Monday 12th December 2011

Expat Interviews: A Year in China

In the latest installment in our expat interview series we talked to Doris Gallan, a Canadian expatriate who immigrated to the USA in 1998 and then lived in Mexico (2008-09), Costa Rica (2009) and China (2010-11). She recently returned to the USA but here she describes her experience in China and tells us why expatriates there should be prepared to face the task of cooking a full chicken!

Where are you currently living?
Wenzhou, China about one hour's flight south of Shanghai

Where in the world were you born?
Northern Ontario, Canada

Why did you move overseas and why did you choose your host country?
Part of my husband and I's 5 year round the world trip; he got a job teaching English as a foreign language

How long have you been living in your host country?
1 year in total

Who did you relocate with?
My husband

Was it hard to get a visa for your host country that was appropriate to your circumstances?
Initially I got a visitor's visa as I wasn't going to work, but it turned out that it wasn't going to be sufficient, so my husband's employer got me a visa as a teacher even though I wasn't teaching

What is the medical care like in your host country? Do you need medical insurance and, if so, how much is it?
China has socialized medicine so I didn't need to buy insurance. We didn't need to the health service except once when my husband injured his shoulder. The doctor made a poultice that my husband said was like rotten oatmeal and that he had to keep on the sore muscles for days.

How do you make your living in your host country?
My husband taught while I wrote for websites and freelance

Do you speak the local language and do you think it's important to speak the local language?
We took classes to learn Mandarin but found it extremely difficult. Yes, it is important to learn the local language. I speak French, English and Spanish which was incredibly useful in Costa Rica and Mexico.

Are there any local customs, laws or traditions that it is important for potential expatriates to be aware of and adhere to?
Employers of foreign workers get "raided" often so foreigners should keep their passports and visas on them at all times.

Do you ever get homesick?
Once in a while, especially during major holidays when I missed family.

How long do you plan to remain in your host country?
We had planned to stay two years but ended up staying just one.

Have you purchased a property in your host country or do you rent? What is the cost of housing like in your host country?
We rented and the cost was covered by the school as part of my husband's compensation.

What is the cost of living like in your host country?
Extremely cheap. Two people can go out for dinner with beer for about $5 American

What do you think about the locals?
Mostly friendly and very curious about white people as they rarely see them

What are the three things you like the most about your host country?

  1. The food
  2. The arts
  3. The constant challenges that everyday tasks bring.


What are the three things you like the least?

  1. The air pollution
  2. The crazy drivers (China didn't have many cars until about 10 years ago, now there are millions)
  3. The lack of choice in type of food at the grocery store


Do you have any tips for our readers about living in your host country?
Get used to being stared at all of the time if you live in a city other than Beijing or Shanghai, bring warmer clothing than you might expect and if you are taller than 5'5'' or bigger than 150 pounds don't expect to find clothing that fits you in the stores.

Doris is the author of Baby Boombers Traveling and you can read more about her on her website: Baby Boomers Traveling.

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