After graduating a semester early from Baylor University, Victoria Harrison (my sister) decided it was time for a change. She always knew she wanted to experience living in a big city and figured there was no better time or place considering her history of studying Mandarin. Victoria took a leap of faith and fully embraced every little opportunity living in China had to offer, whether it be travel opportunities or making new friends. She did it all!
Her Campus (HC): What inspired you to live abroad? Had you lived abroad before?
Victoria Harrison (VH): Throughout college, I was given various opportunities to travel abroad. I always loved the sense of adventure that came with taking on new places with people and customs that were completely foreign to what I was used to in my day-to-day life. Because of this, I chose to study abroad in London for a semester during my junior year in college. I loved this experience so much that I knew I wanted to live abroad after graduating from college.
HC: Where did you live, and what was your job title?
VH: I lived in Shanghai, China, and worked as an English Language Teacher at an international Kindergarten.
HC: What did the application process look like for you, and what other places did you consider, if any?
VH: I went through a company called CIEE which helped me a lot with my job search, living arrangements, TEFL certification and paperwork. I knew I wanted to live in Shanghai, and it was a bit difficult for me to find opportunities on my own, so I paid a small fee to CIEE, and they helped me with everything from setting up interviews to helping me apply for my work visa. After going abroad, I learned about a lot of other avenues to find work independently through schools and many through government-sponsored programs (which is particularly common in European and Latin American countries).
HC: How do you feel you could adjust to the cultural differences within the year of living there?
VH: I think that something that really helped me adjust to the cultural differences was making friends with other ex-pats. When living in a place where everything feels so foreign, it is really refreshing to find friends who understand where you come from and are also able to understand the cultural differences that you are all experiencing in this new place. I was lucky that I found a great group of friends who really helped me adjust to life abroad.
HC: Do you think this experience impacted the trajectory of your career or helped boost your resume?
VH: Absolutely! I graduated college with a degree in international studies and had interned with the State Department working with various international programs. I now work as a contractor for the Department of State, where I work at the Foreign Service Institute as a Program Assistant. I help coordinate programs for Foreign Service Officers before they go to their posts abroad. I work with people who live and work all over the world, so it has been helpful to have international experiences of my own. I think that my international experience definitely helped me stand out when applying to this particular role.
HC: What was something that you wish you had known before moving? Would this have changed your decision?
VH: Honestly, I had very limited information before moving over there. I didn’t know where my apartment would be located, who my roommate would be, when my first day teaching would be, etc. Surprisingly it ended up all working out just fine, but I think that knowing a lot of this information beforehand would’ve helped me feel more comfortable during my time leading up to the big move.
HC: What level of interest did you have in learning the language before moving? Do you feel your time in China improved your ability to communicate in Mandarin?
VH: I have always been interested in language learning. During undergrad, I minored in Chinese language, which played a big role in my decision to move to China. I was actually enrolled in Mandarin courses at a language training institute during my time there. I found it helpful to have time in the classroom to focus on new grammar structures and vocabulary, and then I was able to use what I learned in the classroom out in the real world.
HC: What do you miss most about your time living in Shanghai? Do you have any standout memories (travel, work, etc.)?
VH: I loved getting to understand a different culture on a deeper level. By living in a predominately Chinese neighborhood and working with Chinese coworkers regularly, I really feel like I gained a strong understanding of the culture in China. I ended up having to leave abruptly because of the pandemic, so I did not get to say goodbye to any of my coworkers, students or friends, and I think this was the hardest part. As much as I loved getting to explore all of the sights in China and neighboring countries, the relationships that I made over there were the highlight of my experience. It was really hard to leave without getting to say a proper goodbye to everyone who made my time in Shanghai so special!