(Published by GT, Metro Beijing section on 19 April 2018)
What do you do when you have an important decision to make? You may choose to ask your friends and relatives for advice, weigh your options on your own or perhaps make a list of pros and cons. But one Beijing based family took to an untraditional method when it was time for them to decide whether to leave Beijing – and where to.
Victoria and Sam have been in Beijing for 3 years together with their two children aged 8 and 6. In early 2018, they had to decide whether to stay in Beijing, move back to America – or consider a third option. “Identifying your criteria for a happy life is never easy” says Victoria “so we had to think of a way that would allow us to take everything into consideration”. When the family moved to Beijing – their first posting abroad – they thought they would be moving back to New Jersey when the contract ended but as it became clear that there were other options, deciding where to go after Beijing was no longer that easy. When Sam suggested basing their decision on an algorithm, Victoria was slightly sceptical at first but the couple agreed that such a pragmatic approach was worth a try. “We used an excel spreadsheet to write down possible options of where to live and criteria that were important to us. As simple as that” she smiles. They considered the school for their children, family spirituality (the ability to practise their Christian faith), finances, work opportunities, personal safety, health – and finally contact with the middle eastern culture (Sam was born in Egypt and Victoria has Palestinian roots). They looked at options for potential places to live and the places they put on the list were Princeton (New Jersey, US), Bayonne (New Jersey, US), Shanghai, Arab countries, Virginia (US) and finally staying in Beijing.
On a scale from one to five, Beijing scored highest on a number of areas such as family unity (dynamics and quality time), personal safety, finances, career and convenience of life. At the same time, it scored lowest on family spirituality and the contact with the middle eastern culture. Shanghai got the exact same score as Beijing. Although moving to an Arabic country may have brought the family closer to their roots and religion, personal safety as well as finances and career would have been a concern in that part of the world. The family knew the quality of life would be fairly high in both Virginia and Bayonne, New Jersey and although the race between the two locations was close, Bayonne ended up with the highest score. A winner had been found. But home may very well be where the heart is – and not where the spreadsheet says it is. The family has decided to move to Princeton instead. Interestingly enough, Princeton was the family’s base before they moved to China. They are about to move back to the house they own there and in many ways, they will take up where they left off. Victoria and Sam could very well become trendsetters for their out-of-the-box approach but in a time of technology, algorithms and big data, the formula for a happy family life may lay in our gut instinct and our emotional connections after all.
Thank you to our lovely friends and neighbours Victoria and Sam! We will miss you - but see you in Princeton ;-)