Living in China,  My Life

Life of a China Fanatic

berlizchinesephrasebookMy first phrasebook in middle school was my dad’s Berliz from the 1980’s

I was a huge China fan back in middle school and even more so in high school. I found my Chinese name online and let everyone know they could call me by that name if they wanted to. I read massive amounts of books about China that I could find from the local library or bought cheap as second-hand. I surfed the Finnish version of eBay at night to find China related items or clothing. My friends and family all knew that I was really into China.

I took my first one week Summer course in Chinese in 2005, studying the Mandarin Chinese with other students of my parents’ age. We learned travel Chinese and practiced taiji at the school’s park in the afternoons. I roamed bookstores to find those few Chinese textbooks and study material that were available between 2005 and 2010.

After I had read a few books about the Empress Dowager Cixi, and even bought a movie about her, I changed to the history books describing the life in China between 1950’s and 1970’s. I read and bought many autobiographies and tried to imagine what daily life really was like during those though times. It almost became an obsession to find out as much as possible.

Finally in 2008 I started my university studies in Finland and my first semester of Chinese begun. I was a diligent student in love with the Chinese language who wrote characters into tiny boxed on paper over and over again. My book collection started getting bigger and bigger so I didn’t even have time to read all the books I bought.

The big change on my journey happened in Autumn 2009 when I made the decision to move to China. First three semesters I was just a normal exchange student having half day classes. It was a big jump from two hours a week to four hours per day, but I loved it. My Chinese learning destiny was sealed when I applied for the undergraduate program in 2011. Chinese officially transformed from a hobby to my major.

After moving to China, almost four years ago, I noticed a slow change in my fan behavior. First it was mesmerizing to be able to see everything first hand, jump to the reality from books and documents. Then slowly life in China started to become more ordinary. Get up, go to school, eat, meet friends, surf the net, do homework, all those things that are done no matter where you are.

Finally in the beginning of 2013 I moved in with my boyfriend and his parents. Suddenly Chinese culture wasn’t something out there behind my door, it was all around me all the time. I used to think it was funny when expats said they needed a break from China, but slowly I started to understand their reasons. When I get overwhelmed by all of this, and it still happens after four years, I just build a temporary bubble around me and watch an episode of Grey’s Anatomy.

I do still see my self as a China fan and I have this huge passion towards the culture and the language, but right now I feel like I need a break. I haven’t been home for two and a half years,  I have only left China a few times briefly to go to Hong Kong. As I needed to come to China to appreciate Finland, now I need to leave China for almost four weeks in order to find my passion again.

I’m very eager to find out what kind of feeling I have when I get to Finland in January and how it feels like to come back to Guangzhou before the Chinese new year.

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  • Jim

    I lived the expat life (though not in China) so I know the feeling. I’d go “back home” 1-2x per year both for business but also to see family. It was a nice recharge. I highly recommend it.

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Nice to hear I’m not alone. And yes, that’s the goal and the wish to make enough money to be able to visit Finland once or twice a year.

  • chinaelevatorstories

    2 1/2 years is such a long time. I try to go back at least once a year. My schedule doesn’t allow me to go back for Christmas this year (second year in a row), which is kind of hard.

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    I really hope I could do that later on in the future. This will be my 4th Christmas away and my boyfriend will be out of town for work the whole Christmas week which makes it worse.

  • T

    Now that you’ve had first-hand experience with China, do you think China has fallen short of your expectations? Have you become disillusioned, so to speak?

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Good question T, I do think I have more realistic view of China after living here. There are parts of Chinese culture that is harder for me to get immersed to than I originally thought.

    For example I thought how nice it is to have a close family where everyone cares for each other. But now I have realized that I value my freedom and independence very much, and it’s hard for me to get used to that there are people telling me what I should do.

    Kaiser Reply:

    You just made me laugh, Sara! What you said is so true! LOL!

  • R Zhao

    I am in the US now, on my yearly visit back home. I return to China tomorrow and a part of me is dreading it. I’ve done this several times, but sometimes going back and forth is hard. It can be an adjustment, but I’m still grateful I have the chance to do it. I know my heart belongs in my home country, but it’s not time to move back yet.

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    This reminds me of the last time I was visiting Finland, I could stop smiling when the plain started to get closer and closer to Helsinki. It was really nice to get back to China as well, but oh boy was it amazing feeling to go back.

    As it’s been such a long time now, I’m not really sure how I will feel during and after my trip to Finland. Is my hard still in China or does living abroad just make me miss Finland?

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts R.

    Tiffany Reply:

    I guess your having homesick sara.. :) hope your having a great time back home! :)

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    I’m having lots of fun back at home :)

  • Eileen Huang

    My husband and I have lived in Shanghai since last March. China is really foreign, especially for my husband. My husband had the most culture shock in Shanghai than I did. My husband and I went back to live with his mother for a couple of weeks and he didn’t want to go back. xD Way too different for him. Also the fact that his work gave him an ulsur – so much stress.

    I don’t really have a family so I have nothing to go back to.

    It’s good to have a break. It gives you a new perspective.

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Oh no! That really seems to be a stressful job if it gives you an ulcer!

    I’m really waiting forward to having that new perspective when I visit home after such a long time.

  • QuestQ

    What got you interested in China? (just wanted to know XD)

    Sara Jaaksola Reply:

    Because I was in my mom’s tummy when she lived in China.

    QuestQ Reply:

    I see.

    Mary Mekko Reply:

    Sara, I was in Finland a few times in 1980’s and loved it, especially Lapland. I had a boyfriend in Rovieniemi and had been hitching all around Europe with a Finnish girl from Aannekoski. In 1990 she wanted to go to China, and completely without regard to Tiannemen Square (what’s that? we hadn’t heard about it), we got our visas in Helsinki.
    Then off by train to Moscow, then the Transsiberian for seven days to Beijing, and then one month in China with Marianne the Finn, travelling by train, buses, bicycles, and planes and boats. In other words, we winged it with a copy of Lonely Planet and hooked up with others we met who could guide us, i.e. Other Foreigners.
    Imagine if I had met your Mom there in China? How old are you?
    Tell us more about your Chinese boyfriend and living with his family.
    I think that Finland would accept a Chinese young man more than you would think, especially these days in super multiculti Helsinki. Don’t you think?
    Where would be the best spot to be serious about a family and schooling and so on?