This is one of many True Story interviews in which we talk to people who have experienced interesting, challenging, amazing things. This is the story of Amanda, her life abroad, and her Chinese boyfriend.
My name’s Amanda and I’m 24 years old. I’m from a small town in New Brunswick, Canada and I lived in NB my whole life, until just over a year ago, when I moved to China to teach. This is my second year teaching preschool at an International school in Beijing. When I’m not working, I spend time with my boyfriend and friends, read a ton of books and blogs, and write my own blog, Sunshine and Whimsy.
Growing up, how did you feel about travel or living outside of Canada?
I’ve always wanted to travel and dreamed about living somewhere else, but it just didn’t seem possible. My family didn’t have a lot of money and I paid my own way through university by working a lot and with a student loan, so I just thought, ‘Someday, hopefully…’
When did you become interested in teaching abroad?
It was always an idea in the back of my mind, but I became really interested while I was completing my Education degree. A company came and gave a presentation to my class about teaching in China and that was it. It seemed like the perfect way for me to see part of the world and pay off my student loan. I left the auditorium that day telling everyone, “I’m going to China!”
Tell us how one prepares for moving abroad.
Haha! Well, I don’t know how everyone else prepares, but I prepared by freaking out about paperwork and what/how much to pack. I must have checked the airline’s page about baggage limits a million times! Really though, it was pretty simple. The company I was hired through helped get my visa, so I just had to fill out a bunch of forms, get a complete medical check done, and mail everything to them. I also read a bunch of blogs to get tips for traveling and moving abroad.
This was your first time on a plane and you moved to China! How did the people in your life react to your decision?
“It’s your first flight ever and you’re moving halfway around the world?!”
For the most part, people were really supportive, telling me how brave I was, etc. I think a lot of my friends and family were surprised, but mostly because they thought I’d be more nervous than I was (I’m known to be a big worrier). For some reason, it just wasn’t a big deal to me; it was just this thing I was doing.
How did you and your boyfriend meet? What’s he like?
Tony, whose real name is Zhang Tao, is 24 and from Henan, another province in China. He works in the IT Department at our school. That’s how we met and I had a crush on him for months, but it wasn’t until a staff dinner (where drinks were free), that we started talking. Everyone always tells me how shy he is, but I forget, because once you get to know him, he’s so open and hilarious. He is also, no exaggeration, one of the hardest working and nicest people I’ve ever met. He loves trying new things, swimming, playing basketball and ball hockey, and has recently become obsessed with Seinfeld.
How has his family reacted to him dating a foreigner? How has your family reacted to you dating a local?
When we first started dating, Tony asked his mom what she would think if he dated a Canadian girl and she said, “It depends” and started asking him a bunch of questions: “What does she look like? How tall is she?” and finally, “Is she nice?” I haven’t met his family in person yet—we’ve only QQ-ed (the Chinese equivalent of Skype)—but they’ve been so friendly and curious. They’ve invited me to spend Chinese New Year at their home this year (a big deal in Chinese culture!) and now his mom asks us when we’re going to get married and tells me I need to learn Chinese. (They don’t speak English, but I’m taking Mandarin lessons.)
For the most part, my family has also been friendly and supportive. My mom mailed him a Christmas package this year! They’ve also only Skyped with Tony, but so far, they love him. Unfortunately, a few family members have had some not-so-nice things to say. While I don’t think this excuses their words and behaviour, I think it’s mostly because they’re worried their “little girl” will decide to live “so far away” in China forever, and because they fear the unknown.
Have you guys encountered any cross-cultural miscommunications?
We have miscommunications all the time, some because of cultural differences and others because of language. A couple examples:
After we had been dating for a few weeks, we went shopping together. Without thinking about it, I reached to hold his hand and he pulled away. This ended in an argument that night with him telling me he “just wasn’t ready” and me basically yelling, “So you’ll sleep with me, but you won’t hold my hand?!” After more talking, I learned that here, holding hands is a big deal. If you hold hands with someone of the opposite sex in public, that’s announcing you’re “official” and it’s serious.
Another time soon after we had begun dating, we were cuddling on my couch, watching TV, when all of a sudden, he grabbed my stomach and asked, “What’s this?” I took a deep breath and said, “Fat.” “No,” he said, “What is it?” While holding my stomach to show him, I explained, “We call it a roll. It’s a roll of fat.” He was still saying no and asked, “You know, that thing that kids wear swimming?” And then it hit me: “An inner-tube!” “Yes, that’s it!” And we went back to watching TV.
There are a lot of differences between our two cultures, especially in terms of money, sex, and beliefs, but so far we’ve been able to talk about everything openly and make compromises.
What are the benefits of dating a local? Any drawbacks?
One of the biggest benefits is that Tony can translate for me, making it easier to do things like take taxis, go shopping, order at restaurants, and communicate with other locals. But, this is also one of the only drawbacks I can think of.
So many people assume my Mandarin must be better since we started dating, but it’s actually gotten worse. I learned quite a bit before we started dating, because when I went out I tried really hard to talk to people. I’d practice new words and phrases with vendors at markets and waiters at restaurants, and I wasn’t afraid to make a fool of myself. Now when I go out, it’s often with Tony, and a lot of times, Chinese people will ignore me, only wanting to talk to him because they assume I can’t speak Chinese. It’s really frustrating.
Your relationship is quite serious. If you two got married, would you stay in Beijing? Would he move to Canada? Do you have a long-term plan?
We don’t have a specific long-term plan because there are so many unknowns. I don’t think I want to teach forever and we both are interested in traveling and possibly living in other countries. We do want to get married though, and we’ve both agreed we don’t want to live in Beijing long-term; it’s too crowded and polluted. We do eventually want to move to Canada together, but again, maybe not long-term.
What’s one thing you’ve learned from this that any of us could apply to our day-to-day life?
The biggest thing I’ve learned is to just go for it. If you’re thinking of doing something, big or small, do it! Go on that trip! Talk to the cute guy! Pack your bags and move! Chances are, it will work out, and if it doesn’t, you’ll have a great story to tell.Thanks so much for sharing, Amanda! Have any of your dated (or married!) people you’ve met abroad?