At a loss for words in China

Expat partner Marja Reunis-de Rechter lives in a Chinese city where there are no other expat families, and where hardly anyone speaks English. But she’s still managed to do some networking.

First ‘kids-free assignment’

“We live in Yichang city in Hubei province and my husband Ronald’s factory is in Songzi, which is about 90 minutes away. Although there’s over four million people living here there is no expat community, unlike you would find in Wuhan. So you won’t find an international women’s club or expat social groups in Yichang,” says Marja, who lived in Poland, Indonesia and Italy from 1996 to 2006 with her four kids. “On previous assignments, I would always have met people through schools. This time it’s just me and Ronald – and Todo, our Cairn Terrier!”

An unusual sight

“We’re definitely an unusual sight when we’re walking around, especially Ronald, who is 193cm tall. Locals often want to pose for a photo with him!” says Marja, who takes daily strolls along the Yangtze River with Todo, and loves to see how Chinese socialise outdoors. “You’ll see people playing Chinese chess, or taking part in a dance class. During the Lunar New Year, kite flying was the main activity. The nature beyond the Three Gorges Dam is also very beautiful.”

Translating as she goes

A physiotherapist by profession, Marja also wanted to stay nimble and find her own way to interact with the local community, in spite of a significant language barrier. “I tried to learn Chinese but I just can’t hear the tones! Nonetheless, I joined a yoga class and when I am in Yichang I go every day. The teacher only speaks Mandarin so I use a translator device called iFlytek. So if I need to say something, it speaks for me! The class added me to their group on WeChat, which has a translation function, so I can find out if there has been a cancellation.”

Feeling at home

“Coming to practise yoga has given me a daily rhythm. I really feel at home when I am in the class. Even if I can’t communicate with the other students, who are all very shy, everyone is very nice. They always seem very pleased to see me when I return from Belgium,” says Marja, who describes the Chinese style of yoga as ‘strenuous’. “I am nowhere near as flexible as the other ladies. It’s not unusual for people to laugh when they hear me groaning at the back of the room!”

This article was originally published for the thousands of expat partners that Global Connection supports around the globe. It is reproduced here in its original form.

Stay up to date

Sign up for our newsletter and always stay up-to-date on the latest articles.

Sign up for the newsletter