1) The Study Abroad Student:
Bright-eyed 18-year-olds who come to China for the first time, these China dwellers are too temporary to really be considered expats who are usually temporary themselves. However, they dive in deeply, and change their Facebook locations to their new Chinese home city promptly upon arrival, even if they'll only be there for three months. They don't have much money- or they're Saudi princes; there isn't much of an in-between- and what they do have they spend on overweight baggage fees after cramming shampoo and first aid kits into their duffel bags because who knows what China will have. They make best friends with their Chinese tutors (or date them, and it's a big scandal) and live two to a room in a shabby university dorm where everyone smokes in the hallways.
This stage in an expat's time in China is characterized by eating the exact same thing every day, being shepherded by university staff to events like dumpling making classes at 8 am on Sunday after a night of sweaty Chinese clubbing, thinking sweaty Chinese clubbing is the pinnacle of nightlife, and never actually getting over jet lag. It's a time of partying, of wonder, of feeling homesick and hours and hours of Chinese study.
2) The Young Teacher:
With fresh degrees in their hands, these twenty-somethings roll into China with teaching jobs lined up. The unlucky ones end up getting duped by a tutoring center to work too many hours for too little pay. The wiser ones find a sweet gig that pays them to roll into class a few times a week, yawn, sing a song, and return to bed (and then they stay at the job forever because who wouldn't?). These expats have evolved from university dorm life to … teacher dorm life. And their school won't fix their wifi, or leaky pipe, or hole in their ceiling, but that's OK because they get to work with awesome/terrible children every day.
This time in an expat's life is characterized by trips to Boracay, sleeping in past their alarm and running into class in their pajamas, starting to get sick of Chinese food, realizing they can't drink fake alcohol like they used to, and strange origami gifts from their students. It's a time of experimenting with adulthood while staying in touch with your inner child.
3) The Young Professional:
Mid-twenties, early thirties young adults working for magazines, international schools, start-ups, what have you. These expats can usually be found in first-tier cities as they can't go a week without a cheeseburger at this point in their China career. They can often be found riding expensive fixed-gear bikes when you can get a junk one on the corner for next to nothing, job hopping at alarming speeds, and opening weird businesses like video game bars and grilled cheese shops (this is real).
This time in an expat's life is characterized by spending too much money on alcohol and cheese, traveling to obscure parts of the country to “discover real China,” planning on moving to Dali, and being ignored by their Chinese landlords. It's a time of real independence and being kind of a douche.
4) The Professional Professional:
This is an expat who wears a suit. They're actually pretty hard to find these days, and often spend half the year in China, and half the year in a country where they can actually breathe. These are the actual “expats,” in the traditional sense of the word. The men and women with Western salaries. The ones that China is so desperately trying to attract more of. Honestly they seem like a dying breed nowadays, and soon may even be extinct … kind of like the unicorn.
This time in an expat's life is characterized by purchasing billion dollar air purifiers for their minimalist downtown apartment, buying Starbucks every day because they can, eating really fancy salads, having a driver who hangs out with them all day and becomes their best friend (sitcom idea?), being torn between leaving China and the small fortune they rake in every year, and marrying a Chinese local. It's a time of career growth and developing country-induced stress headaches.
5) The Family Expat:
The professional professional with a family in tow. In most cases, their company sets them up real nicely in a villa in a compound that looks like a creepy fake version of California. They send their kids to international schools and feel guilty on every polluted day. Their bored spouses wander around the city aimlessly with no work visa and no Chinese language skills. Their teenager gets into trouble because the drinking age in China is about four years old.
This time in an expat's life is characterized by buying billion dollar air purifiers for their minimalist suburban villa, stocking their kitchens with Cheerios and goat cheese, fighting over the family driver, and letting ayis raise their young children. It's a time of both extreme comfort and extreme anxiety
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