Living in China as an expat-family: A once in a lifetime adventure

Six years ago, Stale Nordlien was offered a dream job as Regional R&D Director for one of the world’s leading paint manufacturers. But there was a catch: He would have to move his family to China.

It is increasingly common for multinational companies to ask workers to take assignments overseas. “While based in Norway, Jotun is active in more than 100 countries around the world. So, it is not uncommon for people to apply for jobs abroad,” says Stale. “For me, moving to China was an opportunity to develop my career but I also thought it would be a great experience for my family. It was a big decision: How would my family react?  And how would we fit in to a new culture?”

Enjoying park life in China. Photo: Fredrik Solstad/Jotun

Once in a lifetime adventure

Stale Nordien living in Suzhou China 2018. Wife Lydia Nordlien daughter Lisa (12) daughter Stella (10) Bruno (dog). Photo: Fredrik Solstad/Jotun

Stale’s wife Lydia didn’t hesitate to get onboard. “I saw it as a once in a lifetime chance to live in Asia, “ she says.  “My one concern was that I didn’t want to stop developing my career as an educator.  But once Jotun offered to provide support so that I could study Mandarin Chinese, I was in!”

In 2013, the Nordliens moved to Suzhou, China with their two daughters Lisa (then age 7) and Stella (then age 5). Both were enrolled in a local international school. “It was hard for them at first, but children adapt quickly and soon they made friends and got involved in different after school activities,” says Lydia. “As for me, I began a three-year language program at Suzhou University.”

Keeping busy

In the past six years, the Nordliens have kept busy. As Regional R&D Director working with a team of 55 employees at one of the best equipped R&D centres in Jotun’s global network, Stale learned a lot.   
“We have to work fast to adapt products to comply with China’s changing environmental regulations and develop new products for China’s growing wind energy industry,” he says.  “It was a big change from my quieter life in Norway, but very exciting!”

Meanwhile, Lydia finished her studies and began teaching Mandarin to other expats and Chinese teachers while their girls continued their education. The family even found time to adopt a dog: A spirited, mix breed named Bruno they rescued from the streets. 

They have also had a lot of fun. "Part of the advantage of living overseas is learning a new culture, trying new types of food, and travelling to interesting places,” says Stale. “In addition to travel in and around China, we have taken family trips to Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, Japan and Australia.” 

Benny Tian, Stale Nordlien and Yichao Zhang at work. Photo: Fredrik Solstad/Jotun

Expat advice

Now busy preparing to move back to Norway, the family can look back on an amazing experience.  As for how to embrace life as an expat, 13 year-old Lisa sums up the Nordlien philosophy best: “Don’t stick to stuff you are used to – you have to try new things!”