Moving to China: One girl's experience of making the leap

Culture | by Amber Mizerak
Posted: December 6th, 2011 | Updated: January 5th, 2013 | Comments
Suzhou travel There are many reasons why people choose to up sticks and move overseas, far from family, friends and home. For some it's work, for others, an escape. Everyone has their story. Here Amber Mizerak talks about her decision to move to China and how stepping out into the great unknown can change your attitude to life.>>> Last night a friend came by and we chatted until 2am. We talked about our lives, why we are here, what made us drop everything and move half way around the world and where the hell we were going to go from here. I am sure many expats have had the same conversation, but as the holidays approach, high school friends come to visit and things start to become more real (I'll be turning 30 soon), I can't help but sometimes ask myself these questions. Let's face it, those of us that seek to live abroad are a special breed, different from our friends and family at home who are busy buying houses and cars and building a life in their home country. If, however, you are anything like me, you've spent more on happy hours than you currently have in your savings account, and while those are troubling statistics, I wouldn't change a thing. So, I am here today to share my story and encourage you to follow your dreams. It may be scary and there are no guarantees, but you have to believe that if you take the leap, the net will appear!

A little adventure never hurt anyone

Like lots of people, I was looking for adventure and a chance to escape from a job I didn't love, a closet full of suits and the committee meetings that had become my life a few years out of college. I remember sitting in my new office and thinking how I couldn't bear to be twice my age and regret never taking the plunge into the unknown. So I did. I got in touch with a crazy friend from college, who, last I'd heard, had been living in Russia. The next thing I knew he'd invited me to his current town in the middle of China, where there was a university ready to hire me. I wrapped up my responsibilities and it was happening. I was moving to Ganzhou (Gànzhōu, 赣州). Daily life in Ganzhou My friend told me the Ganzhou climate was like Florida, so I gathered my summer gear, Google-earthed the city and bought the next ticket out of Pennsylvania. Ever since, people have always asked the infamous question, "Why China?" And my answer is: I would have gone to the moon if I could have. I just wanted to go. Everywhere. Anywhere. I'd never studied Chinese and can barely mutter a word of Spanish or French even after several years of classes, but China seemed like an exciting and untamed place. After four years of working in safe and secure jobs, saving for retirement and being one of the few people in the U.S. with decent health care (get it together America), I decided I could always go back if I wanted to. When in my life would I ever again be so independent, so uncommitted to anyone or so free? I packed up my five, yes, five suitcases and landed in Shanghai. I'm still not really sure how, but I missed my connecting flight to Ganzhou. I wandered aimlessly around Shanghai until some kind college students graciously invited me to have tea with them. Even though now I've come to realize I'd fallen for the classic tea-house scam, it got my adventure here off to what I assumed at the time was a friendly start. And thus began my China experiment. It was great. Every day there was something new and exciting to see and do. I made unlikely friends, like the little old lady who sold me buttons and then invited me into her house for dinner; it's these little things that make you feel that you're alive and discovering something. A whole world full of new people entered my life, and looking back, somewhere along the way the adventure took over. I never stopped to consider what living in such a remote place would do to my dating life—I was a 27-year-old single woman, ready for anything, about to live in the middle of a rice paddy. After a good amount of time away from everything familiar, I really started to feel the distance, especially being in such a remote place. But luckily, the world has a way of working itself out and I am writing to you now from Shanghai, where I live with an adorable Brit who I met in the alleys of Saigon and convinced to move here with me. Street in Shanghi

Take the plunge, you won't regret it

I guess the goal of this little nostalgic journey is to inspire those of you who are teetering on the edge of taking the plunge into just doing it. Because really, what's the worst that could happen? The worst thing that happened to me was that Ganzhou was actually nothing like Florida in the winter, and I froze for a few months until I discovered I could get a winter coat custom made on the cheap—one of the many great things about living in China. Sure, I was sold some overly-expensive tea, and maybe I peed on my foot a few times using a squatty potty, but I can't picture being 60 years old and regretting any of my time spent in the Middle Kingdom. Some of the most memorable times away turned out to be holidays. Once I was invited to my friend's small village outside of Ganzhou for a baptism that happened to be on Christmas Eve. She and I walked around the old Hakka house where she grew up, which now only houses a single family. These lovely people shared a cup of tea with us, invited us into their home, and this extension of kindness and generosity was just enough to complete my first Christmas away. The next Christmas was followed by my Nigerian friend dressing up as Santa before wandering into the schoolyard buying trinkets from the children's mini shops in a bit of a holiday role reversal. Priceless. Overall, the best thing that has happened to me, now that I've had experience of life at both ends of the spectrum (from the long corporate days to the happy-go-lucky teaching life), was the discovery that I am not happy at either end, but somewhere in the middle. Living in China has broadened my perspective of the world while at the same time catapulting me closer to being the person I want to be. I know now that I'm more interested in balance: I don't think working 50 hours a week is the answer, and a mere 12 certainly isn't either. And while I may be sitting in a cubicle writing this, I am still riding the wave of excitement that comes along with the risk of moving far away from everything, and everyone, I have ever known. Ultimately, this experience has made me stronger and I don't have to wonder anymore. And as my search for a more balanced lifestyle continues, I'll always be an advocate of taking the less secure route, because I know that's where you'll find the most excitement. I don't know where I'll go from here, but that's the point. What's life without the thrills? You never know what lies ahead until you take the leap.

Living, working and studying in China

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