Beijing Expat Family Interview

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Hi Gale, nice to meet you. Could you please first introduce yourself and your family to our readers?

Hi, nice to meet you, I’m Gale and my husband Brian works a multinational company here in Beijing. Were from Yorkville, Illionois, which is a southwest suburb of Chicago. We have 2 daughters living in Beijing with us. Shelly is 11 and Amy is 8, they are both at International school. We have a 21-year-old daughter, Toni who lives in the United States.

Could you tell us why you came to Beijing with your family?

At the time of our move, Brian was working in Aurora, Illinois, and I was working in Joliet, Ilinois, We was offered the opportunity to move to China to help develop our companies China team. That was in October 2010 and by December 2010, we were living in Beijing.

It was a difficult decision to move to Beijing, since we do have our oldest daughter Toni living in the United States, who did not want to relocate to Beijing with us.

Do you enjoy living in Beijing ?

We have a great life in Beijing, we have been given an opportunity to see a part of the world we would likely never have seen otherwise. we get to meet people from all over China, as well as from many other countries and we have made friendships here that will last a lifetime.

There are challenges for us living in Beijing and living away from our families, that cause some days to be harder than others, but in general, we truly enjoy our lives here and would not change the decision we made to come.

We know that you took a spousal leave of absence from your job at the end of 2012, what made you decide to do that?

When we came to China, we thought we would be in Beijing for one year, Soon after, our stays was extended for another year, and then during that second year, it was extended for another 2-3 years. The decision to work for 1 year in Beijing was easy. But the thought of continuing to work in a foreign country and missing the opportunity to experience so much with my daughters was definitely a main factor in the decision. I wanted to enjoy this experience with my kids. Additionally, with having a daughter still living in the US, I wanted to be able to spend the summer’s back there and I couldn’t do that while working. I decided that after two years of working the best option for our family was to have me take a leave of absence, And I would be remiss if I did not mention that the “tai tai” life here is a definite bonus! I love the wonderful friend I have made here and cherish all the time I have with them as well.

So are you like a full-time mom now? What changed most in your life after you took a leave of absence?

Trying to juggle the responsibilities of raising a family in a foreign country with working full time outs the home was a huge challenges. After I took this leave, my life completely changed. I have time to focus on my daughters’ school work and be part of everything with which they are involved. I think it took a lot of pressure off my husband, so he can be more focused on his work. I also have time now to be involved in a lot of volunteer opportunities in the community and I am a runner and no longer have to get up at 4:00 in the morning to squeeze a run in before work!

It seems that you really enjoy the current life. Your oldest daughter Toni lives alone in the United States, so far away, So how often do you get together?

Being so far away from her has been the biggest challenge for us living in Beijing. Toni has been able to come and visit us here, as well as join us on vacation in Europe. We go home for the summer months, as well as at Christmas time or Chinese New Year. I take an additional trip home in the spring and fall to spend time with her as well so there is never more than a couple of months between visits. We also take advantage of Skype, Facetime, and other inexpensive ways of calling to we talk every day.

That sounds a good way to keep a family together. So what do you usually do for fun with your family in your spare time?

We spend a lot of our time with our friends who have become like a family here in Beijing. We also go shopping, go out to eat, and for bike rides. We watch movies, and Sunday nights are our family nights and it usually ends with watching an episode of Little House on the Prairie. We also spend time at our church, and have made friends there and formed a small group that not only meets for Bible studies, but also just to enjoy this China journey together.

Some other things our family enjoys is playing Euchre with several other couples each month and Brian play badminton one night each week, as well as playing poker with the guys every other Friday night. I am an avid runner and was able to run the Great Wall Marathon in 2011. I am also in a book club which meets monthly, as well as being involved with a couple different Bible studies. I lead a Girl Scouts troop for five and six frills. Both our girls are in Girl Scouts, taking piano lessons along with various other instrument lessons at school and are involved in several after school clubs.

What’s the biggest difference between your life in China and in your hometown?

I think one of the biggest differences is not having out extended families close by. all of us expats are in a similar situation so we can all relate to each other. It gives us all a common bond that strengthens our friendships and makes us all like family to each other. We spend Thanksgiving Day enjoying a turkey dinner with friends rather than going to Grandma’s house, like we would in the US.

Another big difference is the travel here. We have had the opportunity to see countries that we have only read about! My children are not only getting the experience living in China, but also getting to travel all over Asia.

It’s an amazing adventure! Another difference is the number of people in China. Our home town in the USA has a population of 17,000, Beijing has well over 10 million people! Its a HUGE city and took some adjusting to when we first arrived.

Considering your work and life environment, I guess you can tell us one or two things about learning Chinese.

We are all learning the language through Chinese lessons at home and our daughters also learn at school. Through the help of taxi cards and English being widely spoken in this area of China, we have not experienced too much difficulty.

Obviously, it would be much easier if we could speak the language, but learning Chinese is more involved with just learning the language. It also means understanding the culture and accepting the differences. This sometimes can present a bigger challenge than not understanding Mandarin. After 2 years living in Beijing, we don’t experience “culture shock” too often anymore, but we do have to work on accepting how things are done here when they are different from how they are done back home.

Is there any advice that you could give to people to plan to relocate to Beijing?

Time goes so fast, Enjoy your days in China. There are always going to be hard days but someday this life here is going to be just a memory so make it count. there are days that we get homesick and it feels sad when we are missing a big event in a nice’s or nephews life back home, but this is where God has placed us right now, so there is a reason we are each icing this life here in China. Embrace that and enjoy the ride!

Thank you so much for sharing with us. All the best to you and your family for your further stay in Beijing!