How do you research international relocation?
February 24, 2010 1:43 PM   Subscribe

I'm an American who is thinking about moving abroad. Most likely to Mainland China, although Taiwan and Singapore are potential options. What's the best way to go about doing some research for a move overseas?

I speak some Mandarin, but want to get truly fluent (if not native-level, then at least college graduate level), which will most likely take between 6 months and a year (according to my tutor, who's a native speaking head of the Chinese Language and Culture department at a local university).

So, I'm considering a move to enroll in a program at a university where I could spend a couple of hours a day in the classroom, and the rest of my time immersed in the language all around me.

I'm aware that, depending on the city I move to, I could run into conflicts in my day-to-day life with dialects, etc. I'm not addressing that with this question.

What I'd like to know is what are the best resources (online or off) that you have used in making a decision to move to a city outside of your neighboring country? I'd like to not limit it to the PRC (although that's helpful), if possible. Where's the best place to find information on population, cost of living, amenities, and anything else relevant to relocation that you're aware of? What types of things should I consider when choosing between potential places to live?

Any suggestions, no matter how tangential, would be appreciated. Thanks!
posted by jasondbarr to Travel & Transportation (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
- the international student services at the university you choose
- other students at the university you choose
- going for a visit (obvious and indispensable)

- AskMe (very international group, several people who have moved to China)
- couchsurfing (have been on the asking or receiving ends of questions about relocation, for three different countries)
- expat websites (though they do have - sometimes - attitudes - about the countries they cover, you will get a feel for what is and isn't available, what drives other foreigners batty, and what systems are going to be totally new to you. Ex. in Japan my city's most international website had incredible amounts of detail on passing the driving exam, because it is Really Hard to pass. Ones for France here have lots of information on real estate terms and systems, because there are lots of UK people renting summer homes here.)
- local mailing lists (try google groups or yahoo for finding sports, hobby, or just plain-old-party groups)

other things to consider:
-how you will meet people, especially locals
-if you can have a part time job, what it would be, and how you could gain from it (besides money)
-transportation, both everyday (commuting in Houston SUCKS) and how to get away (IAH goes EVERYWHERE direct); in China, it will be relevant that there are a lot of new metros (eg Xi'an) and fast trains going in
-weather (China has extremes like the US does, maybe more so)
-what your "exit strategy" is. so you are fluent in Mandarin. so what? what's next? are you thinking about staying in China? if you go back "home," have you been working on job connections? grad school applications...? This shouldn't be fixed or written in stone, but you need to keep it in mind to develop a bit of a narrative and not be taken by surprise at the last moment.

(4ish international moves of hard knocks learning summarized)
posted by whatzit at 2:02 PM on February 24, 2010 [4 favorites]

I don't think the deadline has passed for the Chinese Scholarship Council's language and educational scholarships. Do some googling for websites about them (to help clarify the awkwardly translated info the Chinese gov't provides); they're apparently quite easy to get, and would facilitate your living in mainland China for 1-5 years, with funding.
posted by soviet sleepover at 3:53 PM on February 24, 2010

This does not directly address your question, but I thought it might be useful to know that:

Singapore is not a good place to immerse yourself in Mandarin. Everyone speaks English here, and everything is in English. This is partly because Singapore is a multi-racial society, with a significant Malay, Indian and expatriate/non-Chinese immigrant community. You would be much better off going to China or Taiwan, where everything is in Mandarin and relatively fewer locals speak or understand English fluently. I am a Singaporean Chinese, and have a rather dismal standard of fluency in that language given the amount of time I devoted to it in school; mostly due to a lack of practice.
posted by nihraguk at 6:53 PM on February 24, 2010

I recently returned from living in Mainland China for 6 years. If you want, you can memail me with some questions. I lived in a medium-sized southern city for two years, then in Beijing for 3 years, and then Nanjing for one year. I also traveled a bit.

the answers to your questions depend on what kind of lifestyle you are looking for, in part. However I'd say if you want to get to that level of Mandarin in 6 months- a year, I'd advise against moving to big cities like beijing, Shanghai, or even Nanjing. If I were you I'd go to a medium-sized, non-descript city in the north (where Mandarin is most "standard"). Howeverm if you do that, be ready for more culture shock than you'd experience in bigger cities. TO be fluent in Mandarin you have to become absorbed in Chinese culture as well, which means making friends with Chinese people and hanging out with them....and CHinese people who know English love to practice you'll want to meet people who don't speak it much (which may be found outside of larger cities, and among the older/not-as-educated population as well).
posted by bearette at 7:16 PM on February 24, 2010

If you're serious about improving your Mandarin to the exclusion of everything else, I strongly recommend Harbin. It's cold, and there isn't much to do there, but it's the clearest Mandarin you'll ever hear outside of a textbook, and people are pretty friendly. Just be prepared (and I may be out of date here -- I lived there from 2002 to 2003 before moving down to Beijing) for the city to be far less than worldly.

"Fluent" is a very vague word -- it means different things to different people. What does it mean to you, and what's your current level of Chinese? I went to Harbin with roughly upper-intermediate university-level Chinese, and left the city more or less capable of autonomy for everyday tasks.
posted by bokane at 7:27 PM on February 24, 2010

The ever-lasting conflict of Tranditional VS Simplified Chinese comes to mind.

I grew up in Taiwan so naturally I am pretty biased. If you have any question regarding Taiwan though, I'll be more than happy to answer them.

Good luck.
posted by jstarlee at 7:56 PM on February 24, 2010

Thanks, everyone, for the suggestions!

However, it seems I may not have been perfectly clear in my question. I'm looking for the best resources to use to compare cities as far as cost of living, etc. I'm not necessarily looking for suggestions as to where to live. I have some rather specific requirements and a bit different situation than what seems to be assumed from some of the answers (I'm in my mid-30's, have a family, have a job I can work remotely, already have an advanced degree, etc.). So, although the suggestions are interesting, I'd like to do a lot of the research leg work on my own.

Thanks again for your help in this, MiFites.
posted by jasondbarr at 9:36 PM on February 24, 2010

Honestly, I've lived in three different countries now and I've never found cost of living calculators to be helpful. Places cost what they cost, and you inevitably adjust to that.
posted by wingless_angel at 1:32 AM on February 25, 2010

People who have actual experience living in the place you want to go to can be the best resources :)
posted by bearette at 12:23 PM on February 25, 2010

wingless_angel, I agree. But you can use COL calculators to determine whether this place is more expensive than that place, and by approximately how much. That's what I'm gunning for here, not knowing exactly how much things will cost.

bearette, you're absolutely right. :)
posted by jasondbarr at 4:38 PM on February 25, 2010

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