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Alyssa’s Expat Life—Mastercard Commercial St. Louis to China

Feb 12, 2014   //   by astahr   //   Alyssa Stahr, Blog  //  Comments Off on Alyssa’s Expat Life—Mastercard Commercial St. Louis to China

My Z work visa finally came in this week, just in the nick of time. I am officially an employee of China, or at least my passport says that I am. And, let me tell you, it has been a long, expensive process. After Skype interviewing with three schools in China, I chose Always Education Center in Jinan. I didn’t want the smog or hustle and bustle of a huge city, and Always had the most perks. One school I spoke with was great, however they only were offering five days of vacation. Even though I’m excited about molding young minds and forcing proper English down their throats, I am definitely in this for the travel even more. Even though I initially only wanted to teach college or adult learners, this K-12 learning center just had too many perks to pass up. Always’ contract provides for four weeks of vacation, 13 holidays and only 25 hours of work per week with an airport pick up. They provide a paid furnished apartment, which meant no rent, no utilities and no Internet bill for a year. It’s a good thing, because the overhead needed to move to China for a year has been more than I bargained for.

Here’s the breakdown of expenses and what I’ve went through over the past couple of months to live my dream:

TEFL class to get certified $1,100 (and that was with a discount)

Plane ticket: $725. I got this early on to save money, and I’m glad that I did. Now tickets are running around $900-$1100 for a one-way. My flight itinerary consists of St. Louis to Salt Lake City to Seattle to Shanghai to Jinan. All-in-all, about 36 real-time hours and a 13-hour time difference.

Physical $140. This was a mess. The official physical to get your visa isn’t a regular sports physical that you can get for $40 at a Walgreens clinic. On the form there is a chest X-ray and extensive blood work. I found an international immunization place that provided physicals for visas, and once I got there they jacked up the price to almost $400! I freaked out, got the $140 worth of what I needed and left. After talking to people who already work in China, you would be surprised at the “under the table” physical stories I got. Since they were helping me out with inside information, I won’t repeat the stories here. The entire form does not need to be filled out to get the visa, or so I was told, so I turned it in with a bunch of N/A in the expensive spots. Sure enough, it passed. In hindsight, I could’ve went to Walgreens because that part was all I ended up getting done. I have to get another one once I land in China, but since I will have health insurance there, my school assures me it won’t be nearly the cost that it was in the United States. Ironic.

Visa Certification Processing $175. I found a place in St. Louis that processed visas, so I didn’t have to go to Chicago—kind of a win. This ended up being a lesson in culture and patience. The woman was from Taiwan, and even though she had done this 1,000 times, she was very much not in any hurry to process my visa and kept asking me the same questions over and over again, like what my phone number was. It took her almost three weeks of having my passport and converting my typed form from PC to Mac to finally process the visa. After three trips to her office and dealing with a person who had no sense of urgency, I had my passport stamp in hand less than a week before my flight. It was the most nervewracking part of the process, and I was very relieved when it was over.

Moving Truck: $185. With mileage to drive down to my aunt’s house, this ended up being much more expensive than what I thought. However, I had free help and I won’t have to pay for storage this year (thanks Ben, Jared and Cindy!).

Luggage: $330. For someone who NEVER goes shopping, packing for the airport versus storage versus donate was the most tedious part of this entire process for me. After purging what feels like tons of clothes, my luggage is packed to the gills. I am fully expecting to go over weight and am awaiting a Delta airline call to see if I even get any free bags internationally with their airline, since I haven’t flown Delta internationally before.

Airport Hotel: $120. My final night in St. Louis will be spent relaxing at the Renaissance Hotel Airport, which I covered for Gogobot, a travel site, more than a year ago. They recently renovated, and I look forward to relaxing and reflecting on my last night before I jet off to the Far East.

I would like to thank Mr. Gao, the school owner, Shane, my airport pickup and all-around question answerer (even though Chinese answers are extremely vague) and Helen Jones, my new Australian friend who unfortunately just moved back (ugh!) for answering all of my questions. I have a ton more of course, but a part of this experience I love is going in blind. I have no expectations and a totally fresh attitude. After of the hard work of the past year, I can say that this experience will be priceless.

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