By: Stefanie Ball
Heidelberg or Hong Kong? After five years of expat life in the US, we were faced with those two options. My husband said: “Heidelberg”. I said: “Hong Kong”.
We’d never been to Hong Kong before – and hardly ever to Asia. So my husband came on a short look-and-see trip. Alone. I had to watch our three kids in the States. For me, the decision was already clear – I didn’t need a closer look where I was heading next. Returning to Germany would have meant the end of our expat life (whether temporarily or for good), but I wasn’t ready for that. Furthermore, after the US, an Asian country seemed to me like the logical continuation of our life’s adventure.
Thus, a couple of months ago, we boarded a plane from Germany – a plane that was supposed to bring us to Hong Kong. But the attempt failed. The airline had forgotten to send new crew members to London, the stopover airport. Those on board couldn’t fly any more, as they were required to take a break for eight hours. After some back and forth, another airline finally agreed to fly us to Asia. That’s how our new expat life in Hong Kong took its bumpy course.
And it’s been kind of bumpy up to now. After five years of living, working and raising kids in a foreign country, we thought we would be well prepared to tackle all the challenges of an expat life. (And we never wanted to have a “normal” daily life in Germany, in any case.) However, we now realise how difficult it can be to adapt to a new lifestyle.
We found ourselves frequently making the biggest mistake expats can make: we started comparing. In New Jersey, we had a big house with plenty of space, a large front and backyard, and, of course, a big barbecue. Our kids went to American public schools, we had American friends and we soon felt like we were part of American society. New Jersey became our “home”.
Now we live in an apartment in a high-rise building, two of our sons have to share a room, the barbecue is stored in Germany, everything is small and condensed, and our kids go to a German school. There are a lot of expats around us, but that doesn’t necessarily make it easier.
The differences between our two lives couldn’t be bigger. Maybe we were also expecting something else. Before we came to Hong Kong, we talked to expats who had lived here and were absolutely enthusiastic. We don’t share that enthusiasm – yet. We’re still in the phase of missing things.
But that’s good, too. We now know that we had a really good time in the US; we made some great friends, we can drive without any fear through New York City, we know how to stuff a turkey at Thanksgiving, and we’ve incorporated the friendly greeting “How are you?” into our vocabulary. We hope that some day we will regret leaving Hong Kong, and that we will have enjoyed the same rich experiences!
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