Category Archives: Expat Living

Get Lucky in Shanghai: What to Eat for Chinese New Year

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Image sourced from my article at cityweekend.com.cn.

When I moved to Shanghai, I lived across the hall from a very superstitious man. Red cardboard cutouts of horses decorated his doorway, red underwear hung from his balcony, and it seemed he had enough fireworks to launch a full-scale pyrotechnics show for even the tiniest occasion. But I had no idea what any of it meant. That is, until Chinese New Year rolled around.

The weeks leading to the holiday, I was gifted with oranges and tangerines, offered a giant, glittering cardboard sheep for my door, and advised to deep-clean my apartment (as he peered over my shoulder, through the newly decorated doorframe). I was also advised to settle any debts, not to wash my hair, and not to cry. This was all important, he said, in order to receive good fortune in the year to come.

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10 Things to Pack when Moving to Asia: A Woman’s Guide

Image courtesy of  The Minimal Mama 

Prom tickets are for sale, yearbooks are circling the campus, and the students have traded their long pants and tennis shoes for jean shorts and sandals. It’s officially the end of the school year, and I’m counting down the days until I board a plane to Florida.

As a longterm expat, and international school teacher, I look forward to summer for so many reasons. Obviously it’s a chance to get in some much-needed friend time, family time, and pool time, but it’s also a chance to stock up on products that are hard to find (or just ridiculously expensive) on this side of the world. Continue reading

Why Teaching Shakespeare at an International School is “Punny”

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Teaching Shakespeare is never easy. But teaching Shakespeare to a classroom of mostly English Language Learners? It’s not only difficult, but hilarious.

This morning I began reading Romeo & Juliet to my ninth graders. We had already gone over the history of Shakespeare’s life, the history of Elizabethan England, and what was considered popular entertainment at the time (think bear baiting, public executions and cockfights–and yes, “cockfights” evoked some serious laughter from the 14-year-old boys in the room.) Now it was time to discuss puns.

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Having Visitors Abroad? How to Ease the Stress.

Stress free zone road sign

Image courtesy of seansimmonstravel.com.au

As an expat, there’s nothing more exciting than having friends and family visit. You get the opportunity to show off your new home, introduce them to a new culture, and hopefully convince them that you’re not completely insane for living abroad. However, there’s also a flip side. It can be quite stressful having guests, especially if you live in a non-English speaking country and plan to spend some of their vacation working, leaving them to their own devices.

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Why you don’t need an alarm clock in China

Fireworks China

I am not a morning person. I never have been. I never will be. But the fact that I’m now a high school teacher means I at least have to pretend.

So Monday through Friday, I set my alarm for 6am, giving me a solid hour to quietly enjoy a giant cup of coffee. I make breakfast. I cake concealer under my eyes. I bike to school to get my blood pumping. By the time my students enter the classroom at 8am, I fake a smile and actually resemble a human being.

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Why you should join Internations

IMG_5825If you’re an expat, or if you’ve ever traveled by yourself for long periods of time, you know that sometimes it’s tough to meet people. True, you may get lucky and meet that perfect group of people at a hostel, or another solo traveler on a walking tour. But what if you don’t? Well, my advice for you is to get online. There’s Meetup.com, which is a great site for finding activities or weekend trips with like-minded individuals, Couchsurfing.org, good for finding a couch/room or meeting locals, and the Tinder app for the single traveler, looking for a possible romance on the road. But if you’re planning on making a semi-permanent or even permanent move abroad, Internations is the way to go. The website is similar to Meetup, but with an emphasis on networking opportunities. I’ve personally been to several events, and have made many friends and business contacts along the way.

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How to Teach Abroad

IMG_1839Lately, I’ve been getting a lot of questions about what I do for a living. “How did you start teaching overseas?” “Do you teach at a Chinese school or an American school?” “How do you travel so much?” “What kinds of benefits do you get?”

Then the most important: “How can I do it too?”

Six years ago, when the U.S. economy took a turn and I was left without a job, I decided to throw all caution to the wind and move to Korea to teach English. I had never taught before, I hadn’t traveled much, and admittedly, kids weren’t really my thing. But I thought, Hey, I can do anything for a year. 

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Welcome to Shanghai

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It’s been five days since I landed in Shanghai; and let me tell you, it’s been a whirlwind.

Living abroad isn’t easy. You’re forced to pack your entire life’s possessions into a few suitcases, learn a new language, a new culture, and make new friends to combat the inevitable homesickness. And while you’re busy doing all these things, Facebook reminds you of everything you’re missing back home. At times it can get lonely, but most of the time, it’s incredibly exciting.

Last night, the administrators took all the new teachers out to dinner. It was a casual affair, since the night before we went to some fancy shindig downtown. After a few bites of a sandwich and a glass of wine, my eyes were heavy. Jet lag is a bitch.

I headed home, and as I was walking up to my building, a security guard started talking to be in Mandarin while pointing to my building. “Yes, this is my building,” I said, apologizing for not speaking the language. But he was obviously trying to tell me something. “I don’t understand,” I replied–a phrase I have uttered way too many times since arriving.

The man followed me to the 7th floor, and when the elevator doors opened, I was greeted by three more security guards. My apartment door was open, and their faces carried looks of concern. Again, I was peppered with questions I didn’t understand. Did someone break into my apartment? Was I so jet-lagged that I forgot to close the door? 

Thankfully, the door across the hall opened, and out came my English-speaking neighbor. He informed me that my open door had triggered an alarm and I needed to survey my apartment to make sure nothing was missing. And after a once-over, I attested that everything was fine. However, this did not appease the guards. In fact, several moments later, the elevator opened for two police officers.

And now here we were: four security guards, two policemen, my translating neighbor, and one very confused blonde, all packed in a space smaller than a preschool sandbox.

I assured everyone again that things were fine, and that I probably left the door open by mistake. The men looked back at me inquisitively, then my neighbor said, “They think someone definitely broke into your apartment.” And when I asked why, he looked to the floor, shuffled his feet, and said, “Because your place is trashed.”

My face felt hot and I knew I was turning red with embarrassment. I looked back into my apartment–at the clothes scattered on the floor, the piles of shampoo and conditioner bottles, the electric cords and converters strung over the couch. I begged my neighbor to explain that I had just moved in and was still unpacking.

After a lengthy exchange between the men, my neighbor turned to me and said, “They understand. No robbery, this is just normal for you.”

The heat found its way back to my face as I stared into the wide eyes of the police officers. But I knew there was no use explaining. I would forever be the unkempt foreigner in building 34.

Lines and Laughter in Bogotá

 

Monserrate

I gasped for air and kept peddling, my head down so the spinning instructor wouldn’t see me laughing.

“Is it just me, or is he doing a sexy dance on top of the bike?” my friend Kari said on the bicycle next to me.

In the dark room, a spotlight highlighted the instructor’s deep-set eyes as he stared out into his audience. Beads of sweat rolled down his neck. He turned up the electronic salsa music and increased the resistance on his bike. His hips were thrusting back and forth as he shouted, “uno, dos, tres!”

Kari and I laughed about it the whole walk home.

This is just one example of the sexual nature of Colombian men—or the sexual undertone that envelops the city of Bogotá, my new home.

At restaurants, couples sit next to each other instead of across—kissing one another’s necks and lips in between bites of food. Young lovers can be found making out on stairwells outside department stores and on street corners. Everyone can dance salsa.

Just three days after landing in my new city I met a Colombian guy named Santiago. A casual meeting in the park turned into a hike to Monserrate, hot coco at a restaurant overlooking Bogotá, then a bottle of wine and tapas at an outdoor café. When he dropped me off at the hotel he asked to kiss me. “I don’t know if it’s your perfume, but I’m intoxicated by you,” he said as his lips touched mine. I almost spit in his mouth.

Santi and I have been out several times since then, and every time he says something that makes me bite the sides of my cheeks to keep from laughing.

“They’re not lines,” he tells me. “I’m just telling you what I’m thinking, and I’m thinking about you.”

I admit, it’s nice to hear. And I suspect in a few months the sight of my spinning instructor gyrating on top of his bike will be commonplace. But until then, I’m going to enjoy the unbridled laughter that Bogotá brings me. And I think I’ll take Santi up on salsa lessons.

You Want me to Pee Where?


Going to the bathroom in Korea is like receiving a box of Russel Stover chocolates—you never know what you’re gonna get.

Day two in Korea, still jetlagged, I had a 9:30am health check appointment at the hospital. A vision test, hearing test, lung X-ray and four vials of blood later, it was time to pee in a cup.

After being pricked and poked in front of what seemed like half of Seoul, a little urine sample sounded relatively painless.

I was wrong. My first public peeing experience—in a hospital mind you—ended up being in a ceramic hole in the ground.

What way do I face? Do I take my pants off? And if so, where do I put them? How am I going to pee in this damn cup with my skinny jeans around my ankles?

So many questions and so little time. My new boss was waiting for me outside the bathroom. So I planted my feet around the hole in the ground, shimmied my way-too-tight pants down to my knees and peed.

And not a drop of misplaced urine.

After the hospital I was off to see the school for the first time. And somehow, by the time we reached the building, I had to pee again. No ceramic holes, just miniature western-style toilets built for 5-year-olds and a few pairs of shower shoes placed at the entrance. I’m still not sure what they want me to do with these.

A few more facts about the bathrooms in Korea: There is no liquid hand soap. That’s right, these people wear masks everywhere they go and don’t allow outside shoes even at a gym, but they’ll happily share a piece of bar soap at their local watering hole. Sometimes you’ll even see it attached to a metal stick protruding from the bathroom wall.

Toilet paper, if there is any, is usually available outside of the stall. I’ve learned to carry tissue paper with me just in case. I’ve also learned that no matter what the bathroom may be like, sometimes you just gotta go.