Expat Interview : Life After Repatriation

andrew schrage savings headshot

Many expatriates find that their time overseas has a significant impact on their outlook on life and that sampling life living among people from different cultural backgrounds can serve as a real source of inspiration when they do return home from their time as an expat. Today we meet entrepreneur Andrew Schrage, an American who found that the time he spent living as an expatriate in Hong Kong taught him business skills that have been invaluable in the launch of his own business.

Can you please tell us a little about your background and what initially made you move to Hong Kong?

I went to school at Brown University, I’m originally from Boston, and I currently reside in Chicago. My mother is from Hong Kong, so I always had a desire to visit there. I had an opportunity to spend some time studying Chinese there, so I took it. My motivation in doing so was borne out of a desire to learn their culture and experience Asia for the first time.

What were your first impressions of Hong Kong? Did you suffer from culture shock? How did you deal with your initial emotions?

Culture shock was most definitely at the top of the list there. The language obstacle was tough in the beginning, but I did my best to at least become conversational in the language. In the beginning, I had to deal with loneliness, but this emotion was offset by the amazing opportunity of learning the culture of another country. The people there were nice and respectful, and I gained a lot in their eyes once they saw my desire to learn and communicate in their language. Lastly, while my pre-conceived notions of Hong Kong were that of a big, bustling city, which was indeed the case, I was surprised by the amount of nature-based attractions they had to offer.

What were your favorite things about living in Hong Kong?

What I enjoyed most was the fact that the city was extremely vibrant while still maintaining its connection to nature. It’s set up is similar to many “big” cities here in the States. There is the high-rent district, where you can visit chic nightlife spots, but you can also visit other areas of town for cheaper dining options. It was also fantastic how close it was to China. You could take a relatively quick ride on their public transit system and end up in Shenzhen, where you could experience the culture and environment of mainland China. Lastly, Hong Kong’s smaller surrounding islands offer a getaway from the breakneck pace of the city and are the best way to go if you want to escape from the noise of the city. Some of my favorite excursions included visiting Lantau Island and the Big Buddha.

What things you did you least enjoy?

What I disliked the most was the amount of air pollution, especially in Hong Kong proper, and the environment there is noisy as a whole. Also, because it’s one of the most densely populated regions, walking around Hong Kong is a battle to gain space on their sidewalks and streets. Lastly, the climate is quite humid during the summer months, which is something else that I had a hard time getting used to.

What advice would you give to someone who was relocating to Hong Kong for the first time?

Hong Kong continues to grow at a fast-paced rate and will offer you the experience of a lifetime. Whether it is for study opportunities or employment, I’d suggest learning the language and culture of Hong Kong as quickly as possible. It will help you acclimate quickly and form relationships with the locals. Beyond that, be adventurous. The food and activities there are a big change from that of the US, but you’ll regret it if you shy away from the opportunities.

How did you feel about returning home to Boston? Did you experience any difficulties settling back into life in your home country?

My return home was definitely a drastic change of scenery. Ultimately, experiencing everyday life in a different culture gave me a newfound respect for all the advantages and luxuries of life in the States that I previously took for granted. Further, it gave me insights on how we as a society here in America can improve.

Since returning home you have started Money Crashers. Please tell us what you do and describe how that came about?

I began pursuing Money Crashers Personal Finance, several years ago because of the entrepreneurial spirit in me and a sincere desire to help others with their finances. With the effects of the recession on families and the high unemployment rates, I wanted to use the site as a way to provide free, valuable education to help people get their finances in order.

What key challenges did you face when developing Money Crashers?

In a nutshell, getting my arms around ways to successfully market the business without spending a fortune. I soon learned the importance of taking advantage of free, social media marketing sites in order to build a business on a shoestring budget. Since then, we have responded in full force. We are fully immersed in the social media realm, and try to take advantage of word-of-mouth recommendations from our readers.

So, you specialize in providing advice that can help people make better financial decisions. What three top money-saving tips can you offer people who are moving abroad for the first time?

1) Negotiate. Unlike in the US, many countries around the world expect potential customers to negotiate before buying anything. Make sure you learn some of the most effective negotiation techniques to score a great deal on just about all of your purchases!
2) Beware of fees. Many people assume that they should try to stick with cash when abroad, but there are inherent risks with that strategy as well. On that note, make sure you use one of the many credit cards without foreign transaction fees as a way to not only avoid excessive fees, but also gain the rewards offered by your credit card company.
3) Travel frugally. This is a good idea anywhere, but especially involving life overseas. You’re going to be in an unfamiliar culture, and unexpected expenses can creep up on you at a moment’s notice. Save wherever you can, and it will improve your overall experience. Also, since you’re international and domestic flights will be pretty expensive, make sure you’re always on the lookout for best airline ticket deals and that you utilize the best strategies to save on your flights.

What experiences from your time as an expatriate have been most helpful in assisting you with your venture?

The exposure to another culture. I’ve learned ways to expand and market my business that other small business owners just don’t possess if they’ve never lived abroad. It’s helped me realize that not only does one’s business potentially expand beyond the border of the US, but that different cultures and populations need to be serviced in a unique manner from that of people in the US.

What advice would you give to existing expatriates, or those who are about to return home, about setting up a business?

Learn from your experiences, and incorporate them into your business model. Also, with the variety of ethnicities in this country, targeting a business venture towards a growing ethnic trend in this country could prove to be a sharp business strategy. Lastly, start small. For my venture, it began simply as one of a variety of side business ideas that I grew to a sizable point without the pressure of performing or need to generate positive cash flow right off the bat.

What’s next for Money Crashers?

We really want to focus on producing top quality content that can provide people with the confidence and knowledge to become financially fit. We’d love to expand into other areas of personal finance that our readers have been asking about, and potentially get into other forms of media like video and podcasting.

If you’re interested in learning more about Andrew or are looking for top tips on managing your finances, be sure to visit Money Crashers Personal Finance.

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