Maintain your sanity by occasionally visiting the expat bubble

While living abroad, if you’re making an effort to learn the language and about the culture, it’s ok to occasionally visit the expat bubble. I even recommend it to maintain your sanity and increase your endurance: a reprieve from the inevitable daily annoyances of living in China, or any other developing country.

I may have sounded a bit fanatical in my previous posts in this series. When I first moved to China, I probably was a bit of a zealot about immersing myself in the language and culture. But after becoming conversant in the language, and getting a feel for the culture, I realized I needed to find a balance. I was past the honeymoon phase and needed some space. That’s where the expat bubble came in.

I haven’t ever really lived in the expat bubble, so for me, rather than having to escape from it, I found it was my escape. If you’re only living abroad for 3–6 months — in China, or some other developing country — you should probably stay out of the bubble and soak up as much of the culture and language as you can.

But, if you’re going to be abroad for a while, you’ll need to make regular visits to the land of foreigners to maintain your sanity. If you don’t, one day, rather suddenly — you’ll have a meltdown. It might happen right after the thousandth time someone cuts in front of you in line, or maybe it’ll happen after you get nearly run over again, or it could happen after you have spent four hours in a Chinese bureau leading to no tangible results — one day, you’ll just hit the wall. While frequent escape won’t prevent the meltdown, it will help make it less severe.

Here are some ways to inoculate yourself.« Continue »

Going native — getting to know the locals while living in China

To understand China you need to get to know the people and the culture. You can do this by frequenting holes-in-the-wall, making friends with locals, and traveling throughout the country. You’ll have opportunities to use the language and get even farther out of that expat bubble.

Now that you’ve popped the expat bubble and are starting to speak the language, it’s time to take the next step: getting to know the people and the culture. There are many ways to do this, but the best one is to spend more time with locals. It’s time to go native.

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Expanding your network

Many people feel an aversion towards “networking” because it feels too forced. If this is how you feel about networking, then maybe it’ll make it easier if you just think about it as meeting people rather than “networking”. Networking doesn’t have to be about wanting to get something from the people you meet, you can make it about either helping the people you meet, or even just making friends for its own sake. In fact, I find that the latter two are often the best ways to think about networking. Meet people, see what you can do to help them, and then just see what other opportunities may come up in the future.

I’ve always been pleasantly surprised by how friendly other foreigners living in China are, and how willing they are to just strike up a conversation. If nothing else, you always one have thing in common: that you are both living in a foreign land. So one great way to expand your social or business network is simply to strike up conversations with a lot of people. You simply never know what will come of it, be it a long-term, close friendship or a long-term business relationship that wasn’t even conceived of when you first met.
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