Brandi shares her expat experience raising a black family in China
“I definitely feel that my sons’ lives have been enriched through our experiences. My sons are not afraid to travel and have gained extensive knowledge about surviving outside of the USA. Their goals are more globally oriented.”
Let’s start at the beginning: Where are you originally from? When did you move abroad and where did you move abroad to?
I was born and raised in Indianapolis, Indiana, USA. I moved abroad to Jinzhong, Shanxi China in October 2014.
How were you able to migrate? (Job, Visa, Spouse, Family or another channel?)
Through my Job
Why did you decide to move and did you know anyone there?
My family wanted an experience abroad after my cousin shared her experiences of living abroad. She informed me of a position not too far from the school where she was working at the time.
How did you find the job searching process? Was there anything about working overseas that surprised you?
The first time around I didn’t search at all. I accepted a position based on my cousin’s recommendation. I also failed to do research about teaching abroad in general. I accepted a position with a salary far below the average salary for a person with my experience and level of education. I was surprised by the ignorance I encountered. Many people accused us of not being American because we were people of color as if there were no black people in the USA. There were significant issues with the position therefore my family and I left prior to the end of the contract. We went home for a year to regroup before setting out again. This time around I did my own research and registered with an agency. Almost immediately I received three offers in two different countries for three times the salary I was paid in my first position in Shanxi.
How was the experience finding a new home?
I was provided an apartment by the schools I worked for in both situations.
How is the social scene? What was your experience making friends?
In Jinzhong, Shanxi there was no social scene. We were the only expats in the immediate area. Through a coworker we were able to connect with other expats in a nearby town about an hour train ride away. We did make an effort to attend special functions organized by the groups in the nearby city. At that time no one at the local train station spoke English, consequently, we were not able to travel without the assistance of a Chinese friend so we weren’t able to be spontaneous or travel as much as we desired.
Conversely, the social scene in our current location, Shanghai, China is very similar to our home. It is very easy to be social. The are networks of expats that are extremely supportive and resourceful.
Did you date overseas? If so, what was that experience like? Any memorable stories you can share?
No, I moved abroad with my family.
Do you feel your race impacted your experience? If so, how?
Being African American has definitely impacted our experience abroad. While in China we’ve often been told that black teachers are paid less and less desirable because the parents think they don’t speak proper English. The expat jobs are also dominated by white males. In many cases I have found that my white counterparts have had much less experience and are often unqualified for the positions they hold. Many schools will often state that they are not accepting applications from black people.
In my current school, I’ve had many experiences where I was treated unfairly yet I was seen as the aggressor although I responded calmly in response to being disrespected. I am traveling with my teenaged sons who are homeschooled. Once we needed help at the school with conducting small reading groups for primary students. I volunteered my sons to help to which the Chinese principal responded “but they are black boys.” My youngest son actually attended the school. That was definitely a character building experience for the whole family. Not only was he experiencing discrimination from the Chinese staff and students, the expat teachers would make rude and racist comments without regard for him in any way. When these incidents were reported to the principal, a white American man, he dismissed every complaint making excuses for their behavior. Once my son won a writing contest, he is dyslexic and worked very hard on his piece, was selected by the judges and was the ONLY entry for his grade level but was not awarded because “the Chinese parents wouldn’t approve.” I verbally and in writing made a formal complaint against the school with the organization. I also requested a transfer for my son to the inner city location which was blocked by my principal. The next year we sent our sons back to the USA while we finished our contract. Our plan was to return home at the end of the year, but that changed.
What has been the most challenging thing about moving abroad?
The most challenging thing about living in China has been the arbitrary enforcements of local laws. At one point I was restricted from leaving the country after hosting a group of students from the USA. The short version of the story is that I connected a former college classmate with a Chinese travel agent in order to bring 22 people to participate in a cultural exchange with students at my school. The travel agent issued the flight tickets to the group on a cash on arrival basis. She was fully aware that I was not responsible for the finances of the group. I explicitly told her that I nor my employer were financially responsible for the group. Once the group arrived, the group organizer failed to pay giving several excuses. The travel agent called the police. After questioning the group leader several times, they then turned to me. They cleared out my account and forced my employer to give them my salary directly stating that it was easier to get the money from me and that I should get the money from the group organizer. Of course I had no legal recourse against the group organizer as there was no agreement between he and me for payment. I wasn’t able to sue him in the USA. I was just forcibly cheated out of $38,000 USD. My passport was restricted so that I could not leave China.
The only support I was given by the US Consulate was a notice that I should pay the money as quickly as possible to avoid being incarcerated. My family and others in my hometown didn’t understand the severity of the situation and very few gave any assistance.
What has been the most rewarding?
My family has been able to travel and have grown exponentially as a result. I definitely feel that my sons lives have been enriched through our experiences. My sons are not afraid to travel and have gained extensive knowledge about surviving outside of the USA. Their goals are more globally oriented.
Tips for the Expatise Community
What in your experience would you say is the minimum monthly cost of living? *
Any advice on the visa/migrating process that could help someone else’s process go smoother? *
Start early because there are quite a few authentications required for China.
Any insider tips on a place you enjoy going to or an activity you enjoy doing? *
Shanghai is the best/most convenient place for an expat to live in China.
Finally, If you could go back in time and give yourself one piece of advice before you got on that plane to move abroad, what would it be?
DO YOUR RESEARCH! Know your value and what you should expect for salary and benefits. Try to connect to the social media groups for your area prior to heading out.