Melissa Black has travel in her blood. Just a regular girl from Brisbane, she grew up in a multicultural family with strong ties to her Singaporean heritage. Surrounded by her mum, dad and two brothers, all of whom loved to travel, it seemed inevitable Melissa would follow her heart and live a life less ordinary.
At 27, she’s living and working in Shanghai, after what was supposed to be a holiday to visit a friend turned out to be the start of a life-changing adventure. Today Melissa is sharing her story with us, telling us how she quit her stable, well-paying job and relocated to a foreign country.
Melissa and her brother, Tim, have a fantastic blog dedicated to great food from their home-cooked meals to the streets they travel. You can follow their journey here, on The Pursuit of Snackiness and you can follow Melissa on Instagram here.
What made you decide to move to China?
I was working for a large national construction company in Brisbane and saving for a house deposit. Three and a half years at this company gave me great experience, but I wasn’t sure about my long-term career plan.
In June 2011 I booked a holiday to China to visit my friend Claire. It was also around this time that my company was merging with another firm and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a part of it all, so if I wanted to step out and make a change then now was the perfect time to do it.
And so I arrived in Shanghai on my vacation and my first thought was “Wow.” It was nothing like what I had expected, it was a fast-paced, modern city with bright lights and amazing restaurants and a myriad of expats who were the most amazing, hilarious, awesome people I had ever met. One week here was simply not enough.
How long did you spend planning for the move?
I think it was during dinner one night on the Bund with Claire, we had a few too many glasses of wine and began planning my entire move to Shanghai. It just felt like the right decision.
I finished my holiday, went back to Brisbane and on the first day back at work I told my boss “I quit”. It was quite a shock for him and for my colleagues, but they understood my reasons. I was longing for something new, for a new adventure, and this was the perfect opportunity.
I was very lucky to have complete support from my parents. In fact, I remember telling my mother that I wanted to move to China and her first reaction was “Well, it’s about time!”. So that freed up a lot of guilt that I had about leaving my family behind.
It took only 6 weeks for me to wrap up my life in Brisbane and prepare for my move.
Where have you been and what have you seen in China? What travel have you done outside of China as a result of the move?
As expats living in China, we try to give ourselves as many opportunities to travel as possible. Preferably, out of the country and into some clean air. After all, that is one of the most appealing factors in our decision to live abroad. We all must love travel, right!
I have been lucky enough to travel to several cities throughout China including Xuzhou, Beijing, Moganshan, Huangshan, Hong Kong and Qingdao.
As a result of living abroad, I have been fortunate to travel outside China to places including Seoul, Thailand, Saigon, Nha Trang, Cleveland, Colorado, California and New York.
What have been your highlights, what have been your lowlights?
The highlights are definitely the chances for travel and all the little adventures you have exploring new cities and all of the fantastic people you come across.
Meeting my boyfriend, Gideon here is definitely a highlight! Being able to share this journey with someone you love is a very special experience. This quote rings true for me “Quit your job, buy a ticket, travel, fall in love, never return”.
Celebrating new holidays and traditions – Not only the Chinese holidays but the other international holidays as well. As expats, we don’t give up our home traditions once we move abroad. We gain new ones! Discovering other countries traditions and learning about so many new cultures is really fascinating.
The hardest part is definitely the homesickness, being away from your friends and family. It’s hard missing milestone events, like friends who get married and have children. The flip side to this is actually appreciating your family and friends so much more, and treasuring every moment you get to spend together. Not taking anything for granted.
The air quality, It’s getting worse, and internet censorship are low-lights too. I long for the days when I can access Facebook and YouTube without a VPN!
How has this experience changed you, and what impact has it had on your life?
Moving overseas means you are challenged from the very beginning. I have learnt how to survive in a foreign country, how to find my way around a new city, how to communicate when I don’t speak the language (body language – its universal) and how to adapt to circumstances which are out of my comfort zone.
I have definitely grown as a person. I am definitely a lot more confident in myself and much more comfortable talking with people and starting conversations with strangers!
Would you recommend other people do the same thing?
YES! Shanghai is a fantastic city for expats and I am constantly learning, growing and experiencing all that life has to offer. Immersing yourself into a different culture is an incredible journey. Experience the good, the bad and the ugly.
I arrived in Shanghai by myself with two suitcases in tow. I found my own place and began a crash course in ESL teaching. I had zero teaching experience, but big plans to get a great job and a fierce determination to not suck at learning Mandarin.
Fast forward to today and it is almost three years to the day since I moved to this country and at this stage, I have no plans to leave! If I can do it, anyone can do it.
What has been the best thing about the whole experience and what would you say to someone thinking about doing something like what you’ve done, but maybe is too scared to do it?
It has been nothing but positives for me. Everyone should be an expat at least once in their life. Life is all about how much you enjoy yourself and how much you see, and there’s no reason why everyone can’t live like that.
Phoebe is a travel writer and photographer with a love for storytelling and making people laugh. Matt is a videographer and photographer with a passion for the great outdoors and big adventures. Together we inspire big adventures through our guides, videos, vlogs and photographs. Find out more about us here.