One year ago today, Angel and I arrived in China--a suitcase, a carry-on, and a backpack each, not knowing exactly what our life there would look like. We knew we'd spend a few weeks earning our TEFL certificates and then we'd be assigned to teach at schools in ShenZhen. At the time, we didn't know whether we'd even be assigned to teach at the same school, or what grade level we'd be teaching, either. You could say that uncertainty was a key theme of the season.
We learned so much. We learned the difference between 5 kuai and 5 jiao bills (think, the difference between $5 and 50 cents). We learned how to play Chinese chess, even if boys in primary school still managed to beat us. Angel learned how difficult it is to successfully get your house key copied when you're no longer on your home turf (we lived with one working set of keys between the two of us). I learned a lot about how Mandarin is used in everyday life, and I learned that it was entirely possible for me to have a job that I loved.
We had such a magical little time, loving life in China. We got used to our tiny apartment with its cockroaches and its oh-so-frustrating washing machine that continually malfunctioned. We developed our little traditions: on cold winter evenings after a long day at school, I didn't want to go out again, so I'd send Angel to the shop around the corner to buy beef dumplings and rice, and we'd cuddle up in some blankets, point the space heater at ourselves, and eat the dumplings while watching an episode of Once Upon a Time to wind down for the night.
The season in China was over sooner than we thought it would be. We were presented with a job opportunity in Malaysia and decided to take it instead of extending our time in China. This latest move is one that we longed for, but it was still hard to leave the little home we'd made. I can only imagine how much more difficult it would have been if we'd stayed there longer. ShenZhen was a blessing to us--I've felt more purposeful and more excited about life there than I had in a long time. I enjoyed the little home and community Angel and I had found for ourselves during our years in Michigan, but I wasn't flourishing there. Third culture kids sometimes have a difficult time repatriating, and I'm a prime-time example of a reverse-culture-shock victim who never fully readjusted.
The hard part about being abroad has been being so far away from our families during times this past year when they have experienced both great joy and great sorrow. There have been times when we wished for nothing more than to just be not so far away--we wish we could be present to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. But while this life we lead right now has many privileges, that one--the ability to be present for and with family, isn't one of them. Our move meant that we've had to make a lot of trades--we've traded Thanksgiving dinners with the grandparents and summer bonfires on the Great Lakes for mysterious meals where every dish is unfamiliar and evenings spent on the beach, gazing out at the South China Sea/Indian Ocean. Neither one is better than the other, but what I can say is that they are very, very different.
We feel incredibly grateful for the past year of our lives. I feel like I want to hold tightly to every bit of it--I want every one of these 365 days to have left an indelible mark on my memory. I know that this 1st year abroad has changed us--it has challenged us and grown us, and I look forward for the years to come. Wherever I am, there's some part of me that misses all the other parts. I doubt that that will ever change.