I’m an American journalist living and working in Hong Kong. I got here by way of Beijing, by way of New York, and originally come from Indiana.
I originally moved to Beijing because I found a job there. Before that, I was working in New York but was feeling a bit restless. I was working on the international desk at a newspaper there, and I saw all the successful editors had overseas experience, so I figured I ought to try to get some too. And I thought it would be much better (and easier) to do while I was young without too many obligations. After a year in Beijing, I found a better job in Hong Kong and have been here since August 2010.What challenges did you face during the move?
Moving to Beijing from New York City was a big culture shock. It was definitely hard in the beginning. When I moved there, I only knew one person in the entire country – a college classmate – and she wasn’t even in Beijing but was in another city hundreds of miles away. So meeting new people was a challenge. I also didn’t speak any Mandarin or read any Chinese when I first moved there. So doing any and everything was hard.
By contrast, moving from Beijing to Hong Kong felt incredibly easy, since I’d been through the routine before (and because Hong Kong is a very efficiently run easy place to live).
How did you find somewhere to live?
In Hong Kong, I went through a broker. I was completely unprepared for Hong Kong’s sky-high real estate prices. I ended up renting a place that really was out of my budget and had to sublet it for the last six months of my lease while I moved somewhere cheaper with a roommate I found in an online classified.
Are there many other expats in your area?
Hong Kong has a huge expat scene so it’s very easy to find many different groups of people (by profession, gender, nationality, interests, etc.)
What is your relationship like with the locals?
Some of my close friends here are Hong Kong natives. A significant part of the professional Hong Kong community has been educated abroad, so there’s not as big a cultural or linguistic divide as you might find in other places.
What do you like about life where you are?
The food is fantastic, the weather is nice year-round, aside from rent everything is cheaper than it would be back home, and I’m in a very central part of Asia – I can travel almost anywhere in East or Southeast Asia for a weekend trip.
What do you dislike about your expat life?
There aren’t too many negatives in Hong Kong. The 12-hour time difference from home, and the physical distance from family and friends are the hardest thing. The humidity and the pollution can be stifling at times too. Sometimes you get little cravings for things or places in America (like New York pizza, or attending a baseball game), but I think overall it works out since you also get to discover new things here. It’s also hard to complain because Hong Kong is one of the easiest places to be an expat. Most people speak incredibly good English, and it’s a highly developed city with very efficient public infrastructure.
How does shopping (for food/clothes/household items etc.) differ compared to back home?
Shopping is pretty easy here since Hong Kong is one of Asia’s big shopping meccas. Finding clothes (particularly shoes) can be frustrating though. While the ultra-high-end stores have all sizes, a lot of the local shops only carry smaller, Asian sizes. Though my shoe size in the U.S. is very common and average for a female, it’s unheard of here, so I’ve basically given up on ever buying shoes here unless I go to Lane Crawford (an expensive department store) and I just stock up and buy several pairs when I go home. I’m lucky in that I can find clothes in my sizes, but many expats who are tall or bigger built have trouble.
What do you think of the food in your new country? What are your particular likes or dislikes?
The food in Asia is fantastic, and Western food now seems so bland in comparison. It’s one of the reservations I have about ever moving back home – I’d surely be sad to leave the food of Asia behind. Hong Kong is obviously known for its dim sum, but I’ve also had amazing meals of Sichuan food, Beijing duck, Xinjiang food (Northwestern Muslim area of China), Vietnamese pho, Indian curries, pad Thai.
One thing we really can’t get here that I miss is good, legitimate Mexican food.
What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?
If you’re on the fence, just do it. Even if you only live abroad for a year, it will change your life and your perspective forever and you’ll see things and meet people that will truly broaden your experiences. (Also, don’t sign a lease on the first apartment you find.)
What are your plans for the future?
It’s very uncertain. I’m year No. 2 of a 3-year contract, but I’ve no idea whether I’ll stay here, go somewhere else abroad or go back home.
Brittany shares more information about her travels and life in Hong Kong through her blog brittanyhite.wordpress.com.