24 August 2016

Zoe Byrne - Expat in China

Zoe Byrne - Expat in China

We’ve had the chance to talk to Zoe Byrne, 23, a New Zealander expat who has moved to China alone. Ms. Byrne who has been living there for one year and ten months now works as an English teacher.

Read more about her experiences in the full interview below.


Q: Where are you originally from?

A: New Zealand


Q: What made you move out of New Zealand?

A: I’ve always wanted to travel everywhere and do everything. So as soon as I was done with University I took off.  New Zealand is a wonderful place and its hiking is particularly spectacular, but the world is far too interesting to stay in one place.


Q: Where are you living now?

A: China


Q: How did you come to choose this new country of residence?

A: Although I’m currently back home for Christmas, I taught in China. I wanted to teach English and wanted to do a TEFL course so that I knew what I was doing. I found several good ones and in the end picked one in Harbin. I got a job with a school in the same city.


Q: How long have you been living in China?

A: I lived one year and ten months in China.


Q: What has been the most difficult experience you've had when you were new in China?

A: To be honest I haven’t found it that difficult. I think the biggest factor in that was that I expected it to be different. Many people I worked with that had issues – complained that they weren’t the same as at home. It kind of baffled me, I never expected things to be the same, it was a completely different country. So nothing really was really a problem, I just rolled with it.


Q: Would you say that formalities like getting visas or work permits and international health insurance were particularly difficult in China? What was your experience with these?

A: No, the school handled all that; all I had to do was to show up for the medical check. Very easy.


Q: Are you living alone or with your family?

A: I lived alone in China.


Q: How are they adjusting to the Expat Lifestyle?

A: I adjusted easily. I had expected it to be harder, but it was quite easy.


Q: Was it easy making friends and meeting people? Do you mainly socialize with other expats in China? How did you manage to find a social circle in China?

A: It is quite easy to meet people, although I mostly do hang out with Expats. There is a local expat bar, and I work with lots of Expats, so meeting people is easy.


Q: What are the best things to do in the area? Anything to recommend to future expats?

A: The Ice Festival is unmissable if you are there in winter, and also in winter not far away from Harbin are the Ice Rimmed Trees of Jilin. Make sure it is at least minus 20 Celsius for that one. There is also the world’s biggest meteor here in a museum.

In June and July, The Bird Reserve in Qiqihar is worth a visit. The Cranes are great.

Mundanjang is a great weekend escape from Harbin.

Wudalian Chi is probably the most touristy place beside Harbin in the province.  It has volcanic rock formations, a small volcano to hike up and underground caves that are at -10 all year around. They have the same sort of Ice sculptures in them as you will find at the ice festival.

Mohe is much further away – a 20h train journey – but it is such a cool little place that I recommend making the trip.

Changchun is the capital of the province below Harbin’s province and has the really interest Puppet Emperor’s Palace.

Also in this province is the stunning Heaven Lake near Baihe.

There are ruins of an ancient Korean kingdom too, but I have never been there.

Other things in Harbin include Unit 731 Museum, the Siberian Tiger Park, Dragon Tower, the Buddhist Temple, the Confucius Temple, the Botanical Gardens, Sun Island Park and the Old Russian Center.


Q: How does the cost of living in China compared to your home?

  • How much is a cup of coffee?

A: 50c

  • How much is a meal in an inexpensive restaurant?

A: $2 - $5

  • How much is a meal in an expensive restaurant?

A: $10 - $20

  • How much is a bottle of wine? How about a pack of cigarettes?

A: Not sure I don’t really buy these


Q: What do you think about the locals?

A: Everyone I’ve met is really nice. They are generally all friendly. Sometimes there can be a culture clash, like when it’s really hot and the teacher will have the AC on. ACs seem to have a bad rep in China, and parents have objected saying that the AC will do everything from giving their children colds, to making the boys feet cold and therefore make them infertile, to causing Polio, to breaking the children’s bones. J


Q: What do you think are the positive and negative sides of living in China?

A: Positive lots – experiencing a whole new culture and way of thinking. Language emersion – makes it much easier to learn a new language. The food. The ability to travel to places easily both in China and surrounding China. That last one especially for me – NZ is so far away from everywhere.


The water goes off once or twice a month.

The air quality is not that great.


Q: Do you miss home and family sometimes?

A: I sometimes miss my family, although not the actual place home itself. I waited too long to travel to miss it.


Q: How do you cope with homesickness?

A: I talk to my family on Skype quite regularly.


Q: Do you have plans to move to a different country or back home in the future?

A: Yes, as I said, I’m home for Christmas now and as awesome as China was and is I will head back out to backpack around India soon and then find another job in a new country. Possibly Thailand?


Q: What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?

A: The air quality can be somewhat challenging. It is hard to stay in shape when a half hour walk can cause that little burning sensation at the back of the throat from pollution.


Q: What tips can you give other expats living in that country?

A: Expect everything to be different: big and small. Enjoy the differences. What is the point of moving to a new country if it is all the same?

Learn some Mandarin (or Cantonese) before you go.

For Harbin – pack warm clothes. You will need them in the minus thirty Celsius winter.