Have you ever wondered what life would be like in another country? Meet expat, Raelene Clarke from Mthatha, Eastern Cape in South Africa currently living in Hong Kong with her family. In this #ExpatAdventure series interview, she gives us insights into living in Hong Kong, raising a family and starting a new business.
Raelene Clarke, mom of 3 girls (Nylah, Quinn and Liya), moved to Hong Kong, after a short stay in Indonesia. Co-founder of Springage, a youth led innovation company sold to Deloitte in 2016, Founder of Indica who make charcoal bamboo leggings with prints that teach confidence, bravery and sisterly love to young girlsBack home she is a share holder in Avocado Visions, a Community Education company and serves as a Trustee on the board of the Liberty Community Trust.
Tell me a little about yourself? Where were you born? About your family?
I was born in Mthatha, Eastern Cape, formally known as the Transkei. A small town with a pretty strong sense of community. I have 1 brother 2 years older than I am – actually exactly 2 years older (we share a birthday!) – pretty cool, but he did get irritated sharing a party with me as he got older. My mom and dad owned a panel beating shop for over 30 years – actually it’s still in our family, now run by my brother. My dad passed away 3 years ago from prostate cancer – 2 weeks before the birth of my second daughter, Quinn. My mother then moved to a beautiful Cape Town to enjoy the ocean and that where we go when we visit South Africa. I had an incredibly fun and wholesome up bringing – although humble – I never felt like I ever longed for anything. My parents were incredibly hard working and really taught us to be independent thinkers who cared for others. They were a great team and it was a privilege watching them as a loving married couple, as business partners and of course as parents.
In which country and city are you currently living in?
We live in Sai Kung, about 40 minutes from Hong Kong island.
Why did you decide to move to Hong Kong?
Mainly for my husband’s job.
Are you working in Hong Kong, and if so, what are you doing?
Before moving to Hong Kong we lived in Jakarta, Indonesia and while there I started thinking about starting a kids leggings brand. I started parts of the business there, but since being in Hong Kong, I have gone full-time working on it. So that’s what I do – I run an e-commerce store selling charcoal bamboo leggings. The brand is called Indica, each of the leggings have prints that teach young girls 3 key values: confidence, bravery and sisterly love.
What was it like moving and how did you find the experience of settling in and making it home?
I absolutely love the thrill of moving to a new country, especially one where things are SO different to home. So I really, really enjoyed it. I always try and set up the home space as familiar and comfortable as possible – so we feel a sense of safety. We are lucky that all our kids are pretty out-going and curious (like their parents) so they have adapted to new friends and school with an open mind and I feel if you do that – you attract the right energy.
Tell me about life in Hong Kong – what is it like for foreigners?
It’s pretty foreigner friendly in the sense that things work really well, there are no secrets to how government and basic services work. Things are efficient and you can get anything you need. Coning from South Africa it was a tough to adjust to people who really don’t smile much and don’t greet n the morning – this was the biggest thing I missed from home but after trying to understand the locals and stopped judging them, I learnt that they were actually pretty warm and showed it in a different way. I’ve learnt that the best way to settle in is to not judge the place, accept it for what it has and is and not to compare it to your home – that way you open yourself up to great adventure and learning.
Can you describe Hong Kong in three words?
Busy, efficient and compliant.
What are the best things to do in your area, anything to recommend to future expats?
In my area (Sai Kung) in particular, I definitely recommend the beaches for a day trip or overnight camping (Ham Tin, Trio Beach, Half Bay Moon), the rock pools in the country park and the various hikes like Macloese and Sai Wan and you can’t go home without eating seafood at one of the local seafood restaurants on the promenade- there are also some great floating restaurants.
What are the most significant adjustments you had to make when settling into expat life in Hong Kong?
Prices. Life is really expensive: house rental, school fees and groceries – So, I have learnt to stop doing the exchange.
Did you experience any particular elements of culture shock? And if so, what was it.
The none greeting and grumpy faces were a bit of a shock. People don’t part with their smiles very easily – that made me miss home the most. People are also so in a rush that the taxi doors open automatically when they stop and you feel like you are being thrown out, literally.
How are your children managing and adapting to the new language?
My eldest, Naylah who is 4,5 years old is really motivated to learn Cantonese and Mandarin – she spent 2 years in a local Cantonese school and she loved it. Quinn, my second born, will be starting at a local cantonese school later this month and I’m curious to see how she adapts to being taught in cantonese. But in general, they are both quite open minded and interested to learn. Either way, it’s an awesome challenge and a great way to immerse themselves in the local culture.
Was it easy to make friends and socialize?
Yes, it was as there is a large international community – so lots of people in similar situations and through the kids school and sports activities it was a great way to meet our current circle.
Talk a little about healthcare and public transport in Hong Kong vs. that of South Africa?
Public transport is an absolute dream come true! You have your pick on mode: train, taxi, Uber, ferry. It is the least expensive thing here and it is clean, reliable and super efficient -I love it! Healthcare is also incredibly efficient – most areas have their own healthcare facilities – ensuring people don’t have to go far for help. I gave birth to Liya (my 3rd daughter) in Hong Kong and the service was incredible!
How does the cost of living in Hong Kong compare to South Africa?
So much MORE expensive – this is something I am still trying to get used to – it’s not easy! I now really appreciate the value we get in SA.
Do you have any recommendations for others looking for work in Hong Kong? If so, how do you suggest they go about it.
I have not really hunted for work in Hong Kong so I don’t have first hand experience – but what I do know, it is an extremely open market for internationals – our South African consulate is on the ball and could probably provide some good guidance. The work ethic is really high here, so if you do get to work here, expect to work long hours (so I have heard).
Do you have any advice for anyone wanting to relocate to Hong Kong with their family?
It’s a great family place – especially if you don’t have to live in a high-rise, the international school system is pretty crazy – competitive for space. There are great outdoor playgrounds for young children – try and live where you can take advantage of walking everywhere. Overall, it’s a great place for families.