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Expat life: Living and working in China

If you’ve ever considered, even for a moment, living the expat lifestyle and working overseas then you’ll enjoy this interview with a new contributor here at Travel With a Mate.

Meet Sasha Peakall, a global nomad and expat currently living and working in China. We had a chat with Sasha to find out what expat life is like in China and what made her take the leap into working overseas.

What moment in your life made you decide to travel so much?

I remember as a child staring in awe at all the miniatures from around the world that lined my windowsill. My Dad always brought me back great souvenirs from all his worldly working escapades abroad. Even then I knew that I one day I had to visit the life-size Leaning Tower of Pisa and ride in a real Double Decker Bus.

Though the pivotal moment for me was coming up to the end of year 12 and realising that I had to decide what I wanted to do for the rest of my life (at least that what my teacher’s led me to believe) and this didn’t sit well with me. The last thing I wanted to do was commit myself to four years of uni in a course I wasn’t sure I really wanted to do. It was watching Discovery Travel Channel, seeing all the amazing places I could be experiencing for myself that made me come to my senses. Why not travel the world first, then after I was done with seeing everything I could possibly want to see I could decide wanted to do for the rest of my life. And indeed I think I’ve found what I will do for the rest of my life and that is travel!

What has been the most memorable moment on your travels so far?

I’ve had so many memorable travel moments from spending the night in a Hakka Tulou, to kayaking down the Li River to drinking tea with a local in their home in a Hangzhou tea village. But a reminder that often it’s not the moment but the people you share them with that makes it memorable is my most memorable travel moment. Getting up at 4am and hiking to the summit of Emei Shan to watch the sunrise with my Dad. Not only was the sunrise stunning but sharing that moment with my Dad who shared so many great moments with me as a child will go down as one of my most memorable moments and probably one of the most memorable for him too.

You’re now teaching in China. How did that come about?

It was nearing the end of 2009, I’d just recently come back from a trip to South East Asia in my mid semester break and was not settling back into studying life all too well. The short trip had irritated my already itchy feet. After a lot of staring at a computer screens planning itineraries and researching destinations for my tourism assignments I realised I was just not made to sit behind a desk and dream about travel while planning the person across the counter’s dream trip! It was at that point I decided to wrap up my studies at the end of the year and travel the next, though how I would fund it I didn’t have a clue.

I then saw this amazing opportunity to do a TEFL course with an included China teaching placement. Within a week I’d booked it despite not ever having a desire to go to China, my itchy feet and curiosity of cultures had momentarily rendered me insane and made me do the most spontaneous thing I’ve ever done in my life. And now here I am now loving it and not even contemplating when I will leave!

What have your experiences of China been like so far?

China has exceeded all my expectations. Although I will admit they weren’t very high expectations to being with as I rather ignorantly based my opinions on books I’d read about China’s political history. Reading about communism doesn’t leave you very open minded. When I got here all those views were turned around! The people are so warm and kind hearted and once you break through that initial suspicion that the Chinese hold for foreigners you will find the most welcoming of people.

What are the highs and lows of living and working in China?

Now is the time to live in China if you’re a curious person like me. The country is going through so many changes, from attitude shifts to the development that seems to be going on every street corner. There is always something going on, things change in an instant yet despite steaming towards a western lifestyle there is still so much of old China that still remains. This makes for the most quirky cultural experience. The dynamics are incredible!

Though it may be a fascinating place to live, working here can be incredibly frustrating. The problem with everything changing in an instant is you don’t want that transitioning to your work, yet in China that is exactly what can happen. One minute you can have a job next minute you may not. You may think you have the weekend off only to then last minute be told no you don’t “By the way this weekends a public holiday, well thanks for telling me, too late to book anything now”. Everything happens in China time, if you’re told something will get done for you tomorrow expect it to be done at the earliest next week. It can be frustrating but it’s a small price to pay for the experience of living in this amazing country.

What advice would you give to people thinking of working overseas?

Do it! Commitments at home are only commitments if you let them be commitments. Working overseas not only gives you the opportunity to travel but I think more importantly really lets you experience the heart and soul of a culture that you just don’t get from a few weeks visit. The important thing to remember when working overseas is it won’t be like home. Workplace rights may not exists, employers may be incredibly unreliable (but that can at home too) and your living conditions may be worse than what you’re used to or be better. It’s important to lower your expectations, be open minded and just go with the flow.

What travel plans do you have for the future?

The plan after China was to head over to the UK to work and explore Europe in much more depth than my 19 year old whirlwind Contiki tour of Europe. But right now I’m loving living in China and plan to be here at least until the end of 2011. While I’m up this way I’d love to take the opportunity to explore more of this region including Korea, Mongolia, Japan and Taiwan, but I’ve given up on my ‘5 year travel plan’ and will wait and see where the travel cards next fall.

And lastly, can you describe how travelling makes you feel personally?

The three most important words: Exhilarated, Educated and Liberated!

Check out Sasha’s website at http://onurwaytravel.com

and you can follow Sasha on twitter

If you’d like to be interviewed about your travels then contact us.

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