Would You Move To China For Your Children? The Isom Family Did!(Series #9)

Anne & Eric Isom Family of 6 living in Nanjing China

Most parents would do almost anything for their children. I know I would.  But to what extent would you go?

Anne and Eric Isom, decided they wanted to say goodbye to their American life and move to China for the sake of their children.

There’s just one thing. Anne and Eric are not Chinese. Find out why and how they made the move to China a reality.

nanjing china Isom Family

Isoms Lived in Mongolia for 6 months + Now Live in Nanjing China

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Isom Family Snap Shot

  • Number Of Kids: 4 beautiful girls (16, 12, 9 and 7)
  • Educating Kids: Homeschool ( +Language Studies)
  • Type Of Travel: Living Abroad, Long Term,  International
  • Length Of Travel: Since 2011, 1 + Years
  • Where Travelled: :—> Mongolia, Nanjing China ( Anne + Eric Both grew up globe trotting)
  • Challenges: Money: unexpected expenses.
  • Finances: Money from selling stuff + House +saving for several years.
  • Budget: $66  day or $12 per person per day or $2,000 / month
  • Where To Find Them Online: Main Website www.islandschoolhouse.com, facebook: www.facebook.com/islandschoolhouseblog, Twitter: @islandschhouse; buy some of Anne’s photos at www.society6.com/IslandSchoolHouse



Eric and Anne Isom have 4 beautiful girls who range in age from 7 to 16 ( as of 2012).

Eric (dad) has short blond hair and looks like the kind of dad you see on T.V.  Anne (mom) has dirty blond hair, fair skin and the most trusting smile I have ever seen. Their eldest daughter is 16 and is the perfect blend of mom and dad.

Then there are the three younger girls who have their moms contagious smile but share no other physical traits of their parents. Unlike their older sister, all three younger girls have straight jet black hair, olive skin and dark eyes.

If you haven’t guessed yet, Eric and Anne’s 3 younger daughters are adopted and were all born in China.



The main reason Eric and Anne went to China is because they believe it is important to teach their adopted girls about their Chinese heritage.  They also believe it’s important that all members of their family learn about China and the Chinese culture.

But how does one go about teaching your adopted children from China about their Chinese culture when you have little to no first hand experience in that culture?

METHODS: How To Teach Kids About Their Chinese Heritage

Conventional Method

Eric and Anne could have joined one of the many organized subcultures that have developed around the growing number of Chinese children adopted by American families since 1991.

Do a quick internet search and you’ll find play groups, Chinese dance lessons, private Chinese lessons, tours of China and online support groups dedicated to supporting Chinese children adopted by American families.

Anne and Erics Method

But Eric and Anne didn’t just want their girls to learn about China through pictures , text books, Chinese dance classes and their limited knowledge of China. They wanted their girls to feel at home in their birth country.  They wanted all their girls, even their biological daughter to live and breath Chinese culture and they wanted to do it together as a family.

[alert style=”1″]According to the NYtimes, there are over 55,000 Chinese children ( mostly girls) who have been adopted by American families since 1991. (That’s when China loosened its adoption laws to address the growing number of children abandoned because of the one-child policy.) Most of the children are younger than 10.[/alert]

How Their Adventure Began..

For years Eric and Anne hoped Eric could get a job in China.  Unfortunately, even though Eric was highly skilled in his field and a manager at a global 500 company, he was never able to find a job in China due to his inability to speak Chinese.

THE MONGOLIAN JOB: Not What They Expected

Then in 2011, Eric’s company sent him and his family to Mongolia for a six month contract.  It wasn’t China but it was something.

After a few months, it became apparent that Mongolia was not what they wanted. Although living in Mongolia gave the Isom’s the international experience they were looking for, it wasn’t fulfilling their main goal which was to live and breath Chinese culture and to connect their adopted daughters to their Chinese heritage.

China Or Bust

At the end of Erics six month contract, the Isom family decided that in order to make their dream of living in China a reality, they needed to move to China NOW, on their own without corporate sponsorship.

Another driving force to move to China sooner rather than later was the fact that their eldest daughter was already 15. Soon she would be out in the world on her own and the Isoms wanted to make sure she didn’t miss this fantastic opportunity to learn about Chinese culture.

Logistically it made sense too. They had no mortgage, everything they owned was in their suitcases and China was the next country over. So Why not move? 

Their Apartment In Nanjing China

Anne Isom Family Flat in Nainjing China

The Isoms Sparsely furnished Flat before a few trips to Ikea

On the 5th of January, 2012, after some preparation, visa research and house hunting, they moved to Nanjing China where they now live in a 3 bedroom flat on the 17th floor of a high rise. The high rise is on a quiet street, where the kids can ride bikes, visit parks and even roller skate.

Language and Educational Goals

Eric is attending a 2 year intensive Chinese language program at Nanjing University so he can break the language barrier, become fluent in Chinese and find similar work to what he did before. (i.e. Consulting, Project Management, etc.)

Nanjing University Campus China

Nanjing University Campus in China

What’s really great is that the Isoms eldest and biological daughter is also attending the same intensive language program as her father and apparently is quite the linguist. She started attending when she was just 15 years old.

The Isom’s three adopted girls have a private Chinese tutor who comes to their home 4 days a week for three whole hours each day.


In addition to their language courses, Anne is homeschooling all the girls.  Anne used to home-school back in the US so it was a no brainer to continue homeschooling them while in China.

How Do They Pay For It All?

With the exception of some books and art pieces which are in a storage unit back in the US, the Isom’s sold everything they own including their home to fund their two year trip to China.  They also saved like crazy several years in advance.

Plus, it costs much less to live in China especially since they don’t have a mortgage, car payments and all the trappings of their old life.

Money Money Money

So how much does it actually cost for a family of 6 to live in China. 

The Isom’s spend less than 24K a year for everything including the university tuition for two people. That means, rent, utilities, transportation, travel insurance, visas, food, clothing, tutors, entertainment…. Everything.

That breaks down to  $66 per day or $13 bucks per person.

[alert style=”3″]For anyone planning a long term travel agenda, Anne suggests making a well planned budget and then add 20%. There are always unexpected expenses that you just can’t plan for.[/alert]

Camelback back pack ruck sack


Luggage wise, the Isoms brought two 50 lbs. suitcases each plus they each have a carry on bag and a camelback backpack each( the one with a water bladder inside of them). This is more than a lot of our other families who have to limit their possessions to a backpack because they are moving more often.

When Will The Isom Family Return To The US?

The Isoms intend to stay in China indefinitely. They are banking on the fact that Eric will be able to land a job once he masters the Chinese language.

Anne is proud of the fact that they are not living in the “expat bubble” as she liked to call it and says for the moment, they are enjoying their life in China but at some point, they plan on returning to their globe trotting ways and introduce their children to other countries and cultures several times a year.

Final Thoughts

The Isom’s story is a good reminder for all you wanderlusts spirits that just because you have children doesn’t mean that you must raise them a certain way.

You have to choose the path that best suits your values and goals.

[alert style=”3″]“We are actively creating our own future, not waiting any longer for employers or “chance” to provide us with the opportunities we desire “                                                              Annie Isom[/alert]

Would You Like To Live Abroad Someplace Like China Too?

If you are or would like to plan your own family adventure abroad, Anne has her top three bits of advice for you.

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Anne and Eric Isom Advice

  1.  Get out of debt. 100% out of debt! You don’t want debt nagging at you in the back of your mind!
  2. If you are going “for the experience,” really experience it. Live, shop, eat, and study where the locals live, eat, shop and study.  Choose places to stay where you are not surrounded by expats and avoid having the “local expats” help you get settled. They will steer you to locations close to them, encourage you to shop at the import stores and will influence you to make choices you otherwise would not.
  3. Start teaching your children now that they must try every food at least once, and set an example for them!
  4. BONUS: Anne says that one of their biggest challenge has been unexpected expenses.  So before you trip, make a detailed budget and add 20% to it.

 So what do you think?

Leave your comments below…

The Isom family are are the 9th family to be featured in an ongoing series showcasing and featuring families and couples who are travelling full time or for extended periods of time.

Some people travel for just a year while others have been travelling for more than 5. These are not lottery winners or rich people. They are just ordinary people like you and me who made travel their goal and decided to work at that goal to make it happen. I hope it inspires you to do the same no matter what your goals are.

Want to get featured on this site like this family? Do you know of someone whom I should feature?  Please fill out this form and I’ll post the story here..



WOW! I don’t know if I could move to a culture that is so different than mine. They are a brave family.

We have close friends that adopted a Chinese girl when she was an infant. She is now 14. Dad is not Chinese but mom is so she does get some heritage from that side of the family.

What I found interesting was every year they meet with many other families that have adopted from China at the same time. They have formed their own traditions together.

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    Annie Andre

    Hi Allie, I think that is what is so amazing. It’s not like they are moving to Europe where the cutlure is different but with so many similarities. China is like night and day compared to their life in the US.

    They really took it to the next level by actually moving to China. Somehow i think they are having the time of their life..
    Annie Andre recently posted..Would You Move To China For Your Children? The Isom Family Did!My Profile


I admire families like this. When I have a family I would love to live abroad so my children can learn several languages and be immersed in new cultures. I would also like to adopt children, so I may have to contact this family and get the details. :) Thanks for sharing. I love reading stories about adventurous families like yourself!
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    Annie Andre

    Meg, that is so amazing that you want to adopt. I never considered adoption before i had my kids. I can totally see myself doing what the Isom family did had i adopted children from a different ethnic background from mine.
    Annie Andre recently posted..Would You Move To China For Your Children? The Isom Family Did!My Profile

    Anne Isom

    Meg, I’d be more than happy to answer your questions about adoption! In one of my previous lives I ran a China program for an adoption agency. And yes Annie, we are having the time of our lives!


I think that’s so admirable of them to want their children to experience the culture in which they were born. I admire their dedication for wanting to give that to them.

Like you Annie, I think it’s wonderful that parents want to give their children an early experience of living and visiting other countries. I wish I would have had these opportunities when I was young but I love hearing how other families are making this happen and are having the time of their lives.

I love hearing about all the families who are living abroad and how they’ve managed it and how they are doing.

Thank you Annie for continuing to inspire us all to get out there and do what we’ve always wanted to do. Life is about living to the fullest and the Isom family definitely is.

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Tim Bonner

Now that is certainly a big sacrifice for the kids! It puts my stay at home dad status way down in terms of making sacrifices for your kids.

I’m not sure I could move to China though. Completely different culturally and they have one of the most difficult written and spoken languages out there.

My wife spent 6 months over there studying in Hangzhou in the early 90s. I guess it was more of a culture shock at that point. There weren’t that many Westerners out there at all then.

From my wife’s stories of studying in China, I’m not sure I would want to live there for any length of time! I would love to visit though for a holiday.

Hats off to the Isoms. They sure went all out for their kids and I admire that.
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Anne Isom


The first time I visited China was in 1983. Things have changed immensely since then! In 1983 it was still Mao jackets and cotton slippers, and now we have mini skirts and a cell phone for every person! We laugh that the kids on the subway are texting each other rather than talking… sounds a little like America, huh?

How awesome that you are a stay at home dad! Off to read your blog!



What an amazing and intrepid family! So organized and dedicated to save for all that time, and now to manage to live on so very little. Even for China, $13 per person per day does not sound like much! I love how they are just embracing culture and living with the locals.

And thanks for sharing what they do for luggage – those are always the types of details I wonder about!
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    Anne Isom

    Sarah, I’m not sure that the article explained it fully when it comes to luggage. We had 2 50 lbs. bags per person + our carry on. We have learned (the hard way) that good luggage is worth investing in. Do not bother with anything at Walmart! ;o) We use Eagle Creek duffle bags and have been very happy with them. We’ve made it 8 mo. with only three care packages being sent by friends, so I think we did pretty good on the packing end. $13/person/day is definitely doable in China. My daughter just ran to the wet market (in the basement of the building next to us) and came home with 3 red onions and a large bunch of cilantro for Y3 or about $.48. We are vegan, so that does make a difference in our food budget, esp. if we can buy our veggies from the locals. We do splurge and buy our beans from the import market, but we can get a pound of black beans (for example) for Y15 or $2.38. If we buy black beans at the wet market they are Y5/gin or $1.60/pound, but then we have to watch them carefully for bugs, etc. Our rent is $500 USD per month and I am working on figuring out our average for utilities, but I believe they are well under $150 USD per month. If you compare that to how the other “expats” are living, their homes are costing around Y20K-Y30K/month with utility bills to math. Honestly, I doubt I could find an apartment this size and as nice in the US for $500/mo.! Thanks for your comment!
    Anne Isom recently posted..Featured in 100+ Inspirational Families Who Did It!My Profile


It sounds very cool to me. I love stories like this and we may very well do something similar.

Won’t be China, but I am seriously thinking about trying to move overseas for a while.

Got a bit of work to do before that happens, but we’ll see.

Regardless I think it is admirable to go on such a big adventure.
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Hey Annie,

I agree (from experience in my own family) there’s a HUGE difference between learning a culture within your own country and actually being in that country.

Even though I’m sure there are great Chinese schools, clubs, societies, communities, classes… none of those is ever going to beat actually being in China.

It’s all the bits in-between you’re never going to get – i.e. the real culture is everything, not just a snapshot.

Thanks for sharing another great story,

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Nicholle Olores

Hi Annie, if I would have the chance to live abroad I wouldn’t coz I don’t want another kind of atmosphere and of course I don’t want another adjustments. But with this couple I appreciate their goodness, they have a purpose why they live on China and that is definitely for their adopted daughters.
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What an awesome story. Moving to China and then hoping you find a job afterward is a big risk. But it seems like this family is seriously determined to make it work so I think it is a risk that will eventually pay off.

I think it’s so great when families decide to live abroad for their kids. What better learning experience is there than living in another culture.

I just met a student of mine who is planning on living abroad for a full year through a student exchange program. She’s so excited about it even though it’s kind of a scary experience.

In just a couple of weeks, I’ll be moving abroad to Morocco to teach at an American school. Although my experience will only last two months. What I’m hoping is that it works out well enough to get an international placement at an American school so I can move abroad for a few years. That’s still way too early to say, but I’ll see what happens.
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    Annie Andre

    I just read your story about moving to Morocco for 2 months. I’m excited for you.

    You have the perfect degree that will allow you to travel and work. At my sons high school, they asked me if i wanted to teach english but i can’t because i lack the credentials.

    Excited for you Steve. You deserve it, you’ve been working really really hard.
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