Who are you?
I’m Emily, 28 and from England.
Where, when and why did you move abroad?
I moved to Harbin, China in November 2014.I wanted to see more of the world, experience a completely different culture and break away from mundane life.
What challenges did you face during the move?
When I arrived I didn’t speak a single word of Mandarin, Harbin has many foreigners but the general public don’t usually speak any English, so communication whilst out and about in the beginning was hard.
How did you find somewhere to live?
My work provided me with accommodation when I first arrived here. When my boyfriend decided to move out here a few months later, we moved to a bigger place ourselves. We used a local estate agent with the help of a work friend.
Are there many other expats in your area?
Yes many, the company I work for, Joy English, has over 35+ foreigners working for them. The city has many other language schools and we often cross paths socially.
What is your relationship like with the locals?
We get on very well with our neighbours, they have always been welcoming. My coteachers are usually local and are always willing to help. People in the local community are usually curious and interested to learn more about us and where we’re from.
What do you like about life where you are?
It is very easy to have a balanced work and social life. The teaching jobs here allow us to have enough downtime to do as we like. I am able to run an animal rescue with 2 other foreigners here, which would be impossible at home. We are also able to save and travel, which again would not be possible at home.
What do you dislike about your expat life?
There are obviously certain times that things get frustrating, with different cultural differences, and communication. But the communication is more an issue with me, I chose to come to China so it’s my responsibility to make myself able to communicate!
What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?
There are certain things such as social manners, in England we love to queue… here not so much! In Harbin because of the pollution it is very acceptable for members of the public to spit on the floor too, which took a while to get used to.
But not all cultural differences are bad ones. Here, I have experienced more hospitality then anywhere else in the world. When a Chinese family welcomes you into their home, they really welcome you. I have had cups of tea made my random people I have met, been taken for lavish dinners by friends and coworkers, and once they are your friend they will go so far out of their way to help you.
What do you think of the food and drink in your new country? What are your particular likes or dislikes?
Being vegetarian it was quite hard in the beginning to order food and explain dietary requirements. After having been here a while however, it really isn’t that hard. There are so many vegetable and tofu dishes it’s actually very easy. And with Buddhism being quite popular there are even chains of vegetarian restaurants and shops once you know where to look. The food up in Northern China is quite carbohydrate based, I imagine because of the very cold temperatures.
What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?
I would make sure you do your homework, really research the locations, the companies and what is in store for you. Speak to people already out there. Companies should be able to put you in touch with current and ex employees, so you can get a broader picture. Come here with an open mind, and remember it was your choice to come here. Cultural differences are exciting, and although at times may be frustrating, it’s important to remember they are important and should be respected.
What are your plans for the future?
My original plan was to just be here 9 months, now I’ve been here 3 years, and we have just signed for at least another year! With running an animal rescue here alongside work, I can’t imagine just stopping and leaving suddenly, there’s so much work to be done. I quite fancy moving to the South of China, South Korea or Thailand, but we’ll wait and see! For now we are very comfortable!
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