A lighthearted reflection on the year 2020 as an expat in China – By Lillian Grainger.

As the Year of The Ox begins – our ESL teacher Lillian Grainger shares her thoughts as an expat in China during Covid-19. We would like to thank Lillian for all of her hard-work. And wish our teachers a Happy 2021.

expat in china, An Expat in China – Reflection of 2020, SDE Seadragon Education

2020 was supposed to be our year. Letting go of the toxic relationships and behaviors of 2019, getting fit, becoming a new you, and taking the world by storm. 2020 vision, right? Instead, 2020 brought with it a pandemic that many people have not experienced before. For as clear as 2020 was supposed to be, we were all blindsided by it. A virus sprouted from the darkest corners of hell and sprung with it 12 months of uncertainty for many people. Everything that was planned, everything that was set into motion, everything that we knew as normal, was set aside to be locked away for now. Just like we all were during those long months of quarantine.

For the first couple months of the year, the virus seemingly stayed in Asia. Many expats’ families pressured their loved ones living abroad to come home as it was becoming too dangerous. Some were already home due to it being their vacation, others ran home once the virus became more real, and the rest decided to stick it out in China. Those who decided to stay faced the strictest lockdown in the world. Something they may have never experienced in their lives. Compared to some Western countries, the lockdown China conducted was harsh. Many expats were physically locked in their homes. They could not leave except for groceries and some could not leave at all.  Some managed to move in with friends during that time as to not be isolated. Without family or close friends, the lockdown turned into some of the most trying times for many people.

expat in china, An Expat in China – Reflection of 2020, SDE Seadragon Education

The pandemic was a bit of a life changing event for many expats. Boredom, anxiety, depression, rampant alcoholism, excessive consumerism, anger, loneliness, amongst many others, were highly evident among some of my peers. Others took it as a time to start business, learn a skill, and overcome past traumas and issues within their life. There were many a time where you would run into another expat grocery shopping and you either find solace in the little bit of familiarity, normalcy, and companionship. You can also find yourself and the other expat averting eye contact due to the shame of what is in each other’s shopping cart. Usually, it is an insane amount of alcohol, ramen, and snacks. Not to mention a random bag of rice and few vegetables.

While quarantine rules may have varied from province to province and city to city, the expats definitely responded to the measures in their own way. Friends in Shanghai said their quarantine was not so bad as they were able to work remotely, while others in Foshan felt like it was a vacation with a mask. People’s response to the pandemic varied. Some reactions changed day by day. Many expats cannot speak Chinese so many of them had to rely on hearsay, news from back home which sometimes contradicted with what they have heard or experienced in real time, news from their local friends who may or may not have all the answers, and whatever expat friendly news source that is available.  This coupled with the uncertainty, apathy, empathy, loneliness, and other issues during the lockdown to feel amplified. Yet, these feelings were not just experienced by expats but locals as well. The lockdown brought out the worst in people both local and expat, and many expats surely have stories to tell of their experiences with disgruntled locals. Yet, as time went on and mandates were slowly lifted, things definitely began to change.

expat in china, An Expat in China – Reflection of 2020, SDE Seadragon Education
2021 Year of The OX

When the lockdown eased and people were allowed to go outside, at first….it was great. It felt like pure freedom compared to the prior. It felt like finally things could start going back to normal…. but what was normal anymore? The phrase “the new normal” was trending amongst everyone and people were trying to restart their lives in a manner that did not exist anymore. This is similar to a child trying to place the square block in the triangle slot. It just did not fit.  Unfortunately, the freedom did not last long as reports of rampant xenophobia went haywire as western countries were finally hit with COVID-19 cases at a rate worse than China. Many expats chose to stay inside in order to avoid the hassle of locals. Even though the xenophobia died down as China became more safe and less restrictive, many expats were wondering why they even stay in the first place.

So why do many expats stay in China? There is a plethora of reasons why someone not native to China would stay after everything. Maybe they have families, a business, job opportunities, running away from their old life, or even just stuck because there are no flights back home. (Not to mentions how inconvenient their home countries may be compared to some cities in China in terms of public transportation and use of technology for most things.) Yet, many expats have made China into their home. Despite everything, there is a sort of love hate relationship with China. There is so much that one can hate about their newfound home, but it is never enough to leave because there is so much more to love about living in China. The local people have become dear friends, lovers, and family to many expats. Many expats have built their businesses and livelihoods in China. Others have followed their faith here. And the rest have even built their careers here. It is safe to say that many people call this place their home. They would defend it just as quickly as they would their own family, and that is the joy of life here. 

Many people would not consider China as their place to call home. Many would just take one look at the news from the outside looking in call it quits before they even start. Yet, despite everything that happened in the last year, many still decided to stay, and some are even coming into China as we speak despite COVID.  Through thick and through thin, many expats made this place their home even after saying “just one more year”. Those “one more year” statements easily turn into ten and you wonder to yourself; how can I go home after this when you fought tooth and nail to be here? You have been through the culture shock and the homesickness. You have been through the language barrier. It has been ten years and you only can say “Ni hao” and “zhe ge”.  How could you go back home? And what is home to you? China is home. And to those reading, Welcome to China. Make it your home.

If you are interested in Teaching in China in 2021 then please email us your resume to recruit@sdeteacher.com or visit our website and hit quick apply >>> Teach in China

1 Comments

  1. George Brown

    China can be a wonderful place if you find a decent employer, and stay away frim the low lifes of the city.

    However, if you can get taken down the river if you get hooked up to the wrong employer, as they will lie, cheat and steal from you until you pack it up and leave.

    In closing, don’t trust anyones’s word wether it is in written or oral form, trust your gut feeling.

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