Becoming an Expat

Living in a place, even for as short of a time as three months, forces you to consider what it would be like to live there permanently. Before this semester, I would have said I definitely would want to live permanently as an expat in China, at least for a few years at the beginning of my career. Actually living in Shanghai has forced me to reconsider that stance, as there are definitely aspects of Chinese culture that I’m not a complete fan of. After three months, I’ve come to terms with those differences and come to the conclusion that I would still really like to live in China as a resident.

If I were to live in China permanently, I would want to live in the Jing’an district of Shanghai. This district is filled with young professionals and is known for being a hub of the expatriate community. Each street is lined with western bars and restaurants, as well as high-end shopping malls. From Korean barbecue, Mexican food, or American classics, you can find anything you might be craving sprinkled among the countless traditional Chinese joints. Kartel and Maya are among my favorites. Among all of the modern establishments stands the ancient Chinese Buddhist Jing’an Temple, for which the area is named. The mix of western familiarity and traditional Chinese culture really appeals to me, as it would allows me to experience whatever I’m in the mood for on a day to day basis.

Another area I think I’d enjoy living in is Dali, a city in the far western Yunnan province. Dali is basically the polar opposite of Shanghai. Yunnan overall is one of the less developed, more rural parts of the country, with a high ethnic minority presence. One of the best ways to demonstrate how different the two places are is their tier rank status. China ranks their cities based off of their GDP, population, and overall development rate. Shanghai is a 1st tier city (arguably the top of the top), while Dali is a 4th tier city. Dali itself is known as the home place of the Bai minority people, the beautiful Erhai Lake, and Dali Ancient Town. I experienced one of my absolute favorite mornings in China on a rooftop terrace in Dali, watching the run rise with a bunch of friends, while listening to “Here Comes the Sun”. Living in a way less urbanized area would definitely be a bigger challenge than Shanghai, but the beauty and overall relaxed nature of Dali would be worth it.

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Professionally, I would want to work with an international corporation. I’ve learned this semester that I don’t really enjoy working with start-ups because it isn’t structured enough. I liked to have clear goals and expectations from my boss, which I believe an established, well-known company can provide. I don’t have any specific companies in mind, but the route to my internship took me past Under Amour’s headquarters everyday, so I daydreamed a bit about what working with them would be like.

Furthermore, as a permanent resident, I would definitely want to explore more of the country. I traveled a bit throughout this semester, but it was difficult to coordinate with differing schedules and school work, plus the desire to experience Shanghai to its fullest. Not having a finite amount of time to spend in the country would make weekend trips a regular part of my life. I have quite a few places on my list but the first few destinations would be Hangzhou, Huangshan, and Chengdu. This semester, I wasn’t legally allowed to leave mainland China (as mentioned in a previous post), so I’d also make a point to visit Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Macau.

Getting to know Shanghai this semester has been an incredible experience. I can genuinely say I love this city. That being said, this semester has taught me that living among an unfamiliar culture with an unfamiliar language takes a lot of brain power. I enjoy the challenge of making relationships with Chinese people but it often leaves me feeling drained. Being able to come home at the end of a long day to some semblance of western familiarity in Jing’an would be the best of both worlds. I am confident that I will be coming back to China as part of my future career and I’m excited to see whether my path leads me to becoming a real expat!