Planning and preparing the task of moving to a new country can be overwhelming and daunting, to say the least. To leave the known for the unknown is a terrifying thought to many people, especially considering Mandarin is one of the most difficult languages to learn.
It’s one thing to be a tourist, but to actually live in a different culture can be quite an experience.
China has become a popular destination for recent graduates because of the high unemployment rates in most of the western world. It has become a gateway to practical paying job experience and it’s booming with opportunities. The most common occupation being an English teacher, and other popular areas including sales and marketing, financial services and engineering. You would get a job almost instantly.
However, obviously not all recent graduates relish the idea of moving to a new country for a job. I mean, it’s tough living miles away from our friends and family. It takes dedication and courage to leave those we love in order to gain the experience we need, to land the job we want. Especially when the notorious pollution hits hazardous levels and we are bombarded with studies and news articles revealing that it’s “shaving years off our lives”. Although it is not the worst in the world, it still is bad. Especially being a Canadian, it’s a hard thing to imagine that there are actually parts of the world where breathing the air is so damaging it can cause cancer! Some days it can be difficult to find the silver lining when I am fighting with a cab driver in my limited Mandarin, inhaling dangerous pollution and reminiscing on days of having a delicious bowl of Nature Valley Coconut Chia granola with pure Canadian milk. My mouth is literally salivating at the thought.
Although times can be tough, I have to consider how much personal growth is actually taking place during these times of adversity. Particularly in terms of creativity. Countless studies have revealed that living in a foreign country can actually foster creativity. Pablo Picasso and Ernest Hemingway are two notoriously famous artists who reached their creative peak whilst living in a foreign land. Although these studies can be confounding due to the fact that creative people typically seek new experiences and thus are naturally drawn to foreign lands to begin with. However, even when keeping this into account, living in a culture different than your own can still help an individual to become more creative. Why? Because it allows the individual to acquire different ideas from foreign cultures and essentially giving one the ability “to think outside of the box”. Living within the same culture your whole life can cause narrow-mindedness and ethnocentrism. You may be less likely to consider different viewpoints, simply because you don’t understand them or may not even know they exist.
Living in Beijing gives you the chance to not only understand Chinese culture but also enables you to meet people from all over the world. Others who are in the same boat as you, looking for work experience or left their home for an irresistible job offer. You are therefore confronted with a multitude of cultural diversity on a daily basis. In one evening you may meet people from five different contents, you begin to separate yourself from your own culture and take on a different perspective to what you have been indoctrinated with your whole life. You begin to question your own culture and consequently look at it from an objective view. The more diversity you experience, the more colourful the world becomes, and thus less rigid and narrow. the following photo contains people from Germany, Italy, Sweden, US, the UK and me, the Canadian.
However, just because you live in Beijing, doesn’t necessarily mean you will suddenly harness your inner Pablo Picasso. I have realized how comforting it is to stay within my same-culture “bubble” simply because well… it’s comfortable. But in order to really promote creativity and personal growth, it requires submersing myself into Chinese culture. Which means getting out of my comfy, wonderful comfort zone. Which is hard, but since I’m already out of it, why not run around and explore? I am now attempting to learn the language, spending more time meeting and befriending Chinese people, eating more local cuisine, asking questions and gaining information. I am trying.
Although many people I meet here absolutely love living in Beijing, there are times when I have “off days”. Where I begin to wonder why I gave up clean air and loved ones for pollution and strangers. There are certainly days when I feel lost confused and frustrated and seriously question why I left Canada. Then I realize how little job opportunities are there and how predictable and boring life got for me. I think about how little personal growth I would be experiencing there and how fortunate I am to be exposed to another culture firsthand. Instead of sticking to my expat bubble, my goals are to immerse myself in Chinese culture. To change and to grow from this experience. To be challenged. To foster all that creativity that lies within me. One day when I leave this beautiful and diverse country I hope to understand Chinese people better, to learn their ways of life and to question my own. I also hope to leave with a better understanding of myself and learn enough Mandarin to hold a conversation.