Welcome to the Solo Female Traveler Series! If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to travel and become an expat in Shanghai, China, you’re in luck today! This series features solo female travel experiences drawn from across the globe, featuring long and short-term travels and moves abroad.
Taking on the globe as a solo female can be a daunting idea to take action on and I hope that with a diverse group of stories, we can inspire women from all around to take on their global goals no matter what they are.
For our first-ever feature, I ‘d like to introduce…
Bianca, a New Yorker and Expat in Shanghai, China!
1. Welcome! To get started, what’s your name, where are you from, and how old are you?
My name is Bianca, I’m from Queens, New York, and I’m 24 years old.
2. Can you tell us where you live now, how long you’ve lived there, and what you do to sustain your life abroad?
Currently, I live in Shanghai, China and have been here since August 2018. I work as an English teacher to pay the bills and let me keep traveling!
3. What inspired you to become an expat in Shanghai?
In my last year of university, I took a class called the Global Management Experience (shoutout to professor Stoller!) which was focused on how to conduct business deals using proper etiquette in different cultures.
My semester focused on business practices in China and at the culmination of the course, we took a trip to Shanghai and Hong Kong to visit 10 different companies and learn about their strategies & operations. I immediately fell in love with Shanghai and got a tattoo of the skyline after having only been there for 3 days – I knew I had to come back one day.
4. What are the biggest lessons you learned about yourself moving abroad?
Moving to a foreign country has taught me that I am way more resilient than I could have imagined.
There are a lot of challenges that come with moving abroad – visa issues, language barriers, cultural differences – but for every roadblock I’ve crashed headfirst into, I found that after picking myself up and dusting myself off, there are twice as many opportunities and new experiences that make persevering worth it.
5. What about the biggest lessons you learned about the world in the culture you live in now?
Living in China, I’ve learned that what you learn back home about different countries can veer from the somewhat true to wildly inaccurate, and it really takes at least a visit to a new place to even partially understand it. Even though I have been here for nearly 2 years, I am always learning something new about China and Chinese culture.
When speaking with friends and family back home there are often misconceptions of what my life is like here and I guess I’m just lucky to have been able to experience it for myself.
6. Can you tell us about the greatest challenge you endured moving abroad to become an expat in Shanghai?
For me, the greatest challenge actually came before moving abroad. I was working in media planning, comfortable being back at home, and had a relatively stable life with a solid career path ahead of me.
The decision to move to Shanghai ate at me for months as I couldn’t decide if I should uproot my life and move across the globe. I went back and forth with friends weighing the pros and cons, but the biggest concern when I finally made a decision was how would I tell my mom?
I think being so young, making a decision that big, and trusting that it was the right thing to do for myself was tough but I’m happy I went through with it in the end.
7. What are some memories you’ve made you’ll always cherish?
Honestly, every trip that I have gone on has left me with memories that I’ll cherish forever. I’ve used my time here as an opportunity to explore Asia and have gone on many solo trips where I tend to come across new people who help turn a trip into an adventure.
There has been a wedding crashing, motorbike excursions, a reality show that never aired, dune buggy rides, and so much more. I look forward to having more adventures and making new memories as soon as I can.
8. If you had to give a piece of advice to women wanting to travel (or move abroad) but aren’t certain, what would you say?
If you aren’t certain about moving abroad, my advice is to take some time for yourself to really think about why you want to move and what you hope to get out of the experience. When it comes to actually jumping the gun, trust yourself!
For women wanting to travel and not necessarily move abroad, I say GO FOR IT!!! There’s always a new experience to be had while traveling and even if things don’t go exactly as planned, at least you’ll have a new story to tell.
9. Have you experienced racism or discrimination while traveling abroad and living as an expat in Shanghai?
I honestly have been pretty lucky in terms of the places I’ve traveled to so far not discriminating against me because I’m black (though I know it definitely happens and has happened to friends).
BUT that being said I definitely get head turns and cameras in my face pretty much everywhere I go in Asia. Not in a mean-spirited way, more so an “I’ve never seen a black person before” kind of way.
It’s super weird walking around as a tourist and having people try to sneak pictures of you like you’re a celebrity. I’ve gotten oddly good at noticing people trying to sneak pictures from really far away and angling myself so that they can’t get my face in the shot!
10. Moving abroad alone can be intimidating. What did you do to combat loneliness and what are your best tips to make friends?
I was lucky in that the company I started with here was large and I had a very big group of around 50 people onboarding with me. Most of us didn’t know anyone here so we were really each other’s first friends in Shanghai and from there we made other friends.
I’d say a really easy way to make friends in a new city is to befriend your coworkers and invite them to hang out. Expat communities tend to be fairly small and you usually wind up meeting other people through your coworkers anyway.
If you’re one of those people who like to keep work life separate from private life (I get it!), I would recommend scoping out events and activities in your community. I unintentionally met one good friend here at a networking event and another at a Women’s day mixer.
11. Did you ever face issues with the language barrier? If so, how did you handle it and how would you encourage others if in a similar situation? P.S. How is your Mandarin?
All the time! Moving here, I didn’t speak a lick of Mandarin and realized pretty quickly that I would need to have some basic phrases down to help me get by. I had a few apps downloaded beforehand like Pleco and Google translate (with the Chinese keyboard downloaded so I could use offline translation since google doesn’t work here) so I would use those any time I was struggling to communicate something.
In addition to having some translation apps, I’d definitely recommend learning basic phrases that you know you’ll use often because it will make life in your new home just that much easier. For example, when I first moved to Shanghai, I was taking taxis pretty frequently and noticed that they would often take super long routes to run up the meter (pretty sure this is what taxi drivers do everywhere in the world once they spot a tourist as this definitely happens in NYC as well).
To stop getting ripped off, I would put my destination on my phone gps and pay attention to see if the car was following it. Some of the first phrases I learned in Mandarin were “turn right” (Yòu zhuǎn), “turn left” (zuǒ zhuǎn), and “stop the car” (Tíng chē). My taxi rides started getting shorter and costing a lot less!
12. What is a local food you’ll never turn down as an expat in Shanghai?
Xiaolongbao (soup dumplings)! These are a shanghainese staple.
13. Any last words?
If you are able to travel absolutely 10000% do it! Even if it’s not international and you’re just going to a city near you that you haven’t been to before, go for it. A change of scenery never hurt anybody!
A special thanks to Bianca for being our first feature in solo female travel! You can follow her updates from Shanghai here on Instagram.
For more solo female travel inspiration, check out our page dedicated to women who take on the world!