What is Life Like in China? A Korean Mom Answers
As China takes an ever-more central role in the global economy, expats continue to relocate in large numbers to major cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen. The prospect of moving your spouse and children to a new, and sometimes very different culture, can initially be a shock and a challenge. We found out what to expect from Korean mom, JY Kim, who moved to China with her husband Michael Yoo, son Bono (grade 11) and daughter Gina (grade 9) when Michael’s company relocated them to Beijing.
What was it like moving your family to China?
From outside China, our image of life here was quite different from the reality. Before we moved here, my parents were a little nervous for us, and I imagined it would be really challenging, potentially even scary. Contrary to our expectations, we found the transition to Beijing quite easy.
What is China like?
Chinese people are really law-abiding, and I think China one of the safest and most secure countries in the world. Children here are really well protected; in comparison to other children of their age around the world they don’t grow up quite as quickly. Children focus more on their studies and their friends, and the more challenging aspects of the teenage years don’t arise to the same extent here.
What has been your experience been like as a Korean living in Beijing?
We feel so welcome here. Korean culture is so popular with young Chinese people: fashion, make-up, TV shows, music. Especially in Wangjing, Beijng’s Korea-town, you can hear K-pop everywhere. You can definitely keep your culture, language, traditions, and even Korean education here. My husband and I decided to give our children a balanced life, so we didn’t enroll them in a hagwon, [private after-school institutes or “cram schools” popular in South Korea]. However, there are lots of such institutions in Beijing. So, if parents wish it, their children can continue to study the Korean national curriculum in the evenings and weekends.
How easy was it to adjust to life in China?
Everything here is incredibly convenient. You can use e-payments for everything – even to buy street food. And there’s a huge Korean community in Beijing, with many businesses serving the Korean community. There are supermarkets, restaurants, real-estate agents, tour agencies – all run either by Koreans, or by Chinese people who are ethnically Korean. It’s very easy for Korean families to move here.
What do you love most about life in China?
I love that my kids are fluent in Mandarin. They are also enjoying an excellent education at the International School of Beijing. Seeing our children doing well is a major source of enjoyment and relief for us. I have a very happy life here.
How has your attitude to life changed since moving to China?
When I was a typical Korean kid: I never pictured myself as a full-time mother and trailing spouse in Beijing. My life surprised me, and now I believe since nobody can really predict the future, we have to appreciate the moment, be positive, and be ready for every opportunity. Over my time in China I’ve learned that it’s not a very good idea to compare yourself to other people in order to make life choices. You have to pursue what you think is valuable to you.
Is it possible to live in China without speaking Chinese?
It is possible to live in China without learning Chinese, but it’s better to learn at least the basics. There are many reputable language institutions and I think most Koreans, after only one or two months, can pick up every day Chinese. And an added bonus is that because of Korea and China’s shared history with hanzi, (the Chinese writing system), Koreans can guess many Chinese words correctly from the beginning.
Can you find home comforts in China?
China feels like my home now. And if you want to, it’s really easy to arrange your life, your home, your diet, in a traditional Korean style. Although you may not have the same level of choice in terms of brands, you don’t need to bring anything from Korea – you can buy everything here. In terms of Korean food, you can get quite a variety of dishes and you can also buy Korean ingredients here at the Korean supermarkets or on Taobao.
How do you deal with air pollution?
Air quality has improved a lot in the past few years. One of the amazing things I have learned about China is that once the authorities make a plan to improve something, they put huge budget behind it, and it will happen. China is also making huge investments in green energy.
What’s the hardest aspect of living in China for you?
In terms of language, when something outside of my usual routine happens I’m not always sure I will be able to express myself well enough to solve the problem. However, there’s always help available; I can find someone who can speak Chinese and Korean or English. I also use internet dictionaries and apps to help me.
What are your top tips for living in China?
I advise other expats to be open-minded, to have a growth mindset, and not to limit themselves exclusively to the culture that they have grown up in. If they have decided to live in China they should respect the culture and accept Chinese customs.
What would you advise other Koreans to bring with them when moving to China?
You can buy your kimchi refrigerator and rice cooker here, but you will have more choice if you buy them and bring them over from Korea. Those are the two essentials for Korean families!
JY Kim’s experience with transitioning into a life in Beijing was a fairly easy task. With the help of the local ISB community and familiar culture, JY Kim and her family were able to adapt and adjust to fully enjoy Beijing. Some families may require more help, which is why ISB has put together a Guide to Beijing. You can download your free copy of the guide by clicking the image below.
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