In the Garage

Some thoughts about moving to a new country (and packing for it)

October 23, 2014 | 5 Minute Read

As I enjoy my last day in Düsseldorf, there are lots of thoughts going through my head. I remember the first time I moved abroad back in 2005 as a college student -- I actually sobbed to my mother for three hours. Maybe more. I recall wailing to her, "But why am I even going abroad?! I feel comfortable where I am and I like it here!! What am I doing?!?" Nine years later, eight of which have been spent outside the U.S., I can only laugh at my college self and think, "How cute." Because honestly, I wouldn't change the last nine years at all.

I have the feeling that in Shanghai, I will constantly be comparing it to my German experience. I realize though that this is unfair. Düsseldorf consistently ranks in the top 10 most livable cities in Europe, if not the world, according to the Mercer Quality of Living Survey. On the other hand, China ranks as the number one country for expats according to the BBC. But does living as an expat actually mean a good quality of life? I don't think it necessarily does, but this will probably be one of the bigger questions I answer in China.

One thing that worries me about living in China is being Chinese-American, but my Mandarin is only so-so. Of course, I'm eager to improve it, but there is an expectation that if you look Asian, you speak the local language. It's a common problem in Asia that I encountered in Beijing, Tokyo, and Kyoto. The attitude is, "Why don't you speak the local language? You're Asian!" This video sums up my experience really well:

I actually finished packing today and I must say, I'm either getting really good at this moving-abroad-for-a-year-thing or I'm forgetting something. (This is the third time I've moved abroad for a year -- once going to Berlin, once with my CBYX year) I managed to pack one big suitcase that weighs 19.6 kilograms (about 43 pounds) with everything I think I need in it. I've realized that I wear the same stuff over and over again anyway, so if the thought crossed my mind, "Maybe I should pack that because I might actually wear it," the item got left behind. This is what my clothing looked like just laying it out in the living room:

Packing in the living room

Whenever it comes to larger trips like this (or rather, just moving temporarily), I take a look at what I want to bring. I considered actually making a chart of how many different combinations I could make -- which pants would go with what top and if I could match a jacket or cardigan to it, plus shoes. I didn't actually wind up making a chart, but I do take that into consideration. Anything that is too specific and can't be combined with anything else doesn't get packed. The only exception is a cocktail dress, which was the dead giveaway that I'm not a student anymore. I actually am bringing it because I thought, "Well, if I get invited to a wedding...or something...I don't feel like shopping." As a student, bringing a cocktail dress never even crossed my mind.

After laying it out in the living room neatly, I rolled everything up. I find that rolling everything saves a lot more space and you can cram smaller things like t-shirts into gaps easier than when it's folded. Not only that, but I think my clothes also arrive less wrinkled when rolled. I could be wrong on this, but it's just a feeling. Anyhow, I can definitely fit more rolling everything and if I had actually packed my boots in the photo rather than wearing them, I would stuff them with clothes too. Plus, everything looks more manageable and less scary:

Clothes rolled up

With the shoes, I packed two pairs of heels, two pairs of boots, two pairs of casual shoes, and my running sneakers. The heels had to be versatile; I can wear them dressed for more formal occasions like putting them with the cocktail dress, but they also had to be not too flashy so I could wear them for work. The boots are very different from each other; as you can see, I have a pair of knee-highs and then ankle boots. Again, they're different from each other but can be worn with a lot of different outfits. As for the casual shoes, they don't take up much space, but I like having different pairs for city trips. And the running sneakers are for the gym (I don't run outside and can't imagine doing so in Shanghai). Generally, I took the largest items and decided that that's what I'll wear on the plane. So it's the knee-high boots, a hoodie, a pair of jeans, shirt, and leather jacket. It saves the space in my bag.

Finally, after I've evaluated everything rolled up, it all goes into the suitcase:

Everything in the suitcase

Like I said, everything gets crammed into little spaces. Shoes are packed like they would be in a box so they're as narrow as possible. I've stuck a bunch of flat things in the front pockets of the luggage. Everything I packed managed to fit and then some, so I added one or two extra t-shirts, but left the extra sweaters out. If I were moving to a much colder place, I'd consider more warmer weather clothing, but considering I layer everything (tank tops/t-shirts with a sweater), it also makes everything more efficient.

I started writing this yesterday, but now it's 6:45 in the morning. I woke up early so I know I'll be able to fall asleep on the plane. I could definitely use some more sleep, but I also had to make sure my carry-on and personal items are ready to go. And they are. So let's hope that I haven't forgotten anything super important. If I did, then it probably wasn't actually super important because I wouldn't have forgotten it in the first place.