Essence Roberts shares her expat journey and the impact of moving abroad to Shanghai, China has had on her self-growth and independence.
“I truly wanted to experience living on my own and caring for myself just being independent and I felt leaving home was going to give me that push that I needed“
Let’s start at the beginning, where are you originally from? When did you move abroad and where did you move abroad to?
I am originally from Atlanta, Georgia. I moved to Shanghai, China in 2018 after I graduated college. I lived there for 2 years then moved to Thailand and I’ve now been here since March 2020.
How were you able to migrate? (Job, Visa, Spouse, family another channel?)
I went the teaching english as a foreign language route, and my job offered a resettling allowance and flight reimbursements.
Why did you decide to move and did you know anyone there?
I studied abroad in China my second year of College. I knew that I wanted to travel and experience living in Asia as an adult so I researched opportunities to make it work. Also I desired to learn more about holistic health and alternative medicine and I felt initially that Asia was the perfect place to go.
How did you find the job searching process. Was there anything about working overseas that surprised you?
I applied for over 100 different jobs, did numerous skype interviews, contacted people on instagram who worked for the companies in order to learn as much information as I could about other black women experiences. The things that surprised me and that were different was the ease of life, the energy that I still had after getting off work and the desire to work towards building other opportunities for myself.
How was the experience finding a new home?
The experience was very smooth. A coworker and I decided to find an apartment together because we came at the same time and knew it would cut costs and we both were new. People from our company put us in contact with housing agents and we told them what we were looking for and they took us to view multiple places before we finally decided on something that we were both comfortable with
How is the social scene? What was your experience making friends?
The social scene in Shanghai is awesome! The expats are a tight knit group. There are soo many different places to go. There’s a wide range of entertainment, events, and activities ranging from the regular bars/clubs, to mixers for up coming brands (people building their businesses in Shanghai), networking events, photographer and videographer groups who go around the city every weekend and put events together or shoots. Vegan social events, gatherings, and trying out new vegan products that are being introduced into the market, spiritual and energy healing sessions and group classes, yoga classes, whatever your interest is, there’s a community for it.
Did you date overseas? If so, what was that experience like, any memorable stories?
Yes, I dated when I originally got to Shanghai however I didn’t go the whole Tinder/Bumble route like most people I know. I dated people in person who showed interest upon first meeting me. That’s how I am. I am an energy person I have to see you and feel your vibe before I’d plan on going on a date. Not any memorable stories, but there are some amazing men and women in Shanghai and also some who are trash. Trying new places to eat and different events are always fun!
Do you feel your race impacted your experience? If so, how?
Yes, I entered Shanghai as a black woman with blonde hair and I wore contacts. I stood out for sure. People stayed wanting to take pictures of me, with me, or sneaking them. One thing that was most interesting is that in my first job there, they told me that the parents expected me to be “loud, energetic, and animated” and that’s what they are paying for in a foreign teacher. I was displaying what they perceive Americans to be like. When I was applying for a new job, alot of the alerts specifically asked for white women native speakers. The school I ended up at specifically asked for two more black women teachers, because the one they had was very animated, loud, and energetic and they expected that from the rest of us. However, I have a very soft voice and I don’t speak very loud, but I am energetic. Soo many Chinese people had never seen a black person and definitely not one with blonde hair. At first I had students who were scared and would cry, adults would walk around a corner, see me and scream or turn around or just stare like literally I was the most interesting “thing” many of them had ever seen
What has been the most challenging thing about moving abroad?
The most challenging thing was readjusting and battling depression within the first 3 to 5 months of living there. I was very unhappy initially. Shanghai was extremely cold, and I was home sick but I didn’t understand why. The children were so bad at the school that I started at, it was difficult for me to discipline them even with setting my intentions. But at the same time many of them did not know English, so I understand where their actions were coming from. My coworkers spoke English but initially they weren’t extremely welcoming either, up until a white teacher came onto staff. I was the only foreign teacher at my school at first. Going through the initial readjustment period was the most challenging part
What has been the most rewarding?
All of the many wonderful experiences that I’ve had, the places I’ve travelled to, the amazing people that I’ve met, learned from, grown with, and taught. I truly wanted to experience living on my own and caring for myself just being independent and I felt leaving home was going to give me that push that I needed. I felt way too dependent on my family when I was living back in Atlanta. I needed to grow up, and I have in so many ways. I have truly been able to establish and understand what it is that I value in life, how I desire to live my life, and what’s my purpose.
Tips & Advice for the Her Expatise Community
What in your experience would you say is the min. monthly cost of living?
Any advice on the visa/migrating process that could help someone else’s process go smoother?
Save money, research as much as you can, contact other expats living in the city you desire to live in.
Any insider tips on a place you enjoy going to or an activity you enjoy doing?
In Shanghai, there’s oh so many, but in Jing’an district everything is in walking distance.
Finally, If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice before you got on that plane, what would it be?
BE FREE ! Your joy, your passion, and your desires come first. Live your life and have the absolute time of your life. Don’t allow anyone else’s emotions or feelings about life deter you or not allow you to fully embrace the moment. Don’t get into a relationship, remember your purpose, save your money so you can invest in your businesses, network as much as you can, and really learn the language as it’s extremely beneficial and opens up so many doors.