One year ago, for no apparent reason, my husband and I decided to move from Manhattan to Beijing. When we told our friends and family, everyone had the same reaction -- a blank stare and two simple words, "But, WHY?"
After all -- it didn't make any sense. New York was where we had settled and gotten married. We loved our sunny and cozy apartment steps away from Central Park. We had amazing jobs and tightly knit group of friends and family around us. We were in love. Everything, as far as we knew, was perfect.
Six weeks later, we stepped foot in Beijing, a city many consider to be the LEAST romantic in the world. The second I got in a cab, the taxi driver spit out the window so dramatically, I could see it exiting his mouth in slow motion and splattering across the pavement. Even when we finally moved into our new apartment, we nixed our daily romantic walks in the park after we realized that pollution is not only something you can see -- even worse, you can smell it and taste it. And our favorite pastime of finding delicious hole-in-the-wall restaurants was immediately vetoed when we found out that some cheap restaurants and food trucks use gutter oil to cook their dishes.
Despite all this, we have never been more in love. We moved to Beijing for the adventure and for the challenge, but the most rewarding outcome has been the reinforcement of our marriage. And here are five main reasons why:
Why Have One Honeymoon When You Can Have Twenty
When you move abroad, you immediately have access to a whole new menu of vacation destinations that are more accessible and cheaper to travel to. Within one year, we have not only travelled within China, but have also been to Indonesia, Thailand, Japan, India, and Vietnam. Our vacation budget may have grown, but this is only because our day-to-day living costs in Beijing are dramatically lower than they were in New York.
Appreciation for Loved Ones
Every married couple can expect to spend an exorbitant amount of their time on family gatherings, birthdays, anniversaries, weddings and holidays. While at first, it's a bit scary to think that these visits aren't a short walk or car ride away, moving abroad can actually help couples become closer with each of their respective families. When you live abroad, the distance makes you appreciate your friends and family more and rely on other forms of communication, like Skype or WeChat or Shutterfly to keep each other in the loop. Not to mention, your stories and life updates are much more engaging. And when you do actually get the opportunity to go back home to visit friends and family, it's almost impossible to contain your excitement.
A Language in Common
When married couples move abroad, one thing is clear -- you're sharing an experience that is completely unique to you both. When we go back home, mundane everyday things will now have a new meaning when compared to life abroad. And it's even better when you get a chance to learn a new language together. There is nothing more intimate than returning to an English-speaking country and being able to communicate in a language that most of the people around you can't understand.
New Career Perspectives
For many new couples, there is an inherent fear that you will be throwing your career down the drain if you quit your job and decide to work abroad. For us, that fear was elevated, not only because we knew our salaries would inevitably plummet in Beijing, but also because our nonexistent Mandarin skills narrowed the opportunities available to us. Regardless, we took the risk and within two months, we both had full-time jobs that have significantly enhanced our resumes. And while we work in different industries, we can commiserate with each other about our daily workplace struggles in China -- be it the limitations of Google translate or the mysterious office snacks.
Growing a Family
Living abroad and befriending expat families from around the world has taught us that there is no one-size-fits-all formula for raising happy and successful kids. And while our families have gasped at the thought of us one day starting a family in China, I've discovered that children raised here in Beijing are among the most well-travelled, multi-lingual, and bright kids I have ever met. While it's no secret that health is compromised for children raised in a highly polluted city, there are many other benefits to raising a family in China and elsewhere abroad that we will now keep in mind when we decide to start our own family.
They say distance makes the heart grow fonder. As far as I'm concerned, this doesn't imply the distance between my husband and I. It's the distance between us and the world that we're so accustomed to that has made our love stronger than ever.