Whether you have planned for it for a week or a year, becoming a Shanghai expat will be unlike any experience that you could ever imagine. You have likely been briefed by your company about what to expect and what will happen to you and your family, but the only way to get a real feel of how it will be as a Shanghai Expat is to actually live in and experience Shanghai firsthand. Below are some of the challenges most Shanghai Expats have when they first arrive in Shanghai.
Professional challenges to being a Shanghai Expat
Working in China versus your home country will naturally be an exciting, but slightly scary, experience for you. Fortunately, most high-level local business people in Shanghai have a strong grasp of the English language. Because of this, you won't have to force yourself to learn either Mandarin, or the Shanghai local dialect. While the language barriers will be limited, you will need to deal with some cultural differences between the Western and Eastern workplaces. Be aware that many local Chinese businesses work in a very hierarchical system. Respect and relationship building (called guanxi) are typically more important in China than in the west. Keep this in mind as you first meet your new coworkers.
Family challenges of being a Shanghai Expat
Moving your family from a Western country to China will be a drastic change for your spouse and/or children. While you will likely receive a great deal of training and preparation before your move, your spouse and/or children will not be privy to the same information. Your children will especially be caught off guard. They will expect all of the luxuries they are used to in the west. If you know that there is something that you won't be able to provide for your children in China, let them know early and think of a way to make the move more palatable for them. Your spouse will also need to make some very drastic changes in his or her lifestyle. No longer will your spouse have a dependable base of friends to associate with. Keep this in mind as you go on work trips or have after work activities. Your spouse may be more dependent on you for interaction and fun while you two are in China.
The upside of being a Shanghai expat
While there will always be challenges associated with any type of move, there are also a lot of benefits. The most obvious of which is that you will have a chance to explore and gain a strong understanding of a new country and culture. For many, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Often times, you will also benefit from the free perks provided to you by your company. This may include free rent, free international schooling, a personal helper or a driver amongst other things. Finally, the professional experience involved with working in a different country will generally allow you to progress up the ranks of your current company.
Enjoying life as a Shanghai expat does not have to be difficult. While you will encounter many challenges, most expats out here treasure their international experience. Do your best to understand what you are getting yourself into, and your experience should be positive as well.