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  • Cait B.

Our First Week as Expats in Shanghai

Culture Shock in Beijing

It's amazing the number of emotions you experience when you move to a new country. For the most part, I think I was in a blissful denial leading up to the whole event. I imagined there would be some cathartic moment when I suddenly realized---"Oh my gosh, I am completely leaving behind my whole way of life and everything I have ever known and going to this totally different place on the opposite side of the world." You know, a kind of normal reaction to have.

But it never happened.

It didn't feel real for the most part---there were visas to worry about, our house to rent, all of our stuff to pack. Tying up loose ends, studying for our TEFL-C certification, getting our affairs in all took up a lot of real estate in the brain.

But still. I thought the moment of realization would at least arrive as we boarded the plane to China, leaving US soil for over a year. I even uttered a feeble, "goodbye, America" at the gate to see if it would open up the floodgates of emotion. But, alas, nothing. We boarded the plane and I continued to feel rosy and optimistic about the whole affair.

But the "oh, sh-- what have I done" moment did arrive, albeit for only a fleeting moment on our first night in Beijing. We arrived in the Beijing airport, four full suitcases and carry-ons in tow. We found a driver holding a sign with our name and gratefully lugged over our entire lives via beat up luggage as the driver stared on wide-eyed. Now, I don't speak much (*cough* any *cough*) Chinese, but I could tell that he was not expecting us to have so many bags and he was not thrilled about it.

What ensued was a very confusing hour trying to accommodate the offending luggage that represented our only visage of home. Our driver called multiple taxis, but they refused to take us. He even got into an argument with one, and both men were yelling at each other in the street (which, of course, was in Chinese, so we had no idea what was going on). We were finally separated into two vehicles with no way of contacting each other, and got lost before we finally arrived under the cover of thick smog at the hotel, our home for the next nine nights.

That night, as I sat in bed and read letters written by my family, I will admit, I had a fleeting doubt about what we had done. Was I crazy? Had I made a mistake? Did I drag my husband into all this for nothing? Who puts a hold on their entire life to traipse across the world into the great unknown?

I am happy to tell you that this truly was a fleeting thought. The next day, we met a dozen other plucky individuals hailing from all around the world who were on the same emotional journey as us. In fact, some of them were leaving their home and country for the very first time to post up in a culture that could not be any different. For them, I have true admiration, because doing something in the face of fear takes true courage. I also count my wonderful, supportive husband amongst those I most admire.

Here they are! The newest Disney English teachers!

With the support of the group and a LOT of traipsing around Beijing (we seriously squeezed every ounce of opportunity out of that week), we felt a little more at ease. Even though the beds in our hotel room might have been borrowed from a state penitentiary (seriously, do people like sleeping on slabs of cement?) and our room smelled of old cigarette smoke, we really did enjoy our time in Beijing.

Adjusting to life in Shanghai

With all that being said, we are REALLY glad that we are actually living in Shanghai. We have been here just a couple days and we are already settling in to the flow of life in China. On our first night, we attended a welcome event with all the Disney English teachers from across the city, and you can definitely feel that Disney sense of community. The next evening, we took the subway to see the skyline of our new home, which made me feel a little like we were back in New York City (although, at a MUCH more affordable price).

A little rainy, but such gorgeous lights! This is also a good example why I prefer a real camera to a smart phone.

And now we are heading into our first weekend off before we begin our formal training. And, we are happy to share, Andrew and I will be working at centers that are really close together! In fact, both of our centers are right in the neighborhood where we want to live. Andrew will be able to take a direct trip on the subway and I can bike to my location. And, even better, WE HAVE THE SAME DAYS OFF, Y'ALL!!! If any of you had talked to us at all about our one big concern, it was that we wouldn't have weekends together. But it seems everything is falling into place.

My newest Disney name tag to add to my growing collection!

So now we start searching for apartments! We spent the past couple days setting up our Chinese bank accounts and phones (yes, I have a smart phone now--wait a second, is that hell freezing over?)--so we feel like proper Chinese locals.

I know we will have what our peers refer to as "China Days", where we will become distinctly aware how far from home we really are, but for now we are squarely in the "honeymoon phase" of our cultural acclimation, and I know I for one am going to ride it out for as long as I can. Because in the end, life is too short for doubt or regrets or worry. One of my peers said it perfectly--"Why worry? If something is going to happen, then you can fret about it then. Worrying about it ahead of time just means you have to suffer twice." Or, to paraphrase--in the words of my favorite warthog and meerkat--Hakuna Matata.

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