New Teacher Life


Although Mandarin is the language of business and education throughout all of China, there are countless dialects, and languages, in various regions throughout the country.

The Shanghai dialect is a distinctively different language than pure Mandarin, however a basic vocabulary of Mandarin will afford most non-Mandarin speakers enough to get by if they are living in Shanghai, and for general travel throughout the country. Because Shanghai is becoming such modern and cosmopolitan city of recent, it is not uncommon to find local citizens who have a basic command of the English language.  DVD players and DVDs are popular and readily available. If you decide to bring a electronics with you, however, customs could assess duty on this if your luggage is checked.  A combination VCD/DVD/CD player will cost you less than US$100. Remember also, the electrical system is different from that of the U.S. At most apartments provided by the school for our staff, satellite television is available. English language channels include: CNN, HBO, Star Sports, and at least one music channel. Numerous other channels are available which broadcast programming in Chinese, Italian, French, Japanese, and German.

Household Staff/Domestic Help

For many people coming to China, employing domestic help will be a new experience. To work as a household help is a respected position in China, and to work for a foreigner has high prestige. Undoubtedly, if you do hire help, it will take you a little while to get used to having help in your home, but once you have established a routine with your "ayi", you will come to appreciate the work they do so willingly for you. Most teachers agree that it is very pleasant to come home from school to find the chores done, particularly the laundry. It is most unusual for expatriates not to have maids. So, even if you feel uncomfortable with the idea, they do make your daily life easier. The school can assist you in hiring help. Many of the "ayis" who have worked for staff who are leaving the school will be interested in being employed by new teachers who are arriving. Therefore, personal referrals from families soon departing are the best sources for experienced, reliable domestic help. With a little diligence and maybe a few tries, you will find trustworthy, hard-working household staff. The typical cost for an ayi is approximately US$ 3.00 per hour. 


People who live here have the opportunity to maintain a healthy diet, including a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. Rice is the main staple, and chicken and seafood are plentiful. Most people shop in both supermarkets and local markets. In general, food prices range from slightly lower to slightly higher than in the U.S., depending on the proportion of imported goods purchased.

Eating Out

When it comes to eating out in Shanghai, there is an ever-expanding number of local and international restaurants to choose from, catering for all global tastes. Chinese enjoy eating in restaurants, and there is a wide selection from the very basic Chinese cafe to restaurants of international standard. There are many American fast food franchises in Shanghai, and most have outlets in all areas and in the major shopping centers. Most major hotels offer continental cuisine in their restaurants and coffee shops. Some offer special food promotions featuring a particular country’s dish for about a month or so. In addition, those seeking American fast food can find Subway, Papa John's, McDonald’s, and, of course, Starbucks.  We believe that you will enjoy the experience of seeking out new places to eat after you arrive. However, avoid indiscriminate sampling from noodle stalls and markets. Select one of the better-known places, frequented by locals and clean in appearance. Eat only fresh prepared cooked or fried food served hot. Eating raw meat and seafood involves high and unnecessary risks. Avoid produce that has not been peeled. Drink only boiled or bottled water. The apartment will supply your apartment with a water dispenser and the purchase of replacement bottles is handled through the apartment management.


Local citizens dress conservatively and modestly. Everything from very casual to very dressy is seen on the streets. Clothes are inexpensive, and tailoring can be done at very reasonable prices. Chinese equate high fashion with success. As Shanghai is a modern cosmopolitan city, many of the upper society are decked out in international designer fashions for social events. There can be occasions where you could need formal wear, however normal suits and ties or long dresses are appropriate for most occasions. Shorts are appropriate wear for men and women for sporting events and in most casual recreational settings. The dress at school is casual but "smart". Women dress as they would go when going to lunch at a nice hotel—nothing that might be offensive to the wide range of ethnic backgrounds and sensibilities we have among our parents. Modest sleeveless blouses and modest open-toed sandals are all right for school. Men do not always wear ties at school, but long trousers, leather shoes with socks (not sandals or athletic shoes), and a shirt with a collar. SCIS is a conservative and diverse community of different customs and experiences. Teachers’ appearances should reflect their professionalism and competence. Earrings or ponytails for men are outside of the dress code, as are nose rings or body piercing for either sex or any other styles that might “alarm” some of our parents or students. A special note: For special occasions, such as United Nations Day, teachers and students often wear something representative of their home country. You may consider bringing a traditional dress, shirt, jacket, or hat for occasions like these.


Supermarkets in Shanghai are modern, full-service stores. Many have bakeries and delis. Meats; dairy products; and canned, frozen, and packaged goods are imported from Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States. Fresh seafood is abundant, and locally produced poultry and eggs are of good quality.Local and imported beer is sold, as is liquor and wine, but is expensive. As most foods are imported, prices are higher than perhaps in your home country. The favorite “expat” market, Carrefour, has numerous outlets. While prices in supermarkets are always higher than in traditional markets, the convenience, variety, and quality of goods in supermarkets outweigh the price considerations for many. On-site services, such as dry cleaners, shoe repairs, drugstores, and film developing, also make supermarkets a convenient place to complete other errands.


Public markets, or “wet markets,” all of which have wet floors from freshly washed produce, are usually large, open-air places filled with stalls selling all sorts of fresh produce, meats, seafood, sundries, and flowers. Each vendor has his own specialty. Markets open early every morning; some close before noon, and others remain open till late afternoon, even on Sundays. Prices are generally lower than those at supermarkets or provision shops. Returning to the same stall on a regular basis will help set better prices. All transactions are cash only. These can be great fun once you get used to the country and language. But at first, it is probably better and more convenient to send your maid for the meat and vegetables. Shopping at the local markets is best done when one is comfortable with the language and prices. Every little area has its own small- or medium-sized market. Shopping In recent years, Shanghai has seen explosive growth in the construction of shopping malls. Developers promote the malls as places for families to shop, eat, and be entertained. In fact, on weekends, the traffic and crowds can get quite heavy. These facilities include department stores, supermarkets, banks, restaurants, movie theaters, and many specialty shops. Keep your shopping list for Shanghai essentials until you know where to buy things and are comfortable shopping here. You do not need to plan to arrive with ALL the clothes you will need right away. One month’s supply of essential toiletries is recommended. Travel in China/Asia China offers endless travel opportunities within the country, and is also well placed as a springboard for interesting and exciting holidays. Other parts of Asia--with the delights of Thailand, Hong Kong, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Singapore--are easily reached. India, Nepal, and Vietnam offer new and challenging possibilities. Many foreigners visit Australia and New Zealand during their stay in China, enjoying the delights of the western world down under style. Travel guidebooks brought from home can be a great help in planning holidays. Excellent selections of guides for Asian destinations are available in Shanghai, but books are expensive here. It is important to book your travel plans early as school vacations occur during popular tourist times. Plane and hotel reservations must be made well in advance. Summer is not too early to reserve December travel. 

Expat Websites Asia Xpat -

Shanghai Expat -

Shanghaiist -