Living in China has been a life-changing experience that has altered how I view the world. And a big part of this experience has been having an apartment that reflects my vision for how I want to structure my life outside of work.
One of the first decisions a new Disney English Foreign Trainer needs to make within the first few weeks of arrival is where to live. Prior to that, our Foreign Trainers live in a hotel that is paid for by Disney English. After that, each Foreign Trainer receives a monthly stipend that can cover – or partially cover – his or her housing expenses.
I was filled with excitement at the prospect of choosing my apartment! It made me feel independent as it was up to me to determine the type of apartment, location and whether or not to live with roommates.
Before selecting an apartment, a new Foreign Trainer should consider some important details. First, he or she should decide whether to live in a high-rise apartment (with an elevator) or a walk-up (without an elevator). In general, those who live with roommates choose high-rise apartments, while those who live alone choose walk-up apartments. High rises usually include a larger living room which can be used for dining and entertaining, while walk-up apartments are typically smaller.
Upon arrival, new Foreign Trainers may feel a little overwhelmed with their apartment hunt. Do not be discouraged! I remember exactly how nervous I was, not knowing if I would find an apartment in time or in my location of choice. But once I knew which Disney English center I would work at, choosing the neighborhood, apartment and whether to live with roommates was easy.
I strongly recommend you think about your hobbies and how you want to make use of your apartment. If your interests include many social activities, a large living room may be a requirement. Or if reading books and watching movies is more your style, book and movie storage in your bedroom might be more important.
Most apartments come furnished, but in order to fully enjoy your space, keep in mind the vision you have for your new home.
For example, my must-haves were to have 1) room to host friends and family, 2) a kitchen I could move around in and 3) plenty of closet space. These parameters led me on my quest, and it wasn’t long before I found the walk-up apartment I now call home.
I knew that where I was going to live would need to reflect my values, and community was the first word that came to mind. I knew I wanted to cook and serve dinners that brought my colleagues together, bringing what was missing from our home countries to our host country. I miss my family back home, so I vowed to recreate a feeling of family in my new place of residence.
Most Wednesdays, I go grocery shopping early in the morning in anticipation of that evening’s dinner. After I prepare the meal, I tidy my apartment to create an inviting atmosphere for my guests. When the guests arrive and dinner is on the table, we smile and laugh as we talk about our lives while filling our bellies. Thus I am able to fulfill my vision of creating a real home in China.
In my neighborhood, I have access to grocers, restaurants, cafes and local transportation. I often say, “You’re welcome to come to my apartment for dinner.” My apartment houses the memories that I create with my friends and co-workers each time we get together for game night, holidays, movie night and dinners.
From the moment I first walked into my apartment, I could envision people sitting on the couch while I would be in the kitchen cooking a meal. I knew in my heart this apartment was the right fit for me.
My hope is that our new Foreign Trainers will seek lasting friendships while living in China. You will want to proudly show friends and family your new home. But never lose sight of what “home” means to you.
So whether your first apartment has seven flights of stairs – or an elevator that opens beside your front door – may your heart smile every single time you say to yourself, “I’m home.”
Senior Foreign Trainer, Shanghai