My Family’s Journey to China: Challenges and Confusion


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When breaking the news to the family that we are moving to China, generally the first question asked is why. My general answer of “why not” as you can imagine does not satisfy and always requires expansion. The second question comes in when they realise we are breaking the norm, as we are moving as a family instead of one going over, checking everything out, and deciding whether the rest should come or not. 

The why?

Everyone is different and has different motivations. I firmly believe in two principles. Firstly, do what you love, what you are passionate about. Secondly, know what makes you happy. My passion is helping others, sharing my knowledge. 

I’ve been mentoring and coaching companies for a while, doing lectures at schools for teachers and parents (perfect experience for teaching in China), and generally helping people whenever and wherever possible. This was a side gig, I worked for free and got more satisfaction out of it then my paying job. 

The answer was clear, get paid for what you do, simple isn’t it? Not always, the systems in our country sort of makes it difficult and I was getting slightly annoyed with a culture of wanting everything done for them, answers on a plate. 

Why China?

I started martial arts at the age of five. A lot of who I am is founded in Asian culture, especially in China. My elective for my master’s was in international management and my cultural study I did was on China. I did suggest moving to China to my wife a few years ago, and it was an unarguable no. The biggest barrier to overcome is the media’s portrayal of a country, community or demographic, and of course the word of mouth perception we often take as fact.  

The big change came in when she started her own business, and she realised what she believed to be fact might not be true. Another big eye opener happened by “accident”, when my instructor got her to start training with me and she started getting to know the culture and country through self-investigation and research. Long explanation short, we believe it’s a good fit for us, for who we are.

Why the whole family?

We have been married now for 18 years, oldest son 21, youngest 15. We are a team, make decisions as a family. This comes back to my earlier statement of defining your true happiness. For us it’s our family. What purpose would it serve for one person to decide what is suitable for the rest. 

family journey china

I make it sound simple, it wasn’t, my youngest son’s first reaction was no, and he stuck to his guns for a few weeks until he started doing his own research. What it came down to what that as a family we will be able to face challenges and overcome the cultural change far easier as a coherent team, providing support to each other by making use of each of our strengths. 

My brother reinforced this fact when he used himself and his cousin as an example. He went over alone and came back after 6 months. His cousin went over with the whole family, that was 8 years ago. It’s a brand-new culture (and language) that needs to get used to. The advantage we have is the fact that I studied international relocation as part of my masters, and worked according to a plan in terms of assessment, short- and long-term planning, risk analysis etc. Ultimately, as a family, we are comfortable with our decision.


After getting over the basics, the biggest concerns were raised by our family. The best advice I can give anyone is to acknowledge that our major sources of news are based on one simple principle: they all sell advertising.  The news they report on is selected on what would draw the biggest audience, that would usually be worst of what’s going on out there. This includes social media platforms, video streaming platforms, television etc. 

That’s assuming all the posts and information are actually factual, in most cases they aren’t. The misconceptions we had to deal with ranged from hilariously funny to scary at times. In most cases we could debunk these paradigms through our own research and information from credible sources as well as working with reputable agents.

Moral of the story?

Making a decision to move to a different country should not be taken lightly, however what is important to remember is that you need to do what is important to you and your family. We cannot sacrifice the future of our children and giving up our adventure because it is inconvenient for someone else. People who argued against it a few years back are the ones telling me today they wish they did it when they were younger.

Jacques Van Brakel is a qualified life coach and business mentor and apart from various diplomas in IT, accounting, marketing and all kinds of general studies.  He also holds a M.B.A with a specialisation in international management and is a long-standing member of the international Mensa institute with a keen interest in exploring different cultures.


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