True Story: I Moved Halfway Around The World & Met The Man I Want To Marry

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.

Tell us a bit about yourself!

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?

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  1. cantaloupe

    As someone who was about a year off from marrying her foreign boyfriend, I relate so much to this. I highly suggest putting in more effort learning his language though. I also never spoke it around my boyfriend because I didn't need to, but the more I understood, the better. (Especially when he was on the phone and I had nothing else to do except eavesdrop, haha.) And he also found it highly sexy when it did happen to fall from my lips. Teaching me to say "do me" in Arabic was one of his favorite moments and he made me repeat it like fifty times. When I forgot it the next day (I'm awful at languages,) he was so sad, it was heartbreaking. But I just shrugged it off because "whatever" is my norm.

    We never did get married, if that wasn't obvious. And I think a lot of it was my reluctance to be more Arabic, culturally. I never tried to learn the language to speak to his mother. I ignored his older brother when I ran into him. I refused to go to family events. And I could make excuses for each of those, but the truth is that I was probably just scared of how possible it was that we were forever. So I rejected the idea and made it impossible to happen. The only reason I even met his female side of the family is because he was bed-ridden for a month and I couldn't be such a bitch that I wouldn't visit my bed-ridden boyfriend, haha. I thought that meeting the family only needed to happen at the wedding rehearsal (I'm from unemotional, distant Western society, to clarify.) I hated commitment and flat out told him "no" when he asked me to be his girlfriend. I wanted my independence and freedom and choice. And he just wanted me to cook for him and let him teach me Arabic and be wife material, basically, which of course I hated.

    Cultural differences are insanely difficult. But when you're in love, you're in love…

  2. Anonymous

    I went traveling in Europe for 5 weeks after high school graduation and through a new friend, met someone in London at a party who would be my (long-distance) boyfriend for almost two years! We saw each other in California, NYC (where I study), and most times in London. I love him & I consider him to be my soulmate. Although long-distance was trying sometimes, we knew we ultimately wanted to be married and live in San Francisco. Very sadly, he passed away from cancer a few weeks ago at 20 years old after fighting it for almost a year. I know, it's a crazy story, but it's all true. I was happy to be a part of his life and to be able to support him through such a difficult time…and he inspired me for life with how strong and peaceful he was. Just one weekend in London, and my life was changed more than I could have ever imagined in that moment…

  3. Anonymous

    Interesting post! I, too, had an international love affair. Mine was with a Maori man in New Zealand. We didn't work out in the long run, because as much as we loved each other, neither of us could truly be happy living on the other side of the world from all of our loved ones (besides each other). At least one person is always sacrificing so much, it's really tough to make international loves work long-term. Hopefully, you or your beau will be happy living abroad forever and have better luck at it all 🙂

    • Amanda

      Thank you! We're hopeful it will work out, of course. He's coming to visit Canada and my family for the first time this summer!

  4. lo

    I am currently picking out rings with my Irish boyfriend who I met when I backpacked through a tiny gold-mining town in Outback Australia, so I loved reading your story. While we don't have a language barrier like yours- it is still different dating someone from a different culture that you've met while traveling abroad!

    We also struggle with where to live long term but luckily our two countries are a little closer than yours so our decisions might be a bit easier. I think it's hardest when you're away from your loved ones. As much as I am madly in love with my partner, I still need my brothers and mama around every once in a while!

  5. Julie

    I married my Chinese boyfriend that I met in China while teaching! It's pretty common in China to see Chinese girls date foreign men, but not as common to see Chinese men and foreign women together….I love seeing stories of other couples like us!

    • Amanda

      Hi Julie! I just popped over to your blog and I can relate to so much! I don't think I've met (or "met" as in this online case haha) another foreign woman/Chinese man couple. I'm so happy you commented!

  6. thisbeijinglife

    I love this. I like the way she deals with the cultural differences and family opinions. I met my husband when I first moved to Asia a few years back now. I'm British and he's American so it wasn't quite such a difference in cultures or language. I hope it all works out and they find somewhere exciting to live together. My husband and I have lived in several different countries together already- it's fun to move around. 🙂

  7. Frans

    I met my California wife online after joining an email discussion group about a book we were both reading. We emailed for a year before we met at Amsterdam airport. Half a year later she and her two daughters moved to Holland where we got married and lived for almost four years.

    We moved to California are both retired now and will be celebrating our 17th anniversary next month.

    Good luck!!

    • Sarah Von Bargen

      That’s such a lovely story, Frans!

    • Amanda

      Yay! What a great story! I love hearing about other cross-cultural relationships.

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