Narreh is from New York City but moved to Hong Kong in 2014. She has been living there ever since.
This is her expat story.
Tell us about your expat move.
In 2014 I was living and working for a global company in New York City when an opportunity arose to transfer to their Hong Kong office. I’ve always loved travel and adventure and APAC was certainly a part of the world that interested me but, was too far to ever vacation to so I jumped at the opportunity.
I signed an 18 month contract starting June 2015, packed whatever I could into 2 suitcases (looking back I’m not sure how I managed that), drove down to Boston to say goodbye to my family and got on a plane to Hong Kong!
What did you find were the best ways of making friends as an expat abroad?
The first friends I made in Hong Kong were naturally some of my co-workers as I spent the majority of my time in the office during the first few months. There are a lot of events, activities, sports teams, clubs and expat hangouts that are all great ways to get yourself out there and meet people.
I was also surprised to find that there were many expats like myself who either had recently gone through or were going through the same transition I was and it became quite easy to befriend these individuals. I will admit that the majority of my social circle came from frequenting a local bar which reminded me of the TV show Cheers (fun fact, based in the city where I was born and raised Boston). The local bar was a place you would always run into familiar faces and as the shows lyrics say ‘Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name”.
What have been some of the biggest highlights from your expat journey so far?
Over the past 5 years I have been to places and done things I could only dream of. I’ve become an avid scuba diver and been to places like Raja Ampat and Sipadan which are world renowned dive sites. I’ve trekked up to Everest Base Camp, camped in the desserts of Rajasthan, visited the chin tribes in Myanmar and stayed with the Hmong people in Vietnam.
On the other side of the spectrum I have also witnessed first-hand a piece of history with the protests in Hong Kong and gained a better understanding of the people and the history of this beautiful city.
What have been some of the biggest challenges so far?
Being so far from home I can’t just jump on a quick flight and partake in most family events and that was a tough realization. It’s a challenge to find the right balance and time to be home for major life events but you learn to manage and eventually the 15 hour flights home becomes bearable believe it or not. Finding good Mexican food has also been very challenging.
What do you miss about your home country?
Ice Cream! There’s nothing better than driving to a local farm and getting fresh ice cream on a hot summer night. I also miss the open road and the ability to go on a joy ride because I love to drive.
How much do you enjoy your role in Cigna?
I love my role at Cigna. Over the past year I have had the opportunity to work on some challenging and interesting projects across several business units. I have met a lot of wonderful individuals across the globe and really gained an in depth knowledge of what Cigna does in various markets.
I actually had Cigna coverage while living in the US but could never have imagined how much is involved behind the scenes. It is amazing to see the spectrum of global initiatives and be able to participate in some projects that will foster the growth and success of the company moving forward.
What advice would you give to those who are considering making an expat move?
Making a move is hard, there are a lot of emotions, nerves, uncertainty but take the opportunity and take a chance. There is no perfect time to make a life change so challenge yourself and do something outside your comfort zone because you may be surprised at what you learn in the process both about yourself and the world.
What would be the one piece of advice you wish you’d known before moving?
Have an open mind and don’t compare every experience to what things would be like back home. For the first few months there may be cultural and infrastructure challenges and as you struggle through these paired with not having a local support system you will start wondering why you thought this was a good idea in the first place.
Things will slowly sort themselves out so stay positive and take it one day at a time, you will find your new normal eventually.
Finally, how would you describe your expat journey in 10 words or less?
Amazing, educational, eye opening, fun, challenging, unforgettable.