Before moving to China, I had a LOT of questions and uncertainties about living abroad, and specifically in Asia. I had never travelled to Asia before! Whenever I told people where I was moving, I got a mixed bag of reactions, and unfortunately, not many of them were positive. Today I thought I’d share my biggest “culture shocks” about living in China. Although I’ve been living in this wonderful country for over a year, sometimes I still have “WTF” moments (last week, it was this. I mean, really?) Today I want to share some things I thought about China and how I was, quite frankly, really off base.
Expectation: Shanghai is really unsafe
Reality: Shanghai is a very safe city
You guys, Shanghai is very similar to NYC in that it never sleeps. Literally. Although the metro system closes around 11pm, there are always places open and things to do. However, I have never once felt unsafe here. I have taken many cabs alone and have NEVER gotten catcalled or whistled at here (#yes). Truth is, I feel very safe in Shanghai. Just because you don’t know a lot about something doesn’t mean we should always assume it’s dangerous, yeah?
Expectation: Everyone will speak English
Reality: Girl, no.
Oh, guys. I ignorantly thought “everyone will speak English because it’s a big city.” This is not true! Unless I am at a Western-style restaurant or store, people only know limited English. I’m really glad I take Chinese lessons, even if it’s hard for me. I think it’s important to know the basics of the mother language WHEREVER you are living.
Expectation: I’m gonna get so skinnyyyyy!
Reality: Chinese food has so much oil.
We already know I gained 8 pounds in China, so this should tell you everything you need to know about Chinese food. Ha! It’s very easy to gain weight in Shanghai, especially with the high oil content and drinking culture. I wish I would have known this instead of just eating everything I wanted. We are told constantly American’s are overweight and our diets are awful, but that’s not an excuse to assume ALL other countries eat better than us (#justbeinghonest)
Expectation: There are will not be any cultural differences in dating.
Reality: There are a lot of cultural differences, period.
Okay time for some #realtalk. I struggle a lot with dating here in China, and I honestly do think a lot of it is cultural. Since Shanghai is such a transient city, a lot of people aren’t looking for relationships, or if they are they seem to be more interested in local people rather than expats. It can be really frustrating, and I wish before I got here I would have realized it wouldn’t be a walk in the park.
Expectation: I don’t think I will feel valued as a woman or as an educator.
Reality: The truth is, as an American, most people will view you as a celebrity.
This was actually a genuine concern that I had before I moved. “I’m going to be a woman and a teacher in a foreign country. Will people take me seriously?”
You guys, I’m not kidding, people treat Westerners in general like we are celebrities. I am often asked to take my picture with small children and groups of people. I was told this before moving to China, but I didn’t believe it (I mean, would you?!)
I love my teacher family and feel lucky to have so many friends that I work with!
Expectation: I won’t be able to find my favorite beauty products/ food/ magazines in China!
Reality: You can find anything you could ever want in China… you just have to pay for it.
It’s true. There are very few things I have a hard time finding (some of my favorite makeup products, dry Ranch dressing packets, and bras that will fit me being just a small list). You can find a LOT of things you might be looking for, you will just have to pay a pretty penny for it. I wish someone had told me how WESTERN Shanghai really is, and that my beloved Starbucks and Sephora would still be here!
The bottom line is, just because something is different doesn’t mean it’s better or worse. There are things I LOVE about living in Shanghai and things I hate. There are things that surprise me daily and things that make me want to pull my hair out. But right now, at this moment, I wouldn’t want to live ANYWHERE else.
Are you an expat? If so, what are some things that have surprised you about living abroad?