Expat Interview with Jiawei - US Expat Living in Shanghai, China

Published: 5 Dec at 9 AM
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Filed: Interviews,China
Jiawei is an American expat who was thrilled when she first found out her husband's job was taking her to China, her native country. However, what lay ahead of her was one frustration after another, instead of the sweet familiarity she imagined. There was no instant connection to anything. What she expected of an easy transition was completely different. Now fast forward four years, she is in love with Shanghai, where the sweet smelling chestnuts, the aroma of sweet potatoes, soups and dumplings, other tasty bits that make a city feel like home. Jiawei's expat blog is called My Part of the Horizon (see listing here)

Meet Jiawei - US expat living in Shanghai, China
Meet Jiawei - US expat living in Shanghai, China

Here's the interview with Jiawei...

Where are you originally from?
I am from Chicago, USA.

In which country and city are you living now?
I am now living in Shanghai, China.

How long have you lived here and how long are you planning to stay?
I have lived here for almost four years now. It all depends on my husband's job situation how much longer we are staying, is hard to plan at the moment.

Why did you move and what do you do?
We moved for my husband's job. I am doing my favorite thing in the whole world, raising our two wonderful children.

Did you bring family with you?
Our family of four came together.

Vacationing in Beijing
Vacationing in Beijing
How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
It wasn't easy. China is my native country, but having been away from it for two decades I found it hard to adjust at the beginning. My expectation and knowledge of China is based on the China twenty years ago when internet didn't exist and telephone was a fairly new phenomenon. New words entered people's daily lives while I was living in the West. When we first moved to Shanghai, I didn't know how to say "Starbucks", "donuts", "deodorant" and many others, I couldn't order in McDonald's, and I was denied a joint account from the local bank. I didn't know where everything was, where to buy clothes, and I had no friends to talk to. Locals think I am a foreigner because I act foreign. And expats consider me a local, because I do look a little Chinese. In a nutshell, it takes me a whole year to find my place and settle in and get comfortable.

Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialise with other expats?
Nothing was easy at first. All my friends are expats, but I interact with locals, too. One of our goals of living in China is to have our children fully immersed in the language and culture. They are doing just that, which give me the opportunity to meet and get to know their friends, the parents and teachers from various classes outside of our home (ballet, piano, swimming, Arts, Math, etc).

Local community celebrating the Lantern Festival
Local community celebrating the Lantern Festival
What are the best things to do in the area; anything to recommend to future expats?
Shanghai has a lot to offer. Our family live very close to Century park, the largest park in the city, which is great for family picnics, camping, amusement park, playground for the kids, or just a relaxing stroll. Other than that, Yu Garden is a great place to see traditional Chinese style architecture, and wandering through the many lanes and alleys you can find all kinds of souvenirs to take home with; the former French concession area is a lovely part of town where you can find the French imported trees, old villas and lane houses, shops, and cafes; walking in the Bund, Shanghai's most famous landmark is also a must.

What do you enjoy most about living here?
Being able to visit my side of the family is an advantage that I cherish everyday. When I lived in the U.S., I used to fantasize being in the same continent with them. Now my dream has come true.

How does the cost of living compare to home?
Groceries, dining out, utilities, transportation are very inexpensive. But anything "Western" or imported, from clothing to books to cereal, laundry detergent, then prices take a big hike!

One of many Chinglish signs in the city
One of many Chinglish signs in the city
What negatives, if any, are there to living here?
Pollution. It gets worse over the winter months.

If you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving here, what would it be?
Be prepared and know what you are getting into. Shanghai has a population of over 23 millions. A grocery shopping trip at Carrefour on a weekend will probably make you cry and regret the decision of ever moving here. Overcrowding aside, the city and its people have their many quirks that can be frustrating beyond belief. Keeping an open mind goes a long way!

What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?
To find like-minded people who homeschool their kids was hard at the beginning. But other than that, everything fell into its right place with a little time and patience.

When you finally return home, how do you think you'll cope with repatriation?
I have mixed feelings about that. On one hand, I look forward to moving back and know we will easily slip back into the Western conveniences, but on the other, I will miss my family here in China.

At Century Park with friends
At Century Park with friends
What are your top 5 expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps?
  1. A working knowledge of Mandarin is extremely helpful and will make your expat life a lot easier.
  2. Connect with other expats as soon as possible. They will be the best resources for the first few weeks and will be there to pick up the pieces when you have a mental breakdown!
  3. Take advantage of Shanghai's prime location and travel. Shanghai is only thirty minutes away from charming Hangzhou and "Venice-like" Suzhou and many other water towns and villages. A trip to Japan and Korea takes a couple of hours only.
  4. If you live in Shanghai long term, you will need an air purifier or two in your home. That's the least you can do to minimize the damage to your lungs.
  5. Keep an open mind. There will be some cultural differences and life habits that will get to you. When you see people spit on the street or kids use the park as a public restroom, or when an old lady cut line right in front of you, breathe and remind yourself that nothing is personal, it's just another day's fair share of adventure.

Tell us a bit about your own expat blog.
My Part of the Horizon is first and foremost, my attempt to chronicle my family's experiences, thoughts and feeling of living in Shanghai. It is an honest depiction of our daily struggles and triumphs. But it is also a blog where you can learn about the moods and pulse of Shanghai, its people and places. I strive to keep the blog current with events in the area, so that my readers can see through my eyes the personality and character of the city. I like to blog about parenting, traveling, cultural differences, beautiful places and memorable occasions or anything that crosses paths with me in Shanghai, my part of the horizon for now.

How can you be contacted for further advice to future expats coming to your area?
The best way to contact me is through my blog's "Contact Me" page.

About the author

Expat Blog ListingJiawei is an American expat living in China. Blog description: Homeschooling mom blogging about expat life and raising kids in Shanghai (by Jiawei)
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