In China, and especially in Shanghai, you can meet expats from all over the World. We mapped out 5 different stages of expat life in China:
1) The Students:
Students that come to China to start their Bachelor or the ones that stayed here just for a year or even for an exchange semester. This group cannot really be considered as expats due to their short-term stay. They dive in deeply, and change their Facebook locations upon arrival.
Despite the fact that they don’t have much money, they spend all the money on overweight baggage fees and first aid kits because who knows what China has. They have a diet based on noodles, rice and dumplings, in short, the exact same thing every day during the first months. After a while, they will be sick of it and start spending a lot of money on Western food caused, in part, by homesick.
2) The Teachers:
With fresh degrees in their hands, these twenty-somethings roll into China with teaching jobs lined up. It is usually a pleasant job since having a Western face helps to get tons of students being well paid. However, if you have a Chinese face (even if you are latino), forget about this option because, if you do not look Westerner, that means that you have no clue about other languages than Mandarin.
This time in an expat's life is characterized by trips to Boracay or Bangkok, running into class in their pajamas, starting to get sick of Chinese food, realizing they can't drink fake alcohol like they used to, and strange origami gifts from their students. In other words, the exact same student life you used to have but experimenting more with adulthood resopnsibilities.
3) The Young Professional:
Mid-twenties, early thirties young adults working for start-ups, international companies (because who wants to work in a Chinese company when you can avoid it?), magazines…These expats are usually found in big cities since they still cannot live without a Western meal.
This time in an expat's life is characterized by spending too much money on alcohol and cheese, experiencing the underground at peak times of the day, traveling to obscure parts of the country to “discover real China,” and being ignored by their Chinese landlords. It's a time of real independence and being kind of a douche.
4) The Professional Professional:
These are the actual expats, in the traditional sense of the word. They are characterized by having Western salaries, stay half a year in China and half a year abroad. These are the ones that China is so desperately trying to attract more of.
It's a time of career growth and developing country-induced stress headaches. They buy in Starbucks everyday because they can; spending tons of money on the best air purifiers, and become best friends of their drivers, who hang out with them all day long.
5) The Family Expat:
The professional expat with a family at the back. In most cases, their companies set them up in villas that look like a fake version of California (I know what you are thinking, but not everything in China is copied from Western countries). They send their kids to international schools, buy even more air purifiers for the whole villa, fill their kitchen with delicatessen Western food, letting ayis (nannies and cleaning ladies) raise their kids. It's a time of both extreme comfort and extreme anxiety.
Being an expat in China has its ups and its downs, like everything else. But it is a great experience that will definitely change your life and make you learn and grow.