The HLG of Settling in in China

by Kerry Nappi

High: Travel

bhutanHaving lived in Asia for nearly seven years before a hiatus of six years in North and South America, our move back to the East meant a return to friends we had grown to love. In that respect, moving to China was a bit like “going home”  to Asia. As soon as we reported our intended move from Brazil, some dear friends of ours who live in Bangkok kindly invited us to join them on their Christmas holidays in Bhutan.

At first, I was too overwhelmed with the move and all the details and complications that came with that to anticipate a trip that huge. With time, I realized that not only had most of the difficult part of planning been done by our friends, but that I really needed something to look forward to as I adjusted to our new home in Nanjing. So all through November and December, I gleefully awaited my son’s arrival from university and our family trip to Bangkok and Bhutan.

Travel, once again, did not disappoint. There’s something about travel that takes you out of your present life to a short new life of newness and possibility. Bhutan has been tucked away in the Himalayas for so long, and travel there only began in 1974. The dzongs and temples and sweeping vistas of mountains and valleys made every day a discovery.  I particularly liked the hotel which had only a wood-burning stove and hot water bottles in bed for heat. The food, particularly the national dish of Ema datshi (large green chillies and cheese made from yak’s milk), was delicious and spicy, and the hot stone baths a welcome salve after hours-long hikes on the mountains.

bhutan2Not only was the travel itself my high, but the week spent with these friends ~ they even welcomed us to their family Christmas celebration in their Bangkok home after our days in Bhutan. Our family memories are now intertwined with theirs.

Low: A good wallow

As much as I recognize that all moves have their difficulties and most of the time, those low points pass by to become distant memories, when you are in the moment, they are acute and painful. Such an example was my low for the month: It was an ordinary day in late November, and my family was off doing exactly what it was they came to Nanjing to do: study and go to work. My friends were in faraway countries living their daily lives (which of course I painted right then as idyllic), and only I had nothing to do and no one with whom to do it.

I let myself wallow for a while that day; I literally stood in the kitchen and sobbed, wondering why it was I had agreed to come on another expatriate posting and what I would do to fill the hours of the next three years. Then I reached out to my wide-flung supporters by whatever means possible and had some good chats which eventually lifted my spirits. Don’t feel sorry for me; my pains are nowhere near those of real suffering, but sometimes you have to just feel sorry for yourself before you move on.

Glitter: New job on the way to mahjong!

In an effort to meet people, I had jumped at a casual invitation to join a Friday mahjong group, and I have really enjoyed learning the game. One Friday, I decided to go a little early to the school cafe where we play, thinking I could as easily have my coffee there and maybe see any one of the dozen people I have met this month. As it happened, a new acquaintance was there, and we started chatting about the programs the school offers for parents, one of which is ESL.

She told me the Beginner and Intermediate classes were going to be without a teacher soon, and that wasn’t I a teacher and would I be interested? Would I ever! I had been planning to look for English work, probably private, after the New Year, but here was an opportunity dropped in my lap that completely aligned with my last work experience ~ teaching English to adults in a small group setting. Before I left that day, I had tracked down the coordinator and worked out the details of my new job, all to start in January, for only three hours a week. This was the structure and opening I had hoped for, and it all came about just because I forced myself to leave my house and talk to people!


Kerry Nappi was born, raised, and attended Smith College in Massachusetts. In fact, she had rarely left Massachusetts by the age of 22 when she decided she could both expand her horizons and help others by joining the Peace Corps. Thus, she landed in Tunisia for an amazing two year stint that, still, might have proven to be the end of her travel. At 24, she was back in Massachusetts, teaching at a laboratory school at Smith College, and starting to forget her Tunisian Arabic skills already. When she married a New Yorker at 28, it seemed New York would be her only culture shock. Her new husband, Steve, had spent 6 years in a Navy nuclear sub and wanted nothing more than to settle down on Long Island, where he had been raised.

As often happens when you make plans, though, life changes them without much notice.

Between forced job changes and new desires to see other parts of the world, Kerry and Steve moved across the country to Arizona with their 2-year-old for grad school, spent a semester in Tokyo while pregnant with their second child, and then started a new life in Michigan. Since 2000, their family of four has lived in Michigan, Hiroshima, Bangkok, back in Michigan, and are now beginning their newest assignment with Ford Motor in Bahia, Brazil. The kids, now 14 and 18, are considered Third Culture Kids, and Kerry is a Trailing Spouse. For the most part, it doesn’t seem like “trailing” as she is the one who has to forge forward in each new host country, learning the language and making new connections, from friends to doctors to schools, while Steve goes to work and the kids to school.

The life of an expatriate cannot be summed up in a few paragraphs. Volumes have been written about the experience. Perhaps a blog that allows her to focus on a High, a Low, and a Glitter each month is one way to steady that rollercoaster ride that is her current life.

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