Working in China can be lonely and dating is hard, but I want to stay

Working in China can be lonely and dating is hard, but I want to stay

Although the author feels lonely while living in China, she has no plans to return to the United States.
Danielle Marcano

  • Danielle Marcano was bored with her life in Philadelphia and applied for a job in northern China.
  • After teaching English for two years, she wanted to change careers but stay in China.
  • She struggles with dating and loneliness, but has no plans to return to the United States.

Five years ago, my typical day consisted of working at my regular retail job in Downtown Philly, having lunch, and then taking SEPTA to South Philly to do an evening shift at my seasonal retail job. When I got home, I would take a shower, go to bed, and do the same thing the next morning. Not going back to my hometown in Los Angeles was a wash, rinse, repeat procedure created by my motivation.

But something had to give, and one day I was browsing Indeed job listings when I came across a teaching opportunity in China. The listing read in bold letters: “No experience necessary to apply!” My first thought was that this is a scam. So I did what any “sane” person would do: I submitted my application, resume, and cover letter, thinking they would never respond.

The next day, an email arrived in my inbox requesting a video interview.

The woman who interviewed me for a teaching job in China lived in Boston. He shared details about his position as well as the visa process. “This can’t be legal,” I thought throughout the interview.

A few days later, when the offer letter arrived, my heart started racing. What seemed like a scam has now become a reality. At first I wondered why I applied. I was tired of the same old routine in Philadelphia and wanted to travel. It had been seven years since I left the country for the last time. I studied abroad in South Korea in 2012.

I eagerly accepted my first job in China.

Shortly after my arrival, I adjusted to living and working in China.

I taught at an English language learning center in Yantai from 2019 to 2021. My salary was 10,000-13,000 RMB per month, or about $1,400-$1,820. The work package included an apartment, so I only had to pay quarterly maintenance fees and expenses. My other expenses—including groceries, water for my dispenser, weekly online therapy, and stickers for my younger students—came to less than $600 a month.

Author visiting Yangma Island in Yantai in 2019.
Danielle Marcano

Yantai is a coastal city in northern China, about 440 miles southeast of Beijing. I met many interesting students who asked me questions about America. The most common question I hear is “Do you know Likers?” When I wasn’t working, I could explore Yangma Island, sample wine at the famous Changyu winery, and pick up fresh berries from a local farm.

I had to find a new purpose during the pandemic.

In January 2020, I went to Los Angeles to visit my family for Chinese New Year. My dad and I were having breakfast when a news report on TV said that there was the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in the United States. That day, I received a message from my director that there was a chance that China would close its borders and I should fly back as soon as possible. After a few days, I returned to China.

When I came back it felt like a ghost town. There were neither cars nor people. All I could hear was the wind blowing past my ears. Our educational center decided to teach students from home. It was clear that I needed another career change. But I was not interested in returning to the United States.

I decided to stop the lesson

In most of my WeChat conversations, headhunters would ask why I wanted to leave teaching and often tried to convince me by mentioning higher salary options. But as much as I enjoyed working with my students, I knew my true calling lay outside the classroom.

Since 2021, I have worked as a tech copywriter in Shenzhen, China, which is about 15 minutes by train from Hong Kong. While I can’t disclose exactly how much I earn as a copywriter, the average salary I see for other copywriting positions is 18,000-20,000 RMB per month, or $2,540-$3,777 based on experience. to teach.

Author at Hong Kong Disneyland
Danielle Marcano

I pay 5,000-6,000 RMB for a one-room apartment and utilities. I didn’t have a roommate while I was in China, and although it’s more expensive to live alone, I appreciate a quiet place to watch movies and play video games. My favorite part of the apartment I live in now is the nighttime view from the balcony, where different colors and moving projections are always on display.

My dating life is difficult, but I plan to stay in China.

I found loneliness to be the hardest part of being an expat in China. I still attend therapy and although the cost has increased over time, it has been essential to my mental health. Despite the thousands of expats living in Shenzhen and even more so in nearby Hong Kong, I spend most of my time alone. Most of my close friends are either in a relationship or married. Meanwhile, I am 30 years old and single. Despite my success in China, some family members ask me why I am not married.

In my experience, dating in China is complicated. I’m not against dating Chinese men, but the language barrier and cultural differences really worry me. My Chinese skills are limited to a few phrases. Conversely, single expat men have been interested in me, but they will also tell me they are not looking for anything serious. In other words, the situation.

I say, “no way”.

For me, 2023 was a year filled with heartbreak, self-doubt, and stress-related health issues. Despite my fears, I’m confident that the support system I’ve built here—my therapist, friends, and life coaches—will help me build the confidence I need to get back on the dating scene.

Ultimately, it’s about being open to people and their perspectives. This is a similar mindset I had when I first had the opportunity to work in China. Expect the unexpected.

Do you have a personal essay you’d like to share about living abroad, parenting, or midlife crisis? Contact the editor: [email protected].

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