For our WWAM of the Month of November we talked to Ana from England, who has been married to Andi, a football fan from Gansu province, for three years. They live in Beijing with their beautiful dog July, where Ana is working on a PhD degree.
What’s your China story?
I first came to China 5 years ago as a winter holiday exchange student with Manchester university. To say I didn’t expect much is an understatement. I didn’t really have a positive image of China but I love travelling so thought it would be fun to tick another country off my travel list. I couldn’t have been more wrong!
From the first day, I felt strangely at home so much so that after getting back to England I spent a month having culture shock. It was surreal feeling like a foreigner in my home. A month after that I received my scholarship pack, I was going back to China that September, haven’t looked back since!
What was it about Andi that attracted you?
Maybe his terrible jokes and sense of humour? No, just kidding! When I first met Andi, I was really tired from having studied all day and not in the best of moods. Ignoring my moodiness, he tried to help me check out some books and then walked me home and tried to make me smile with some imaginative jokes. He was the first person who I felt like I didn’t have to try to have a front, I just felt comfortable, it’s a feeling that’s hard to explain I’ve never felt it with anyone else. From that day, I remember his kind smile, which even now I can’t resist and how smart and understanding he was. Sometimes I still have to remind myself I’m not in a dream, I did marry this wonderful man.
Did you do the big Chinese wedding and why (not)? If not, what were your parents and parents-in-laws’ reactions to not doing the “expected thing”?
-No big wedding, we’ve been married almost 3 years but we choose to only sign our papers (during April fools ‘fools in love’ and all that) and use the funds for travelling instead. I’m so glad we did, we turned what would have been one day of memories into almost a month-long celebration. We still plan to have a wedding but only for our 10-year anniversary. I liked this idea because by then we hope to have kids who can take part in the celebrations. (7 years to go!) Although both our parents wanted huge extravagant weddings we didn’t, even though it’s tradition we wouldn’t feel comfortable with our parents paying for it, and the huge amount of guests would take away from what we wanted, a quiet family-focused wedding. Thankfully they accepted our decision happily and never hassled us about it; so, no complaints there.
You are doing a PhD in China – what made you decide to do it and how has the experience been?
-Growing up my gran was one of my main caregivers, there was a story about herself she constantly shared. How she always wanted to study but wasn’t allowed to go to university even though she loved studying. She instilled me with the sense that education is the most important gift you can give yourself. I always wanted to do a PhD and I was lucky that both my professor and my school supported me to go down this path. It was a little difficult at the start as I was the first foreign student to be accepted straight from the MSc program so I was in a bit of a grey area. But overall it’s been fantastic, I can study what I love, although I have my nose stuck in books I get to spend most of my day at home with my family, who wouldn’t want that?
What has the general reaction to your PhD studies been? Have you experienced any comments relating to your gender in relation to studying for an advanced academic degree?
I ignore comments for the most part because otherwise they get me down but unfortunately yes… it happens I have so many stories I could write a book but here are my top favourites:
1- Going to a professors’ office to ask a question based on his paper only to spend 30 minutes being lectured on being a supportive wife. (Guess he must have had a rough day)
2- Being told at a job interview that “I don’t have to worry about you, you’re a PhD woman you won’t get pregnant and will take your work seriously as you don’t care about your family.” (Jokes on them, I work hard but family comes first)
3- “It’s a good thing you got married before doing your PhD otherwise you might not find a husband”-Professor at a conference… same professor introduced me to people as “This is Ana, she has a Chinese husband” never mind my actual academic expertise I’ve worked hard to achieve.
You own a cute dog – how have you experienced being a pet owner in China? Any differences to back home?
-At home I only had a dog as a young child so it’s hard for me to compare but it definitely has its ups and downs. I try not to let the bad get to me but there have been some incidents that shook me. I don’t think I would have to watch my dog like a hawk non-stop on walks at home because I don’t expect random people to throw water bottles or to try to hit my dog…
But at the same time, at home it would be hard to take her on cabs and into coffee shops, but here they let her in with me all the time, even if it might say no dogs allowed most of the time no one really cares.
What is the biggest challenge about living in China?
-The biggest challenge for me is all the unwanted ridiculous advice given by strangers. I know it’s meant with ‘kindness’ but I find it incredibly rude when strangers decide to share their ‘wisdom’, especially when they get persistent. I have a special hatred for unscientific advice like “you can’t have a dog if you want to have a baby” or “you’ve lived in Beijing long enough you don’t need to wear a pollution mask, your body has acclimatised.” Every time I hear a comment like this I just want to give them a science lecture, but then realise it’s not my job, and nor would they care. So instead I just smile and ‘tingbudong’ them and walk away.
What is the biggest reward?
-There’s a lot, it’s hard to pin it down! I wouldn’t have been able to do my PhD so soon at home, and my life in China is better than at home for sure. I can take holidays when I want and we make use of these by travelling. There’s a lot of environmental policy changes going on in China, I love that I can witness these as they are happening and the change they are bringing. The community feeling in such a big city! Seeing the same neighbours every day and saying hi, or buying some breakfast at my local and not having enough change but being told to bring it the next day. There’s also a lot of opportunities in China for both me and my husband, whereas I think this might not be the case if we went home. The list goes on.