Expats Abroad Work Abroad

Angela on Life After 5 Years in Hong Kong

Who are you?

I would say that I am many things… a self-empowerment enthusiast, a queen of exploration, a guacamole connoisseur, a Lebanese food aficionado; but my mother named me Angela and sometimes people even refer to me by my Instagram name ‘InspireByExample’.

Where are you from?

I grew up in Ohio, born to two of the most wonderful humans I’ve ever met and with two younger brothers. When we were kids, my parents always took us to the same place every year – Tennessee. I loved it there, but I always knew that there was so much more to life than Ohio and Tennessee.

I think that’s what made my travel dream so grand. My journey started in my heart long before I was ever able to travel abroad.

How was your journey of getting abroad?

On a hot summer afternoon in college, my best friend and I were sitting around her apartment when we began talking about travel and study abroad. At this point, I’d never been out of the country!

Six months later we were on a grand adventure studying abroad in the Czech Republic. It was one of the most magical and memorable journeys I’ve ever had, and not because it was my first one, but because the city is just incredible.

As the study abroad semester ended, I was planning on traveling with the same friend. But she ended up not having the money to extend her trip.

I was left with two choices: either to go home or travel alone.

I’d never eaten alone so the idea of traveling alone was completely frightening! I took the jump and set out on a solo expedition through Europe.

Being alone was the best gift I could have given myself. I stumbled upon patience, my strength, humility and confidence. Being free from the constraints of a friend to travel with, forced me to approach people I never would have.

In Europe, I hit almost every country and of course, I came back to my university with fresh eyes I couldn’t stop thinking about all the possibilities that the world had to offer.

How did you go from study abroad to moving abroad?

After graduation, I worked for a year as a waitress, but I knew this wasn’t my only option. I wanted more for my life.

It was during that year, I ultimately decided Asia, as foreign as it seemed, was my next destination to explore. I had friends working abroad in South Korea, China, Vietnam and Indonesia, and they enticed me with their stories of the Orient.

I ended up booking a one-way trip to Seoul, South Korea where my best pal introduced me to life abroad. We ran the city all day and night! Sweating and laughing and singing karaoke to ring in my birthday; we made memories that will last a lifetime!

Traveling through Asia, I went from Korea to Japan, to Indonesia, to Vietnam and up into China where I landed in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong was incredible! You had everything – from fast city life to chilled-out island life to country roads that lead to amazing views. Hong Kong was as charming as it was bustling. Every part of the city seemed to be bursting at the seams with growth and luxury.

I knew from the moment I arrived that I wanted to coexist there – with the rushing passengers and the high-flying expats.

How did you find work?

I searched high and low for jobs knowing that teaching English could be my entrance to the country.

I kept saying to myself ‘this isn’t going to be so hard!’ but it was! Some companies wouldn’t even respond.

If you ever look for a job here, don’t get disappointed. It takes persistence. I kept applying, kept interviewing, kept searching. I didn’t get anything, but I didn’t give up.

To help with costs while job-hunting in Hong Kong I traveled to Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand.

In Thailand, I had my second Skype interview with a charity company called Chatteris. This company hired fresh graduates who were looking for a year abroad to teach English. The company hired 60 foreigners and placed them in schools around Hong Kong- primary, secondary or VTC schools (or technical training institutes).

When they interviewed me, they asked me how soon I could get there. I guess some of their other choices hadn’t worked out for them. Lucky for me! I said I can fly out tomorrow. They offered me the position.

When I arrived in Hong Kong they set me up in a small hotel room. All the other soon-to-be teachers had just endured rigorous training in the Hong Kong heat, yet I showed up to enjoy their start-of-the-year junk boat. A perfect kick off to my new home – two big boats on a bright sunny day with beautiful baby blue skies!

Chatteris handled the visa paperwork and helped with cultural immersion. They hosted weekly teacher trainings and cultural events so that we could get a real taste of Hong Kong, as well as unique events for the company like a pantomime! The company was incredible and my first year in Hong Kong was quite smooth.

As I transitioned into my next job I had to handle the visa paperwork on my own. Luckily, everything is in English and Chinese and most people in Hong Kong can help you in English, Mandarin or Cantonese, the local language.

Visas are not as difficult or challenging as you may think it is. What is more difficult is finding a spacious apartment!

What’s the living space like in Hong Kong?

At one point a friend told me”Angela, we’re all living in a shoebox.”

In Hong Kong, you learn to live in smaller quarters and you learn to live with things you thought you couldn’t live without.

Life in Hong Kong is not like life in Ohio. You don’t decorate for every holiday or have ‘just in case’ items. You leave the decorating to the malls and the hotels. You just don’t have the space! And that’s OK, it’s actually a blessing in disguise.

You don’t need ‘stuff’ to live a ‘happy life’. You need to be happy on the inside; you need to be happy with who you are. Gathering stuff doesn’t make us happy, it weighs us down and keeps us stagnant.

What do you do now for work?

After five years in Hong Kong, I’ve made it to the coveted position of working for the government, which provides a pretty substantial expat package. The package pays for housing, flights, insurance, and more, and better yet, if you have a family, they pay for your family as well- partners and/or kids and their flights after completing a two-year contract. You also get retirement pension and a retention incentive.

What is your work life like?

Hong Kong work life for me is Monday to Friday 8am to 4pm.

I think one of the more challenging parts to Hong Kong is understanding the working culture.

Acclimating to the speed and pace and complying to the working culture is something that foreigners may find demanding. It’s very different from the US and luckily, the Chinese don’t expect foreigners to work like they do.

The Chinese may seem cold from a distance, but once you get to know them, they are amazing people to work with and work for. They are lovely and care about you like a child of their own.

Chinese might not say “I love you” but they are concerned about your well-being, “Have you eaten, today?”. They show their love, care and interest through questions about your meals. If you have a sore throat, they’ll tell you that chips or fried foods aren’t good for you. They’ll insist you ‘take more rest’ and the solution to almost everything is drinking warm water.

Don’t be appalled, embrace their gestures. They truly mean well!

What is your social life like?

My evenings are filled with friends and loved ones, fitness classes, foot massages, interest classes like piano, Mandarin or jewelry making, as well as discovering all of the amazing food Hong Kong has to offer.

My weekends are filled with fun things like trips across the border to Shenzhen, junk boat trips, markets and hiking or random things like Cantonese Opera, Dragon Boat racing, visiting the Wishing Tree or different kinds of events that come the Wan Chai Convention Centre or performers coming to Asia Expo.

What has surprised you about living in Hong Kong?

I think what surprised me the most about Hong Kong is the abundance of English being spoken almost everywhere and the ease of transitioning to such a foreign place. It’s not difficult once it’s done!

Even after 5 years in Hong Kong I find that I am still seeing things I’ve never seen before. These range from the strange and obscure, like clipping your fingernails in public places, to the heartwarming and overwhelming, like the shuffling around of hundreds of people jammed into train cars.

Hong Kong is definitely not a place for everyone. At times, it’s fast pace can almost consume you, but if you can keep up it’s a wonderful place to engage all of your senses and test your agility.

Hong Kong keeps you on your toes and reminds you that you often should take time to relax in such a hectic place.

How do you think living abroad has changed you?

Living and working abroad has been one of the world’s greatest gifts. It’s changed me in ways that I cannot even begin to describe – from the way that I eat and the way that I dress, to the way that I talk and the way that I think. It’s more than just observable on the surface, but it is ingrained in who I am.

I often find myself doing things in the Chinese way.

And not only have I become more “Chinese”, but I find that my ability to respect others and the culture of others is something that has fundamentally changed in me.

I’ve become more adaptive to the culture of others, as well as their behavior. I often find myself trying to understand where someone is coming from, in terms of why or how they do the things they do.

If I had the chance to live abroad somewhere else I would definitely take the chance. Working abroad provides you with experiences you cannot get anywhere else!

Each culture is unique and special and can teach us more than books ever could.  

How often do you get to go “home”?

I visit home about two times per year. I am incredibly close to my family, so I always attempt to make it home sometime in the summer as well as during Christmas, because it’s just not the same anywhere else!

Teacher holidays are amazing and we get about three months in total for all the holidays in Hong Kong. In Hong Kong, the government observes Western and Chinese holidays.

When I come home, adjusting to life back in America is confusing for me. Certainly, I’ve adapted to living with less choice.

For example, during the summer my mom sent me off to grab a box of graham crackers. I stood in the aisle for a good 15 minutes and my phone began to ring… “Angela! Where are you?” I uttered gently, “Mom, can you just come pick? There are like 80 flavors too many and I just can’t decide!” From low-fat to no fat to non-fat, vanilla, vanilla cinnamon, vanilla cinnamon sugar… Why do we need so many choices?!?!? I am still baffled at how spoiled we are and can’t really comprehend why we need more! Americans really fail to realize how lucky and blessed we truly are.

What advice would you have for someone who wants to move to Hong Kong?

First, come to visit! If someone wanted to come to Hong Kong for work, I would suggest that they come to experience the city. You can’t be sure you’d like it if you’ve never been. That is why instead of just applying to work in Korea because I had friends there, I came to check out Asia first to see if I would even like it.

Getting a job in Hong Kong is a whole lot easier if you’re here. Being here for the interview says to the company you are serious about the job.

Now, that worked well for me, as a teacher, but if you are in finance or banking you could start applying from your home country. Different industries may have contrasting thoughts on how to approach a job.

Second don’t expect the same comforts of home, but get used to navigating a new way of living and being.

Sure, there won’t be a Target or a Walgreens, but you find the local market will have super glue next to the flowers or locks nearby the meat racks. You will miss your favorite foods, like Mexican or Lebanese, but you will find new food you love and you will discover an entire new way of existing! You will find your way and you learn to live with less.

Third, make friends with the locals. Don’t move to a foreign country and only surround yourself with other expats! You can hang out with Canadians in Canada, so why not just stay there? Meet the locals! Make new friends! Learn new things! And most importantly try to learn parts of the language. Sure, maybe you can’t learn everything, but ‘thank you’ and polite greetings go a long way when you’re far from home.

Any final words?

I think everyone’s biggest fear is always the first step. Working abroad is about taking the opportunity to learn not only about a new culture, but more importantly about yourself.

You learn how to manage a life outside of other people’s expectations. You learn how to be patient and how to ask for help. You learn how to hold on tightly to your family and friends, because literally everything else is replaceable. And ultimately, you will learn more about who you are as a person and you will gain a deep appreciation for that discovery.

If you’re thinking about moving abroad, DO IT. Let it change your life! Don’t look back. Don’t wait. This is your life – go out and create the best one you can imagine by doing something that you love!

Manifest into the universe that your dream job is out there and that your dream life actually does exist! The world is waiting for you! As Sage Levine says “They’re not waiting for someone like you- they are waiting for YOU!”

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  • Reply
    Haley Gronemeier
    December 14, 2017 at 1:46 am

    So inspiring! Congrats on living your life to the absolute fullest and for inspiring others to take the leap, and follow their dreams!

  • Reply
    December 14, 2017 at 8:41 pm

    Great article Angela ! Love to know how a foreigner’s view about Hong Kong.

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