Friday, November 11, 2011

The Second-Year Expat Experience

I moved to Taiwan in fall 2008, hard to believe I've been mostly out of America for three years now. I finally bought a bicycle. I started cooking on a regular basis. I joined a dodgeball team. James and I began regularly playing badminton at the nearby community center - all things that weren't on my radar my first year here.

Our time in Taiwan was really different because we had James' family. This was great for a lot of reasons - James' grandparents were really generous letting us stay in their second apartment, we always had a family meal at least once a week, we got to borrow his uncle's car, etc.

I feel like my first year in Shanghai was my first true expat year. In Taiwan, James' family was our primary community. Now, in Shanghai, my collection of international twenty-something, early-career types are our primary community. Instead of Saturday lunches at grandma's, my first year had a lot of cocktail happy hours and late-night McDonald's delivery.

For a lot of us, that experience is integral to expatriating to Shanghai as a young, unmarried person - lots of not-so-healthy eating, splashing out for expensive conveniences because you're exhausted, and going to bars because you don't know anyone and you want to make friends and alcohol makes everything less awkward. I didn't drink that much my first year, but the Aussies and the Brits are all alcoholics by American standards, so I probably drank more than I would've in the States.

I've been in Shanghai over a year and a half now. I have a great extended network of friends, plus my little American tribe that I live with. So now my priority has shifted from establishing community to maintaining in it and making my life here more comfortable.

Thus, we make a point of getting exercise now. We cook several times a week. And where in Taiwan, it was fine and a little bit novel to have Cheeseburger Thanksgiving, it seems more important now where and how we'll be celebrating (most likely a potluck at a friend's, there will definitely be turkey).

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