We recently caught up with Lauren Hogan, an established expat in China, running coach, fitness manager, and freelance writer to find out more about her passions and life as an expat.
1:Where are you originally from? How long have you lived in Shanghai, China? What made you move to China? What were the challenges you faced in such a foreign culture and how did you overcome them?
I’m originally from the US, but both my parents are military officers, so growing up, we moved around quite often, and also spent time abroad. I originally came to China in 2010 to teach in Wenzhou, China, for 10 months. I had just graduated from University and wanted to live abroad before pursuing a career in my degree: journalism. However, after my contract finished, I was offered an editorial internship in Shanghai at an English-language magazine, so with my two suitcases and minimal Chinese, I took a sleeper bus and woke up the next morning in the ‘big city’. After three months I was offered a job there, and the rest, as they say, is history. There are always challenges you face as an expat - but they change over time. Initially, it was navigating being in a foreign country, and trying to understand cultural norms and not see it as strange or rude. Understanding the reasons behind WHY people do certain things, or how they act can be incredibly valuable to adjusting to a new culture. It’s not my home country after all; seek to find understanding and you’ll end up with acceptance.
2: You say you ‘grow communities through fitness’ - tell us more about that? / What advice do you have for female expats looking to get into their fitness or are looking for a community?
I’m very passionate about fitness - and eventually pursued a career in the industry by helping launch the first F45 Training centres in Shanghai, second in China. I’m also a certified running coach and yoga instructor. But I’ve always found, that being a part of sports or fitness has helped me to find community. And sometimes, those communities don’t exist - maybe there’s a sport you play, or a type of workout you like to do that isn’t in the country you’re currently living in - and chances are, other people would enjoy it too. So why not create it, or work with other like-minded people to build something? I started the first international women’s soccer club (to my knowledge) in Shanghai, because one didn’t exist and I didn’t want to always play with men. I don’t mind playing with men to be clear, but it’s nice to bond with other women over sport, and talk about things or learn from one another that you might not be able to with men. We used to have to practically beg people to play with us. And now, seven years later, there are more than 10 clubs - all women - in the city, and an all-female league. It just goes to show, there was a need!
It can be intimidating to start something, even if starting something means joining something (like a gym), but you have to remember that you aren’t the only one intimidated or the only one in a new setting. We’re all in a new setting at some point, and we also wouldn’t be where we are now if we hadn’t tried to begin with. We don’t start as professionals - we all start as beginners. And it’s also important to remember, if you don’t like it, you don’t have to go back. But you will never know what you can accomplish - or what you might even inspire to others - if you don’t try. And fitness is so rewarding - not only do you benefit when you train, but more importantly when you see the changes in others (and I don’t mean just the physical changes) - it’s really incredible and inspiring. You can help to change someones life.
3: You have achieved a lot over your career. What keeps you motivated? What advice do you have for fellow female expats looking to advance their career?
Surrounding myself with a strong network of friends from different backgrounds, and reaching out to them for advice or conversation based on their skill-set, experience or values. Attending leadership events to keep learning from others. Always finding new ways to challenge myself - whether it’s with language, fitness, career, or something else. And now, making sure I create time for myself - I tend to always fill empty space in my calendar with something, but I’m slowly learning the importance of creating personal time and space to refill my cup and bring energy back into the world. Oh, and getting away from the city and into nature whenever I can.
4: Where have you lived/traveled to that has left a lasting impression on you?
Anywhere I’ve gone for a running race… you really feel more connected to the city, seeing the local life, navigating the streets and eating the local food afterwards :) I once did a race near a volcano in Java and it was the most beautiful blue skies I can remember seeing and the town we ran through was just so warm and welcoming. It felt so pure.
5: What advice do you have for female expats/digital nomads who need to keep up their fitness/wellness but may be always on the move or are starting out in their fitness journey?
Try to get a workout in your first half of the day so you have the rest of the day to explore, work, etc,. Get the endorphins going. If it’s safe, and you like running, go for a run around the city to explore. Or look up local gym offerings and see if they have drop in packages, or there’s a local service like ClassPass. Try to spend time outside - walking is still a form of exercise - is it possible for you to walk from one place to the next versus taking transportation? And if you have to resort to working out in a room - yoga or barre can be simple, but effective routines. I always travel with mini bands too as they’re light, easy to pack and can be great tools for both cardio and strength-based workouts.
6: What would you say has been the most impressive or life changing work you have achieved?
Seeing people transform through fitness. I’ve watched people coming out of depression, or mental struggles… I’ve heard so many people say this is the first time they’ve enjoyed working out and they feel so much better about themselves. Even hearing from coaches that this is the best job, or best community they’ve ever been a part of. Hearing how these fitness communities can really made a difference and impact their lives - and the lives of those around them too… their families, friends. It’s like James Clear says in Atomic Habits - those little 1% improvements every day can lead to truly life-changing results.
7: Are there any tips you would like to share with other women moving to a foreign country or entering a new culture?
Keep doing the things that brought you joy in your home country - you don’t always need to give them up because you’re in a new surrounding. Connect with people who have similar interests or are like-minded. Make time to get into nature. If you feel you don’t have time, remember work will always be there, but don’t forget to take care of yourself. You can’t give 100% if you’re not at 100%. Remember to breathe.
8: Do you have any advice for women who may have lost their way with fitness and wellness?
It’s tough, I know it really can be. If you know you enjoy fitness or there’s a type of workout you enjoy, write down what you think might be holding you back - try to understand the reasons why you aren’t going and see if it helps you to find a solution. If you’re intimidated or not sure how to start - you can always begin with online classes to break down that barrier. Or go somewhere no one will recognise you, try something that you are unfamiliar with or is completely out of your norm. Again, understanding where the fear or intimidation is coming from, and trying to remove that barrier. When I just want to get some stress out and move - I go to dance classes where I know no one - and I love them. I am not a good dancer, but it allows me to feel free. There’s no pressure; no expectation. I can just be myself and get a bit silly.
9: What do you do for fun/in your spare time?
Haha, I run. And then I enjoy some delicious food or coffee afterwards. I guess my definition of ‘fun’ is a bit different…
10: Lastly - If you could live and work anywhere in the world, where would it be?
After 12 years in China, I’m currently trying to figure that out - if anyone has suggestions please share them!
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