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Shannon Young, Hong Kong

Who are you?

My name is Shannon Young. I’m an American writer and teacher currently living in Hong Kong. I love to read, write and spy on other people’s books on the train.

My work has appeared on numerous expat websites, on an iPhone travel app, and in the Hong Kong Women in Publishing Society’s annual publication. I’m the author a mini travel memoir called The Olympics Beat, and I write a blog called A Kindle in Hong Kong.Currently, I am editing an anthology of creative non-fiction and memoir by expatriate women in East Asia, forthcoming from Signal 8 Press, and working on a post-apocalyptic adventure novel set at sea.

Where, when and why did you move abroad?

In 2010 I moved to Hong Kong to be with my long distance boyfriend (we met on a semester abroad in London). A month after I arrived, his company sent him back to London. I spent my first year as an expat alone, teaching in a local primary school. Now he’s back in Hong Kong and we are continuing to explore Hong Kong together.

What challenges did you face during the move?

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It took me almost an entire year to get my job and visa in Hong Kong because there was a long application process that included flying to San Francisco from my home in Arizona for an interview. Not long after I got the job and moved, I found out that my boyfriend would not be living in Hong Kong for a while. I had to adjust my expectations for what my life in HK would be like. Fortunately, I fell in the love with the city right away.

How did you find somewhere to live?

I knew approximately where I wanted to live, so I walked into an estate agent’s office in that area one afternoon. They took me to two apartments, and I chose one of them immediately. In Hong Kong you typically need to put down a deposit of two month’s rent, pay one month’s rent in advance, and pay another half month’s rent to the agent, totaling three and half month’s rent up front. Fortunately, I love my apartment. It’s small, but it has an amazing view of a historic building with skyscrapers rising behind it.

Are there many other expats in your area?

There are lots of expats in the area where I live and almost none in the area where I work. I revolve between two worlds every day. It is relatively easy to be an expat in Hong Kong because of the many conveniences, but it’s also easy to fall into an expat bubble. I’m lucky to have regular exposure to the side of Hong Kong that has few expats.

What is your relationship like with the locals?

I am the only foreigner at my place of work. I share a staff room and teach alongside locals every day. For the most part, we get along famously. At times, of course, I feel isolated because I can’t join in on their banter in the staff room. I’m definitely the odd one out, but they have also made a point of inviting me along for lunch and translating for me when necessary. All of my students are locals or recent immigrants from Mainland China, and they are incredibly sweet and attentive.

My sweetheart is also a Hong Kong local, half Chinese and half British, so I get to see another side of Hong Kong through him and his very international family.

What do you like about life where you are?

I love the energy about Hong Kong. It seems like everyone I meet is trying something new or starting a business or planning a trip somewhere. It’s inspiring, and I feel like I’ve changed a lot in my time here.

What do you dislike about your expat life?

I have a big family and young siblings back home, and I miss getting to be around them. My little brothers and sisters are growing up very quickly. Flights in and out and Hong Kong become shockingly expensive around holiday times, so it can be difficult to arrange visits.

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

People talk about money a lot in Hong Kong. It has taken some time to get used to people asking me how much money I make, how much I pay in rent, and how much all of my belongings cost. Hong Kong people also tend to be financially savvy, and spend a lot more time chatting about investment portfolios and the real estate market than I am used to.

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

Most Western products are available in Hong Kong. It’s a very international city and I actually have access to a lot of foods and products that I might not be able to get back home. The main exceptions are my favorite candy, Reese’s Pieces, and big shoes. I have large feet, even by Western standards, and it’s virtually impossible for me to buy shoes in Hong Kong.

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

We really are spoiled for choice in Hong Kong. In addition to wonderful Cantonese cuisine, we have authentic food from all over Asia. I’m a brave eater and I love Chinese food. My favorites are soup-filled dumplings and chasiubao (barbecued pork buns). I don’t really like anything with too much bean curd in it, though. My coworkers love to get me to try new things when we go for dim sum, and they always order more than we need.

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

Don’t fall into a loop where you complain about everything with your expat friends. It is necessary to vent and sympathize, but make sure you celebrate the great things about your new country, too. Asia is an exciting, prosperous place to be right now, and I can’t recommend it enough.

What are your plans for the future?

I am getting married in July and my fiancé and I plan to stay in Hong Kong at least for another few years. Some day we might move on to London, but the job prospects here are very good for both of us at the moment.

You can find out more about my writing at ShannonYoungWriter.com and I’d love to connect with you on Twitter @ShannonYoungHK. If you are interested in writing for the Expat Women in East Asia anthology, email me at Shannon @ typhoon-media.com.