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Shanghai is home to about 25 million people, including approximately 150,000 foreigners. Clearly, there must be a variety of factors that attract so many foreigners to Shanghai.
In a report titled "Distinctive Living: Inside the Outsider's Shanghai," Patti Waldmeir and Zhang Yan discuss what entices foreigners to stay in the city after being lured here by lucrative job offers. The report states that "exotic but not completely alien, modern but with a taste of the ancient, Shanghai attracts people from around the world who want to cash in on China's economic boom, but without stepping too outside their comfort zone."
It seems like Shanghai really is the "Paris of the East," offering an exquisite lifestyle where money can be made and an exotic culture embraced. Let's consider how long foreigners actually stay here, though, as this information may alter the quality of Shanghai as an expat-friendly city. Because many foreigners work in the city for only a year or so, and then suddenly decide to leave. Why is Shanghai's turnover rate so high?
According to Malte Zeeck, founder of the InterNations, a global community for expats, Shanghai ranks 38 out of 51 cities worldwide for getting settled in this year's Expat City Ranking, 30 for the quality of urban living and 32 for finances and housing.
When I personally asked some foreigners who have been residing in Shanghai for the long term what keeps them here, they mentioned food, diversity of events and activities, job opportunities and the friendliness of the locals as reasons for staying so long.
Nonetheless, Zeeck explained that "close to half of all expats living in Shanghai [48 percent] find it hard to get used to the local culture, which is more than twice the global average [20 percent]."
One could argue that the "best" expat city really does depend on where that particular foreigner is from. The further a foreigner is from home, perhaps the more they will feel homesick. This is based on the fact that "the most popular struggle expats everywhere in the world face is that they miss their family and friends back home," as confirmed by Zeeck.
However, when I lived in Shanghai, I was so active, so busy and having so much fun that I really did not have a chance to feel homesick. It was only during special occasions like my birthday and Christmas that I found myself missing home. Shanghai caters to foreign festivals by hosting various religious activities and holiday celebrations. And as the majority of foreigners in the city are from Western countries, Western foods, shops, entertainment, social events, movies and nightlife spots are abundant.
If you consider the friendliness of the locals, and the high-quality, fairly priced apartments as well as the higher salaries offered to foreigners, Shanghai seems to offer the best of both worlds. Perhaps it is not yet the most perfect city, but we cannot deny that China is developing at a phenomenal rate.
When I asked another foreign friend, Huseyin, a lawyer in Shanghai, about what he sees as the biggest benefits and also the biggest challenges expats here encounter, he quickly highlighted an interesting notion.
"I think the biggest challenge facing expats is that Shanghai is too over-welcoming… This is a poison undermining their life in China, which most of them don't even realize."
This was a powerful comment that I would like to conclude this article with. Perhaps the comment is complimentary to Huseyin's long time in Shanghai - almost nine years residing from Turkey to Shanghai. (From Global Times)