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Column: Finding fellow Duluthians in China

When deciding to move to China to teach business at United International College last fall, I was aware of one other person from Duluth who had made a similar move.

After my arrival, I learned of three more such cultural transplants, which makes for an astounding total of five Duluthians living here!

I recently talked with each of my fellow expatriates to get their impression of life in our new home.

After graduating from law school in 2010, Benjamin Grams was hired as an assistant professor in the division of humanities and social sciences.

“This experience has really opened up my mind as to what ought to be considered acceptable behavior,” Ben reflected. “I feel like my capacity to accept difference has increased. Compared to 3½ years ago, I am much more laid back and relaxed in my daily life. I’ve come to completely respect a genuine smile — all else seems rather unimportant.”

Cameron Kolodge arrived in 2012 and works as a lecturer in the English language center, and as a teaching assistant. He says his apartment in Zhuhai is both the nicest and least expensive he has ever lived in. However, there is a catch.

Cameron explains, “Although I was forewarned that Zhuhai’s low of 40 degrees Fahrenheit in winter was a ‘humid cold’ that chills to the bone, I was very surprised. The combination of no insulation in buildings, tile floors, and oftentimes no heating system, creates an almost inescapable cold even for a Duluthian.” (You may recall Cameron lives across the hall from me — we share these woes!)

“The largest lesson I have learned while living in China is the importance of ‘going with the flow.’ Being a foreigner with a tenuous grasp of the language forces me to not sweat the small stuff but face difficulties and frustrations with patience, acceptance and new perspective.”

Joel Sundstrom is currently a lecturer in the English Language Center, but prior to that he was a teaching assistant in the division of humanities and social sciences from 2009 to 2011. This has given him ample opportunities to travel around much of China and East Asia.

The difference between Duluth and Zhuhai, Joel notes with a laugh, is that there are more Chinese people here. More seriously, Joel reflects, “I find that my mindset is different. In Zhuhai, my ambition is to explore and experience as much as I can because I know my time here is limited. In Duluth my mind is focused more on what many might call practical matters: employment prospects, ownership of material things, spending time with friends and family. Both, I think, are important and maybe it’s an issue of balancing them all in life.”

Brock Erdahl is a teaching assistant in the English Language Center and has held that position since fall of 2012. Similar to the others, Brock has fully embraced life in his temporary home.

“Opportunities to explore seem to be everywhere, even in what appears to be mundane at home,” Erdahl said. “A simple trip to a shopping mall or restaurant, for example, is not only a chance to buy something but also to practice Chinese, learn new words and try some delicacies that are not available at home in Duluth.”

I’m thankful for these fine new friends who continue to share their wisdom and spirit with me, making me feel very welcome here indeed. Although Duluth and Zhuhai are located half a world apart from one another, the five of us agree we are fortunate to call both places home.

Arlene J. Anderson is a native Duluthian turned explorer and teacher in Zhuhai, China.

Arlene Anderson

Arlene J. Anderson is a Twin Ports native turned writer, teacher, traveler and speaker on resilience and leadership. She is currently working on her memoir to be released next summer. She believes there is always more music to play and dancing to do.