What is it Really Like? Part 2

It has been far too long since I have sat down and written a blog post. I greatly underestimated how busy life would become when moving to a new country and starting a new job, especially a job as time consuming as teaching. Nevertheless, here is part two of answering questions about what life is really like in China. If you have more questions you would like me to answer in a part three, let me know.

1. How are you dealing with not being around friends and family?

I already mentioned in part one how I was dealing with this a few months into life in China. However, now it has been nearly a year of living in China, so I thought it’d be good to revisit this question. Most days I am okay with the fact that I am living so far away from my friends and family. But as you could imagine there are times when it is very tough being thousands of miles away. Holidays are tough, but our community here is incredibly supportive especially during holidays. I am grateful for technology and the ability to text and video chat with my friends and family back in the States. This would be a much tougher question if I didn’t have text and video chat as options to communicate with those back home. So long story short, it is challenging sometimes but I am handling it all well.

2. Who are your new friends?

I distinctly remember not answering this question for part one because, honestly, I didn’t really have any friends at the time. As sad as that may sound, it was okay. Friendships take some time to grow and foster. Now, however, I would like to think that I have made many friends. I love that the friends I’ve made here are from all over the world. I have grown close with many coworkers, most coming from the US, but many are from countries like South Korea, New Zealand, Australia, and China. I have also branched out from my little school community and met other foreigners living here in Qingdao. Some of these friends are from Russia, Ukraine, Brazil, and Hungary (to name a few). My favorite part of meeting people who are from other countries is sitting down and learning from them. For example, I have become very close with one of our Chinese staff at school. Her and I will go out for dinner and will sit and talk for hours. We will share about our days and other typical topics in conversations between friends, but we will also delve into topics about our own or each other’s culture/language. She will help me learn new words or phrases in Chinese and I will help her with her English. We will discuss similarities and differences between our two cultures. These are my favorite dinners.

3. What do you do for fun?

Another question that needed to wait until I had lived here for more than just a couple of months. Since moving to China I have hiked two of the mountains near my apartment, one of them being literally a block and a half away. Walks along the ocean are very nice as well. Over the past few months I have enjoyed spending time with friends, whether that’s a game night, going to a bar and sipping on a nice drink, hiking a mountain, grabbing dinner, or seeing a new movie. I also really like exploring new places in Qingdao. In a city of 9 to 11 million people, there are always new things to discover.

4. What are you learning about yourself?

Wow, this is a really good question. I think the biggest thing I’ve learned about myself is that I am exactly where I am supposed to be and I am doing exactly what I was made to do. I moved to Qingdao when I was only 22 years old, fresh out of college. Although I had abundant support from friends and family, there were also many people who questioned the timing. They thought I was crazy for leaving home and moving to the other side of the world. I so easily could have listened to those people, however, I chose to trust that this was where I should go and this was the exact moment to go. Through this I’ve realized how strong I am, because moving this far away from everything I’ve ever known was tough. I won’t sugar coat that. It has definitely been a struggle at times. But I have persevered and have truly loved every part of this journey so far.

5. What has been the most difficult part of adjusting to your new life and being in China?

Moving to a foreign country, whether China or any other country, is going to be difficult. I think the most obvious challenge has been the language barrier. Although I have learned a good amount of Chinese so far (blog post coming soon about learning Chinese), everything is just a little more difficult because I don’t fully speak their language. Another part that was tough at first was meeting new people and making new friends. There were many times when I felt quite lonely. Which seems ridiculous when living in a city of 11 million people. It took time to finally find people here in Qingdao that I can do life with.

There are also many cultural differences between the United States and China which took some getting used to. One big adjustment, that I am still working on, is getting used to people staring at you. Unlike America, where everyone looks very diverse, in China, everyone is Chinese and looks Chinese except for the few foreigners. Therefore, as a foreigner, you stick out very easily and can cause unwanted attention. I’ve had many people stare at me, some more discreet than others, and I have also had a number of people take pictures of me or ask to take pictures with me. It is all very strange to me, but at the same time I understand that for them, everyone they see looks exactly like them with dark hair, dark eyes, and slightly tanned skin. So seeing a pale, blonde haired, blue eyed foreign girl is kind of a big deal.

6. What does the support and community involvement with your school look like?

I know I mentioned briefly in my blog post about my journey from America to China, but I will gladly explain more. The support and community here is INCREDIBLE. The staff at my school are very encouraging and helpful. You can tell that everyone genuinely wants to see you succeed. I don’t know if I fully felt that way in the schools I spent time in while I was in America. The families at my school are very involved in their children’s education. Sometimes parents are involved more than necessary, but I appreciate the fact that they care. Overall I feel greatly supported, encouraged, and cared for here.

7. What has surprised you the most about living and working in China so far?

One thing that surprised me about working in China is that they care so much about your health. In America, if you are feeling under the weath8er often you just need to suck it up and still go into work. However, here in China my coworkers will tell me that if I am too tired or not feeling well I should just go/stay home, rest and drink a lot of warm water. Something that surprised me about living in China is how accommodating the Chinese people are. I feel bad for not knowing their language and for causing so much 麻烦 (máfan - trouble or burden). But they are always so willing to struggle through the language barrier so you can get what you need.