic to say the least! I needed to go to the hospital for a full medical check, including a psychological test to ensure my condition was satisfactory to become a resident.

The first thing I was told was to look past the fact the hospital would not be as familiar in standard compared to a Western hospital. I also needed to report to the Public Security Bureau to obtain a residence permit.

I quickly realized that I’ve never handed my passport over so often and for great lengths of time as I have since being in China. It’s something I’m still getting used to.

Also on my to-do list: set up my bank account, buy a Chinese sim card (you need your passport for this also), figure out my bus route, master the art of chopsticks and realize that traffic can always turn right in Fuzhou regardless of the false security given by the little green man!

Expat teacher Sarah Bucknall found this coffee shop in Fuzhou China

In between getting things done on her to-do list, Sarah found this coffee shop to relax in.

Getting accustomed to Fuzhou

Becoming familiar with my surroundings became interesting in my first week when I was able to experience my very first typhoon!

The intense rainy season that coincides with China’s summer months was like nothing I had experienced before. The warm rain barely lifted the balmy heat that left a permanent layer of salty sweat on your skin.

Skip to winter and prepare for a cold that the buildings here are not designed to cope with. If you’re lucky your air-conditioner will be able to produce heat but don’t rely on your room having the ability to retain that heat. All I can say is ‘layers’.

Once becoming slightly more accustomed to the heat I began exploring the local area. My spare time was familiar to what I would do back home, read in coffee shops and go out for lunch, except now I could also walk around temples daily and wander up small mountains to find locals practising what I assume is a type of Tai Chi.

Fuzhou is a fairly Westernized city and so if you feel like a break from Chinese food there are plenty of Western options. There is also a variety of dining to enjoy from other cultures available around the city. It’s simply a case of wandering and discovering.

This article originally featured on The Solo Pursuit.


Are you an expat in China? How does your experience differ from Sarah's?

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