I love travel, fashion, food, family life, caffeine & capturing moments, so this is just a collection of my most loved little traveller things from New Zealand, China and Finland – or wherever home may be.
Aleasha is an expert traveller and an expat mummy to two daughters growing up in Finland. She shares through Little Traveller Things her experiences about lifestyle, motherhood and foreign amazing places!
Could you tell us how was your life before you became expat?
I have been an expat for so long it’s hard to remember life before. I left New Zealand for the UK in 2007. I didn’t really consider myself an expat there though. I lived in London which very much felt like home. I was working in fashion, living with my husband and and we had our first baby on the way. Life got a bit unusual when we decided to up and move to Beijing in 2013 when I was 33 weeks pregnant. My husband was offered a short work contract there and I was due to go on maternity leave so we decided it was a once in a lifetime opportunity.
Thinking about the many families who plan a move to Beijing, what are your recommendations about the culture, traditions and lifestyle? How was the adaptation to a completely different country and culture?
Be prepared for anything. China is definitely the craziest and most interesting place I have ever lived, yet you can also make it very comfortable and familiar. There is a wonderful expat community in Beijing who are always willing to help and show you the ways. You can live in an expat bubble or immerse yourself in old China by living in a traditional hutong area.
Chinese love children, plus the novelty of being a foreigner means you get a lot of attention, so you need to figure out your boundaries as people on the street might try and photograph and even touch your children. It can be quite unnerving at first, well it was for me as a first time mum. You get used to the attention, and become vocal about what makes you feel uncomfortable. You will be given lots of interesting advice on the street from strangers. For instance Chinese mums have a tradition of confinement to the home for 30 days after childbirth so you may be told off by a well meaning mother for having your baby outside too soon.
The biggest shock to our lifestyle was learning to live with the high levels of air pollution in Beijing. We monitored the pollution levels as released by the US Embassy hourly and decided if it was safe to go outside. This meant that we were housebound a lot of the time with our baby. You had to get creative with how you spent your time indoors, (one of the reasons I started a blog) and drop everything and go outside when the air was clean.
How did you manage to complete all the preparations before the move? And for the great voyages, what should we take with us in the suitcase and what should we leave behind?
Luckily for us, my husbands company arranged most things on our behalf. Visa’s were simple, but we needed full medical checks for health insurance prior to leaving. On arrival, we stayed in a serviced apartment for a month while house hunting with a relocation agency and specialist reasestate agent. We air freighted our basic homewares, but almost ¼ of our shipment was air filters! We sent over a few suitcases of essentials that couldn’t be freighted (like liquids and medicines) with friends and colleagues working in China.
Take with you lots of your home comforts, some of your favourite foods, treats, baby food, formula if you need it and your favourite cosmetic products. Take all of your children’s medication and health care products. Chinese medicine is very different. Language barriers can be difficult and medicine is something you want to be certain about. I took nearly all of my own new baby essentials. A lot of the recommended western brands are impossible to find in China or you will pay a huge premium to buy them.
Take hospital grade air purifiers as you will need them for your accommodation from the moment you arrive. They are expensive but an investment for your health and cheaper to buy outside of China, even with import duty. When you leave you can sell them on often without losing any money as they are always in hot demand.
Leave technology items, like TV’s and electronics for the home. They are cheap in China so get those when you arrive. You can use Ikea to furnish your home quickly and affordably. Shoes and clothes are cheap but you can’t always find what you want so stock up on the things you love most.
Moving abroad is difficult, but moving abroad with children even further. Could you give us some tips and experiences to enjoy this experience with the little ones?
Use expat forums and blogs to meet other parents. They are brilliant for all sorts of advice! Join in on a baby or children’s group if you can. Get outside when ever possible, go to parks with kids and you will always find someone to talk too. Try and convince family and friends to come and visit your new city! It’s always fun to show them around and it helps with the home sickness to see a familiar face. In China it’s normal to have some home help known as an Ayi (a type of nanny and or cleaner) it is a huge help when you have no friends or family to call on for support. Use whatever local support you can!
From your perspective, how is living in Beijing and Finland and how they have changed the way you are?
Living in Beijing was tough because of the pollution but it was also a wonderful place to start a family because of the great community and we were shown such kindness. People I had only met once before brought food to my door when I first came home with a new baby. I was once dropped a basket of fresh fruit anonymously. It taught me to appreciate the simple things in life like fresh water, clean air and safe food.
Finland is the opposite of China in a lot of ways. We have none of the environmental issues of China. It’s very clean, outdoorsy and safe, a similar lifestyle to that in New Zealand. Language is not an issue as most people speak english very well. The climate here can be a challenge. Dressing yourself and babies up for -10 degrees is interesting. It’s not uncommon to need 5-6 layers of clothing. Finn’s say ‘there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing’. Here you really learn to appreciate the sun. It’s only warm for a short time so people really get out and make the most of it!
And a classic! : What do you expect about the future? Where would you like to be if you could choose?
I am actually quite a homebody for someone who has moved around so much! I love New Zealand and I dream that we will get back there to raise our children before they hit primary school. NZ is always pulling me home. Even more so since we have had kids. I am yet to convince my hubby that it’s the place for us to be, but I am working on it!
If you want to know how the adventures of Aleasha continues: Little Traveller Things !
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