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Comparing expat stories

5 Apr

One of the things that I’ve discovered is that even after four and a half years in China there are always others who have had longer or scarier or more real expat experiences.  I know that I am an expat, but I still sometimes struggle with the lifestyle and the isolation that can come with it.  To combat that I have tried to embrace going pretty “local” in terms of what I eat and how I spend my free time and even certain aspects of my working style.  Getting some perspective can be very healthy.

A few weeks ago we went to a dinner party thrown by friends where we met two new couples who have lived the expat lifestyle for quite a while.  One couple was an American born Bangladeshi now with a Shanghainese woman and the other was a woman from Jiangsu who had moved to the states 20 years ago and married an American caucasian man.  Both of them had some stories that had us on the floor at the end of the night.

I firmly believe that successful expats are the ones who can laugh at themselves and see the light side of situations where you really only want to cry.  One of the stories that really made us howl was about one woman’s experience in the hospital in China around 10 years ago.  If you heard the bare details alone not from her, I think that it would have elicited sympathy – but the way she told it, contrasting what is expected in western culture vs. what actually happened made it very funny – because everyone at that table at one point had lived somewhere else.

I too have stories where at the time they were not fun at all, but now, with a few years I can smile.  Comparing stories, shocking the newcomers – it’s all part of the ritual.  Because so many people don’t make it more than a year or two, there is a constant stream of folks who are looking for the best place to shop, the best doctor, the place to find or order clothing or reminders from home.  Along with the funny stories at the dinner we traded gossip about foreign supermarkets and airplane fares and the best times of year to travel to certain places.  I may never meet those folks again, but for that night, we were friends.

The photo at the top of the post is of some of my expat friends in Shanghai three years ago.  As far as I am aware I am the only one in this photo who is still in China (bonus points if you can recognize me).  I know where two of the folks in this picture are now and the other two, I’m not really sure.  Looking at the photo brings back very pleasant memories of experiences together as these were folks that I studied Chinese with right at the very beginning of my stay who did become very close friends.  That day we got together for brunch and conversation and sharing expat stories.

So the cycle continues…

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