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Jocelyn Eikenburg, Hangzhou

Who are you?

My name is Jocelyn Eikenburg and I’m a writer, blogger and the creator of Speaking of China, a blog about love, family and relationships in China. I’ve been featured on the BBC, and my writing has been published in The Wall Street Journal, The Huffington Post and the anthologies How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit? and Unsavory Elements.Where, when and why did you move abroad?

My husband and I moved to Hangzhou, China in late 2013. It had always been our plan to settle in China after spending nearly eight years in the US. We both feel most at home in China, It’s my husband’s home country, and I had actually lived in China for five and a half years during the 2000s (that’s when my husband and I met).

What challenges did you face during the move?

Shipping our boxes from the US to China was not as smooth as we expected. We didn’t realize that air shipments could be so costly – the final bill ended up being more than three times what we had budgeted for. But the worst was customs. It literally took three weeks for our boxes to clear customs. Customs also requested my husband’s passport – and when the logistics company sent it back, they misspelled the address. (Fortunately, we did get it back.)

Are there many other expats in your area?

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While the expat community is a bit smaller than what you’d find in Shanghai or Beijing, Hangzhou still remains a popular city among foreigners. A lot of foreign students come here to study, and there are a number of foreign professionals who meet regularly in town. I’ve discovered that some of the people who read my blog actually live in town, and that has led to some friendships.

What do you like about life where you are?

It’s so delightful to reside in a city built around a historic lake fringed by some of the most celebrated gardens in China, along with verdant mountains and hidden mountain trails as well as a sizable wetland park. Sometimes it’s hard to believe that one of the most popular cities in China boasts so much green space and so many opportunities for enjoying the outdoors.

What do you dislike about your expat life?

I dislike having to contend with secondhand smoke in restaurants and public places, even though there’s a smoking ban; my coping strategy has been to be selective about where I dine out and only patronize restaurants that offer a smoke-free and clean environment. Traffic can be stressful here too because you’re contending with a variety of different vehicles (from cars and trucks to motorbikes, bicycles and three-wheeled carts jammed with cargo) and a driving style that tends to be more aggressive.

What is the biggest cultural difference you have experienced between your new country and life back home?

One of the biggest cultural differences I’ve noticed is how families and friends seem to be much more close-knit here in China, compared to what I was used to growing up in a white family in Ohio. I’ve witnessed how friends and family will go out of their way to help and support their loved ones, whether that’s lending you money for hospital bills, giving you a place to stay in town any time you need it (no questions asked), or finding you a tailor when you have a dress emergency and need it done in 24 hours (true story!). While it does mean more responsibility for everyone, including yourself, it’s also a great relief knowing that the people you care about really are there for you.

What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?

China is much more than what you read about in Western media. Be willing to look beyond the shadows of this country and come with an open mind and heart.

Also, please, don’t ever ship your boxes over here by air!

What are your plans for the future?

While it’s really hard to make any concrete plans at the moment, I’m certain that China will be my home for the rest of my life. I will continue to write and blog about life, love and family in China. I also have a manuscript for a memoir that I’m going to dust off and revive once things settle down for us.

You can keep up to date with Jocelyn's adventures on her blog, Speaking of China.

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