What Not To Wear
First things first, I’m a chronic over packer. For a weekend trip I can easily pack a full size suitcase. This, paired with the uncertainty of moving somewhere new left me with more suitcases than arms. CIEE recommended that I take one checked bag and a backpack. I, of course, took two checked bags, both weighing between 49.2 pounds and 50.0 pounds. I also took a hard shell spinner carry-on and a backpack for good measure. Even with 2.5 suitcases stuffed with clothes I still managed to pack incorrectly.
I filled nearly one entire suitcase with work clothes – dress pants, skirts, blouses, blazers, flats and all. Even after inquiring with the school’s manager the dress code still wasn’t clear. Rather be safe than sorry, as they say. Turns out I was sorry. Within a day I realized there was no dress code. Everyone, including the manger and students, wear sweat pants or similar casual attire to school. Almost two months in and I’ve barely worn anything out of that suitcase.
My recommendation: Ask your school contact about the dress code in detail. If you can’t get a clear answer, ask to be connected with a current or former English teacher at the school. Especially if you stick to the one suitcase guideline you’ll want to pack clothes you are actually going to wear.
I brought everyday clothes as well. I lived in Arizona for the last few years so I have lots of shorts, tank tops and the like in my wardrobe. I popped a few into my suitcase since I was moving to the “furnace city” as Chongqing is known. One of the first warmer days (around 75 degrees and humid) I wore a tank top and jean shorts. I didn’t think the outfit was flashy or offensive, but I got even more stares than usual. The people in Chongqing dress very conservatively. So conservatively, it borders on madness. The uniform of Chongqing seems to be long pants, a coat and an umbrella even when the temperature is threatening 90 degrees with matching humidity.
My recommendation: Dress to your comfort level, but be aware that may garner more stares.
Lastly, there’s the fallback of shopping in China. Since I was a whole suitcase down I had to do some shopping. However, I was nervous there wouldn’t be anything in my size. For reference, I’m usually a medium across the board in the US and a size 9 shoe. I’m also 5’6“ so a bit taller than the average female in China. From what I had researched I thought this might make it difficult to find clothes that fit my frame or shoes for my giant feet. Thankfully, I’ve had no problems finding clothes that fit. There’s loads of shopping in Chongqing, from small local shops with funky English phrases on every piece of clothing (think Forever 21 sayings but grammatically incorrect or just plain bizarre) to large retailers like H&M and Zara.
My recommendation: Save some space in your suitcase for shopping. How fun to say, “Oh this? I picked it up in China.”
I don’t regret my overzealous packing, but I do regret not being more diligent about my research. Inquire about the dress code and the climate of your new city and you’ll be in great shape!