One year ago, we were just arriving in Shenyang, and one year from today we’ll be leaving. It’s a good time to reflect on my first year living abroad. Hopefully some things I’ve learned will be helpful for others, or even just for me to remember moving forward.
-Get used to being alone. As we know, China has no bilateral agreement, so I can’t work on the local economy. Plus, the EFM hiring freeze put the kibosh on getting a job for the first six months or so I’ve been here. So, without a job, I tend to stay home most of the time, alone. Well, except for Diplocat, but she sleeps during the day. I do most of our family’s grocery shopping and other errands, but there’s not that much for me to do. As I’ve mentioned in other blog posts, there aren’t a lot of other guys around to hang out with, and I’m not very good at making new friends anyway. So, your mileage may vary, but I’m on my own during the day.
And I haven’t even mentioned that Diplowife has to work late and go on trips sometimes, so there’s that too. Her job doesn’t involve a lot of late hours, but other officers here put in tons of overtime, so I imagine their families have learned to deal with it. It’s not a huge problem for me, but it can be for some people, and you should know what you’re getting into.
Brussels has a huge expat community, compared to Shenyang, and there’s even a club just for trailing husbands. And I’ll be way more likely to find work there. So I’m looking forward to that, but I know the next post after could very well be another no-job, no-expat kind of place.
-Related to the above point: get used to isolation. Aside from being alone, physically, you’ll often be cut off from the Internet too. It’s not too bad these days, but sometimes the Internet just doesn’t cooperate and I have to step away. Shenyang is a good post to live if you want more time with your hobbies (assuming your hobbies aren’t related to the Internet).
-I don’t have a lot of new insights about what to pack, what to put in your consumables, stuff like that. But I will say this: use the pouch. Order the stuff you want and ship it to post. It’ll make you feel better, it helps you get over your homesickness and makes your new house into a home. We were cautious at first about ordering stuff, and people gave me a hard time at the consulate about too many boxes coming, but to hell with that. Order a big box full of potato chips if that’s what you like. Buy some new winter socks, it’s cold here. Buy a stack of new movies, because movies are fun and the Internet here is garbage for streaming. Whatever it takes, treat yourself.
-Invite people over, and go out with them. The cool people that greet you and your spouse when you get here? They’re going to leave much sooner than you think, to their next assignments. And when they leave, you don’t want to think, “I wish we had spent more time together”. This is a hard one for Diplowife and me; we’re introverts and aren’t used to socializing much. But I think it’s worth the effort. This is a lonely lifestyle, even for introverts.
-Don’t like where you live? Leave. Well, temporarily, I mean. We’ve gone on lots of trips from Shenyang and seen some amazing places. From late last summer up until recently, we went on a trip somewhere about once a month (Seattle, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Munich, Harbin and Seoul). We’re in a slow patch right now, but we’re heading to Xi’an in May, and hopefully more after that. Use your R&R money and get out of town! Take a three-day weekend and ride the train someplace new. I know not every post has good travel options, but do what you can. A change of scenery is really helpful, especially when the view out your window looks like Shenyang.
-Kind of related, but don’t wait to see your new city. We’ve been here a year and have barely seen any of Shenyang’s sights. Granted, they aren’t all that compelling, but I think it’s worth a couple Saturdays to see it all. Spring is here, and I started using a rental bike app (Mobike) which has done wonders for my mobility. Soon, I’ll actually see every point on the map I made of all the interesting places in Shenyang.
I’m sure there are many other nuggets of wisdom out there for getting through the first half of your first tour, but that’s all I can think of. Hopefully I’ll have more to say a year from today, but I suspect I’ll be too busy moving, then enjoying home leave to do much blogging at the time. Stay tuned!