“You’re moving WHERE?!”
“Isn’t that a COMMUNIST country?!”
These were common responses I got when I told people of my plans to move to Beijing back in the summer of 2008. Since then, I’ve been asked why I moved here by so many people – friends, family, students, couchsurfers – that I figured it would be a good idea to just put the story in writing. Here goes nothing…
When I got to college at Michigan State way back in 2004, I had no idea what I wanted to study, nor did I care. I knew I wanted to tailgate for football games, meet girls, and go see as many Umphrey’s shows as possible. Unfortunately, you have to choose a major at some point in college (which you of course proceed to change at least three times). My mom suggested Accounting – “There are lots of good jobs available for accountants; it’s a stable field.” Since I had no idea what I wanted to do, I went ahead and followed my mother’s logical motherly advice. Unfortunately, I quickly realized that accounting was about as interesting as watching paint dry. The good salary right out of college didn’t sound so appealing once I realized I would hate my life. As such, I decided to study something I was actually interested in – Video Production.
In what was at the time called the Telecommunications field of MSU, I studied digital design, video and audio production, and more. I worked on the student radio station, with the TV club, and did internships with a local network, concert promoter, and production house. I enjoyed all of the work, but upon nearing my graduation, I was left confused about what to do and which direction to go in. Should I apply for radio jobs? TV jobs? Music related jobs? I tried looking for all of the above, but nothing really grabbed me or peaked my interest. Plus, thanks to the great economic crises of 2008, I wasn’t having any luck finding jobs. Surprise! My parents were right about finding a job (or not, in my case). It was back to the drawing board.
In my four years of college, I never did a study abroad program. Having heard tales of eye-opening experiences from friends and classmates, this was something I regretted not doing myself. Traveling to another country and living there for a while to study sounded like a great idea, and I felt I had missed the boat on that experience. Thankfully, one day while surfing the ‘net during a slow day at one of my internships, I found some information about teaching ESL abroad. If I couldn’t study abroad, and I had to find a job to start paying back my loans, why not just go live abroad? A bit more research steered me towards Asia, where I read there were more teaching jobs available that also paid better than other areas.
After digging deeper, I was down to my top three places – Bangkok, Seoul, or Beijing. One day while mindlessly staring at Facebook, I spotted some pictures from the Chinese capital that had been posted by a friend of mine. I inquired as to how he ended up there, and wouldn’t you know it, he was teaching there. Plus, the 2008 Olympics were going to be held in Beijing just a few months later. Thus, my decision was made.
I spent the summer of 2008 having as much fun as I could with the people I loved the most before saying goodbye and moving to the other side of the world. Leaving was even harder since I had just met a cute blonde girl who was into live music just as much (or even more) than me. My last weekend in the States was spent visiting Rachel in Atlanta, seeing shows of course.
I originally intended to only stay here for a year and then head back to the US. Since then, I’ve traveled across the US going to music festivals and following Phish, lived in Tennessee, moved back to Beijing, traveled to many countries and countless other places in China, backpacked for a year, and moved to Kunming. It’s funny how plans change.
After more than four years of calling Beijing home, a handful of different apartments, and multiple teaching jobs, I decided to say goodbye. Just as it was a difficult decision to move here originally, it wasn’t an easy choice to leave. What started out as a near disaster and almost sent me back to America broke and angry ended up being an incredibly successful couple of years. I arrived here as a confused single boy with a huge credit card bill, basically no money, no Chinese whatsoever, and a crappy job that was taking advantage of me and other teachers. I left as a happily taken man with zero credit card debt, plenty of money in the bank, a conversational level of Chinese, and a great teaching job I could go back to anytime plus a fantastic opportunity to do what I love and get paid for it. There have been plenty of ups and downs during my years living abroad, but on the whole it’s been far and away the best experience of my life. If you have any doubts or hesitations about taking the plunge, I hope my experiences can help you make that decision.