1. Get that pesky paperwork done
There is a lot to take care of when preparing to leave. The closer the date, the less time you will have. Add to that Murphy’s Law, which states that the sooner you need something, the longer it will take, and it’s clear that getting your paperwork done should be an early priority on your departure checklist.
Here is a list to start with: notarized criminal background check, pay slips, tax statements, reference letters and/or statement of employment. You will also need to close your bank account, change your money to your home currency, and uncouple your phone number from Wechat, Alipay, Taobao, and any other apps you have tied yourself to.
Make sure your phone is charged before you hit the bank. It could take a while.
2. Don't brag to your students
The teacher market has tightened up considerably in recent years. Every school is nervous about filling their staff rosters, and parents are understandably hyper-vigilant about the quality of education that is being provided for their kids.
This is not the time to boast or brag about leaving.
As a teacher in China you have had a deep impact on every one of your students. Respect for the teacher runs deep in the culture. There is always a time to leave, but doing so with grace, preparing the way for your replacement, will be better for you, for your students, and your school.
3. Don't burn your bridges
For many expats it has been a long time between visits home, and the recent COVID lockdowns in different parts of the country have been a major disruptor of daily life. It is understandable to be frustrated. If you are leaving, it may be that you have had enough. Social media venting is a regular temptation in these uncertain times.
The long game here is: don’t burn your bridges. You may want to come back one day, and that may not be easy if you’ve gone public with a claim that the COVID lockdown was like a never ending after school detention. A good rule of thumb is: don’t post after 10 PM, especially if you have been drinking.
4. Donate, don't sell
Nobody wants to buy your box set of Seinfeld DVDs. Nobody wants to buy your candles, or your unused flowerpots, or your dishrack, or your cat litter tray, or your novelty New Year’s eve glasses. If you’ve lived in China for any length of time, you are going to have accumulated a lot of possessions that you won’t take with you. Everyone has loads of stuff.
There are alternatives. You could bring any useful household items you have to your school, for incoming teachers to choose from. Or you could donate books, clothing, music, magazines, toys or art, to a charity. You don’t want to be remembered as the person who tried to sell a dozen coat hangers for 10 RMB.
5. Do one last fly by
Eat one last skewer of Xinjiang barbequed lamb on a plastic stool in the street after midnight. Ride your scooter one last time down some sultry lane, the sunlight diffused through a canopy of maple leaves, carefree, your face in the breeze.
Walk home at any hour one last time, without a worry, in this safest of places. Check out the ayis dancing. Dig the smoking old man on his step. Recall the children in their neck scarves and the world that they are walking to. Take it all in, one last time.
Don’t forget to leave room in your suitcase for the memories you will take with you, as you go.