Leaving the Middle Kingdom: From Shanghai to Santa Barbara

It was June 2015 when my husband got both good and bad news: A job offer to move back to the U.S. after working in China for 10 years—and the next day, the knowledge that his mother had cancer and was scheduled for surgery in three weeks.  Within one week, my husband had resigned from his job in Shanghai, signed the job offer, and booked his one-way flight to be there for his mother’s surgery. 

It had all happened so fast. I had so many questions: Is this really happening? Am I moving out of China, where I have lived my whole life? How will my parents react when they hear the news? What about my job? What about our cat, Wee-Bey?

As personal questions filled me with concern, logistical ones soon took over. How long does the immigration process take? What documents do we need to prepare? How long will we need to live apart? When do we ship our household goods? What should I toss and what should I keep? As you can imagine, I had a lot of sleepless nights. I had seen and talked to many assignee spouses while working for Arpin Shanghai; however, I never thought I would be one of them.

We never imagined the procedure would take almost a year. It was more complex and painful than we were prepared for. Due to my mother-in-law’s surgery, we had to file my immigration petition from the U.S. instead of China, adding several months to the process. When it came time for the household goods shipment, my company was able to seamlessly take care of everything on extremely short notice. Two months later, I relocated our cat, having received some great advice from our pet relocation partner.

With Wee-Bey settled in sunny Santa Barbara, I moved out of our apartment in Shanghai and started to live the nomadic life for eight months. This period was just as challenging as the relocation itself, but until my paperwork was complete, this was my life. Sadly, I had to resign from my job in Shanghai, but I was extremely fortunate and surprised to be offered a position with the same company in the U.S. As an accompanying spouse, I had already gone through two domestic moves, both times leaving my job and finding a new one, so I know firsthand how difficult it is to find employment in new locations. Being able to continue my career in the mobility industry felt like winning the lottery.

After handing over my work to my replacement, I left Shanghai and went to spend time with my parents in a small rural village, seven miles away from the closest town. My parents have lived their entire lives there as farmers. After living in a big city like Shanghai for so long, I had a tough time adjusting to life where I had grown up. Although it was a rough couple of weeks, I wouldn’t change that experience for anything. Spending time back home made me realize how much my life had changed. My parents did such a wonderful job teaching my brother and me to keep an open mind and be curious about the mysteries of the world. While there were tears in their eyes when I told them about my move, I know they were proud and happy that I would be living a life they could have never imagined.

Finally, I received my visa and flew to the U.S. Unfortunately, my husband had to travel for work for more than a week the day after I arrived: “Here are the keys, welcome home, honey, and be careful!” While settling in, I found things that once seemed easy and familiar were now very foreign. Simple procedures like opening a bank account, getting a cell phone plan, and even getting an oil change in the car were very complicated. I couldn’t even set up a bank account without a Social Security number—which I didn’t receive until five weeks after my arrival. 

Driving in California was one of the largest challenges. I have a Chinese driver’s license, but as with learning English in China, the instructors are more focused on teaching you how to pass the test than to actually drive. Wanting to improve my skills, I hired a driving instructor. While the classes were very helpful, I had stressful moments, with cars honking at me, people yelling at me, and even a speeding ticket (oops!). However, now that I’ve gotten the hang of it, I love driving. 

Things are not always easy, and I have learned many lessons the hard way. Every day is still an adventure, but I am enjoying the experience. Although I have had my down moments and frustrations, and miss family and friends, I have maintained a positive spirit that keeps me going and allows me to overcome any challenges thrown my way. I used to tell assignees and their spouses, “You can do this!” I never understood how powerful that statement was. Now I can say for myself, “I can do this!”

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