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March 26, 2008

Get Outta Town!

tara suilen duffy

Tara Suilen Duffy in her new hometown, Beijing.

Photo Credit: Tony Law

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35, nonprofit worker, Beijing

HOMETOWN: Providence, RI

WHY I WANTED TO LIVE ABROAD: At 19, I left the comforts of a small liberal-arts college to study Chinese for a year in Beijing, because I'm half-Chinese myself. It was three years after the Tiananmen Square uprising, and there was still a sense of apprehension as China opened up to the world economically and socially. The city fascinated me, and I knew I'd come back. Sure enough, in 2004, I transferred with CNN; later, I began working as a consultant to The Asia Foundation, focusing on environmental and disaster-preparedness programs.

WHAT I MISS ABOUT HOME: My family, blue skies-and supermarkets with organic-food options galore.

WHAT I LOVE ABOUT LIVING HERE: The old Beijingers who take life at their own pace, getting up early to carry their pet birds-in portable wooden cages-to the park for some air.

HOW THE EXPERIENCE HAS CHANGED ME: Living in a developing country with 1.3 billion people makes me realize what a privileged life I've had so far.

BIGGEST SURPRISE: Despite reading about China's rapid economic growth, watching skyscrapers get built in just a matter of months never ceases to amaze me!
CRAZY ADVENTURE: After I moved into a small courtyard house in one of the old alleys, or hutongs, a scratching sound kept waking me up at night. I discovered that a ferret had moved into the roof. When I mentioned it to my cleaning lady, she explained that Beijingers believe ferrets are spirits and thus cannot be killed. "You do yoga, so you must be a good person, and I think you can understand this," she said.

HOW YOU CAN GET HERE: Start learning Chinese-you'll need it. You can come on a student or tourist visa, but you'll need a work visa to stay long term. Check out beijing.asiaxpat.com or beijing.alloexpat.com for job listings and tips.

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