Without my local social network (and my husband) and I would have left China log ago. No doubt about it. In my view, having that support and understanding from your work colleagues and friends, who are also expats, is extremely important, perhaps even essential, for staying sane in a place as different to home as China. Among my colleagues there are those, who have been here for a number of years and genuinely enjoy living here. It’s not like we all get together for a cuppa and do nothing but slag off the Chinese people, their culture and generally everything Chinese (although we all have days like this!If anyone tells you otherwise, they’re lying. End of.)
Majority of fellow expats that I know, are aware that they will/want to stay here only for a limited period of time. Like me, they feel that the Middle Kingdom is not their final destination. Nothing wrong with that in my book. We all want to try new things, give it a shot but need to realize (some sooner, others later) that things don’t always work out. C’est la vie.
Even though I have the support of my husband (as great of an adventure as it is, if not for him I would have never even contemplated moving to China in the first place) he’s not the right person to winge to about the things he…well, doesn’t mind. Quite often my rants about the lack of hygiene, being the object of constant staring and comments or complete selfishness of the locals (of the top of my head! FYI-of course the mentioned issues don’t get to me every day. Every other.) frustratingly get dismissed or ignored altogether. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like he’s doesn’t have any empathy in him; half the time he concurs my sometimes very strong views, but the other half he cannot comprehend what I’m going through and I don’t blame him. How could he?
It’s just not nice to be hearing negative things about the place that’s the closest to you, your home country, place you grew up in. You may be aware of and even complain about many of the issues that expats winge about but it’s a whole different thing to hear it from someone else. A lot.
Only a fellow expat understands, or is at least likely to understand, how I feel, what bugs me, what caused the Bad China Day this time. That understanding can have a truly healing power. I am not a particularly social person (to my OH’s disapproval), I’m perfectly fine on my own or just with him for company. However, since I’ve been here, I have definitely become more open to meeting new people, and I don’t only mean foreigners.
I spent the first three months in China living with my OH’s family, and it wasn’t easy. Yes, they were kind but I couldn’t really talk to them (my bad, lack of Mandarin) and so I spent my days eagerly waiting for my husband to come back from work just so I could talk to someone. Lonely days.
Having other foreigners around me made a world of difference!In fact, it probably kept me sane and stopped me from leaving. We share a similar sense of humour (unofficial Peter Kay fan club); we know the same TV shows and movies (mention Doctor Foster or QI to a Chinese friend and you’re met with a blank look..); in simple terms-we relate to each other. Not everyone can be friends with everyone, of course.That would be weird in a Utopian kind of way. But through work, various events and social gatherings you are bound to meet at least a few kind souls, who share similar tastes, interests and, most importantly, feelings.
I have Chinese friends, who I happily hang out with. I still keep in touch with old friends back in UK. But I feel the closest to my fellow workmates. Strange? Sure, it probably wouldn’t happen in your home country but when you’re surrounded by unfamiliar, albeit friendly faces and when you find yourself in extraordinary situations, you’re drawn to the things you know, people you can relate to as they are the only, who can really understand.
Living here has not changed my personality in terms of sociability, I’m still not the kind of person you ask to a party, but it has offered me a fantastic opportunity to link with characters I would otherwise never have met. And I’m grateful for that.
So if you are thinking of moving abroad or are already living outside your home country, I strongly encourage you to seek out fellow expats. It’s not about networking, it’s about sharing and you might not realize how meaningful and healthy that is. Until you meet someone. And then you do.