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Life in China for Expat Women

The rapid growth and westernization of China's urban centers and its presence in the foreign exchange market has made this foreign country increasingly attractive to expats. The number of foreign visitors to China has grown 10 percent each year since 2000. As of 2010, the mainland is reportedly home to about 593,800 foreigners, and about 257,600 of them are women.[1] Here, two women in China share their stories and offer advice to others who are considering living overseas.

Balancing Career and Family

Dr. Setsuko Hosoda and her husband, Rob, relocated their family from the suburbs of Seattle to Beijing in 2010. Fluent in Japanese, Hosoda was recruited by United Family Hospital to serve the health care needs of Japanese expats living in the capital city.

Although she works the same long hours as she did back home, Hosoda says life in China is more manageable because of the abundance of affordable domestic help known as "ayis," which allows both her and her husband to pursue their international careers full time.

Shen-Urquidez believes having the companionship of like-minded women in China has been critical to her happiness.

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Still, there were challenges early on, including dealing with international real estate. "Closing the deal on the right place was difficult," Hosoda says. Several times they asked their real estate agent to see a unit, only to be shown a different unit. They were even led to believe an apartment was theirs when a higher bid already had been accepted. "In China," Hosoda says, "nothing is final until a contract is signed and the money has changed hands." 

Air quality and food safety top the list of concerns for many expats like Hosoda. "A lot of my friends will only eat organic or imported, frozen produce and import their milk," she says. She doesn't go that far, but admits she worries about air pollution. "It's a major public health concern."

Hosoda recently accepted a promotion and is pleased with the trajectory her international career has taken since moving abroad. But the biggest advantage is knowing her kids will grow up with a more worldly perspective.

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Finding a New Identity

Martha Shen-Urquidez moved to Beijing in 2008, when the Chinese Olympic boxing team hired her husband, Arnold, a world-famous martial arts instructor, to help coach the team. Shen-Urquidez was asked to serve on the Beijing Olympic Organizing Committee as a cross-cultural affairs expert. She saw the move as a first step toward retirement, following a successful career as a trial lawyer in Southern California.

Despite being able to speak the foreign language and having family in China, Shen-Urquidez found the transition difficult. "I felt like I had completely lost my identity," she says. "I'd left my career, and my children were grown."

Shen-Urquidez assembled a group of women in China comprised of interesting people she met in the course of her daily routine. They gathered once a week at her house over wine and food. She notes that church groups and alumni organizations, which have a strong presence in many foreign countries, also can be excellent resources for women in China who need support and encouragement.

Shen-Urquidez believes having the companionship of like-minded women in China has been critical to her happiness. "As a woman," she says, "home is where your family and friends are."

[1] National Bureau of Statistics of China, 2010 Census

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