Photo Credit: Courtesy of Andi
The Black Expat: 'The Locals Took Me In And Showed Me A Different Side Of China'
When travel and lifestyle blogger Andisiwe Sicwebu graduated from high school in South Africa, she never imagined her life would be spent navigating the world. But that’s exactly what happened when she received a scholarship as a top-performing student to attend Bucknell University in Pennsylvania.
After earning a Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering and a Master of Science degree in geotechnical engineering, she received a job offer in New York City.
Sicwebu plied her trade in the Big Apple for seven years as an engineering consultant before throwing in the towel on corporate life.
“I was at the senior staff geotechnical engineer position and leading the field investigations in construction sites but I wasn’t happy at all. I wanted to slow travel and just enjoy being young without the stresses that come with being in the corporate ‘rat race’.”
That desire for a more relaxed pace led her to Shenzhen, China, described as both a modern metropolis and China’s Silicon Valley. Her Instagram feed is a gorgeously curated ode to the city she has fallen in love with.
Sicwebu spoke to Travel Noire about why she’s never looked back since leaving the United States, the technological marvel that is China, and what she hopes to accomplish before leaving the East-Asian country.
Travel Noire: Why was China the right fit for you?
Andi: I honestly didn’t know if China would be a good fit for me. I just wanted something exciting and different. In fact, the first six months felt like I chose the wrong country because the adjustment was rough, and it took me close to a year for me to feel like I could potentially live here for a few years.
TN: What were those challenges, and how did you move past them?
Andi: Initially, I was so overwhelmed and experienced severe culture shock. I thought the language barrier would be an issue, but you can definitely get by without knowing Mandarin because the people are always willing to help. China is a homogeneous country so as a Black person, one tends to stick out like a sore thumb. Fortunately, the Chinese people in Shenzhen are very friendly because this is a city of migrants and because of this it makes everyone more open-minded. As time went by things became better as I made good friends outside the expat community. These were local people who took me in their homes and social circles and showed me a different side of China — the side filled with many opportunities and business ventures.
TN: What are some other aspects of Chinese life you’ve grown to love?
Andi: Chinese is food heaven! You truly don’t know if you like Chinese cuisine up until you’ve had it in China because it’s nothing like the Chinese food in western countries. I didn’t even know how spicy Chinese food can get until I had hot pot for the first time in Shenzhen.
One thing that blows my mind about China is how far ahead they are with technology and Artificial Intelligence. For instance, my apartment building has facial recognition security systems, there are restaurants that are run by only robots, no one really uses cash anymore because the payment system here is all digitalized. I could go on and on but the convenience and efficiency are like nothing I have experienced in any other place.
TN: How does it compare to your life in NYC?
Andi: Currently, Shenzhen offers me exactly what I wanted in NYC— a comfortable city life where I can brunch and shop as I please, luxury apartments at a fraction of the cost and zero stress. I think I’m definitely happier in China than I was in the U.S.
Do you see yourself staying in China permanently or eventually moving to another spot?
Andi: My two big goals at the moment are: building a sourcing business where I supply products to businesses outside of China and investing in international real estate. I probably won’t be in China forever, but I definitely foresee myself being here for another couple of years until my business is able to run smoothly without having to physically be here. At that point, I would focus more of my attention on my real estate investments.
You can follow more of Andi’s escapades on Instagram.