“Leaving the Middle Kingdom for the New World – My move from China to the U.S.”

It wasn’t until I received my long-awaited green card that I started to feel settled in my new home country, the United States of America.  It’s difficult to describe in words how emotional this past year has been for me. I am very grateful that I am able to live and work in one of the most beautiful places that I have ever been, Santa Barbara, CA. 

Jean GongThis adventure began mid-June last year when my husband received both good and bad news. Good News - My husband received a new job offer to move back to the US after being in China for ten years. Bad News - Literally the next day, we were informed that his mother had cancer. Her surgery was scheduled for a date three weeks in the future. What are we going to do? The answer was very obvious – move to the US to be with family. Within one week, my husband had resigned from his job in Shanghai, signed the new job offer, and booked his one-way flight to the US to be there for his mother’s surgery. WE ARE MOVING and he is moving in two weeks. 

It all happened so fast. My brain was filled with many questions. Is this really happening? Am I moving out of China where I have lived for over 30 years? How am I going to tell my family? How will my parents react when they hear the news? What about my job and how am I going to tell my boss? What about our cat Wee-Bey? Where am I going to live after my husband leaves and the lease to our apartment is up? How do we tell our friends? As these personal questions filled my head with concern, the logistical questions soon took over. How long does the immigration process take? What documents do we need to prepare before my husband leaves? How long will we need to live apart? When and how do we ship our household goods? What should I toss and what should I keep? As you can imagine, I had a lot of sleepless nights. I have seen and talked to many stressed and overwhelmed trailing spouses while working for Arpin Shanghai; however, I never thought that I would be one of them.

We never imagined that this process would take almost one year to complete. After being married for over four years, it was more complex and painful then we were prepared for. Due to the timing of my mother-in-law’s surgery, we had to file my immigration petition from the US instead of from China. This added several months to the process (ten months versus five). With such short notice, finding a reliable and knowledgeable immigration lawyer was near to impossible. This is where I learned of the importance of our industry and its resources.

When it came time for the household goods shipment, my company, Arpin International Group, was able to seamlessly take care of our shipment to the US on extremely short notice. This was one important and stressful part of moving that I was not worried about!

Two months later, I relocated our cat to the US. I received some great advice from our pet relocation partner and the process was more straightforward than I anticipated. With Wee-Bey settled in sunny California, I promptly moved out of our apartment in Shanghai and started to live the nomadic life for eight months. This period was just as challenging and frustrating as the relocation itself, but until my paperwork was complete, this was my life.

Sadly, I had to resign from my job in Shanghai, but I was extremely fortunate and surprised to be offered a position with Arpin in the US. I am so grateful that Bridget Ritchie and Arpin management took a chance on me. They were amazingly supportive during this process and helped me make a smooth transition. As a trailing spouse, I had already gone through two domestic moves, both times leaving my job and finding a new one. I know firsthand how difficult it is to find employment in new locations. With this US move, I felt that I won the lottery to be able to continue to work for such a great company and continue my career in the moving industry!

After handing over my work to my replacement, I left Shanghai and went back to my hometown to spend time with my parents and apply for my Chinese driver’s license. It is a small village in rural China, which is seven miles away from the closest town where you can buy basic supplies.  My parents have lived there their entire lives as farmers. I don’t think I have stayed at home more than a week since I left for college several years ago. After living in a big city like Shanghai for so long, I had a very tough time the first two weeks adjusting to life where I had grown up. In my hometown, people still burn wood to cook food and keep warm; there is no central heating or air conditioning. We do not have hot running water or a proper bathroom. It was the first time in many years that I wasn’t able to shower for a week. We grow our own food, we wash our clothes in the river, and play Ma Jiang for fun. We also do not have reliable Internet. Out of all of the things listed above, this was the most challenging necessity to be without. Every several days I had to escape and stay at a hotel in a nearby city to refresh, check emails, and connect with friends. Although it was a rough couple of weeks, I wouldn’t change that experience for anything. My parents and the people in my village are simple, pure, happy, and amazing to be around.  Spending an extended period of time back home made me realize how much my life has changed over the years. My parents did such an amazing job raising us and teaching my brother and me to keep an open mind and be curious to the mysteries of the world. While there were tears in my parent’s eyes when I told them about my move, I know they were proud and happy that I would be living a life they could have never imagined.

While waiting for the next phase of the immigration process, I decided to do some travelling. I went to South East Asia and Europe for almost two months. I love travelling, it is my favorite hobby. I made many friends along the way, learned many new things, and was able to experience new and differing cultures. The experience opened my eyes and made me think differently, it was truly inspiring. One highlight of my trip was when I had the opportunity to visit Arpin’s Singapore and London offices and meet the teams working there.

Finally, I received my immigration visa and flew to the US! I was so happy to have finally finished this crazy process and begin the next phase of my journey. Unfortunately, my husband had to travel for work for more than a week the day after I arrived. “Here are the keys, welcome home honey, and be careful!” I felt that I was getting thrown into the deep end; however, it could have been worse—I do live in Santa Barbara.

While settling in, I found that simple things like opening a bank account, getting a cell phone plan, and even getting an oil change, were very complicated. Things that seemed easy and familiar in my home country were now very foreign to me. I couldn’t even set up a bank account without a Social Security Number— that I didn’t receive until five weeks after my arrival. It has taken me quite a while to get used to the nuances of the US system.  

Driving in California is definitely one of the largest challenges that I face living in the US. I have a Chinese Driver’s License, but similar to learning English in China, your instructors only teach you how to pass the test, not actually learn to drive. Wanting to improve my driving skills, I hired a driving instructor. While the driving classes were very helpful. I have had stressful moments with cars honking at me, people yelling at me, and even a speeding ticket (oops!!). However, now that I’ve gotten the hang of it, I love driving! Thankfully so, as this is the primary mode of transportation in California. 

I still have a long way to go and a lot to learn. Things are not always easy and I have learned so many things the hard way. Every day is still an adventure, but I absolutely appreciate and am enjoying the experience! One of my leaders said, “Compared to where you have come from, living and working in Santa Barbara is a luxury.” This statement could not have been truer. Although I have had my down moments, frustrations, and miss family and friends, I have maintained a positive spirit that keeps me going and allows me to overcome any challenges thrown my way. So when I used to tell assignees and their spouses, “You can do this!” I never understood how powerful that statement was. Now I can say, “I CAN DO THIS!”