Who are you?
Ah, what a deep question! But I’ll keep my answer shallow! I’m an American, a writer, a teacher (at a public university) and most important these days…a BADMINTON PLAYER.Where, when and why did you move abroad?
I moved in 2009 to a small city in the south east coast of China called Lin’an. I expected my China adventure to last no longer than one year, but now I’m in the middle of my eighth year and I have no desire to go back to America. Originally I came for something different (and the amazing holiday time. As a university teacher I have 4 months’ paid holiday time) but I stayed because I ended up really liking my job and living in China.
After 5 years I moved to my current city of Xiamen, China, located in the south, across from Taiwan.
What challenges did you face during the move?
Originally I guess the language was the hardest. I like the challenge of moving to a new place, not knowing anyone and figuring everything out. So the more typical answers of culture shock and adjusting to new foods and stuff didn’t bother me.
Things like buying vegetables, figuring out bus schedules and just talking to local people was tough in the beginning because of the language barrier. It took me a few years to learn Chinese and I feel like I missed out on a lot of friendships and opportunities because I couldn’t speak to the locals. But I’m making up for lost time now.
Are there many other expats in your area?
Yeah. Xiamen has a small but vibrant expat community. Unlike other cities, the expats are really integrated into the local community, and don’t keep to themselves. Due to the amazing climate, and general “laid back” attitude of Xiamen, there are so many activities organized by expats and Chinese people so there is always something interesting to do. Most expats live here, and consider it their permanent home (even if they will go back to their countries someday) so they work to make Xiamen a better city in general, not just a better city for expats. I really like that attitude here.
What do you like about life where you are?
I’m a total Xiamen nerd and there isn’t much I don’t like. The famous “China pollution” is rare here, the city is ringed with beaches, you can hike a mountain, climb down and immediately jump in the ocean and go swimming. There’s not a lot of places in the world you can do that. I’m pretty used to the China lifestyle, but if I need a Starbucks, or some crusty French baguettes, I can find it here too.
What do you dislike about your expat life?
I’ll be honest, not much. I know this is the place where I am supposed to say “missing my friends and my family,” but I am a born traveler and not prone to homesickness. In China expats have what is called a “Bad China day” when everything just gets too annoying and you end up cussing out a little old lady who cut in front of you in line. But these days are rare, and even at home you lose it every now and then so it’s not a deal breaker for me. I’d rather have a “bad China day” then a boring, typical life in America with few adventures.
What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?
At first I thought there was many, but the longer I live here, the more I realize China and American culture have a lot in common. One difference is the dating culture though. As a western woman who dates Chinese men (which isn’t common) I have had to deal with the dating scene and cultural differences come up a lot. (You can check out my blog for more details.)
What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?
Be willing to jump in with both feet. I hate when expats come to China then proceed to go to Mcdonalds or Pizza Hut for every meal. I get missing the comforts of home, but you’ve come to a new country. Don’t be afraid to go out and try new things! McDonalds and Pizza Hut will always be there. Use the opportunity to get out of your comfort zone and eat fried noodles at the little grungy restaurant.
What are your plans for the future?
As I mentioned in the first question, I am a crazy badminton player. I have a coach, and I recently started entering local competitions. I want to really focus on this and become a high level player, which means badminton, more than anything will keep me in Xiamen for a few more years. I’m a born traveler. I prefer to move to a new city every 5 years, but I might be willing to stay here longer just to continue my badminton training.
I don’t like to plan my life too far in advance. Who knows how many years I have left and I basically take the attitude of “if I’m happy, why change?” At some point I’ll get the old familiar wanderlust itch and pack up my bags for a new destination, but right now I really like where I am and I am happy to stay here for the next few years.
You can keep up to date with Becky's adventures on her blog, Writer. Traveler. Tea Drinker.