What's Life Like in China? An American Mom Answers
With China playing an increasingly important role globally, major cities on the Chinese mainland, such as Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen, continue to attract expats from all over the world. For families considering relocating to China, hearing what to expect from those who have already made the move helps to mitigate some of the stress and culture-shock.
We spoke to Gabriella Rivera Eitingon, an American mom who moved to Beijing from Orlando, Florida, with her husband Andrew, children Felix (grade 3) and Cecilia (grade 1), and dog Hilde.
What was it like moving your family to China?
This is our first time living outside of the US and there was a lot to learn upon arrival, but we found everyone here very welcoming. We were quick to find new friends willing to help us find our way through every facet of life in Beijing. At first, things can be quite hectic as you try to get everyone settled, but before you know it, you start to feel at home even though you are halfway around the globe.
What is China like?
China is amazing! There is a wonderful juxtaposition of old and new. In Beijing, you have the history and culture that comes with living in the capital but also the excitement of a rapidly growing, dynamic megacity. Everybody has been very friendly and patient with us. We feel extremely safe here in Beijing, whether we are wandering the hutongs or on the metro in the CBD.
What has been your experience been like as an American living in Beijing?
We thoroughly enjoy living in China. We have a busy family life full of activities like scouting, sports, play dates, heading to the mall to catch a movie, and weekend sightseeing trips. We think it is an incredibly exciting time for our family to be here: the growth and innovation all around the city are amazing to watch. There is something new to learn every day. Our children have the opportunity to attend an amazing international school and learn side by side with teachers and students from around the world. In a short time, we have grown so much, in ways we could have never imagined. This experience is something special and something we could never replicate at home. We are fortunate to learn about China in ways that we never could from a book or a television show.
How easy was it to adjust to life in China?
Of course, there are challenges to moving across the world, but we were lucky to quickly find a community through our children’s international school. So many other families have made moves like ours and they are always happy to share what they have learned. The kids made great friends right away and there are nearly countless opportunities for parents to become involved at the school.
What do you love most about life in China?
Do we have to pick just one thing? For the kids: friends and dumplings. For mom and dad: exploring Beijing and China! But in particular, watching our children's view of the world change so quickly and seeing them confidently speaking Mandarin never fails to amaze us.
How has your attitude to China changed since moving here?
We had no idea what to expect when we moved here, but we continue to be amazed at how quickly things change and how fast this great city can grow. We feel like we have already been rewarded many times over for saying yes to this opportunity.
Is it possible to live in China without speaking Chinese?
Yes, but it is more fun to try and learn. Even learning a little bit will help you feel more at home here. It may not be the easiest language to learn, but it is an amazing feeling when you can share a laugh with someone or take care of something by yourself.
Can you find home comforts in China?
Yes! We have never seen so many shopping malls in our life. Part of the adventure of living here for us has been finding comforting favorites and exploring new things along the way.
How do you deal with air pollution?
Air pollution has improved significantly over the last few years, and we take advantage of good weather days and get outside. If pollution is high, we are lucky to have great air and ample facilities at our children’s school to help our children maintain a healthy activity level. We can also sometimes be found playing in the sports domes on the weekends too!
What’s the hardest aspect of living in China for you?
It’s hard not to miss family back home. WeChat video calls are great, but sometimes you want a hug.
What are your top tips for living in China?
Always keep an open mind and a friendly attitude. This place is likely very different from where you call home, but that is also what makes it so exciting to be here. Say yes! Yes to coffee invitations, yes to attending seminars, and yes to impromptu outings. Making friends and finding opportunities for learning will go a long way towards making it feel like home here in Beijing. Be ready for exploring new things and rapid change. You are in for a great experience!
What would you advise other Americans to bring with them when moving to China?
We feel like we have everything we want and need here in Beijing. But of course, your own choice of special comfort foods can help to cure the occasional bout of homesickness.
Like Gabriella, many families have undergone the huge move to Beijing in search of new opportunities and experiences. Participating and engaging with the local communities of Beijing is the most fundamental step in ensuring your family adjusts to the new change in lifestyle. At International School of Beijing we understand the struggles a new family may undergo when moving to Beijing.We’ve created a Beijing City Guide for families like Gabriella’s in order to make adjusting to a new life in China easier. All information in the Beijing City Guide is crowd sourced from our local expatriate community. The guide covers the top concerns about moving to Beijing and can be downloaded for free by clicking the image below.
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