Expat Confessions: How to Stand Out (and Like It)

Happy Memorial Day to my fellow Americans out there!

Peter and I just got back from a long weekend trip to Kuala Lumpur and had a great time! We left Friday evening and spent 3 days relaxing and adventuring in the capital of Malaysia. Let me tell you, it made me miss the convenience and excitement of city life. Although life in Shanghai was hard, it was definitely never dull! Just so you know, Shanghai is high up on our list of places to live next year and I am kind of excited! Wow, I never thought I would be excited to live in China again, but there it is.

Now while I work on finishing up my Phi Phi Islands posts and edit all my KL pictures, I though I would share another article I wrote for the American Women’s Club of Shanghai last fall. I had a column on expat life called Confessions of a Wandering Expat and I wrote about trying to blend into a country where blending is impossible for someone like me.

I hope you enjoy it!


How To Stand Out (and Like It)

You know that moment when you’re walking down the streets of Shanghai, ready to tackle the grocery store or the nearest Starbucks, and suddenly you notice that everybody is staring at you? You start to wonder… Is there something on my face? Is my outfit all wrong? Are my pants on backward?


Then you remember that no, there is nothing wrong with you. In fact, it is the unchangeable aspects of your appearance, the color of your hair, the whiteness of your skin and the shape of your eyes, that make people stare with wide eyes and gaping mouths.

Sometimes it can be frustrating. As a white, blond woman in China, I stick out like a sore thumb. But you know what? I like it.

Growing up, I was a shy kid who cared a great deal about what other people thought about me. I was never one of the popular kids and as I got older had no desire for a stable corporate job in the United States like my peers. Instead, I wanted to pursue my passion for health and fitness, travel the world and take pictures. No matter how hard I tried, I never felt like I fit in. Although I looked like everyone else, I felt very different on the inside.


But in China, I know I do not fit in. It is a fact confirmed every day in the faces of my fellow Shanghai dwellers. My presence is an anomaly, a blip in the fabric of this homogeneous society. With every “Hello!” shouted in my direction or photograph with a random Chinese family, the more different I feel.

After living in this vibrant and unique city for almost a month, the pressure is finally off. Why stress about fitting in when it is inherently impossible?

Now there is slight bounce to my step and a smile on my face because I fully embrace my individuality. My hair, skin, and eyes may never change, but what I can change is how I think of myself. By accepting that I do not fit in, I am determined to stand out.

Today when people stare at me on the street, I stare right back. Why? Because, like them, I belong.


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