Erin: Erin O´Leary
Please tell us a little bit about yourself. Who you are, where you come from, when you moved to Shanghai, etc.
My name is Erin O'Leary and I'm a photographer, writer and traveler all in one. For me, choosing a destination is a lot like throwing a dart at a map – I never know where I'll end up. I graduated from Middle Tennessee State University in May 2011. I spent my last semester studying abroad in Costa Rica. After graduation, I spent the summer in upstate New York and then returned to Tennessee to work in a portrait studio. In March 2012 I wrecked my car and realized I had two options: 1.) Buy a new car or 2.) Travel. I didn't have enough money for both so I decided I would quit my job and see where life leads. I spent 6 weeks traveling around England and Ireland, I worked in New York City over the summer and then took off to Radom, Poland where I spent my first year teaching English. Although I strongly considered staying in Europe for another year, I figured I'd really step outside my comfort zone and head to Shanghai, China. Although I always wanted to live in Asia, China was the big unknown and the last place I envisioned myself living. This city is incredible and there's so much to learn!
When and why did you decide to start blogging about your experiences?
I started this blog in January 2011 as a means to document my experience studying abroad in Costa Rica. I started to dapple into the world of writing and posting photos of all the beautiful places I'd visited, however, keeping a blog is a lot harder than it seems. Last year, I decided to give it another shot and really apply myself to writing original content and keeping things updated. The growth I've seen throughout the year has been phenomenal.
Do you have any favorite blog entries of yours?
What Most People Don't Know About Culture Shock, Backpacking Europe Part I (Central Europe) and Part II (Western Europe). These links will bring you to a series of posts highlighting my trips across Europe and include great information on attractions, hostels, food and nightlife.
Tell us about the ways your new life in Shanghai differs from that back home. Did you have trouble getting used to the new circumstances? Did you experience culture shock?
Yes! Please read my link above to “What Most People Don't Know About Culture Shock” and that will describe what I've gone through from country after country. I was in an Intercultural Communications class in San Jose, Costa Rica when I finally realized what it means to live in another country. It's hard work, it takes commitment and a positive attitude. Friends are vital to making or breaking your experience.
Do you think you were fully prepared for what awaited you in Shanghai? If you could, would you change some decisions/preparations you made?
Not at all. Since arriving in Shanghai, there's been a whirlwind of emotions. I've changed apartments 3 times in 5 months and have had a whole lot more happen in addition to that. Unlike Poland, I did the research before coming to China, but I found myself getting swept up in the Honeymoon Phase faster than I imagined. I forgot to stop and take some time for myself and instead I watched things fall to pieces before I could really settle in here. Research is good, but also taking some time for yourself to reflect on your new surroundings rather than constantly seeking out adventure will help you out in the long run.
Every expat knows that expat life comes with some hilarious anecdotes and funny experiences. Care to share one with us?
My first day in China I searched out a restaurant for dinner. My friend and I sat there in a deserted eatery not long before they were about to close. We ordered our food and sat there patiently waiting. After about five minutes the waitress comes to us and starts speaking in Chinese. We looked at her very confused. Then she runs away and comes back and still tries to talk to us in Chinese, but this time also writes down what she wants to say in Chinese characters in case we were able to read. After ten minutes of this conversation going nowhere, the waitress finds someone who can speak broken English in the back. The man comes out and says, “Your food will be out in 15 minutes.” Five minutes later we were happily eating. The poor woman and how much energy she put into something so simple. I admire the persistence.
Which three tips would you like to give future expats before they embark on their new life in Shanghai?
- Don't pay too much for housing – Landlords and relators will try their hardest to rip off the naïve foreigner.
- If you're teaching English, research the company. There are some great English schools out here and some not so great English Schools so make sure you end up with the right one.
- If you have any dietary needs or are a vegetarian or vegan – good luck! You can express your needs with the help of mandarin pocket guides, or learning the key phrases beforehand, but this will do virtually no good for the average Chinese restaurant.
How is the expat community in Shanghai? Did you have a hard time finding like-minded people or fellow expats?
I'm so fortunate because my company arranges their training program so that you're with so many other people that are in the exact same boat you're in. I met many wonderful people starting out and the expat community here is huge. Spend some time hanging out in the city and you'll meet others very easily.
How would you summarize your expat life in Shanghai in a single, catchy sentence?
Crazy, witty, adventurous and fun – totally worth it!