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The Girl Gone International, Michelle Ibarra

Mar 9, 2018

I’m Michelle, I’m originally from San Diego, California but my life abroad began almost ten years ago in Buenos Aires, Argentina. After that, I lived in Seoul for a 2-year stint, and it was an amazing first stop in Asia. It was fashionable, fast-paced, and people were friendly. I had always glamorized Europe growing up so decided to save up my last few months in Seoul and move to Europe for a sabbatical. Before moving, I researched online for women’s communities in the places I would be traveling to, as I was terrified to move alone.

I happened to come across the first issue of Girl Gone International magazine. There was one specific story about a woman who had travelled for two months with her family and a small crew on a freight boat from Hong Kong to Spain. She had completely disconnected from the outside world, and everything and everyone she knew. I was inspired by such bold independence. I wanted to do the same! After that, I wrote a few articles for GGI about my life in Seoul, so when I finally did make the move to Amsterdam, the founder of GGI, whom I had only Skyped with a few times before, picked me up at the airport and showed me around as if we had been friends for years.


My time in Europe revolved around meeting up with women Anne Scott introduced me to through Facebook, and lots of eating, drinking, and sightseeing. It was the first time I had ever really travelled alone, and it wasn’t so scary, thanks to GGI. I promised Anne Scott that when I moved back to Asia I would help her grow Girl Gone International and that I did. In the past five years GGI has expanded to a total of 23 cities across Asia & Oceana, beginning in Seoul and most recently in Hua Hin, Thailand. Globally, the GGI community spans a total of 140 cities all over the world. My role with GGI in Asia & Oceana has been managing cross-border teams, digital content creation, social media marketing, event organization and more, all in my free time.

[Ed's Note: more on the Girl Gone International community right here.]

On top of GGI, I am involved in many other women’s communities and some of my best friends are leaders of other women communities abroad and here in Shanghai. Living abroad has given me such an appreciation for the power of community and I find myself dedicating so much of my time to building and supporting communities. Most recently it’s been Safe Haven Shanghai, a new organization that will help domestic abuse victims in the international community. We are set to launch soon so please follow up with me if you’d like to get involved. Safe Haven Shanghai is going to change the landscape for life in China. Safety is a HUGE concern, especially as a woman, and especially as an expat. I have heard countless firsthand stories from women in the community about how they have been abused and have nowhere to turn and no one to help them. It is always devastating, and I had never known what to do or say.

This is when I approached Gwen Cardno, the Deputy Consul General for the U.S. Consulate and asked her for advice. She mentioned Safe Haven Shanghai and I knew right then, I wanted to be involved. Being a board member for SHS is something I never expected, but I'm glad I can use what experience and connections I have to help the community.


I’ve also been involved with TEDxShanghaiWomen and TEDxPuxi for the past two years, holding different positions on the committee. I also teach a few mornings a week at an international school and I am a co-founder at a design consultancy dedicated to bringing modern and minimalist design elements to China. My partner and I started our design consultancy, TONIK, after seeing the plethora of poorly designed event flyers shared on WeChat constantly, and feeling a constant desire to decorate our lanehouse with cool artwork.

When I’m not working on projects that involve the numerous communities I’m involved with in Shanghai, I am brunchin’ and brunchin’ hard. It is my favorite meal and every weekend I try to go somewhere new. My current favorite is Highline, holy hell their chicken & waffles and that sexy sexy rooftop. An oldie but goody is Liquid Laundry, the vibe, the drinks, the location and huge portions of fatty food.

When I am not gorging myself with food and drink, I exercise at F45 at the Jiashan location as it’s a great full-body workout and time goes by in a heartbeat. Also, I’ve been dabbling in using essential oils for preventive healthcare because living in Shanghai has taken such a toll on my skin and hair, oh and stomach (thanks street-food vendors, don’t do it! Unless your stomach is made of steel). I am also mildly addicted to shopping. Affordable and quality shops that aren’t big brands are hard to come by, so whenever I find one, I stick to the place like glue. Favorites I've found include: MissySkins, Okra for jewelry, and Zurita for coats [Ed's Note: Zurita's where she bought that fab red coat].


All these reasons are what makes Shanghai so special to me, the great communities, the endless opportunities and countless places popping up to eat, drink, shop, and explore. Honestly, Shanghai has something for everyone, it’s the perfect place to discover yourself and try out new things and all the while a community will be there championing you to grow. Shanghai has been my home since I arrived four years ago, and it will continue to be for years to come.



[Shanghai Famous]:

Shanghai Famous is a SmartShanghai column focusing on people out there in the city makin' the scene. They're out there around town, shaping Shanghai into what it is, creating the art, culture, and life around us. We asked them what's good in Shanghai. We asked them what's bad in Shanghai. We asked them to tell us more, more, more about their wonderful selves.

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