A Day in the Life of a China Expat

If you take a look at my Instagram or read too many of my travel posts in a row, it might seem like I’m constantly gallivanting around the globe, but the reality is much different than that. I’m a China expat, working a 10-7 job as a college counselor helping Chinese high school students apply to American universities. I have an apartment, a monthly salary, a private office, and a breakfast vendor who knows my order by heart.

So to give you all a glimpse into the life of a China expat, I thought I might show you my daily schedule (aka what I did yesterday.)

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sweet potato street food

Street sweet potatoes are my favorite winter snack!

8:45 AM- Good Morning Beijing!

After a 10-minute snooze I force myself out of bed and into the shower (unless I oversleep and then I just apply extra deodorant.) After slathering an insane amount of lotion all over my body to combat the dry Beijing winter, I coat my face in foundation to cover up my dark circles and pale skin that hasn’t seen the sun in weeks.

After I finish up in the bathroom, I head over to my wardrobe to pick out the day’s outfit. It’s still freezing cold in my office, so I opt for something practical, but not too casual. Maybe a nice sweater with jeans tucked into boots. My apartment is always a million degrees for some unknown reason, so I’m forced to open the window while I’m getting ready, enjoying the fresh (surprisingly) pollution-free air while I shrug on my puffy coat and slip on my hat.

Enreach espresso

My morning necessity

9:40 AM- Head to Work!

When I’m finished covering myself in multiple layers, I lock up my apartment and squeeze into elevator full of working professionals and package delivery men. When I finally make it to the ground floor I run across the street to the stall selling breakfast dumplings, tofu, porridge and tea eggs. The young man instantly recognizes me. With a smile he scoops two tea eggs out of a pot of boiling broth as I hand him 3 kuai (50 cents.)

I tie up the plastic bag and stick it in my purse so the eggs won’t get cold as I begin my 15 minute walk to work. Today is a bit treacherous due to yesterday’s snow. I’m wearing flat lace-up boots, slipping and sliding everywhere. Somebody buy me some snow boots, please.

Today I’m especially cautious of the cars that are driving like the roads are perfectly clear. I know there’s a big possibility they’ll slide on the snow and ice as they come to a sudden stop, so I’m significantly less ballsy than usual, letting them have the right-of-way (even if they have a red light.) Better safe than dead.

Enreach Beijing

Let’s get to work

10:00 AM- Chinese Class

Today I have my weekly office Chinese class which started a few weeks ago. I grab my Chinese notebook from my desk and run to the classroom upstairs where my other foreign coworkers are waiting. While most of the class is review for me, it’s still a great way for me to practice my characters and I always learn a few new vocab words. The teacher does a great job managing our different Chinese levels, and always makes sure to be super hard on me, asking me complicated questions and correcting my tones, while going easier on my beginner classmates who barely speak a word of Chinese.

I honestly think it’s really awesome that my boss has provided us this Chinese class, and it’s a great way to bond with my other foreign co-workers I don’t work with directly. I think this is the first time in my life I’ve actually enjoyed learning Chinese and doing Chinese homework. Reason #397 why teaching to adults is awesome.

Enreach Beijing office

My purple office

11:00 AM- Back to Work

After class I make myself an americano in our fancy office espresso machine, and settle into a long day of work. I pull up my Foxmail email (the worst email provider ever) to see the latest drafts of my students’ UC admissions essays which are due this weekend. Of course, all my kids are horrible procrastinators, so we’re rushing to get these essays done as soon as possible.

Most of my students are having difficulty with the first UC application essay: Describe the world you come from and tell us how your world has shaped your dreams and aspirations.

The main problem is that most students are using this essay as an excuse to talk about an activity they did in high school to sound more impressive, but they’re failing to actually answer the question.

Enreach Beijing

the Beijing office!

For example, one kid said she came from a world of business and entrepreneurship because she was in the economics club at school. While this is a cool and creative spin on the question, she basically just spent the rest of the essay talking about how she made her department of the economics club more impressive.

……Okay? Well, good for you but that doesn’t answer the question at. all.

Usually I spend my mornings crafting these essays into something that’s remotely acceptable. For example I had this same girl talk about her disappointment with her department of the economics club, and how it wasn’t the “fully-formed world of business” she was hoping for. She eventually realized that if she wanted this “world of entrepreneurship” at her school, she would have to create it herself. Fixing this club not only inspired her to follow her dreams of becoming a prominent business leader, it has also inspired those around her to take initiative, helping her invite speakers and organize events.

This is why they pay me the big bucks.

China quail eggs

Fried quail eggs in Beijing

1:00 PM- Lunch

I usually head out to lunch with my Chinese co-worker Amy. We like to explore different restaurants around the mall where we work. Now that I’m not extremely broke, eating fried rice for every meal, I can actually afford to eat decently well. This time we went out for Korean, ordering spicy kimchi soup to share. Amy likes bringing me along to this place because apparently the service is better when laowai are present.

Somehow during lunch we got started talking about which US cities were safest in terms of natural disasters. When Amy told me she thought the west coast was dangerous because of all our earthquakes, I pointed out that she’s from Sichuan, a place that experienced a devastating earthquake a few years ago. The reason this earthquake was so horrible was that the buildings in Sichuan are not built to withstand any sort of quake. The hardest hit buildings were the shoddily constructed schools surrounding Chengdu, which collapsed on top of all of the children.

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While Amy was studying in America during the earthquake, her younger cousins were in one of the hardest-hit schools. The school completely collapsed, crushing the majority of the students under the rubble. Thankfully her cousins were on the top floor, but even then only half of their classmates survived. Her cousins were stuck under the rubble for two days because the police refused to let parents and community members anywhere near the school, preferring to wait for the army which couldn’t reach the area due to extensive damage. While her cousins survived, they didn’t speak for two years after the incident.

While yesterday’s lunch was a bit of a heavy subject, I always learn something new about Chinese culture or politics every time I have lunch with Amy. We talk about Chinese business culture, the differences between China and America, and what it’s like raising a family in China.

2:00 PM- Back to Work

My afternoon is usually a mixture of working on essays, meeting with students and pretending to get work done. Today I had two student meetings, which is pretty light compared to last week. I met with one Senior 2 student (11th grade) where I printed out an article about America’s gun debate, which we used to practice his reading comprehension for the SAT. We also used it for oral English and critical thinking practice, discussing the article and American politics for about 20 minutes.

My second student was a high school senior preparing for her Carlton College admissions interview. She was pretty nervous since Carlton is her dream school, but she answered all of my questions really well! I’ve been trying to make myself a scary interviewer, asking extremely tough questions to make sure the kids are overly prepared. Apparently it’s working! Last year kids used to lament over how horrible their interviews went, while all of this year’s students said their interviews weren’t as hard as they were expecting.

You’re welcome.

Beijing zhongguancun

My street when it’s nice and sunny

7:00 PM- Time to Head Home

When the clock strikes 7, I bundle up and start the 15-minute walk home. On my way back to my apartment I stop by my favorite malatang restaurant for dinner. Malatang is basically a spicy Sichuan soup full of ingredients you select. I load up a big bowl full of lotus root, lettuce, spinach, bamboo, quail eggs, tofu, and bean sprouts. I especially love this malatang place because you can add peanut sauce, which you typically only find in hot pot restaurants.

I whip out my reusable container so that I can save 1 yuan (and the environment) and take my malatang to go. I bring it home and eat it on the world’s most comfortable blue couch as I watch some sort of addictive TV show, probably How to Get Away with Murder.

Beijing lanterns

Nighttime lanterns in Beijing

9:00 PM- Poker with the Boys

Rather than work on my blog or exercise to Latin dance workout videos on Youtube, yesterday I played poker with my coworkers who live in the same apartment complex. We sat around sipping a few light Chinese beers, betting 5 yuan into the pot (less than $1 USD.) I was actually winning for a decent percentage of the game, which was unexpected, considering I’ve only ever played a few times. At least my victorious co-worker had a nice big lunch on us today.

12:30 AM- Goodnight Beijing!

After a long day of work (and a very long poker game,) I finally collapse into my large, hard bed. I post a photo to Instagram in my sleepy haze, and set my alarm for the next morning, promising myself I’ll find a way to write this blog post sometime during work tomorrow.

If any of you were wondering, I failed.

China candied fruit

Candied fruit in the winter!

Get a Glimpse into My Beijing Life

For the past few months I’ve really been enjoying following other travel bloggers on Snapchat, getting a glimpse into their everyday lives; however, I could never participate because my atrocious Chinese smart phone had a non-functioning camera. Now that I finally have a new phone, I’ve been loving taking snaps of my everyday life, uploading them to give you all a little glimpse into my life here in Beijing.

Whether it’s rants about how the office building takes away the toilet paper after 6pm, or lessons on Chinese swear words, you’ll get a little glimpse into aspects of my life that don’t often make it into my blog posts.

If any of you are interested in following along, you can find me at Adventures_Asia (!!!)

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teaching in China

Do You Want to Work as a College Counselor?

Do you want to find and land a high-level job as a college counselor or something similar? As part of my Teach Abroad Squad course and community, I offer job placement assistance!

In addition to the full online course and Facebook community, members of the Teach Abroad Squad get access to my curated Approved Jobs List, which is an awesome list of schools and recruiters that have been fully vetted by me. They all pay well and on time, offer great benefits, and have excellent reviews. This list has multiple college counseling positions as well as other high-paid jobs!

Not only does Teach Abroad Squad help you narrow down your job search and ensure you don’t get scammed, but we also have multiple lessons on signing and negotiating contracts. In TAS I analyze three real-life contracts on the screen showing you what I like and don’t like about each of the positions. You even have a downloadable Good Job’s Checklist to make sure the position meets all your needs!

TAS will also teach you how to negotiate for an extra $3,500 USD per year with our contract negotiation lesson. Talk about getting your money’s worth!

If this sounds amazing to you, then you definitely want to join Teach Abroad Squad!

I open up TAS to new members every few months, so the best way to know about future course openings is to get on the Teach Abroad Squad Waitlist. Once you’re on the list you’ll be the first to know about any course openings, as well as awesome free training and opportunities for free 1-1 strategy calls with me!

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China expat life

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About Richelle

Expat, traveler, and spicy food lover, I've spent the last few years living in China and traveling around Asia. In my spare time I enjoy salsa dancing, exploring night markets and stuffing my face with street food.

23 comments on “A Day in the Life of a China Expat

  1. That’s awesome that you get Chinese lessons at work- though I imagine yours is already pretty decent haha! But its good you can review and the teacher differentiates- my Mandarin teacher would not have done that (which is why my Mandarin sucks ha!). I am so sorry for your friend’s cousins though! I’ve heard about this kind if stuff in the news and in books but its so shocking to hear about it first (or second hand).

    • Yeah I’ve been very pleasantly surprised with our Chinese teacher. As for my co-worker, I was completely shocked. It’s always so crazy to hear stories first-hand like that!

  2. Your days seem jam-packed! I like when days are a routine but varied in the interactions with people. It makes the day go faster! That Chinese class sounds awesome! When I studied abroad, I was in an intermediate class but my Chinese was the lowest, but being in a class with more advanced speakers helped develop my Chinese since I would have to buck up to keep up! Btw, been following you on Snapchat & have been loving the snaps! Would you happen to know more Chinese expats with Snapchat? I love seeing glimpses of China! It makes me wanna visit even more :P

    • Hahaha yeah the days do go by very quickly! I’m really glad the Chinese class is working out, because I was expecting it to be way too basic, but it’s been good review. As for Snapchat, I honestly don’t know of any other China public snapchatters, possibly because it’s really difficult to use Snapchat here. You need a VPN to upload your snaps, but oftentimes the app freaks out and deletes everything before I get a chance! If I find any other cool China snapchatters I’ll be sure to let you know, but in the meantime you can follow Waegook Tom at @Waegook_Tom who snaps from Taipei.

  3. hm..it.s surprising the pollution is not that bad. i always had this thought that they had it worse …this reminded me: in Ningbo i lived in this apartment building on the 18th floor , so i had a pretty high view over the city…whenever i looked out the window i would only see these foggy, gray clouds (that.s what i figured they were) .And about 2 weeks after i moved there it happened to be a sunny, almost clear day , i looked out the window and i immediately texted my boyfriend ” wow, did you know there are some mountains/big hills on that side of the city??” – ” umm, yeah, did you just notice that?” ” well, duh, i couldn.t see past the gray air!”

  4. I really enjoyed getting a glimpse of your day Richelle! Your job sounds kinda fun. I’ve always liked helping people with their essays and taking sometimes really bad and making it into something good. The little part about the Chengdu earthquake made me so sad… I remember hearing all about it when that happened. I can’t even imagine that your friend’s cousins were trapped for 2 days :(.

    • Yeah my job is pretty great, minus the fact that it can get pretty repetitive and I hate being there all day every day hahaha! As for the earthquake, I was so shocked. I always can’t believe it when these disasters actually affect someone I know. It makes everything so much more personal.

  5. It’s nice that your boss offer Chinese classes for teachers. I think the meeting new people is just as fun.

    And I’ve never used Foxmail before but I would say Lotus Notes is a pretty terrible mailing service as well. But since it’s at work, we don’t have much of a choice!

    I’ve never had quail eggs in the egg waffles before. I’ve never even seen that! I would really like to try it though!

    • Yeah the Chinese classes are really great (as are the quail eggs!) I haven’t heard of Lotus Notes but if it’s a Chinese system I’m sure it’s just as bad! hahaha

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  7. Thank you so much for sharing this!! I am actually interviewing with the same company (for the same position in Shanghai) and I loved reading about your day. It’s nice to know what sort of work I can expect if I become a college counselor. Is there any chance I could get in touch with you over email to know a bit more about your work as a college counselor? This would be my first job in China so I’m feeling a bit nervous!

      • Hi Richelle, thanks for your kind reply! I ended up receiving another opportunity also in the field of college counseling :D I’m so glad I found your blog – it makes me feel more at ease about my transition to China! Wishing you all the best ~ Ting

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  10. Hi Richelle!

    I’ve actually been considering moving to China – I received an offer as an ESL trainer in Shanghai and was wondering if you could offer any insight into the city? I know it’s one of the most expensive, but what do you think of Shanghai? Overall impressions? How do they view Americans (especially lately with all of the political hubbub)?

    Loved this post, definitely saving for future reference :) Thanks!


    • Hi Sam! I’m currently living/working in Shanghai so I can help answer some of your questions (I moved here last year). Shanghai is definitely one of the most expat-friendly cities in China. The city can be overwhelming at first in terms of noise, pace of life, population etc, but with the high density of “Western” comforts (fitness centers, retail shopping, restaurants, bars, and more) it’s easier to settle in. Check out the websites “Smart Shanghai” and “City Weekend” to get a taste of the city.

      Shanghai is also amazingly international, so you won’t be treated oddly as an American. In some places (like Xintiandi for example) you might even find more foreigners than locals. This article on the Financial Times called “Inside the Outsider’s Shanghai” might help you understand what life here is like: http://ig.ft.com/sites/2015/special-reports/shanghai/.

    • Hey Sam! I haven’t lived in Shanghai, but I lived in Ningbo for 2 years which is a 3-hour bus ride away so I’ve been a million times. Shanghai is pretty Westernized and expensive compared to many cities in China, but if you live in a local area, you’ll still get a lot of China flavor (and many people who don’t speak English). Overall the city is very beautiful, and the downtown is nice and new. I enjoy living in Beijing over Shanghai because I love the hutongs and the history, but I have a lot of friends who feel differently (there’s a minor feud between Beijing and Shanghai expats). No one really minds Americans in China. Most Chinese people are watching Trump with minor amusement and interest, but they easily separate the government from the people when it comes to America. You may get questions from Europeans, but from my experience most of them understand that Trump isn’t too popular in America, and most Americans who travel didn’t vote for him. Hope this helps!

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