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Life in the US got boring, so I moved to China. I'm lonely and single, but I plan to stay.

Danielle Marcano   

Life in the US got boring, so I moved to China. I'm lonely and single, but I plan to stay.
  • Danielle Marcano was bored with her life in Philadelphia and applied for a job in northern China.
  • After two years of teaching English, she wanted to change careers but stay in China.

Five years ago, my typical day consisted of work in downtown Philly at my regular retail job, lunch, and then clocking out to ride the SEPTA to South Philly to take on the evening shift at my seasonal retail job. When I got home, I would shower, go to bed, and do the same thing again the next morning. It was a wash, rinse, and repeat routine fueled by my motivation not to return to my hometown of Los Angeles.

But something had to give, and one day, while looking through job listings on Indeed, I stumbled across a teaching opportunity in China. In bold letters, the listing read: "No experience needed to apply!" My first thought was, "This is a scam." So I did the one thing any "reasonable" person would do: I submitted my application, résumé, and cover letter, thinking they'd never reply.

An email requesting a video interview arrived in my inbox the next day.

The woman who interviewed me for the teaching job in China was in Boston. She shared details about the position, as well as the visa process. Throughout the interview, I kept thinking, "There's no way this is legit."

My heart started racing when the offer letter arrived a few days later. What felt like a scam now felt real. I thought about why I'd applied in the first place. I was tired of the same old work routine in Philadelphia and wanted to travel. It had been seven years since I last left the country. I studied abroad in South Korea in 2012.

I eagerly accepted my first job in China.

Soon after arriving, I adjusted to living and working in China

I taught at an English training center in Yantai from 2019 to 2021. My salary was between 10,000 and 13,000 yuan a month, or about $1,400 to $1,820. The job package included an apartment, so I had to cover only quarterly maintenance fees and expenses. My other expenses — including groceries, water for my dispenser, weekly online therapy, and stickers for my younger students — worked out to less than $600 a month.

Yantai is a coastal city in northern China, about 440 miles southeast of Beijing. I met a lot of curious students who would ask me questions about America. The most common question I heard was, "Do you know the Lakers?" When I wasn't working, I could do things like explore Yangma Island, sample wine at the famous Changyu winery, and pick fresh berries from a local farm.

I had to find a new purpose during the pandemic

In January 2020, I went to Los Angeles to visit my family for Lunar New Year. My dad and I were having breakfast when a news report on TV said that the US had its first confirmed case of COVID-19. Later that day, I received a message from my director, saying that there was a chance that China would close its borders and I needed to fly back as soon as possible. A few days later, I returned to China.

When I came back, it felt like a ghost town. There were barely any cars or people. The only thing I could hear was the wind blowing past my ears. Our training center decided to start teaching students from home. It was clear that I needed another career shift. However, I had no interest in returning to the US.

I was determined to stop teaching

In most of my WeChat conversations, headhunters would ask why I wanted to quit teaching and often try to persuade me by mentioning higher salary options. But as much as I enjoyed working with my students, I knew my true calling was beyond the classroom.

Since 2021, I've worked as a tech copywriter in Shenzhen, a city about a 15-minute train ride from Hong Kong. While I can't disclose exactly how much I earn as a copywriter, the average salary I've seen in other copywriting positions ranges between 18,000 and 20,000 yuan a month — close to double what I was making teaching.

I pay between 5,000 and 6,000 yuan for a one-bedroom apartment and utilities. I haven't had any roommates during my time in China, and while living on my own is more expensive, I value a quiet space to watch movies and play video games. My favorite part of the apartment I'm in now is the nighttime view from the balcony, where multiple colors and moving projections are always on display.

My dating life is difficult, but I plan to stay in China

I've found loneliness the most challenging part of being an expat in China. I still attend therapy, and while the price has increased over time, it has been essential to my mental health. Despite thousands of expats living in Shenzhen — and more in nearby Hong Kong — I spend most of my time alone. The majority of my close friends are either in a relationship or married. Meanwhile, I'm 30 and single. Despite my accomplishments in China, I'm still asked by some family members why I'm not married.

In my experience, dating in China is complicated. I'm not opposed to dating Chinese men, but I often worry about the language barrier and cultural differences. My Chinese skills are limited to a few phrases. Conversely, single expat men have expressed interest in me, but they'll also tell me they're not looking for anything serious — in other words, a situationship.

I say, "No way."

For me, 2023 was a rough year full of heartbreak, self-doubt, and stress-related health issues. Despite my fears, I'm confident that the support system I've built here — my therapist, friends, and life coaches — will help me build the confidence I need to return to the dating scene.

Ultimately, it's about being open to people and their perspectives. It's a similar mindset I had when I found the opportunity to work in China in the first place. Expect the unexpected.

Got a personal essay about living abroad, parenting, or a midlife crisis that you want to share? Get in touch with the editor:

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