Four Years in China - How the Heck Did I Get Here in the First Place?
Updated: Aug 25, 2022
Whenever I traveled through Asia (at least back when I could travel internationally), after introductions have been made, the first question on everybody’s lips is Why China? In fact, it becomes immediately apparent from their faces that the question is forming in their heads once I reveal that I’m living in China and not actually backpacking like everyone else (I still always felt like a backpacker though if that counts for anything).
Today begins my fifth year of living in the good old Middle Kingdom and to mark the occasion, I’d like to take a minute just sittin’ right there and tell you how I became the prince of a—oh whoops that’s not my story…
Let’s rewind to March 2017. “But Bianca, didn’t you move to Shanghai in August 2018?” I hear you ask — and you’re right. However, the journey really began with a college course titled “The Global Management Experience” led by professor Stoller at Boston University.
I know, I know, a college course is hardly the whirlwind Eat, Pray, Love-style catalyst to my China that you were expecting. But nonetheless, it's how I got here.
The purpose of said class was to learn about business etiquette in various countries, with a unique focus on Chinese business etiquette (wait til I give you the whole breakdown on Chinese business drinking etiquette - you're not ready).
At the end of the semester, we got to take a week-long trip to Shanghai and Hong Kong and let's be real - this was the real reason I signed up for the course (sorry professor Stoller!).
Prior to this course, the thought of visiting Asia never even crossed my mind. I was pretty content with my Euro travel experience and living in the states. But when I got here WOW. I was hooked.
To my eyes, everything was so much cooler and sleeker. I mean, our Hong Kong hotel had cell phones with built in wifi hotspots we could take with us everywhere so we would never be without internet! Of course you couldn't steal it - they essentially became a brick once your hotel stay was up.
I still remember seeing the Shanghai skyline for the first time. When we got to the bund, I gasped out loud in awe and bemusedly realized that it had quite literally taken my breath away.
As a New Yorker who will tell you with her dying breath that her city is the greatest in the world, I was shocked at the initial impact the skyline had on me. After all, I'd seen plenty of iconic skylines - Paris (meh), London (yawn), Chicago (booooring); nothing ever compared to home in my books. But I loved Shanghai's skyline so much, I got a tattoo of it while still on my college trip!
After a whirlwind trip filled with presentations, company visits, sightseeing, and of course KTV, I return home determined to work in Shanghai or Hong Kong after graduation. Unfortunately, I didn't get the dream job I wanted in either city so I applied for an English teaching job which gave me the option to live in one of three cities. And so my China adventure began...just kidding my mom flipped out and told me to get a "real" job aka one that used the degree I spent the last four years working on, so I obliged.
Fast forward to March 2018 where I had a job I loved, but also had a terrible relationship with my boss, was being micromanaged to a wild degree, and was frequently experiencing microaggressions. The only things I looked forward to were vacations strategically planned to give me 3 day weekends or extend a national holiday and even that got me a stern talking to. Of my 20 contracted paid vacation days, I had used 11 and that was apparently too much. I felt trapped.
One day on my morning commute, I had the realization that even if I went to another company, I'd be stuck in the 9-5 rut five days a week until 67 when I could retire. I was 22. Could I really do this for 45 more years? Anxiety kicked in. Hard. Up until this point in my life, I had never actually experienced anxiety, but now I was feeling a deep sense of dread every morning before entering the office. Something had to change.
I remembered the teaching job I was offered the year before, and reached out again. The process was super quick; I had a phone interview and was offered the job on the spot. This time, I had more of a voice and specified that I wouldn't work anywhere unless it was Shanghai or Beijing - I am a city girl after all. They agreed and got the ball rolling on visa documents over the next few months, while I worked up the courage to tell my mom I was moving to the other side of the world for real this time.
Finally, August 2018 rolled around and I was in a much better place with my boss. However, I was still determined to move to China. Shortly after my one year anniversary with the company, I put in my 2 week notice, dropped the bomb on my big move, and the rest is history!