5 Unhappy Things I've Struggled with as an Expat Married to a Foreigner | Speaking of China

54 Responses

  1. James
    James February 29, 2016 at 7:26 am | | Reply

    Hi Jocelyn,

    Your visa woes are familiar to a lot us. Even American men married to Chinese wives meet similar, often inexplicable, obstacles. To wit: http://raoulschinasaloon.com/index.php?topic=3153.0
    I know of a fellow who approached the US Embassy on the behalf of a woman he knew well and quickly regretted doing so – his voucher and guarantee meant
    nothing those folks. Afterwards, it occurred to him that it would have been
    best to approach someone in China experienced is getting such visas and leave
    him out of it completely; then she would more likely have been able to visit
    the States. By then, of course, it was too late as her application was already on
    file. “Now I’ll never be able to visit the US,” was her unhappy conclusion. Hope
    you can find a way.


  2. Robyn
    Robyn February 29, 2016 at 7:55 am | | Reply

    I know a little bit about how you feel. My nephew left New Zealand 7 years ago to live in Dublin then London. He met and married an Irish girl and has gone through endless hoops and thousands of pounds to be able to stay there with her. It was very tough on him, but not having seen him for 7 years is tough on the family. I have lots of friends who have children living round the world who fly off to see them at the drop of a hat, but that’s not possible for my brother because of financial and health issues. It hurts, but hopefully they will bring their new baby home this Christmas for us all to meet baby and his/her mother for the first time.

  3. Boiling Wok
    Boiling Wok February 29, 2016 at 10:53 am | | Reply

    Thanks for sharing this. Visa stress is something I have become acutely aware of lately.

  4. baixiaotai
    baixiaotai February 29, 2016 at 11:31 am | | Reply

    Soooooo true!

  5. Svetlana
    Svetlana February 29, 2016 at 11:41 am | | Reply

    Aside from when I arrived to America at 8.5 years old, and even then at first I was surrounded by mom’s extended family and my own family, I think I was a bit too young to remember whether or not I experienced woes, (probably lingual and cultural and feeling isolated, oh yeah, still do.)

    I do wish you and Jun luck and I’m proud of you that you’re opening up to us about the not-so-pleasant aspects of being and living as a foreigner in China.

  6. Ray
    Ray February 29, 2016 at 11:45 am | | Reply

    Don’t be unhappy!

    It’s true, being unhappy sometimes is a part of life we must all deal with. And as you say, expat romance has its own challenges. Family issues and visas etc… Been there.

    In the end the hope of course is that the support from one’s partner outweighs all else.

    I do think you got a good balance and appreciate the positives just fine.

    All in all, stay strong!

  7. Ava
    Ava February 29, 2016 at 12:02 pm | | Reply

    What a lovely and poignant article with issues many of us can identify with. I also haven’t been back to England since coming to China in 2012, it wasn’t planned, just worked out that way.
    Thanks for sharing Jocelyn and ‘wishing you a happy day every day!’ as my students say (-:

    1. David
      David March 1, 2016 at 1:33 am | | Reply

      The Cameron government goal is to keep international couples separate by denying them visas. One such couple is moving to Australia from Malaysia this year instead of trying to go back to England. The British Home Secretary Theresa May is responsible for most of this.

  8. Susan
    Susan February 29, 2016 at 12:51 pm | | Reply

    Hi Jocelyn,

    I’ve just started reading your blog, and it is very helpful. I have noticed that in your China photos, you often have deep, dark circles under your eyes. Is it because of pollution? When I originally visited China for two weeks ago, I had tremendous difficulty breathing because of the pollution, even in not-very-polluted-for-China locations, and am quite apprehensive about how to prepare for that issue when I return. In fact, by the time I flew out of China the first time, I had a high fever and blood in my urine. I bought some antibiotics over the counter in China, but evidently they were not the right kind. Do you have any suggestions about how to prepare f o r the air pollution in China, since I already had difficulties the first time around? I can take zyrtec and steroidal nose spray, but I wonder about wearing a mask, as many people in Beijing seem to (not that I will be going to Beijing).

    I also notice that in a lot of family setting photographs, people wear winter jackets inside during the winter. Can you comment or elaborate on that theme? I am chronically ill, but usually putter along just fine, and I am wondering how to prepare for a visit when the weather is cold, and don’t want to give offense by asking the family. The cultural differences are so huge.

    Don’t get me wrong, I loved my time in China, and upon returning to the states was struck by how cold and aloof people in the U.S. are compared to China. Thank you for having this blog, and for any advice you can give me.

  9. Marta
    Marta February 29, 2016 at 2:12 pm | | Reply

    It’s true that it seems that, living abroad, we must be living some kind of “amazing expat life”. When people ask me how’s my life in China… well, it’s pretty much the same as in Spain, except that people speak another language and the supermarket is full of strange products! Apart from that, life is basically the same everywhere if you think about it: you work, you cook, you spend time on the internet, you go out.
    Maybe we have this idea of amazing expat life because of online articles, which are usually very one sided.

    I can share many of your “pains”. Fortunately we have never had visa problems (and it seems things are getting easier for Chinese, due to their reputation of spending thousands of dollars when they travel) but I’m definitely with you on 1, 2 and 5. I basically have no friends in Suzhou. I seldom go out and when I do, it’s with my bf. But we mostly spend our time at home. I don’t even feel like going out at night any more (I’m old haha) but I definitely wouldn’t mind having some female friends to drink tea or go shopping with. Regarding 5, yes, many Chinese people laugh at foreigners’ accent and imitate them (with weird tones). I have never liked it but now I cannot stand it. Every time someone talks to me in the stupid “foreigner accent” I feel like telling them “Do you want us to talk in Spanish or English then? Let’s see how good your accent is”.

    However, yes, I am mostly happy here (I would have left long ago if I was unhappy!).

  10. Ruth – China Elevator Stories
    Ruth – China Elevator Stories February 29, 2016 at 3:01 pm | | Reply

    I can definitely relate to all of your points. I think some are worse if you don’t live in a big place with a large foreign community or places where you can easily meet new people (either Chinese or from other countries).

    I miss my friends in Austria and have found it very hard to make friends in this little town, I guess part is that I now have a toddler in tow, part that people with toddlers don’t seem to socialise too much here. Finding friends is a priority on my list, I don’t think I would enjoy living here long term if I can’t find any.

    But yeah, hubby feels quite isolated too because our specific situation is just so very different from most friends of his who have spent their whole life here (he left when he was 16 and we’ve only been back for a year).

    1. Ruth – China Elevator Stories
      Ruth – China Elevator Stories February 29, 2016 at 3:03 pm | | Reply

      Oh, meant to say “part that people my age group don’t seem to socialise too much here”.

  11. Sorrel
    Sorrel February 29, 2016 at 7:30 pm | | Reply

    I always tell myself that it is ok when I feel sad or lonely or miserable – it is part of life. It takes a strong person to admit they are having problems, and having someone to share with you who wants to understand you is always a big help.

    It is interesting that it tends to be the wives that make the biggest sacrifices in life, with the foreign wife often leaving her own family, friends and country so far behind.

    If you are surrounded by people with a ‘get over it’ attitude, it can make things worse. Yes, you made the choice, yes you went in with your eyes open. But being surrounded by people who make no attempt to understand can be overwhelming and isolating.

    Online support can make all the difference.

    Keep it up !!!

  12. Susan
    Susan February 29, 2016 at 11:49 pm | | Reply

    My husband went 17 YEARS between trips home to Shanghai because of the costs and visa fears. Now, as we wait for his green card to arrive in the mail having finally completed our interview, we are planning a visit this summer.

    1. David
      David March 1, 2016 at 8:19 pm | | Reply

      Susan..Fears. These days of course with Trump’s popularity.

    2. David
      David March 1, 2016 at 8:21 pm | | Reply

      Also the media did not report this. An AWWM couple near the place where Trump was supposed to speak in Alabama was basically chased out of the area..literally…this was back in September. Then they targeted a Turkish couple..not that they knew they were moslem..because the husband was dark and the wife looked blonde and white!

  13. Autumn
    Autumn February 29, 2016 at 11:58 pm | | Reply

    Well, even though I’m still in the United States, whenever we visitish China-born parents, I do have a tendency to hide in the bedroom with books. There’s only so much criticism a woman can take before she stops reading and starts heaving her reading materials at her in-laws.

    Better that my missiles and I stay in the silo, under self-imposed quarantine.

  14. Timo
    Timo March 1, 2016 at 4:03 am | | Reply

    I never had such experience but my wife also had in the beginning some difficulties when she first moved to Finland to study and then with me to Germany two years ago. Thankfully even small towns as where we live have already growing Chinese communities so she quickly found friends within the first months.
    I wonder how it would have been for her without other Chinese around…

  15. Ashley
    Ashley March 1, 2016 at 4:38 am | | Reply

    Very true! Being an expat isn’t easy. There’s always a part of you that wonders what if i had stayed in my home country.. Every once and a while i must admit i have a little freak out!

  16. Susan
    Susan March 1, 2016 at 5:46 am | | Reply

    Ok, I am not an expert on family life in China, but I was troubled by Autumn’s post.
    I know and understand the general behavioral guideline of being conservative, letting the family set the pace for activities and so forth, and trying not to do anything that would reinforce negative stereotypes about foreign women. But what do you do in a situation where you are subjected to excessive criticism?

    I only have two years of video chats with my daughter’s Chinese family to go on, but I suspect that they would have a lot more respect for someone who didn’t allow herself to be steam rolled. When the family is behaving normally they are noisy and rowdy, and have quite a bawdy sense of humor. Maybe they aren’t typical, but I would be tempted to counter the excessive criticism with humor. I am not suggesting using malicious or cruel humor, more along the lines of street talk come backs, fast and witty. I have quite a dry sense of humor, which is hard to convey due to the language barrier, but my daughter’s family seems to get it and really enjoy my humor, although some of their come backs are blush worthy.

    I behave naturally most of the time with my daughter’s family, and I actually feel more acceptance from them than I do average people in the U.S. Of course, I am the oldest person in the room, and the Chinese do respect age, and seem very comfortable with older women shooting off their mouths, so to speak.

    Just something to consider, Autumn. If you feel that you would be squashed flat like a bug if you ventured to make a humorous sally, best not to go there.

  17. Amanda
    Amanda March 1, 2016 at 11:41 am | | Reply

    Lovely post! I just shared it with a friend in Hangzhou who is struggling with negative reactions when he speaks Chinese, as well as some other similar issues. I definitely feel you on the visa issues, I spent around 26 months on a very temporary visa and now I’m on a slightly less temporary visa, but still not the full partner visa. I was unable to leave the country to visit family, see friends and ended up having a tiny wedding with very few people there and none of my own family. It can be very difficult to feel like you belong in your new home if you’re not allowed to work, travel or study. This happened right after I graduated with a master’s degree and it really knocked me back, and I felt like everyone else was moving on and doing things without me, while I had failed. I didn’t second guess my marriage, but I second guessed myself and spent a lot of time reflecting on a lot my decisions, past behaviour, career options…heavy stuff! Of course, this adds strain on a relationship as well, because they can’t go on international trips, meet your family, have to be the sole breadwinner and you’re just in this constant limbo.

    By the way, I ended up making some more female friends by posting an ad online! We meet once a week or so to cook, shop, watch television..they are also waiting for visas.

  18. Amanda Berry
    Amanda Berry March 1, 2016 at 9:28 pm | | Reply

    To get a Visa it’s hard for me too. This year, I will go to the US and so worry about the Visa. It takes me a lot of money and time. Hope I can get it in August.

  19. Jon
    Jon March 2, 2016 at 8:30 am | | Reply

    Thank you for this honest article. These are similar to what I experienced (or experience) when I first moved to the US. Visa is the worst! I am a bit surprised about the foreign accent. I always thought Chinese are always impressed with foreigners when they speak Chinese since it’s such a difficult language.

  20. Susan Blumberg-Kason
    Susan Blumberg-Kason March 2, 2016 at 11:10 am | | Reply

    Being an expat married to a local in China cannot be easy, no matter how glamorous people may portray their lives. But from my experience, the most important thing is to be with someone who loves you wholly and unconditionally. I experienced all of these, but I’m convinced it would have been a little better if I’d been married to someone who understood or tried to put his feet in my shoes. Likewise, in the US he experienced all of these things, too, and I tried my best to be supportive because I understood. I’m sure once spring really comes to China, things will seem a little brighter. It’s never easy there in the winter!

  21. R
    R March 3, 2016 at 11:40 am | | Reply

    I’m home now, after 25 years. SO GREAT. Love it. Starting to think about traveling a little but maybe next year.

  22. Yvon Malenfant
    Yvon Malenfant March 3, 2016 at 11:57 am | | Reply

    Thanks for sharing about your life. As a Seoulite, I can relate to many of the issues that you talk about. Wishing you all of the best! Keep on writing!!

  23. Ruby Ronin
    Ruby Ronin March 4, 2016 at 6:31 am | | Reply

    Oh Jocelyn! My heart goes out to you with this article. Living abroad can be tough (I know, and many of us know!), but I think if anyone can overcome the difficulties, it’s you. I’m also happy to hear that John is so supportive and tries to help you as much as he can.

    All I can think of is: “The Grass is Always Greener.” Haha. While I experienced almost all five points up there, as soon as I’m back living in the United States I start dreaming of my life in Asia (minus all the bad, like fleas). It’s so hard to find that happy medium.

    For the most part, though, I do think Asian life suits me better than the typical American life. Lack of transportation (driving), healthcare, consumerism (and now trump) really make me think China isn’t so bad after all.

    As for point #3 regarding in-laws, I’ll take it as advice for my future to come, haha.

  24. Sue T唐 梦 琇
    Sue T唐 梦 琇 May 9, 2016 at 6:54 pm | | Reply

    I am sorry to hear of your sadness but also happy to hear of your happiness. It’s very tough being away from family and a life you know so well. I only lived in China for three years and thoroughly enjoyed it but knew there was an end date to come home to Australia. I return to China every year because I miss it so much. It was good to read your post and hear about your feelings. Thank you for sharing.

  25. Sabine
    Sabine January 18, 2017 at 5:53 am | | Reply

    Great post about your expat life and international marriage. Me and my boyfriend have had discussions on where we’d like to settle down and it pains me alittle that it cant be in the U.S. (where I am from). But, it largely due to visa/work/ and adapting woes my boyfriend may face.

    Its always nice to hear or read about another expat women’s experience especially since our experiences are unique and individual, but we are not alone and can provide comforting advice for one another. Though, not yet married, I write about international love woes as me and my bf work on closing the distance and plan out settling down in Korea, if we mutually agree that it will be best for the both of us.

Leave a Reply