How to Apply for a Chinese Work Visa (Z Visa, 2018)

PLEASE NOTE: If you are working in Fuzhou, you need to follow the instructions for the notarization process very carefully. I wrote a guide that you can use here. 

Apostille  

Phew! You made it. Now on to the third step.  

You need to contact an agency that can help you with the further steps in this process. An option for those in the Colorado area is the Teaching Nomads group, who are excellent for legalization services.  

Quiz time! What’s an apostille?  

That’s right, it’s like a mega-notarization stamp! An apostille is a diplomatic stamp that is used to show authenticity for documents required for immigration (It’s used for international adoptions, marriage visas, and other forms of immigration).  

Let’s go over the steps to obtain one:  

  1. Contact your HR Representative and confirm once more that all your notarizations are correct.  
  2. When you have approval, contact the agency of your choice and explain the situation. You will be applying for a Z Visa (work visa) and need to obtain the work permit.  
  3. They will guide you through the next steps. Follow their instructions exactly.  
  4. You will COURIER (FEDEX, DHL, UPS) your documents to their office.  
    1. NEVER, EVER, EVER USE THE US POST OFFICE TO SEND OFFICIAL DOCUMENTS UNLESS YOU REALLY LOVE CHASING DOWN POSTMEN AND HANGING OUT IN POST OFFICES FOR DAYS ON END. (Seriously. Five days is the current record for lost documents, and only five heart attacks for the teacher involved!)  
  5. They will take them to the state’s  Secretary of State for the application of the seal.  

After this, the agent should take the documents to the Chinese Embassy, or the Chinese Consulate with jurisdiction over your home state.  

 

PLEASE NOTE: If you went to university in a different state, or in a different country…this step MUST be done in that place and not in your home state. Apostilles can, by international law, ONLY be applied to documents over which the Secretary of State has jurisdiction.  

 

Example of Apostille  

 

 

 

Step #4 – Legalization By Chinese Officials  

Once your documents have the apostille affixed to them, the agency (or a new one that handles this part of the transaction) will take the documents to the Chinese Embassy or the Consulate.. There, the officials will apply a special legalization unique to the Chinese visa process.  

You need to make sure to send the documents to an agent, or go in person, to the Chinese Embassy or Consulate with jurisdiction over your state of residence. 

You should contact the Embassy or Consulate. All list an email on their websites, which is the best way to contact the officials.  

Generally, they do not take phone calls about visas and documents. Officials will most likely respond within 24 hours unless there is a US or Chinese national holiday. 

The legalization process is the fourth step, and the last one before you actually apply for the Work Permit and Z Visa. Here are the steps.  

  1. The agency takes the documents with full notarization and apostille to the Chinese officials at the Embassy or Consulate.  
  2. The officials place a stamp on the papers.  
  3. The agency COURIERS (FEDEX, DHL, UPS) the documents to you.  
  4. You scan and email the documents to Fuzhou.
  5. You COURIER (FEDEX, DHL, UPS) the documents to your company in Fuzhou. Confirm the address with your HR representative before sending.  

 

Work Permit  

At this point, the documents will be taken by an admin at your company to the local government in Fuzhou and you will be underway for the work permit. If all the previous steps were followed, you should receive the work permit via email within 10-14 days (unless there is a major Chinese or US holiday in between). Keep in close contact with the HR representative and make sure that you get back to them quickly with any questions you may have.  

At this point, it is not uncommon to have your documents’ wording rejected. Unfortunately, it is sometimes a matter of redoing the notarization process several times to get the wording correct. Stay calm. You’ll get through this.  

Work Permit Examples  

When your work permit arrives, you can fly/drive/walk to the Embassy or Consulate and apply for your visa in person. This is required by Chinese law, and you cannot have an agent do the application for you.  

To apply at the Consulate or Embassy: 

  1. Print both work permit letters.  
  2. Fill out the Visa Application form given to you by the HR representative. Follow the instructions EXACTLY. Use capital letters and black pen.  
  3. Get visa photos taken, using the EXACT specifications given to you by the HR representative. You may also be able to do this inside the Embassy/Consulate.  
  4. Bring  
    1. your passport 
    2. checkbook or checks from your bank 
    3. the documents 
    4. a black or dark coloured shirt 
    5. a lot of patience 
    6. any additional documents that are required for your visa application.  
  5. On the day you apply, arrive VERY EARLY. You will need to take a number and wait in line.  

When called forward, remain calm no matter what. I saw people freak out and swear at the officials in Chicago. This is unlikely to make them want to help you. 

Hand over your documents and passport. Take the fingerprints required.  KEEP YOUR RECEIPT FROM THE CHINESE OFFICIAL.

In 2-3 days, your passport will be ready to return to you with a Z visa inside. This is your ticket to China! 

In the case that you cannot wait around for three days in the city that you applied in, make arrangements with a local agent to do a passport pickup for you. They will retrieve the passport for a fee, and courier it back to you. This costs $15-$60. You will need to give them your receipt from the consulate/embassy.  

What’s Next?  

When you’ve jumped through all these hoops, you can come through the border into China. Bring extra copies of everything that you submitted to the Embassy/Consulate and emails from your employer confirming that you will be working for them, just in case.  

After arrival, you’ll need to complete a few further steps to obtain residency to legally remain in China. These steps may include:  

  • A full medical check with bloodwork and chest X-ray  
  • Registration at your local government office for your apartment  
  • Go to the Public Service Bureau and hand over your passport once more for the official work visa and permit to remain

If you have any questions about this process, please feel free to contact me using the contact form!

How to Get Notarized Documents for Fuzhou, China (Working as an English Teacher)

If you’ve been hired by a company in Fuzhou, China you need to read this article carefully! 

Welcome! You’ve entered the fray just at the time that the requirements for documents became somewhat more stringent. Lucky you.  

Don’t worry, there are several teachers who have been through this process already and we’ve put our heads together to help you out. This guide will:  

  • Help you juggle terminology like “legalization” and “true original”  
  • Prevent you from freaking out when something goes wrong 
  • Provide useful strategies for negotiating with your local authorities in the US  
  • Act as a checklist for what you may need for your visa for China  

PLEASE NOTE: THIS IS NOT LEGAL ADVICE. Documentation requirements are completely up to the Chinese government and the local authorities in Fuzhou. Their rules may change at any time, without warning. If you have any questions about this process, please consult your HR contact for more information.  

In addition, your personal circumstances may be different to other US teachers who’ve gone before you. Pay close attention to the rules and adapt as you go.  

Before You Start

Just a tiny bit of preaching. This is a complex process with a lot of stressful and expensive steps. Keep in mind these important points:

  • Nobody is specifically out to get you. Bureaucracy just crushes everyone beneath its wheels.
  • Immigrants are required to do all this (and MORE) to come to the USA for a visa. Keep this in mind when politicians spout bullshit about “open borders” and how “easy” it is to get into another country for work.
  • You need to have extra money set aside. This whole process can cost upwards of $1000, especially when you consider that you will have to go in person to the Embassy or a Consulate when you actually apply for the visa.
  • Use good Bureaucratic ninja skills! I wrote about this here. 

Terms that you need to know  

Notarization: the process of going to a State-appointed person who can place a stamp onto a document for you  

Legalization: the full process for each required document, which includes at least four steps  

  1. Obtain the documents needed  
  1. Have a local notary certify the document is true and original 
  1. Obtain a state-level apostille stamp from the secretary of state from your home state   
  1. Send the documents to the Chinese Consulate with jurisdiction over your hometown  

Apostille: official documentation stamp that is used for international immigration  

Consulate: official document and services center in a country that is subject to the government of the embassy of another country  

Embassy: official center for diplomatic relations and services within another country, which is technically a part of the nation that has jurisdiction over it  

First Steps  

There are several ways to obtain a work permit and residency card for Fuzhou. You will most likely follow one of the following two paths, although your circumstances may change what documents you will need and how to process them.  

Inexperienced Teachers  

  • A four-year degree from a University  
  • A clean criminal background check from your local state (NOT FBI Background Check. We’ll explain why in a moment.)  
  • A 120-Hour TEFL at minimum (or the equivalent certificate), preferably from a US-based company for authentication purposes  

Experienced Teachers  

  • A four-year degree from a University  
  • A clean criminal background check from your local state (NOT FBI Background Check. We’ll explain why in a moment.)  
  • One or more letters of recommendation from previous employers (THESE DO NOT NEED TO BE LEGALIZED, but you do need to send them to the HR department in Fuzhou to obtain your work permit)  

Obtain these documents, and follow the specific steps below for the background checks.  

State Background Check  

Every state has an equivalent of the FBI that does investigations within the state. You may want to call them before asking for your background check to ensure that they are able to help you with all the following steps. (Please note that some states refer to this as an arrest record, or by other terms).  

Degree Notarization  

I sincerely hope that you went to school in-state. If not, I apologize to inform you that you may have to drive/fly to your university to obtain the necessary signatures in this case.  

TEFL Certificate  

This is why it’s important to obtain your TEFL in your home country. This document will need to be put through the same treatment as the others. If it is from another country, it may be very difficult indeed to get the legalization done.  

The Problem(?)

The local government of Fuzhou is very strict about the requirements for these documents. You must be very careful with the wording of the documents in order to get through and make it to the plane and to your new life in China.  

The government will reject any document that has the wrong wording on it.  

The government will reject your documents if they are not signed for properly.  

You may have to pay up front for multiple rounds of legalization in the case that things go wrong (Companies should compensate you for the cost of the documents).  

They only recently made these changes, and the wording is most likely based on a misunderstanding about how notarization works in the United States. The wording that is required is most likely based on the wording for UK, Canadian, or other English speaking countries’ practices. In these countries, the role of a notary public is much more like a lawyer in the USA. They cannot affix their seal to a document without first authenticating its veracity.  

However, in the US, the notary public CANNOT typically verify that a document is authentic. They simply witness a signature, or administer a legally-binding oath, and then affix their stamp. Typically, US notary public procedures are done on “True Copies” which certify that the original was present and that the notary saw the person who signed it give their oath.  

Unfortunately, this is not adequate for the local government’s requirements. Even if you’ve done a visa for China before, or even a visa for Fuzhou before, the requirements are likely to be different from the previous times.  

In Fuzhou, the documents must have the following wording:  

I have verified that the original document is genuine and I have no reason to doubt that the facts set out therein are true and correct.  

For Fuzhou, the documents MUST NOT have the following wording:  

‘Swearing’ wording can’t appear on the notarization documents  

This is where we get to the possible problem. Your notary public may tell you that they cannot put the correct wording on the documents.

Rejected Examples  

wording1wording2

Approved Examples 

wording3wording4

It may feel like a catch-22, but we’ll get you through it. Follow the steps below for examples of how the wording must be done, and how to finesse your way to success in this epic documentation journey. Let’s start with the criminal record check. 

Criminal History Check (Background Check) Notarization  

You need to obtain a record of your arrests in your state of residence. Please do NOT obtain a national FBI Background Check. If you do, it may be impossible to get the wording required for the notarization. The FBI is notoriously difficult to contact and they are not very flexible about their documentation.  

Here are the steps to obtain a state or local criminal history record:  

  1. Contact the local Bureau of Investigations Identifications Unit. Calling by phone is best.  
  2. Explain that you have a unique situation and need to confirm that they will notarize the ORIGINAL background check BEFORE they return it to you.  
  3. Explain that the Fuzhou government requires specific wording to appear in place of the typical notary public signature witnessing statement.  
  4. Offer to send via email the EXACT wording sent to you from your HR Department.  
  5. Confirm what you must do to obtain the check (fill out application forms, possibly obtain fingerprints from a police station).  
  6. Follow their instructions precisely. Submit all payment and paperwork.  
  7. Wait about one week.  
  8. When your background check arrives, CHECK it very carefully. Scan the document and send it to your HR Department.  

You should be prepared to obtain a new background check and pay once more if your first one does not have the correct wording. In some cases, teachers have been the very first in their home state to request Fuzhou’s required wording.

Be polite, but firm about the wording. Without it, you won’t be able to stay in Fuzhou.  

University Degree Notarization  

  1. Contact Office of the Registrar at your alma mater. Calling by phone is best.  
  2. Explain that you have a unique situation and need to confirm that they will notarize the ORIGINAL DEGREE (either on the front or the back).  
  3. Explain that the Fuzhou government requires specific wording to appear in place of the typical notary public signature witnessing statement. Some universities may not have processed this type of notarization before. You can mention that the United Arab Emirates and South Korea require this type of notarization for teachers in addition to the local Fuzhou government.  
  4. Offer to send via email the EXACT wording sent to you from the HR Department.  
  5. Follow their instructions precisely. Submit all payment and paperwork.  
  6. Most likely, you will have to appear IN PERSON to obtain this notarization.  
  7. Before the notary and registrar official apply their signatures, CHECK the wording one more time against the exact wording sent to you from your company.  
  8. Once you have the notarization on your genuine, original degree you need to scan the degree and send the file to your HR representative.  

Keep in mind once more that you may be the very first person in the history of your university to request this form of notarization! Trailblazing is often fun, but can easily get a little bogged down in the weeds. Stay polite, but be firm about the wording.  

TEFL Certificate Notarization 

  1. Contact the TEFL Certificate issuing authority. Calling by phone is best.  
  1. Explain that you have a unique situation and need to confirm that they will notarize the ORIGINAL CERTIFICATE (either on the front or the back).  
  1. Explain that the Fuzhou government requires specific wording to appear in place of the typical notary public signature witnessing statement.  
  1. Offer to send via email the EXACT wording sent to you from the HR Department.  
  1. Follow their instructions precisely. Submit all payment and paperwork.  
  1. Once you have the notarization on your genuine, original TEFL Certificate you need to scan the document and send the file to the HR representative.  

NOTE: Many TEFL Certificate companies are not based in the United States. If you need to go through the legalization process with a TEFL Certificate from a different country, please note that this ENTIRE process must be completed in that nation. This includes the official stamp from the Chinese Embassy/Consulate. This is likely to be very expensive and a real pain in the mass. Talk closely with the HR Representative from your company about this situation.  

Troubleshooting  

It’s possible that a notary public will tell you that this wording is not possible. There are a few things that you can do to try to work around this problem.  

  • Ask if the word “sworn” can simply be omitted. Check with the HR Department first, but in some cases a “signature witnessing” statement may be a workaround.  
    • In this case, the person who made/issued the document signs a statement about its true and genuine nature in front of the notary public, and the notary witnesses that the signature was done by the person who signed the statement on the date they did so.  
    • Make sure that the person whose signature is witnessed does NOT include any “sworn” language! 
  • Ask if the wording could be changed to “I certify that this is the original” on the notary public statement. “I affirm that this is the true original” may also work. Think of synonyms for the word “swear.”  
  • Appear in person at the office whenever possible. Negotiation in person is often more effective than over email or on the phone.  
  • Everyone hates to be “that guy,” but you may have to ask to speak to a manager. Go up the chain of command at your local Bureau of Investigations if necessary.  
  • Contact your local State and Congressional representatives’ offices and ask them for assistance. This may take a long time, but in dire need it might be worth a shot.

Me No English

“Me no English,” states the girl with enough grammar to ape Tarzan. She does this in spite of speaking full sentences and writing them in her book. I’ve heard her say fluent and complete ones before. She and the others use this as a joke.

“I’m not asking you to speak English,” I growl. “I’m asking you to repeat. I say, you say.”

That’s one of my teaching mantras. I use it in every single class. At least five times a class. Approximately once every seven minutes. All day long. Every weekday since the 17th of September 2017.

“Me no…”

“Nope. I say, you say. May….”

“Me…”

“No. Say. Say. May…” Pointing to my mouth. Counting on my fingers.

This girl is eleven. She’s been in English classes for 2.5 years. Today’s lesson is about future tense. Or was. It is 16:07 and class ends at 16:10. I took her notebook off her at 15:35. It’s taken 32 minutes to get through the bullshit this class has been putting me through. Incessantly talking. Frustrating meanness. A total lack of respect. It’s not that they can’t do what I’m asking them to. I’ve seen it happen.

“Let’s help her out, guys.”

Half the class had to come up and ask me nicely to return their stuff. I took it because at the start of class, I wrote the list of supplies needed for English class. I’ve been writing it on the board for the whole month of December, after a kid tried to get out of taking the English semester test by claiming he didn’t know he needed a pencil. The list reads:

YOU NEED:
– A pencil
-Your English Book (closed)

I added the ‘your,’ the ‘English,’ and the ‘(closed)’ due to students claiming that the instructions were too ambiguous. Given that my students still repeatedly interrupt classes to say, “What’s your name?” after having me in their school every single day for the whole semester, I believe that they might just forget that I exist when I step out of the room and go to my next lesson. After all, they say that six month old babies think you die when you leave the room. Maybe my fifth graders have arrested development.

“What is it that we have to say, in order to get our things back?”

This student is the fifteenth in line. I’ve repeated the line with every last one of them. I’ve sent people to the back of the line to contemplate their sins for being a jerk and/or picking their nose while they politely asked for their book.

I took the books because I waited for five minutes for my students to comply with the instructions that do not change and have always been the instructions. That’s the limit. I watch the clocks and count the seconds. I punctuate the moments with points for those who are doing as I ask (In this class, there was but one. One, out of 35, who was ready for class after five minutes of waiting.). Once it reaches five minutes, I start to take books.

I put them on the teacher’s desk, and there they stay until I call the students up to ask me politely for their things back. In this class, I’ve created a pile of rulers, notebooks, vietnamese language homework, several open English books, pens, leaking fountain pens, and a book about no-bake desserts.

I pointed out that even the first graders don’t normally have this much of a failure-to-comply-with-basic-instructions mountain. The line to receive the stuff stretched all the way to the back of the room, the final ten minutes of a 35-minute class in which we did exactly zero of the work they are supposed to complete filled with repetitive, immediately-forgotten, false politeness. The last notebook sat in my hands for two minutes, with me repeatedly threatening to eat it (no titters, usually gold material for primary students).

Only when I opened my backpack and put the notebook inside did the eleven-year-old girl race forward, shouting in Vietnamese, “HEY! THAT’S MINE!!!!!!!”

In this class two weeks ago, I rapped my own knuckle on the board so hard trying to emphasise that I was not asking them to generate the words from the ether so much as read the things off the board in a zombified tone. My left ring finger cracked open. I bled. My students laughed at that. It was probably the first time they actually laughed at something I did all month. Haha. Look at that idiot bleed.

“Me n…”

“Let’s all help her, yes? May…….” The class joins in, or rather the few who noticed that I’m asking them to help a girl out.

“May…..” She repeats.

Counting on my fingers to indicate the second word. The two best students in the class chime in with, “I…..”

“I….”

Counting three fingers. Third word.

“Have….”

“Have…”

Fourth finger.

“My….”

“Me….”  I let it slide, this minor mistake. Let this girl’s English persona be from England or something. That’s what I tell myself.

I have to prompt about three times with my face contorted and pulling my own finger for comedic effect, emphasizing how much a want them to just god damnit say the fucking next shit-arsed word in this sentence of only six words total. The class has wandered in the 20 seconds since we began chanting “May I have my…” I wonder what they chat about constantly. Probably, “Remember how her knuckle bled? huhuhuhuihuh, Yeah that was the best….”

“Book…” Relief. Thank you, one kid paying attention. Thank you, 2% of the class.

“Pook…”

Close enough. It’s a notebook but close the fuck enough. 16:09.

“Please.”

“Piss.”

I pass it over, feigning relief.

“That was easy, no? See, you can speak English! You can!”

Under my black blazer, my shirt is soaked through with the perspiration of a six-word question.

With that, the giant drum rings out and the students instantly start running out the door.

Teaching

“Can I tell you something?”

I’m outside one of my toughest classes, having just been told that the kids inside are crying due to being (justly) scolded.

“I’m so proud that you did your speech this morning. Remember how when I got here, you couldn’t read very much at all?”

This is a student from the class with the following description: can’t sit in a seat for more than five minutes, little to no grit or resilience, five-six years old, one of whom could not find the pages in the book when I arrived (but now can!!!) and one who likes to climb on the table and kick the others in the face. Not hard, but still.

Of course, I love them still.

“Yes….” says the student. She understands everything I say to her, having spent a long time living in the USA.

“I am so impressed with you. High five! Seriously, though. I cannot believe how much progress you’ve made.”

The bright, humble smile this particular student possesses gleams into existence on her face. Only I can see it, in this passing moment between insane amounts of stress.

“I want you to know,” she turns that sunshine on me, looking up into my face from her standing level, around my knees, “This is the whole reason why I love being a teacher.”


DO I love being a teacher?

I do. I don’t. I bang my head on the door of the toilet at the school, in the briefest of moments I can both sit down for fifteen seconds out of a 9.5 hour day and perform a necessary bodily function. I plead. I beg. I shout. I cry (not normally out where anyone can see). I am entering my sixth year of being a teacher, and I am in a situation that reminds me daily of the first time I was called “Miss Coleen.”

In my first school, in Patagonia, I had access to the copy machine only when it had paper and ink. And when I could convince the janitor to copy something. And when it was connected to power. And when the time permitted. And when it was in service.

Let’s be honest. I had no copy machine.

I remember writing out worksheets by hand for my students with a red magic marker. I remember crying in front of my class and telling them that I was a volunteer, and than meant I wanted to be there. I remember them telling me that they didn’t believe I wasn’t being paid to teach them.

I remember paying out of pocket for the services of a print shop down the road from my homestay, feeling my stomach fall out and land near my shoes to be kicked along the pavement at the sight of a stiff, dead, orange kitten outside. It was maybe 6 July 2011, and I was about to leave Escuela 5 (Juan de Ladriellos) in Puerto Natales.

My very first day, I had to bend the law and my volunteering contract to cover a class for my colleague. It was Septimo A. It was the hardest class in the school. Seventh graders are, to this day, a challenge to me. But that day I walked in with no prep time, no lesson plan, no Spanish, and no prior training to be a teacher (excluding the prefunctory TEFL Certificate I had received an A for on the Internet).

I didn’t die, perhaps surprisingly!

But it was a tone-setter. The school was tough on veteran teachers. I was a newb with idealistic tendencies, who was an outsider and also always the good girl in classes growing up. I realised that I cannot easily anticipate the ways that students will go off the rails or try to hurt one another, or subvert my lessons, because I simply never dared to be naughty.

There was a three-day period where I almost gave up in Chile. I couldn’t find the strength to eat or get out of bed. I half-feigned illness and laid in bed, unable to sleep or even close my eyes for days, with the National Geographic Channel on 24/7. At the time, it seemed a perfectly logical response. Looking back, I was in serious distress. I made it through, decided to keep going, and went back to the school.

On my last day, I was mobbed by students who nearly knocked me over in the assembly called to confer upon me an honourary certificate. I remember tearing up in front of everyone, and people cheering my name. In some slow-motion from a movie, I remember the kids rushing me and shouting in a newly-minted teacher’s voice for them to be careful. Don’t hurt each other. Be nice. No, stop that. Be good. Be good. Be good.


In some Korean hagwons, we live a teacher’s nightmare.

There is no time to prepare your lessons, so they turn out like shit. You try to make them fun, and the kids respond by becoming so competitive that they are liable to start self-harming if they believe that there was some small slight to them.

Taking a bullshit, made-up, inherently arbitrary “point” away induces paroxysms of rage and ear-splitting bellows.

Many students carry a mobile phone around their necks or on their wrists, able to text mummy if teacher is even one second late to class or tells them off for being rude to another student. That way, parents can swoop in to watch the CCTV in real-time of our classes, without speaking to us or asking why their student was put in the Time Out Chair. Heaven forbid they should actually ask me about their child’s seeming inability to control himself or what swearword precisely he used to be sent outside. When you ask about why the moms are all so overbearing, you get the response that they are “very sensitive.” Every. Last. One.

Students are expected to be instantly fluent, and instantly perfectly behaved, and instantly copacetic. I have kindergarten students taking a goddamned TOEFL test! Yes, the one for college entrance! A four-year-old who was born in 2012 and cannot consistently use the toilet without assistance should definitely memorise a three-minute speech about animal defense mechanisms and predation behaviour. Yes, even the oldest have not yet mastered the mystery that is shoelace-tying, but they should analyse and regurgitate university-level news articles.

A familiar strain from Chile comes through….we’re often out of paper, and there was until today but one computer shared between six teachers. For a week in December, we had no paper to print or copy, and no books. I said, “Fuck it (internally, obviously), let’s make snowflakes and chat for two hours.” I buy and hoard my own supplies. I save scraps of paper to a fault. I find myself writing out worksheets by hand once more.


But that smile. That light.

It’s true, what I told that student today. No matter how insane it all gets, or how little time I have to pee, or how few pencils I have. No matter how much I feel the muscle knot I carry with me in my left shoulder, remnant of those three bedbound days in Patagonia. No matter how much I kick myself for shouting at a preschooler.

That light is like a drug. I am a teaching addict, and I chase the dragon every day. One second of that light, and it all seems worth it.

2016: May All Years Be This Good

It’s been a long and crazy year. Let’s start with some basic statistics.

  • Countries lived in: China, USA, Iceland, and Korea
  • Jobs Held: Senior Teacher, full-time volunteer on a Scout Camp, cleaning lady, Teacher
  • Toilets Scrubbed: More than 300 (conservative estimate)
  • Pairs of Shoes Worn Through by Work/Walking: At least four (RIP leathers with the holes)
  • Uniforms Worn: Two (EF and Ulfjotsvatn)
  • Weeks Spent Back ‘Home’: Seven

The year began in a crappy bar in the Koreatown of Shanghai, out far from the Bund where we lived in Minhang. No one else seemed to mark the passing of midnight, when 2015 became 2016. We made a toast and attempted to order a single round of tequila shots. We were served sweet Vermouth in its place, the bartender either not knowing what tequila is or deliberately serving us laowai something weaker.

This year, we got the tequila! For free! With a community of other waygooks from around the world, with Chinese lanterns and fireworks on Gwangalli Beach outside. It was a great New Year’s Eve.

This post will pull the best photos from our year of nomadery, from each month. I started out saying it would only be one photo per month, but we did a really good job packing in amazing experiences. I simply couldn’t do it.

January

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We started out the year by taking a high-speed train to Nanjing, the site of one of the worst massacres in history during the second World War. It was a sobering experience to be in the place it happened exactly 70 years ago, in the freezing cold grayness of winter.

Nanjing itself is a great city and fun to visit. We also did some hiking on Purple Mountain, which would be a theme for the year.

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Shanghai was the coldest it had been in nearly 30 years early in January, and a lot of pipes froze. We could see our breath in our apartment every day.

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February

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Chinese New Year came on February 8, and we actually got some time off from the English Mines. We used the time to relax in Minhang and to finally visit the theme park right near our apartment. It was a great time, and one of the very (VERY) few clear days in Shanghai.

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Massive Shanghai Everbright Convention Centre

March

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Five words: The Great Wall of China. Norovirus notwithstanding, it was one of the best hikes of the year. Up the backside of the wall, onto the Wild Wall, and down.

April

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Handmade Xiao Long Bao

April gets three pictures and a video, because it’s the month when we were finally free of the bonds in Shanghai and went out to explore China. I took the HSK 2 on the 16th to test my Mandarin (I passed!) and I learned how to make Xiao Long Bao, a traditional Shanghainese food.

After our contracts at EF ended on the 23rd, we moved out of our apartment and went on the road. Terra Cotta Warriors and Huashan Mountain were absolutely the coolest.IMG_1943

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They also leave messages, which are beautiful in contrast to the natural colors.

Here’s a video from the crazy gondolas at the mountain.

May

We started May on a beach in Sanya, China and ended it in Iceland! In the meantime, I spent some times in Colorado and established “Boulder Day” to celebrate the town of my birth. Patchouli required.

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June

We travelled to the Westfjords of Iceland and worked on a Scout Camp as volunteers. It wasn’t always warm, but the midnight sun was absolutely incredible. We spent our days working hard in the kitchen and on camp, but the scenery was incredible.

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We also swam in the Greenland sea.

On June 23, two months to the day after we left our Shanghai jobs, the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. It was a harbringer of things to come in November, and I felt an abiding sense of dread after that day.

July

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Our trusty tent

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Like an alien world

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þórsmörk and the Westman Islands to begin with, and a big fat Scout meetup in the middle. It was so wonderful to be a part of that time at the Úlfljótsvatn | Útilífsmiðstöð skáta Camp, where we danced with an open-air concert and cleaned so many toilets that I lost count.

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Camping in the Westman Islands

It actually started to get dark at night for a little bit around the time of the moot. We played archery and swam in the lake most days, and had a tightknit ‘village’ of volunteers and coworkers around us. I was apparently too busy during the moot to take many photos!

These were days filled with beauty and wonder every single moment. Life-fulfilling and values-affirming days. I felt a renewed commitment to this nomadic life that we continue to choose each day. Validation.

August

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With our staffmates after going through a lava tube

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Whale Watching in Akureyri

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In August, the road that leads to the Icelandic Highlands finally opens up. Ryan and Emma came to visit us in Iceland and we went to the top of the island. We also jumped off a bridge for the second time of three into the lake. jumping

You could feel autumn coming quickly at that time, and our wonderful Icelandic adventure came to a close with a big staff dinner at Ulfjotsvatn. It was like graduation and Christmas at once, and when we walked out after saying, “See you later” to everyone we’d spent the last three months with, it was very dark for the first time in months.

We must go back. 13920483_10153857799300878_7446863482708074595_o14206140_10104278171207503_8732950961375828333_o

September

img_4901img_5059I don’t have many pictures from September, because I was biding time waiting for a Korean visa to come through and mostly doing odd jobs around town. I made a macrame wall hanging with my excess time and did a mini-travel in Colorado on the Peak-to-Peak highway.

On 23 September, exactly five months after we left our jobs in Shanghai, we arrived in Korea to begin living in Busan.

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October

Our daily grind at school is tough tough tough. We have a rough time staying healthy and it’s hard to see the weekends as the light at the end of the workweek tunnel. Wednesdays are particularly dark for me these days.

Luckily, Busan kicks arse! We have so much to do when we are not working. We hike almost every weekend, go to the beach at least once a week, and have a baseball stadium less than a block from our place. In October we got settled, set up our tiny 200 sq. ft. apartment, and began exploring. We saw old friends, and I went in the sea on my 29th birthday.

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I also voted in the 2016 Election, and sent my ballot back to the USA.

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November

On 5th November, we had our own Fireworks Night here in Busan. I burned Donald J. Trump in effigy on the beach, in place of The Guy.

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Then the election came and I could be found with my face against the floor in the locked teacher’s closet, frantically listening to NPR’s livestream with my heart thudding out of my chest. Trump was elected, and I wept on our rooftop in Busan. In response to the world seeming to go insane, we started hiking more and more.

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We started climbing a mountain almost every weekend, and loving it!

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December

The grind was really getting to us at this point. Miraculously, we received the greatest gifts that ESL teachers in Asia could ever have: nine days off work for Christmas. It’s been a wonderful Staycation here in Busan, and we spent the time off reveling in the amazing city we managed to come live in.

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We went to Taejongdae and Iggidae, and led our first hike after being trained in Iceland to guide groups on outdoors activities. We climbed Jangsan Mountain in spite of the landmines!

On the 31st, we hiked across a mountain to the beach. We ended 2016 in Beached Bar on Gwangalli Beach, surrounded by a group of other migrant ESL teachers who were mostly strangers and yet seemed so very familiar, dancing and singing. It was so much fun, and felt just perfect as a New Year’s Eve. More importantly, it finally felt like we are a part of the community here.


At the end of a year like 2016, many have been tempted to say that it is a great thing it’s over. They are saying that it was a terrible year, and that we should be happy it is gone. With the deaths of so many celebrities (which should have been overshadowed by the terrible turns of events in the six-year-long war of attrition in Syria) Brexit, Donald Trump as President-elect, violent attacks in the US and Europe, and two very hard jobs sandwiching the amazing middle of 2016…I understand that feeling.

But 2016 was so incredible for us, and it brought equal parts joy to the pain for me personally. It made my different life choices, hard for many to understand at times, valid. There were many times I found myself saying to my husband, “THIS is why we do what we do!”

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The hardest moment being going from a close, warm community in Iceland overnight to being back in Louisville and separated by the Atlantic from my husband. At the airport in Reykjavik, we stood on a lawn in the sun and wind. We didn’t have a set date for when we would see each other again. One job in Korea had already fallen through. We had to let go of each other and take the next step blindly. There were so many stomach-lurching global events, but that moment of having to watch my husband walk up the terminal stairs was hardest on me.

We live in interesting times, but I don’t see it as the ‘curse’ that people always say is a Chinese proverb. 2017 brings new things to us all.

2016 was true adventure. I dare to hope that every year may be this good.