Life lessons learned while living as an expat

It is my seventh year of living in China as an expat. I sometimes find it hard to believe that I am even living in China, let alone it being seven years.

It has been said that I am not living in the real world. And at times it can feel like it. However, in this time I have learned some important life lessons.

Value what you have today

Nature, fresh air and blue skies. Living in Australia I took these things for granted. They were ever present. I didn’t even really give them much thought. Until they were no longer a daily part of my life. Now they are something to be appreciated and thankful for.  Just looking up and seeing clearly defined clouds now brings me joy.

It is easy to fixate on the things I don’t have. Doing this day in, day out made my life miserable. (I have SO been there, especially in the first year living here.) I now try to take a moment every day to reflect on what I do have and be thankful for every experience.

Ensure you make time for your loved ones

Shortly after I arrived here my grandfather passed away. I wasn’t able to make it to his funeral. I have missed family birthdays, christenings and many Sunday roast dinners. For a while I focused on all the things I was missing out on.

I now ensure I make time to visit or speak with loved ones. My goal is to spend quality time rather than quantity. (Christmas is good time as many people are on holidays and are also in more relaxed frame of mind.) Even a chat on Skype can make the world of difference.

And not forgetting my new friends, who in an expat community become my de facto family. They too are added to the list of loved ones I make sure I have time for.

Question your assumptions

One huge thing that has really turned my life upside down while living in China is realising how many of my assumptions are based on my cultural expectations.

Some things that at first appeared crazy began to make sense once I got to understand the Chinese culture and the reasons behind it. One of my first experiences in China was taking my two year old son to a playground which had a sand pit. He immediately sat down in the sand to play, as any child would. Well, a Western child that is. As the grandmothers and ayi’s were frowning, tutting and shaking their heads at me, I noticed all the Chinese children were squatting to play in the sand. I later learned that sitting in the sand was viewed as dirty and unclean. Of course, at the time all I could see was the countless bottoms and willies hanging out the split pants the young children were wearing, and being totally grossed out by that.

Be flexible, patient and open minded

For those who know me, I am a bit of an organiser.  I like things to go to plan. I can get more than a little stressed when things are out of my control. However, living in a foreign country, especially one with a culture that is so different to my own, has taught me that things will often not work out how I want them to.

It took me a while, but I have now realised that I can’t always make things work out the way I want. Losing my patience or being inflexible is not going to change the situation. And, more importantly, I am the one who is going to suffer if I don’t change my attitude.

Now I am a lot more relaxed about things. I ask myself “Can I change this situation?” and if I can’t I then ask “Can I change my attitude?”

When we decided to move to China I expected adventure, awesome experiences and the chance to get to know a new culture. What I did not expect was to learn some very valuable lessons that will stay with me for life.


9 thoughts on “Life lessons learned while living as an expat

  1. A very honest and reflective piece Kim, thanks.

    One of my many China moments was when I was first cycling. I was getting annoyed, angered even, by the constant horn beeping and bell ringing of other cyclists and e-bikers behind me. I found it to be rude, aggressive and very frustrating.

    Then I flipped my thinking and started to force myself to think how great it was that all of these other cycle lane users were so concerned for my safety that they were making sure that I could hear them through their multiple beeps and bells.

    The truth of their intent and my perception is very likely to be somewhere between the two but by changing my attitude, which is the one thing I could control in the situation, I was able to arrive at destinations much calmer!

    Thanks for allowing me to think back and reflect on this.


  2. Well said Kim. Attitude is a valuable lesson in lifes journey. Adapting to changes, shapes and moulds us to be a little wiser and diverse in our thought process. Enjoying your blog☺☺ Uncle Hugh..Aunty Lorraine


  3. Appreciation of what you DO have in life is really one of the lessons we value from our time in Cina. Well said.


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