From Seattle to the New Territories, Hong Kong - Expat Interview With Jennifer

Published: 16 Feb at 9 AM
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Filed: Interviews,Hong Kong
Jennifer Brown is a cynical but civic-minded, former lawyer. She left America 7.5 years ago for what was originally meant to be a two year gig. Since then she has lived in the Netherlands, Mainland China, England and is now in Hong Kong. While she never attempted Dutch, she is an enthusiastic, but casual, student of Mandarin and now Cantonese. Her two young children were both born abroad and, so far, have taken every move in stride. Miscommunication during one move meant that her daughter thought they'd have to fetch water from a river with a jug. And yet she was still keen to give Hong Kong a go. While each place has had it's positive and negative points, she wouldn't change a thing and feels lucky to be living the expat life. Jennifer's expat blog, which features stories of life abroad and comics, is called Expat Lingo (see listing here)

Meet Jennifer - American expat in Hong Kong
Meet Jennifer - American expat in Hong Kong

Here's the interview with Jennifer...

Where are you originally from?
I was born and raised in Salt Lake City but moved to Seattle in my early 20s and consider Seattle to be my American "home."

In which country and city are you living now?
I live in Hong Kong, but not where most of the other expats live. I find myself out in the "New Territories" close to the border with Mainland China. There is more space, the air is fresher, and Central Hong Kong is still only 30 minutes away. The New Territories is known by some Hong Kong Island-based expats as "the dark side" or "Mordor," but frankly, they don't know what they're missing.

How long have you lived here and how long are you planning to stay?
We have only been in Hong Kong a year, but we know Hong Kong well from the 3.5 years we spent living in nearby Zhuhai, China. Back then, I visited Hong Kong to buy English books and coffee, to give birth to my first child, and to buy lead-free toys and imported infant formula.

Why did you move and what do you do?
Strangely enough, we move for my husband's work, despite that I was the one with the internationally-focused job. Before moving, and for the first half of our time abroad, I worked for, Landesa, a non-profit law firm dedicated to securing land rights for the rural poor in Asia and Africa. I resigned from my job when life with young children meant I was no longer prepared to take 2-3 week long international business trips. I am currently a part-time student of statistics.

Jennifer and her son eating Yum Cha at the Tai Po wet market.
Jennifer and her son eating Yum Cha at the Tai Po wet market
Did you bring family with you?
We left America childless, but now have two young children. My daughter was born in Hong Kong, while we were living in Mainland China, and my son was born in Cambridge, England.

How did you find the transition to living in a foreign country?
Each time is different. Funnily enough, I think the first time was the easiest as I was completely up for the adventure, thought it would just be for two years, still worked for my old law firm, and had low expectations.

England was harder because there wasn't a ready-made expat community set-up to help newcomers; in typical English fashion, I just had to "get on with it" and slowly build my own network.

I thought Hong Kong would be the easiest, and for many expats it probably is, but I found it mentally harder than the original move to China. This is probably because I've grown weary of making and losing friends, however, I am now completely won over by Hong Kong and wouldn't mind staying longer than our originally planned three years.

Her children on the Ping Shan Heritage Trail
Her children on the Ping Shan Heritage Trail
Was it easy making friends and meeting people; do you mainly socialise with other expats?
It is easy to meet other expats and socialize with them, especially with a child attending an international school. It is harder to get to know locals, as the Cantonese and English worlds tend to operate in parallel, but it is possible. My husband has many more opportunities to socialize with locals through work.

What are the best things to do in the area; anything to recommend to future expats?There is so much to do in Hong Kong from the obvious -- shopping, sight-seeing, amusement parks and markets -- but also the unexpected, such as hiking, cycling and boating (in the outlying parts of the territory).

What do you enjoy most about living here?
Hong Kong is a vibrant place and I adore the "buzz" and the constant intersection of East-meets-West that Britain's former colonial mark has created.

How does the cost of living compare to home?
Housing is very expensive. Everything else can range from much cheaper to much, much more expensive depending on your taste for distantly imported food or the ever-present luxury goods.

The movers arrive with our stuff
The movers arrive with our stuff
What negatives, if any, are there to living here?
It feels wrong saying it's "too easy" but after living in Mainland China, I think that's true. Some of the fun of being an expat is being a little challenged, being forced to muddle through in the local language, being forced to adapt your diet, but none of that is necessary here in Hong Kong. (But is possible, if you're even slightly adventurous!)

If you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving here, what would it be?
If you have children, starting looking into schools and applying for places as soon as you *think* you might be relocating to Hong Kong. Spots in international schools are very tight!

What has been the hardest aspect to your expat experience so far?
Making and losing friends with each move is difficult and seems to only get more difficult as time goes on. At the same time, having the chance to meet up with old expat friends in their home countries has been a rare treat!

When you finally return home, how do you think you'll cope with repatriation?
When (and if?) we move back, I expect that repatriation will be difficult. I love visiting "home" in the summer and I miss my family and friends, but living abroad is a special experience because you have the chance to really learn and experience something completely new every day. I'm worried that "home" will be boring by comparison.

Fresh seafood for sale at a restaurant in Sai Kung
Fresh seafood for sale at a restaurant in Sai Kung
What are your top 5 expat tips for anyone following in your footsteps?
  1. Have a sense of humor.
  2. Learn at least a little of the local language, even if everyone seems to speak English; your day-to-day interactions will be all the more rich.
  3. Get to know other expats and hang out at expat places -- the support of the expat community can help a lot -- but also be open to other less obvious experiences.
  4. If you live in Hong Kong, don't forget to take advantage of the nearness of Mainland China; every vacation need not be to a beach in South East Asia (but some should be!).
  5. Read the local English paper (here the South China Morning Post) and get interested in local issues.

Tell us a bit about your own expat blog.
I started Expat Lingo a year ago - 6.5 years into our expat adventure - right before we moved to Hong Kong from Cambridge, England. It's an outlet for sharing my own funny observations about life abroad. My favorite posts are my comics about expat life and Hong Kong. Visit my blog to learn about the loan sharks that pestered us last spring, to see my comic poking fun at folks back home not understanding time zones, or to find new interesting places to visit in Hong Kong, such as the Ping Shan Heritage Trail.

Skyscrapers in Central, Hong Kong
Skyscrapers in Central, Hong Kong
How can you be contacted for further advice to future expats coming to your area?
Please feel free to get in touch via my blog (see link below) or through Twitter @expatlingo.

Jennifer blogs at which we recommend a quick visit if you haven't been already. Expat Lingo has an listing here so add a review if you like! If you appreciated this interview with Jennifer, please also drop her a quick comment below.

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