​Snapshots from Abroad: Perspective in Unlikely Places

Snapshots from Abroad is a column exploring the real stories behind the clichés of foreign travel. Here we’ll profile interesting ex-pat personalities in Q&A format, delving into the reasons they left home and the new perspectives they’ve gained from their experience.

Jessy Santana

Shanghai, China

Where are you originally from? I was born in Dominican Republic but emigrated to the United States when I was 5. However, in my house I was Dominican and outside I was American.

How long have you been in China? I have lived in China for almost four years.

What do you do in China? I am a Business Development Manager for a services company, Roberto&Co.

Why did you leave home? Because I hated sitting in my cubicle—I previously worked as an admin at MGM Grand in Las Vegas—and I had always wanted to leave but never had the opportunity to study abroad while I was in college.

Do you speak the local language or are you learning the local language? How is that going? If not, how are things for someone who doesn't speak the local tongue? I have picked up and dropped countless Chinese courses, but it wasn't until last year when I quit work to study Chinese full-time. After 4 months I know more but it's not nearly enough. I plan to hire a private tutor later this year. I really want to be at least conversational but there is also a great beauty in the reading and writing.

What is the best thing about living in China? The best thing about living in China is meeting someone who from the outside looking in seems to have little in common with you, but ends up having a perspective that is more similar than different.

What is the worst thing? The worst thing about living in China is the health concerns, and while I don't currently have children I do believe that when I do I may have to leave.

Where is the coolest place you have traveled to there and why? The coolest place was Kaifeng where I went to a peanut farm and lived in a farmhouse with an outside latrine. For me, a city girl, that was the most interesting and rewarding experience since we picked peanuts, walked around the farm and watched the stars at night.

What do you think the future holds for China and what are the biggest opportunities for American and other foreign students, professionals or expatriates? I think that China has great potential for amazing things. Unfortunately, like most countries its leaders are very proud and unwilling to be judged, so China may struggle if it continues to be so inflexible. It's a great opportunity for foreigners, however, because more and more Chinese are aware of what's going on in the outside world and want to see more of it but may not have the means to do it themselves. The government is one thing but the people are not at all the same. If you build real relationships they are the best at helping you get things done.

What advice would you give people back home who are considering a move to China? Make sure you don't come in with preconceived notions and never compare your new country to your home country. I came to China super fast and while many thought I was crazy for taking a leap of faith, I couldn't take the decision back once I’d left. So it was either adapt or go running back home, and for me that wasn't an option. Even if you don't know anything about the local culture before you come, like I did, take every opportunity as a learning opportunity. I even joined a local dance group and performed on stage with people that couldn't speak English and it was amazing! Don't be afraid to try new things—it can be challenging but it's even harder to try and keep the same lifestyle you had at home in a different country.

Has living in China given you a fresh perspective about your home country in regards to things that it does well (or things it can do better)? Of course. I realize every time I go home how things are so incredibly different. In China, I'm considered fat but in the US I'm normal-sized. Every time I go home I am aware of people's sedentary lifestyles and unhealthy eating habits. I love being able to go downstairs to my local market and be able to buy fresh vegetables and fruits instead of having to go to the supermarket and buy expensive and questionable produce.

What are your future plans? My future plans at the moment include getting married, hopefully this year, and working on my professional endeavors, as well as working towards writing some things for publication. I am currently working on a new blog, which you can read here: www.29goinon30.wordpress.com

Joey Campbell

As one hand of the co-founding tag team behind Internships In Asia, Joey is the resident talker, commentator and opinionator who gives voice to the site's perspective on all things international travel, education and...

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