7 Questions: Kelly from Saskatchewan


Hi! I’m Kelly Sandor-Yang and I live and work in small-town China as an oral English teacher. I spend my free time watching movies with my husband, trying to find clothes and shoes that fit that are not covered in bedazzled cartoon characters, deciphering Chinglish signs, being stared at, and blogging about all the strange things that happen to me here. I’m highly sarcastic and yes, this is my natural hair colour.

1) What made you pack your life into a bag and become an expat?


Although I always wanted to travel, I never believed I’d end up living halfway around the world until I more or less fell into it. I’m a farm girl from Saskatchewan, Canada, and am also a certified teacher there. After I finished university in 2004, I decided I wasn’t quite ready to settle down, so my boyfriend at the time and I made the choice to teach overseas for a year and ended up here in Hebei, China. We moved back to Canada after the year was up and I taught for a few years. That relationship ended, and then in 2008 I became dissatisfied with my job and handed in my letter of resignation. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I still loved teaching and interacting with students, so I contacted my former employers here to see if I could return for a year to get my life back in order and figure out my next move. I came back in March 2009 and have been teaching here ever since. A few months after I arrived, I met a wonderful Chinese man and we are now married and planning to make this our home.

Canadian Home

Chinese Home


2) Can you think of a single moment that occurred while living as an expat, which made you completely change your viewpoint on something you strongly believed in before you became a traveler?


I can’t narrow it down to a specific moment or a specific viewpoint, because my life is filled with them! There are a lot of customs, beliefs, and opinions about the world held by some Chinese people that I struggle to understand, so my husband has to constantly explain these things to me, to try to help me at least become more aware of how these beliefs arose and why they may still be held today. We’ve had some heated discussions about China’s government policies, the education system, beliefs about health and wellness, and current events, amongst other topics. My mind may not change, but it has certainly become more open to considering other points of view and understanding how a person’s education and cultural upbringing affect his or her worldview.


3) Besides the obvious language barrier, what is the scariest aspect of settling in a foreign country?


Maybe it’s a cop-out answer, but I think for me, it was the realization of how dependent you become on others because of the language barrier. My Mandarin is dreadful (but it’s entirely my own fault), and there are so many things I cannot do on my own – simple things, such as renewing the internet at my house or going to the doctor and buying medicine if I am sick – that I used to do for myself very easily back in Canada. At the same time, going out and accomplishing some of the smallest tasks on my own (for example, ordering a meal) seem like huge victories!


4) When people ask you about your experiences as an expat, what’s the one memory you always share?


That’s pretty much exactly what my blog, Tales From Hebei, is about! I know that strange things happen everywhere around the world, but it seems as if the frequency of bizarre (ahem, I mean memorable) events is definitely higher in small-town China. I started my blog as a way to share these ridiculous (whoops again, memorable!) stories with friends and family without having to type or tell them over and over. There was the time an old Chinese lady tried to kidnap my mom, the time an old Chinese man succeeded in kidnapping my dad, the evening I attended a competitive tug o’ war match…I could go on, but you get it.


5) Do you ever find it difficult to connect with the locals of the country? If yes, why? If not, why do you think it’s been fairly easy to connect with them?


Yes and no. No, because I am lucky that I work with a number of wonderful Chinese teachers-of-English who are great friends. I was also lucky enough to meet my husband and get to know his family and many of his friends as well.

Kelly and her husband

On the other hand, just going out and meeting people I don’t already have a connection with is difficult, because although many people in China study English, not many (at least in this small city) actually speak English (and as we’ve established, my Chinese is terrible!). Another unfortunate issue is that often, people only want to get to know me in order to have me teach them or their relatives English. So while people here are very friendly and helpful, I find it can be difficult to make meaningful connections with locals.


6) What hard to get items do you wish could be overnighted from back home?


Aside from family? Mainly food items (turkey, my mom’s baking, a good steak, chilli dogs), but if there were a way to send uncensored internet access, I wouldn’t turn it down!


7) Besides being able to live in another part of the world, what has been the greatest benefit of becoming an expat?


Meeting and marrying my wonderful husband has to be at the top of my list, but also having the opportunity to learn so much about the history, culture, and worldview of another country, much more than a short trip traveling through a place would allow. I don’t think I will ever fully understand China, but I have many years to continue trying!

You can check out more from Kelly on Twitter, @kjsandor and her website, talesfromhebei http://talesfromhebei.wordpress.com.

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