Lifestyle of an American in China

Our earning potential is often a driving factor in our pursuits. Many of us spend our lives in jobs we do not necessarily enjoy simply because if its compensation, theoretically overriding the disdain we endure in its daily accomplishment. Those people finish the task to the end, with the mindset to "work now, play later."  Others of us spend our lives in the seemingly unattainable pursuit of balance in financial wealth and personal happiness.


As a single mom for 9 years, I can admit I spent most of those years in a job that simply provided the paycheck I needed to support myself and my son. I often felt guilty at the amount of time I had to spend away, always hoping for more money in less hours worked. I was surprised to find, after many years of searching, my perfect job/free time balance in China. My job has fulfilled many lifelong "dreams". My full time schedule requires I work 17.5 hours each week, providing me a sense of needed professional accomplishment while providing so many quality hours with my children everyday. As a "Foreign Expert" and native speaker of English, I instruct 5 classes of approximately twenty university students each week. Through casual conversational English instruction, we improve spoken English. Using this method requires little preparation, and there is no requirement for written papers (and therefore no requirement for evenings of grading papers at home!). "Sure," my stateside friends and family say, "but you don't earn as much money." They are correct in their superficial analysis of simply looking at "the numbers", but digging deeper reveals more about just how much I "earn."


We have a beautiful campus of about 13,000 students

We have a beautiful campus of about 13,000 students


A group of students and me at the end of my first semester

A group of students and me at the end of my first semester


As Americans, we, on average, spend about 35-50% of our income on housing; another 20% or more on groceries, gas, and household needs. Let's not forget insurances, utilities, and cell phones. It is easy to see many Americans rarely have more than 10% of their earnings left in "disposable income."


Though I earn only 60% of my American salary in China, I enjoy a more "free spending" lifestyle. My expenditures are minimal. Above and beyond my salary, I receive a free furnished apartment. I am not conservative with the heater and A/C and run it all the time - costing me about  $30 a month. My son and I each have "pay as you go" cell phones, for which I spend an average of $17/month to add minutes. My teenage son, my 2-year old daughter, and I eat out daily. If we eat at the "nice" restaurants, we forfeit about $10/day. If we eat at the cheaper (but still amazing!) places, it's about $3.50/day! Cooking at home is less than a $1/day for my entire family! Eating at restaurants is about 1/3 of the American price. Other expenses and purchases are generally about ONE-TENTH the American price! So, even if we include the "high" $10/day for food plus the other set expenses listed here, I spend far less than 30% of my monthly income on required expenses! I almost feel like I'm stealing from the local "vegetable lady" when I enter her stand, load up my basket with all it can hold (fresh broccoli, greens, onions, garlic, ginger, tomatoes, carrots, and "killed-today" pork and chicken for a week's meals), and walk out with $8-10 less in my pocket. I think China has it right in this department. If I go to the grocery store and buy sodas, cookies, chips, and other processed goods, I will find higher prices similar to U.S. costs. However, fresh food is accessible to and affordable for anyone!


Another campus shot with my apartment building in the background

Another campus shot with my apartment building in the background.


I appreciate the lifestyle China has taught me to enjoy. More is not always better. I live in a 400 square foot apartment with my two children, and we "want" for nothing. The burden of less "stuff" and less responsibility has been a welcome respite from the American lifestyle of "more is better" and the pressure to "keep up with the Joneses." I ride my bike to class each day, about 3 minutes' commute - no time and no "gas" wasted, no costly maintenance and repairs. I can enjoy a day's shopping trip in the "big city" (by taking a local bus for 1 hour and costing about $0.75), have a nice western lunch, maybe buy a new outfit, and occasionally oblige my son's ever-changing whims of want without any guilt at the end of the day. Our family has quality time together focused on board games, baking, reading books, and making music together. How could life be any more "rich" than that?


We have lots of time for fellowship with friends!

We have lots of time for fellowship with friends!


 And amazing food to bring us together!

 And amazing food to bring us together!




Joslynn is the China Editor for Wandering Educators.  Her
husband has dubbed her "former Marine and roller derby queen" - two
descriptors that represent her hardcore nature and adventurous spirit. 
Joslynn currently lives in China with her 13-year old son and 2-year
old foster daughter on what started as a year's adventure while her
husband is working in Afghanistan.  She is an English teacher at a
college in Guangdong Province and spends her free time traveling,
writing, and visiting a special group of local orphans ( 
Joslynn recently completed her Master's degree in Community Economic
Development and hopes to return to the United States this fall to begin
her PhD.  You can read about more of her experiences at   


Photos courtesy and copyright Joslynn J. McLaughlin










Comments (1)

  • curtissmith003

    5 years 3 months ago


    I love your post! This is what I have been saying for too long.  I was a campus president for a small private career college making six figures. Money, prestige, my own office. Why would anyone give that up? In today's economy?! Simple, I was not happy. I always wanted the adventurous life style. Convincing my wife took longer (about a year), but now she is hooked too. Her parents think that we are being flaky and throwing away a great life. My only regret is that we did not do this sooner. We made more money, but spent more money. The quality of life did not improve. 

    We are back in the United States for the last two years with two more to go because my son wants to attend high school here. I am already to go back somewhere. I love my country (I served 7 years in the military), but the rat race is not worth it. Americans do not enjoy a good life-work balance. Were are so caught up in material possessions that we lose sight of truly important things.

    I am glad that you enjoy China. I was in Hong Kong many years ago when it was still owned by the British. Although not my cup of tea, it does have much to offer. For me, I miss Europe.

    Take care,


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