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From Los Angeles to Shanghai: Shanghai Shangrila

27 June, 2011 10:26  Erin Erin

An American couple in Shanghai each share their journey. Read about their individual perceptions of being an expat. Tiffany's story is first, with Mike's story below.

 

shanghai shagrala boat My name is Tiffany Hynek and I’m from Los Angeles, California in the United States. I am currently living in Shanghai, China.

1. Why did you move abroad?
My boyfriend, Mike Finstad, and I had lived in Los Angeles for over five years and we were ready for a new adventure. We both wanted to try to move to China to gain international experience in a country that is growing so quickly. Being an architect, I was intrigued by not only the amount of building, but also the amazing historical architecture in China.

2. How do you make a living (working? Tell us about your experience)?
I work at a venture capitalist company helping to develop a line of prefabricated homes. However, when we first came to China, I was working for traditional architecture firm here in Shanghai. From my experience, the working environment is much different in China.

3. How often do you communicate with home and how?
I communicate with home quite often. I try to keep in contact with friends and family through email, Skype and of course, our blog!

4. What's your favorite thing about being an expat in China?
I love being approached by people who want to practice their English with me. You end up getting into the most interesting conversations and meeting the nicest people.

5. What’s the worst thing about being an expat in China?
Not being able to communicate effectively with people on the streets. I am slowly learning Chinese, but not being able to strike up a random conversation or ask people questions is very difficult.

6. What do you miss most?
Greasy, cheep tacos! Being from Southern California, I am very accustomed to grabbing some cheap tacos on a Friday night. However, here in Shanghai, Mexican food is NOT cheap.

7. What custom/ habits do you find most strange about your adopted culture?

No matter how long I’m here, I don’t think I’ll ever get over all the spitting!

8. What is a myth about your adopted country?
I think the biggest thing that is a misconception about China is that it’s so wildly different than other places. In many ways it is, however, my day-to-day life is pretty much the same. I go to work, grab a drink at happy hour, go to the grocery store, etc. Shanghai is a modern, international city and therefore, all the things you could ever need and want, you could probably find here in Shanghai.

9. What advice would you give other expats?
Don’t get bogged down or overwhelmed by some of the cultural differences or things that bother you about your adopted country. Embrace and enjoy the differences, after all, isn’t that what makes your new country special?
shanghai shagrala dog
10. When and why did you start your blog?
Mike and I started the blog right before we moved in order to keep our family and friends informed on our adventure. We had so many people we wanted to keep in touch with that a blog seemed like the best and easiest way to let everyone follow our lives.

The blog is basically a great scrapbook for us. It allows us to chronicle our lives, adventures, and exciting moments and keep them for us to look at in the future. I can’t wait to look back on all our experiences in a few years.

 


  Mike's interview:

 

My name is Mike Finstad, shanghai mikebut you’re free to call me whatever you’d like. Originally from Washington State, I lived in Southern California for the last 10 years. But 7 months ago, my girlfriend and I decided to move to Shanghai, China, which is where we live now.

1. Why did you move abroad?
Shortly before Tiffany graduated from college, we started talking about what our plans would be when she finished. After much deliberation, including some discussions with people who tried to talk us out of it, we decided to leave our lives (and jobs/careers) in Los Angeles for something different. We felt that living and working in China would be extremely beneficial to our personal and professional goals. Moreover, we believed that moving to a foreign country, and relying heavily on each other, would strengthen our relationship in profound ways. So in October of 2010, we packed up two suitcases worth of clothes and set out for Shanghai to begin the adventure of our lifetimes.

2. How do you make a living (working? Tell us about your experience)?
I am a writer by day and a networker by night. I haven’t settled on an actual job just yet, but I am starting to get restless being cooped up in the apartment with our dog. So I’ve just recently started looking for full-time work. Teaching English seems to be a job that is in high demand here in Shanghai but, personally, I would like to find something in Shanghai’s bustling financial industry.

3. How often do you communicate with home and how?
I communicate with home often. Unfortunately, my mom doesn’t know how to use Skype just yet, haha, so I’d say email is probably the most frequent mode of communication for me. But with my technologically-savvy friends, I love to use Skype.

4. What's your favorite thing about being an expat in China?

For me, the best things about living in China are intangible. Don’t get me wrong: the incredible scenery of Shanghai’s skyline, the living history in buildings and neighborhoods, the authentic Chinese food, and the people are all great things. But when the sun sets on my life, the best part about being an expat in China is that I can say I had the courage to do something that many people only talk about doing.

5. What’s the worst thing about being an expat in China?
Not knowing the language fully. I took three years of Mandarin in college but still have trouble understanding people because they speak SO fast. It also doesn’t help that Shanghainese can be indecipherable even to Chinese people from Beijing. The language barrier is definitely a big drawback/disadvantage.

6. What do you miss most?
Aside from missing friends and family, which would be the obvious answer here, I miss American football, basketball, and baseball. I’m a huge sports fan, and some of our best Los Angeles memories were spent at the Coliseum (for USC football games), Dodger Stadium (watching the Dodgers play), and Staples Center (where the Lakers are bigger than life). I really miss being able to go see American sporting events!!

7. What custom/ habits do you find most strange about your adopted culture?
The road etiquette of Shanghainese people is a little strange, to put it mildly. There are traffic lights in most places, but people don’t really pay attention to them as often as they should. It almost seems like red lights and green lights are mere suggestions rather than actual laws. So many accidents are caused by people who fail to heed common-sense rules of the road, which is a habit I have not gotten used to yet.

8. What is a myth about your adopted country?
Friends and family in the United States had serious concerns about our decision to move to a communist country. The one question that always comes up, even now, seems to be, “Don’t you worry about living in a communist country?” I think it’s fair to say that many people have strong views about communism, even if they do not understand the concept. Of course, people are free to think and feel however they want, but when people begin to accept truth without verification, half-truths and myths tend to arise.

I recently met up with a guy from Denmark while I was visiting Halong Bay, Vietnam, and he had just come back from a trip to North Korea. Given that Americans are widely denied entry into that country, I was extremely curious to get a first-hand story of what it was like to visit. One thing he shared really made an impression on me. He said that two armed guards met and guided his tour group for the duration of their trip, from the time they landed until the time they departed. I think a lot of our friends and family back in the States were convinced that we would have similar restraints on our freedom when we came to Shanghai. While my daily routine doesn’t include rallying government protesters, I have not had these kinds of problems (and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it doesn’t happen!)

9. What advice would you give other expats?
Find opportunity to learn about the culture in which you live. Not only will it help you make friends, but it will also give you an educational experience unlike any you will find in a book.

10. When and why did you start your blog?
Our blog began a few weeks before we actually moved to Shanghai. We started writing because, prior to coming out, we tried finding a blog/website that could guide us and help make the transition easier. Not finding too many, we decided to start one for ourselves, and hopefully other people will find it helpful if they are coming to Shanghai for business, tourism, or to stay for a while.

For one thing, it has satisfied my worry-wart mother, which means I don’t have to field her calls nearly as much as I would if the blog didn’t exist, haha. But another cool benefit is that our adventure is being documented, so when I’m ninety years old I’ll have some great memories to look back on.

Blog LinkTiffany & Mike's blog, Shanghai Shangrila

  Guide for expatriates in Hong Kong, China

 

To find out more about being an expat in Shanghai, EasyExpat's Shanghai Guide

 

 

 

   



         
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