Our “Beckoned to Beijing” series continues with Jennifer Keane. The American mother of eleven-year-old Arron and eight-year-old Jesse shares her favorite way to enjoy Beijing’s sunny days, how the capital has broadened her children’s horizons, and more.
We came to Beijing for Kevin, my husband’s, job. He works for (multinational pharmaceutical) Novo Nordisk, and was offered a position here for three years.
I am endlessly surprised at the kindness and welcoming nature of the Beijing people. I would not have expected this from the residents of such a large city. Also, we were pleasantly surprised at how simple it is to travel to other parts of China and Asia from Beijing. We are a family that enjoys outdoor activities, and there are many local opportunities to explore, just outside the city.
The three biggest challenges here are: dealing with the pollution, transportation, and not speaking Mandarin. The pollution, when at its worst, has the ability to change your entire day’s plans. Not driving here makes getting around and acquiring necessities a much bigger challenge than in the US, where most people drive. The language barrier can be a limiting factor to experiencing Beijing and all it has to offer. Even if you study the language, it takes quite a while to communicate effectively with non-English speakers.
We have four air purifiers in our three bedroom apartment. We bought some used and some new. They all happen to be Blueair because these were available used, but we also bought a new one as it is a highly reputable brand.
The benefit to our children here is definitely the ability to see the world and their own experiences through a much wider lens. My kids now have an unconscious understanding that the world holds all kinds of people from many different cultures and backgrounds. It makes them much more open minded.
We have used several hospitals, both Chinese and Western like BJU, International SOS and Oasis International. For our children and more complex issues, it was important for us to be able to communicate in full English. For simpler problems, we have saved quite a lot of money by going to the Chinese hospital. Our insurance coverage there is much better.
Our kids attend BISS. We chose it because it is a smaller school that emphasizes individualized teaching of the IB curriculum, as well as nurturing every student to optimize their learning potential.
If I could bring one aspect of Beijing with me when I leave, it would it be the park culture. I love the gathering of people in public parks to exercise, play, and just visit together.
The advice I would give to other American families – or the advice I wish someone had given me! – is getting settled can be challenging, if you don’t speak Chinese. So make sure you have access to a Chinese speaking support person through work or some other resource. Once you’re settled, do study the language. It’s a great way to meet people and broaden your experience here. But also develop your expat community as quickly as possible. We all have to go through the entry process; there’s no reason to re-invent it every time! In general, be as open as possible to new experiences. Beijing is a rewarding place to live!
Photos: Jennifer Keane.