I’m so happy to introduce a new topic to our Raising Little Travellers blog. I am adding the Global Parenting- interview series with other expat parents and I’m so so excited!
I’ve been an expat in Europe, Asia and the Middle East for over 10 years myself and now I am also an expat mom to a 4 year old in Singapore. This experience has taught me that there is so much that we can learn from different cultures and different parenting styles.
Therefore I invite you to read these interview series about raising families abroad through the eyes of expat parents.
My guest in the hot seat for this very first interview is German expat Natascha who moved to China with her husband and their daughter Anastasia in November 2019.
Soon after relocating to Beijing her family found themselves in the heart of the Covid-19 pandemic and share their experiences in Beijing as young expat parents.
Q: So Natascha, can you tell us about yourself and how you and your family made the decision to move to Beijing?
Natascha: So my name is Natascha, I am 29 years old and come from Germany. I met my husband seven years ago, our daughter Anastasia was born two and a half years ago and is our greatest happiness. In Germany I worked as a goldsmith until our daughter was born.
My husband and I have always talked about wanting to go abroad for a certain time just to get to know another life and another culture. During his studies, my husband was in Qingdao for a semester and has been infected with China since … in spring 2019, thoughts and dreams became a real possibility. My husband’s company gave him the opportunity to go to Beijing for two years and work here.
We didn’t really think about it for long, but instead seized the unique opportunity as a family and nailed it. After our approval everything went very quickly, we broke up our apartment, packed seven suitcases and got on the plane on Halloween 2019 into a world unknown to me.
Q: What were your first impressions on arriving in Beijing? Were there any moments of cultural shock?
Natascha: When we arrived in Beijing, I was completely stunned by all the new impressions.
The size of the city is unbelievable, densely built up, one restaurant after the other.
You never have to cook at home because you have so much to choose from. It would take years to try it out completely.
What was quite overwhelming at the beginning was the traffic. Street signs and traffic lights are more of a guide than a rule. When crossing a street you actually need four eyes, because a vehicle can come from all directions.
What surprised me very much was that Beijing is so green. There are so many trees, parks and green spaces. And it’s absolutely clean.
It is also wonderful that the people here are very child-friendly, there is no place where my daughter is not welcomed with a big smile. Sometimes people are very touchy, but my daughter handled it very well.
Q: You moved to China shortly before the Covid-19 pandemic, can you also tell what was your expat life like during lockdown? Beijing implemented restrictions, how did it affect your family?
Natascha: When COVID broke out, we had just been in China for two and a half months, had just settled in and were actually planning our trips for the year to get to know our new home. We didn’t really know how to classify it.
At first it was quite difficult as a foreigner to get information from a source that reported neutral. Fortunately, the news platform ‘the Beijinger’ via Wechat app reported quickly and on a daily basis about the current status of the pandemic, so that as a foreigner you were well informed. While our loved ones at home were worried and actually wanted us to come home, we felt really safe in China at all times. At no time did we have any problems getting groceries or toiletries.
Wearing masks was already normal for us, also for our daughter.
In Beijing and China in general, especially in the winter months, the air values are sometimes not that good, so that you put on a mask outside the apartment to protect yourself.
When my husband’s work ordered home office, it was quite exciting for our daughter that Dad was not out of the house during the day, but in the room next door. Our day turned out to be more relaxed, with breakfast together like on the weekend and coffee and cake in between. Fortunately, there is a huge online trade in China, you can order anything you want. Since outdoor activities were not really possible or very limited, I ordered handicrafts and toys for myself and my daughter to introduce alternatives in everyday life.
Since going to restaurants was initially no longer possible, I was able to improve my cooking and baking skills significantly, which my husband is now very happy about.
Of course it is a shame that the pandemic took a lot of time, in which one could not travel or where one had to forego certain luxuries such as eating out, but we as a family made the best of it and grew together stronger than never before.
Q: What is Beijing like for young children? Maybe you’ve found some challenges as a parent in Beijing?
Natascha: Anastasia was 1.5 years old when we arrived in Beijing. For me it was exactly the transition from baby to toddler with her. While I had some concerns about, for example, hygiene products for babies or toddlers, this concern turned out to be unfounded. You can get diapers, wet wipes, creams and so on for the little ones without any problems.
I read an article in Germany about the fact that Chinese children are trained very quickly to get dry, including wearing pants with their entire bottom exposed. I’ve actually seen something like this three or four times here in the summer and it really seems to be normal. especially for the older generation, who often take care of their grandchildren while their parents work.
A completely different experience that I had to gain: Beijing is not stroller friendly!
The sidewalks (if there is one) are sometimes in dire straits or way too narrow. Some roads lead nowhere, others have so many bicycles and scooters parked that even pedestrians can hardly pass them.
That’s one of the biggest problems for me as a parent here.
Our daughter is unfortunately quite lazy for walking and if she wants to run, then she is pretty wild and you really have to be very careful because, as previously written, bicycles or scooters could come from all sides which is very dangerous.
That has already cost me a lot of nerve until now.
Another thing is, while you have the option of one or more indoor playgrounds (for a fee) in almost every major mall, there are unfortunately not really public playgrounds in parks for children in Beijing like in Germany.
But the indoor playgrounds are a huge hit with Anastasia. They are colourful, loud, with everything that makes a child’s heart beat faster. Ball pools, slides, carousels, trampolines, opportunities for role play and much more. Since our daughter will not go to kindergarten until she is three, these playgrounds are the best way to come into contact with other children and to play.
Unfortunately, they were closed during the lockdown in Beijing and it was hard for our little one, because only mom and dad as play partners are really boring in the long run.
The lockdown started when we were here for almost three months and just settled in. So it was very difficult to come into contact with other parents at all, which was very difficult for me because I felt quite alone.
The exchange with others was simply missing and the family and friends at home are not always accessible due to the 7 hour time difference.
We wanted to enrol Anastasia in a gymnastics course, in which I would have met other mothers to socialise. But that was no longer possible because everything was closed.
In a foreign country, with a foreign language, it would have been nice to find like-minded people.
In some Wechat groups, however, I was able to meet other mothers, which is really great!
Q: Despite the ups and downs would you recommend Beijing to other parents as a great place to live with young children?
Natascha: I would definitely recommend Beijing. It’s the perfect mix of China and the rest of the world. History and modernity go hand in hand here and as a young family you can have a really great time here! It’s a huge adventure and you discover something new every day. It doesn’t get boring even after being in one place a dozen times:)
Thank you Natascha, for taking the time to be part of these Global parenting series!
If you’d like to know more about expat life and parenting in China follow Natascha on Instagram @tusch_22591