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Linda, Changsha (Hunan)

Who are you?

My name is Linda and I am a German/American girl who loves traveling and exploring the world outside of my comfort zone. I studied foreign languages and business in Germany and California. I speak German and English as a native speaker and am also fluent in Chinese, French and Spanish. The newest addition to my language catalog is Korean.

In my blog, www.lindalivinginchina.com, I write about my experiences living abroad in Asia, language learning, traveling and my relationship with a Korean man.Where, when and why did you move abroad?

I always had the urge to travel and wanted to see different places. Since I grew up in Europe, I was fortunate to travel across Europe and due to my American side of the family, I also got to see many places in the United States. The first time I really moved abroad was in late 2012, when I moved to Guangzhou, China, for a 6-month internship and to improve my Chinese skills. After that, I moved to San Diego, California, to finish my Bachelor’s degree in Science of Management. In May 2014, I decided to move back to China to pursue my first job out of university in Changsha, Hunan.

What challenges did you face during the move?

I moved abroad 3 times so far and it has always been exciting. Each time, I did not know anyone beforehand and had to get information and arrange my move almost entirely by myself. Of course, I always had help from my employers or school but the biggest challenge for people seems to be the step to move somewhere without knowing anymore there.

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I had to find my way in a different country and also look for an apartment on my own, which is not easy if you are not familiar with certain customs or laws. I think the biggest challenge is to find a routine. This includes an organized daily life, friends to hang out with and minimize stressful situation as good as possible. When I moved back to China this year, it took about 4-5 months for me to be fully accustomed to life in China and have a structured daily life. From finding an apartment, to buying household goods to getting gas/water and electricity set up, I had to manage everything by myself mostly.

Are there many other expats in your area?

Changsha is not a well-known city for foreigners but it’s still home to 6 million people. There is a very famous university, Hunan University, which has a large number of foreign students. However, in the part of the city where I live, there are only few foreigners. It’s hard to find foreign friends and I wish I knew more by now. But everything is a process and I already joined a few expat groups on the Internet and met people in the city.

What is your relationship like with the locals?

Since I don’t have many foreign friends, I mostly hang out with locals which has a lot of benefits. I can practice my language skills and overcome culture barriers. I think I fit in very well by now and they like hanging out with me as well. I even dated a local Chinese before which had lots of positive impacts on my language and cultural skills. Now, I am in a relationship with a Korean and live my life between China and Korea picking up the Korean language and customs.

What do you like about life where you are?

I really enjoy the freedom I have here. Additionally, the locals treat me very well and make me feel welcome which is very important for expats. I especially enjoy going out, wandering around the city and exploring hidden areas that seem to be stuck in time or untouched from modern and “Americanized” life.

What do you dislike about your expat life?

Being an expat is, of course, not always rosy. I have days where I just “hate” being in this country and I want to go home, to my family or eat my mom’s food. In China, white people also raise a lot of attention, especially in smaller cities. I don’t like to be looked at all the time and on certain days it can be especially annoying.

Another thing I don’t like is that I can’t see my family very often and have to rely on online communication.

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

China and Korea are both just so incredibly different than the West. It all starts with the language, then the food, the way people think etc. etc.
The biggest difference is probably the way people in Asia think. The Asian mindset prioritizes the group over the individual. The family is very important and your own well-being can be considered less important. This is also a big part of my intercultural/interracial relationship where I had to learn to accept and appreciate this mindset. I might have even adapted to certain values.

How does shopping (for food/clothes/household items etc.) differ compared to back home?

It’s very hard to find German food or ingredients in Asia and I can’t cook like at home. This is why I had to learn how to cook with the ingredients available in local supermarkets. Clothes shopping can also be a nightmare because usually, clothes in Asia are much smaller than in the West. In the US, I am a size S/M, whereas in China and Korea, I am usually a L. It can be quite nerve-wracking to find clothes that fit at shopping markets.

What do you think of the food in your new country? What are your particular likes or dislikes?

People in Hunan and Korea eat extremely spicy. Before I moved, I could barely eat spicy food and disliked it a lot. Now, I had to get used to it and can even enjoy a good Korean family dinner with spicy Kimchi.

I really like the variety of food in China and Korea. There are so many different dishes for different tastes – not only spicy but also sweet or salty, for instance. I tried the best foods I ever ate here in Asia.

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

Don’t care about other people’s opinions. A lot of people can’t understand why Westerners would move to Asia. I learned not to care about what other people said a long time ago and life has been much sweeter since. Life begins at the end of your own comfort zone. That’s what makes life interesting and worth living.

What are your plans for the future?

I want to live with my Korean boyfriend. Right now, we are in a long-distance relationship which can be quite hard in the long-term. Additionally, I want to study more Korean and become fluent in the language in order to communicate better with my boyfriend’s family and friends. I also want to travel around Asia a lot more and explore other Asian countries.

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