Kitso Rantao: Leaving the South African Bubble to Live in China
Kitso is a content strategist and community connector living in Shanghai, China. Originally from South Africa, she is host and producer of the Startup Africa Podcast and runs projects various community projects under Afrilennia Consult. She is passionate about telling compelling stories and connecting global ecosystems with African entrepreneurs.
Transcripts are automatically generated and may not be an 100% accurate transcription.
Nicole (Host): Welcome to the moving roadmap podcast powered by Avvinue. My name's Nicole, and I'll be your host for the show. In this episode, we're excited to introduce our guests. Kitso Rantao, Kitso is a content strategist and community connector. Living in Shanghai, China. Originally from South Africa, she is host and producer of the startup Africa podcast and runs projects, various community projects.
She is passionate about telling compelling stories and connecting global ecosystems with African entrepreneurs. Welcome to the show. Keytesville.
Kitso Rantao: Hi, Nicole. Thank you so much for having me.
Nicole (Host): Absolutely. So what a journey I love to know. Okay. So when did you move abroad?
Kitso Rantao: So I moved to Shanghai from South Africa in 2018, actually just had, like my mini kind of two year anniversary year anniversary, not so long ago in April, just over two years.Two years in a month, basically. Yeah.
Nicole (Host): Great. Was this your first time moving abroad?
Kitso Rantao: Yes to live and work abroad. Yes. I mean, I traveled before and I, I'd been to France for a month, kind of, for like job shadowing, internship, thing. And I think, and then after that, I decided to move to like another province within South Africa to go live.
Cause like, ah, I like this not living at home and figuring out things. and then my next move was like, okay guys. So. You know, I lived in Cape town and I went to France for a month. Now I'm going to go live in China. So, Oh my gosh.
Nicole (Host): How did your family take that?
Kitso Rantao: You know, they were, they always knew that I wanted to travel.
I think that's one thing from about the age of like 13 ish, 13, 14. I'd said when they asked me, what do you want to do when you grow up? I want to be a diplomat. So based on that, I guess they kind of knew. Okay. So she really wants to travel. Yeah. I think it just became an extension of that because then I went and I studied and I studied something.
I said, okay, this is the bigger picture. I'm going to become a diplomat. I want to travel and see the world. So, it wasn't a completely foreign idea for me to go and live and work in another country. But. My family was kind of like, okay, but why China? Like why? And also, like, why didn't you maybe go study somewhere else or do an exchange program that kind of like a soft landing.
Why are you now deciding to just kind of pick up stuff, your life here, and move to China. So. They took it well, because they knew it's something that I always wanted to do, but they will also have like mixed feelings.
Nicole (Host): It's funny how family can sometimes say that, but you know, there's better things here. Like all of a sudden, even though they know like, Oh, that's great opportunity for you to go abroad somehow. It's like, no, but you know what actually, where we are is really nice. You can find things here.
Kitso Rantao: Definitely. I still get that. It's like also, when, when are you coming back? So how long are you there for? I don't know.
Nicole (Host): Oh, okay. So for now, is that indefinite? Do you have a plan of going somewhere next?
Kitso Rantao: I, mean right now, it's a very weird time because, you know, obviously there's been, the past couple of months, the first few months of 2020, I've been very, I have had a lot of unexpected twists and turns.
And, there's been a lot of time to introspect. And I think often my time here working so much with, and getting to meet so many people from all over, the African continent, it's been really interesting and made me very curious about. Hmm, what would it be like to live in Senegal? It can make me very nice.
What would it be like to live in Nigeria or if European, Pia or Kenya? So I think right now I would, I'm not, I don't want to be back in South Africa. Cause I think once you've been an expat, it's really, you don't know where in the scheme of things. Cause I was home previously for two months. And it was I trying to figure out how I’ll get back into the community being away for so long.
So I'm not really looking at going back to South Africa right now, but I would definitely like to make for the next move to be somewhere on the continent, preferably a Francophone country so that I can maybe learn things. Some. I think definitely that's I, the, I still have about maybe two years. Yeah.
Because I really wanted in Mandarin and I want to be sure of what the next place will be after here. But I think definitely somewhere back on backwards. No way yet, but yeah.
Nicole (Host): Well you mentioned Senegal in the beginning and I have to say some of my,... the most beautiful people that I've ever known close friends of mine are from Senegal, amazing food. So, I'm kind of biased towards the Senegal option.
Kitso Rantao: Right. I think it will be interesting. And I mean, there's, I don't know. It's you, get to meet and that's a nice thing to go on. Right. You get to meet people from there and then that's what makes you decide to move to the country. And not necessarily because you've heard, Oh, there's this happening or there's this, but they do have, like a buzzing entrepreneurial industry and like a really good ecosystem there, would be interesting as well. Yeah.
Nicole (Host): Excited to hear, you know, where your journey takes you. So, okay. So moving to Shanghai from South Africa, okay. Walk us through the steps that took you to plan your mood. Because I imagine it's very different for, let's say an American moving to Shanghai, but from South Africa moving to Shanghai, what was that like?
What did, how did you plan for that?
Kitso Rantao: Well, it was so I, while I was studying, I had. In quiet or looked into, you know, teaching abroad, as something that I might want that I might want to do. but obviously I think by the time I finished studying, I had studied law, but I didn't really want to work in law.
So I did not want to work in law at all. So, I went into communications and, and media, and that's where I was working. And I was working with young entrepreneurs, in high school, in high school. And then I. So it was, it was okay. I was, you know, I had my apartment, I had my car and I had my local, well not office job.
And I just felt like I needed to see the world and there wouldn't be a better time than now. And so I left my job and then I think it would have been more advisable looking back now to probably continue my job while I'm doing like the typical certificate to qualify and. While I'm then looking at different, different, like schools and stuff to go and work and work in.
But, I did the opposite. I left my job first and then I, it usually takes a month to do like a typical certificate. I took like two weeks cause I had all the time in the world and then it was a crazy process of trying to figure it out. What documents are needed, what needs to be certified, what needs to be authenticated, you know, where you need to go.
Do you go to the embassy? Do you go to the consulates? Do you go to an agency? So it was that whole process, but that took about three months. So I think February, almost the end of February,I decided to start my temple. And by the time, 22nd of April is when I landed in Shanghai. So it was quite a quick process because I spoke to people who had already gone through the process.
About where do I go to certify this? Where do I go to certify this? Cause that takes that's the runaround and then waiting for your documents to come back once, once you've sent all your documents, your degree, your temple certificate and all of that, once you've sent that through and then waiting for everything to be cleared and stuff in Shanghai, which has, you know, one of the highest concentration of expats in China, which means that if it's a long wait, so that was about a month.
And during that time, I really didn't think I didn't want the strange thing that I didn't do. I guess I don't look too much into China. So I didn't think too much about the location. I didn't like researching food. I didn't research. I didn't want to research. I just want it to be, I wanted it to be a completely new experience without expectation.
So whereas a lot of people would fuss over, you know, I knew the basic things. Like what's the currency, you know, who's the president. But, I really didn't want to have a preconceived idea. I just wanted to be open and land in Shanghai. I just knew it was a big expat community and it was a big city and I just wanted it to surprise me.
So during that time it was anxious about leaving, but not too strict on like, okay, this is what I need to expect. Hmm.
Nicole (Host): Yeah. And you know what? That's really good because I think a lot of times we have this idea in our mind, we romanticize where we're going and, and of course it's never the same, even if you're like watching YouTube videos and you see people giving tours of what the city is like, it's not the same.
There's something about just being there and, you know, taking it all in and processing it and creating your own. Reality of what is versus what somebody else's telling you to believe. So, like you said, like a preconceived idea, so that's awesome that you decided not to do all the deep dive and research, whereas yeah, many experts. That's what the first thing they want to do is research, research, research. But it definitely changes perspective.
Kitso Rantao: Yeah. I think it also just allowed it to be a very organic experience. Because what happened when I got here, I needed to figure out, okay, how do I, where do I go to eat that way to people hanging out?
And then that just made, like I would get off at random Metro stations, for example. And I would walk around and figure out, Oh, this looks like a cool coffee shop. but that's just how I got to know the area. I would figure out how to like, Catch the public bags, and cycle around and really just get to experience the city for myself as opposed to kind of a narrative.
Oh, you must check out this. I think later on that's when I was like, okay, let me look at what tourist spaces I should go to. And it was only because I had like some. Friend coming to visit so that, okay. I need to show them around town and not just like random coffee shops.
Nicole (Host): Yeah. It's funny how that is.
Like when you have friends coming to visit all of a sudden, you're like, alright, where are the tourist places that happened? When my first friend came to visit here in Leon, France. And it was like, okay, you know, I actually, haven't done all these tourist things. And same thing when I lived in New York, all my friends, like, okay, let's do the tourist things again and again.
I think I've actually just saved the tourist things for when people come to visit. So I don't do a lot of the touristy things. I just kind of live, you know, and, and experience the society as a whole. But the tourists definitely. Because then it has to go on the red bus, the hotline, like six times to visit.
Nicole (Host): They need to give you an annual pass, Okay. So you got your TEFL certificate two weeks instead of one month. Amazing. Did you line up a job in Shanghai before you moved? Cause I know you said like it took three months to figure out the documentation and everything, but did you already have a job?
Kitso Rantao: Yes. So in order to move here, you have to have, the paper, the paper, the documentation, and all of that.
So I interviewed with a couple of places before I moved here. And, then, then decided on one school, they sent an author. So the interview was done over, I think it was Skype. Yeah. So I did the interview over Skype. And I did know someone who was working there. So I did speak to them on the phone.
What's the work environment like, or, but not really what, what the work environment like it was more of a, okay, is this a scam or not, you know, just more that I just needed to know the safe part of it, because at the end of the day, she could have said, Oh, it was a brilliant working environment. And then I could have had a bad experience or it could have been the other way around.
So yeah. I was really just about like, let me kind of experience it for myself. So I did do the interview beforehand. And so when I came here, I think the company as well, did a very good job of, kind of ushering people in, like a nice soft landing because you got, you landed and they took me to a hotel and then you had like accommodation and, that was a really, really nice thing.
because it makes it easier. So you have someone that you can ask, okay, how do I work? The Metro, where do I buy my Metro card? And especially cause in South Africa, we don't really have, we have a Metro system, but it's not that vast. so coming here and there's like 17 Metro lines criss crossing around like this massive city, things like that really helped with just making it a bit more of a comfortable move.
So I did, I would, I would say it was better to know and have the job security before coming here. Yeah, absolutely.
Nicole (Host): Well, that's good. You were able to line it up pretty quickly. I mean, from the time you said you got your TEFL certification to the time you finalize all your paperwork seems very quick.
So that's amazing. What were some of the challenging aspects that you experienced in coordinating your move?
Kitso Rantao: I think, you know, inflammation in terms of. So, for example, when it comes to your degree, you have to get it authenticated, but. You're not sure when, where, so the reason why my process went so quick is because I knew where to go.
And I had a couple of people who helped me and therefore I could get things done in the quickest amount of time. So for example, with your degree, you have to go to the department of higher education and you have to get that certification. So you get an, a piece of paper that says. You know, you have this degree, but with your temple certificate, you don't have to do the same thing. You have to get an original copy sent to you, which is usually an extra charge. So
Nicole (Host): What were some things you didn't expect to happen during your move?
Kitso Rantao: Well, I don’t know. I really, I was really open when it came to the expectations I read and I wasn't that rigid in terms of, this is what I expect.
This is what I don't expect. so I think, yeah, the key thing for me, which made it less, a little less stressful was not having. An expectation of how it's supposed to go. I think there was one thing where I was like, okay, when I get to the airport, what's going to happen because I don't speak Chinese.
Or, you know, what, if I can't find the Starbucks? Cause they said, wait, wait by the Starbucks. It's like, what if I can't find the Starbucks? It's just the general fears that you have when you're, I guess, traveling to another country. and then one of the weird things where I didn't expect to happen was to get there and there it was, I thought, you know, I think we always think that can we assume that in a lot of cases they will be some semblance of like English or some normal, like some bit of English happening.
And, when I got here, I think it was. Like I went to McDonald's and I couldn't just order a big Mac, you know, I couldn't just order it. Yeah. And that was unexpected. I think in my head, I did expect that. Okay. If I get there, if I do say like cappuccino at Starbucks, like they'll know what it is, but no, it's it's English is not the language, the language here.
So, even if you take that bus, you know, it's not going to happen. It has to be cappuccino in Chinese. So I think that was a wow. Okay. Something that I did not expect. And I'm thinking back at it now, I'm like, why did I not expect this? Why didn't I not anticipate this?
Nicole (Host): But, it's funny, that happens to many expats, you know? I moved to France. There's people moving to different countries. And for some reason, especially when you come from an English speaking country, predominantly it's one of the languages it's like, for some reason, we just assume everything is going to be offered at least a little bit in English.
Kitso Rantao: Yeah. Yeah. I think in getting lost on the road, like if you get lost, you can't ask for directions because you kind of understand how to receive the instructions on weight, like how to receive the directions. You don't know how to ask. It's just, yeah, it was, one of those. I didn't expect that.
Or another thing was not understanding how the directions work. So for example, in South Africa, Usually, if you're directing someone, you'll tell them, okay, you go straight and then you take the first right, right? And then you take a left and then. After the greenhouse, you take another, right.
Whereas a lot of other directions, you are told, you head East and then you go North and I was like, Hmm. North, tell me to turn left up to the traffic lane. It was a bit weird, and many things like that. I was like, I did not expect this. I didn't expect this to be a problem.
Nicole (Host): Yeah. That's a really perfect example. I'm really interested culturally, how people give directions. I love that you have to turn on your inner compass, when you need something right.
Kitso Rantao: That's true. That's true. And it's a huge city, like everything. It's huge. so yeah, it was also, I grew up in a city, but this was 10 times, you know, I mean, Shanghai would be looked at as New York. it's huge. Yeah. And so that was also just another adjustment. I think. I didn't think I grasped before coming here. The gravity of how huge it is. It's, you know, tall skyscrapers, every, every other building is like 30, 40 floors. and that's just the average building. So yeah, it was just how big and wide. I think I didn't really expect that.
Nicole (Host): Awesome. Well, now looking back. You're recently celebrated your two years living in Shanghai. What would you have done differently now, looking back and planning your move?
Kitso Rantao: Well, I think I, I mean, I came here and I, and I, and I, and I came here to teach English and that has been like my main job. But I think about all the experiences that I've had. So then I went, I started getting involved in more different, different communities. Like, I think girl gone international is always a really good one.
So, you know, I started joining different communities. I think I would have researched more when it comes to that like different communities, like, finding fellow South Africans and. You know what, just trying to get a more holistic picture of what else is there to do besides like my day job and what I'm going there to do, because that has been the thing that has really changed my experience here, in terms of then, you know, creating content and then in terms of building communities and, and then, you know, interviewing with interviewing African entrepreneurs and then just engaging so much with a lot of the African community that is, yeah.
I think I would have done kind of more research in terms of what are the different communities, because I think when you, when you move, you look at what are the activities like, what are the accents, what am I going to do when I get there? But we don't think enough in terms of who am I going to do these things with?
You know, who am I, people who are, who am I going to engage with? Who am I going to make friends with? And I think I would have looked a bit more into that. I think I would have signed up for Chinese lessons even beforehand. I mean, it probably wouldn't have helped that much, but I would have signed up for mentoring beforehand just to kind of gauge the language a bit.
And I think I would have come with more money. there's, there's definitely a, there was, I don't think there was enough information on how much one would actually need to survive, like the first month or three months. yeah.
Nicole (Host): How much would you say would be a good amount? And I know every city is completely different, but for you now moving to Shanghai, what would you say would be a good cushion for, you know, the first few months?
Kitso Rantao: I think the first few months, I mean, Shanghai is a very, very expensive city. I would possibly say one, one of the most expensive in China. So, you know, I would say about three, to four thousand,I think in dollars. Yeah. That's what I'd say. It's about maybe 20 to 30,000 RMB. That's kind of a broad space, but that's 20,000 means that at least the first month, if you need to get a rental, if you need to get things sorted, get around. Yeah, I think that would be like an amount I'd say about two to three to thousand.
Okay, for the first month, I mean, if you're looking at that amount, it's almost like 70% of that amount would actually just go to rent because some of the places it's like two months rent one month, two months rent, two months deposit. So you're basically paying four months rent. Like off the bat.
Nicole (Host): It's important that you mentioned that because you know, when you move abroad, you could be looking at, okay, what are going to be my monthly expenses, but sometimes you have to upfront a lot of that costs, you know, whether it's the deposit for an apartment, furnishing anything, getting any new supplies that you need, getting your, you know, your fridge stocked up and all these things where you're upfronting.
So it's important to, you know, go with more, for the beginning stages of your move. So good point.
Kitso Rantao: I must say though, the one convenience about Shanghai is that, most as an expat, most of the time you actually get a furnished apartment. I don't think anyone really gets unfurnished, because you're here for like two years or three years or four years, most of the apartments are furnished.
So you kind of just move in with your suitcase. That is. Probably one of the best parts
Nicole (Host): See, that sounds amazing because here in France, we had to build our kitchen. So that was like, okay, we're moving. We found an apartment and now we need to build a kitchen because culturally they leave with their kitchen.
So that was a new unexpected experience for us. So love how Shanghai has furnished.
Kitso Rantao: And then he must like, find a builder and figure out how that works. Yeah.
Nicole (Host): In a foreign language. Yes. So
Kitso Rantao: Everything is advanced level in a foreign language building a kitchen, but because it's happening in a foreign language, it's like 10 times more complicated.
Nicole (Host): Absolutely completely escalates whatever this situation is.
And it could be something so simple as you know, I just need a screwdriver. But now. Okay. What is that word, how do you describe it?
So, all right. Now, what kind of advice would you give to someone considering moving abroad? And I know you have a specific angle where you moved to teach English abroad. So we know we have a lot of listeners that are also considering the same, getting their TEFL certificate and considering to move abroad.
So what advice would you give to them?
Kitso Rantao: You know, I think moving, moving abroad is an opportunity to open yourself up to a global community. Like you grow up in a community, you have your sense of community at home. But you cannot even predict the amount of, growing, learning, exposure that you would get, and introspection that you get from forming a global community and you become part of a global community and that really opens you up.
So I always say that if it's something, if you're considering moving abroad, it will grow you in ways that you never, ever could imagine. There is no, stimulation that you can go through in your home country to train you or to teach you the things that you learn from figuring out how much different it is outside the US. So I think it is an experience that stretches and grows you. And what you come back with is if you go back or if you decide to travel some more, but what you take away from every place that you live is so valuable that it's, I think it is definitely worth it to live abroad. And I think that people should also definitely be.
Open to the experiences to something different than what they expected. I like, like you said, you know, I came here to teach English and what ended up happening is I had free time and I, and I had the chance to explore like talents and interests that I never would have readily gotten to explore, you know, if I was in my comfort zone and it's so cliche, but it's so true that.
You know, life begins outside your comfort zone. the military in a space where you are no one again, you can be anything. And so I think there's just so much value in, in that. So I'd say anyone who wants to move abroad, if they're thinking of doing their tempo, pick your country, be open, it's a year of your life.
That you'll have to be open to learning things that you didn't want to learn. Things that you never thought you would learn. Things that. You're like, Oh my gosh. I never want to experience that again, but it's all valuable in the next part of your journey, you know? So I think it's definitely a worthwhile experience and it's an adventure.
It's fun. I think I've made more friends yet. Like then I could have, I've made more friends here from all over that, you know, I never would have made back home. So if I decided, ah, I'm going to go to Spain or something, there's someone I can call and be like, Hey, like, can I come visit you in Spain? Because accommodation is like the main thing that you pay for when you travel.
Yeah. So, that's also a nice thing. You go, they're a really good global community and it opens you up to new experiences and new things.
Nicole (Host): Love it. And I absolutely love, love, love what you just said. Life begins outside your comfort zone. we need to put this on shirts and hats, and this is like so beautifully said.
So, I love that. So anyone who's listening again, life begins outside your comfort zone. So if you're debating moving abroad, consider it, just open yourself up, you know, you're going to have a wonderful experience, there’s expat communities. there's all kinds of communities that can help support you. And, I can really make your experience worthwhile and just to open your mind to a global,
Kitso Rantao: l left out, one random, one to add, and that's to always bring food from home. that is like, that'll be like your survival kits. Like everything else is whatever. bring like food from home. That'll be a survival kit for the bad days, but then everything else is an adventure.
Nicole (Host): Yes, especially ingredients. So if you like the ingredients that you are used to, You may end up like, not finding it. That's happened to me. My family is from the Dominican Republic. And so I'm used to having, you know, Caribbean flavors in food and here don't find it. And so that was one of the things I had to order on Amazon. Just I can see in my food to make it the way I'm used to. so I love that. Yeah. Bring the food or just like the seasoning ingredients, certain things. Of course, if you're able to take it. Yeah,
Nicole (Host): Love that. Okay. So I always end up with a random question. So what's your favorite city you visited?
Kitso Rantao: I visited Lagos in Nigeria, before moving here, like a few years ago, like four years ago. And yeah, that was one of my favorite cities. It is. Busy. It is bustling. It is vibrant. It is friendly.
It is. I love that. That goes was amazing. Like in terms of the culture, the food, the people. Absolutely. that's one of what I think that's, yeah, that would be like one of my favorite cities. Like I would definitely go back there, in a heartbeat, any opportunity. I would definitely go back to Lagos.
Nicole (Host): I love it.
All right. So how can our listeners find you on social media?
Kitso Rantao: Media across the board, I'm on Instagram as Kitso Rantao, which is my name and I'm also on LinkedIn, same. And I'm also on Twitter as Kitso Rantao, any project, every, anything that I do.
Nicole (Host): Love it. And you also have a podcast, so please check out her podcast, Startup Africa, and we'll include some links in the description so they can connect with you, follow you along your journey and see where you ended up next.
Kitso Rantao: Yeah. All right.
Nicole (Host): Definitely. Yes. Love it. Thank you so much for joining. We appreciate having you on the show.
Kitso Rantao: All right. Thank you so much for having me and looking forward to, to, hearing the podcast.