Living abroad means I move every few years to a new country. Each of my homes has been different, each with their own unique aspects. My home in Korea has been the first place I’ve lived abroad that I didn’t choose. Some international schools provide housing and assign you to an apartment or house, while others give a housing stipend and you get to choose your own place.
In Jeju, I live in a townhouse near my school, about a 5-minute drive or 15-minute walk away. My house is two stories, with three bedrooms and two bathrooms. It’s cozy and small, but it’s enough room for me. I spend most of my time in the living room, surrounded by my plants and artwork I’ve collected while traveling. My kitchen is way too small for someone who loves to entertain, and it’s the thing I’d change the most if I could. I’d also love to build a deck in the backyard, but it’s really expensive to have one built ($4,000 USD for a deck that’s only 10 square meters!).
My bedroom has an en-suite with a small bathtub, which I enjoy soaking in when I’ve had a rough day or when my back’s giving me trouble. The theme of my bedroom is Moroccan, with a blue and white color palette, and I’ve decorated with photos I took on my trip to Morocco and the antique wedding blanket I bought.
The largest guest room’s theme is travel, specifically from my time in Myanmar, one of my favorite places I’ve ever visited. I’ve decorated the room with photos taken in Inle Lake and a few other pieces I bought while in Mandalay. My map duvet cover completes the travel theme.
I’ve started converting the smallest guest room into my “Zen room,” but I’m not quite done. I’d like for the room to be a place to meditate, exercise, and chill.
I didn’t really have room anywhere for my desk that I brought from Indonesia, but I love it and didn’t want to get rid of it. I eventually settled on housing it in the hallway upstairs, where I can get some natural light.
My home isn’t perfect, and there are things I’d change if I could, but I’ve done my best to make it a home. That’s one thing I’ve learned while living abroad. If you treat your house like a temporary place and don’t add your personal touches to it, you never quite feel settled.
When I initially made the decision to move abroad and teach internationally, I can remember telling my parents (and everyone else) that it was just going to be for 2 years, and then I’d move back home. At the time, I actually believed that’s how it would play out. Fast forward to now, ten years later, and I’m finishing my contract in my fourth country, with no plans to return home anytime soon.
The life of an expat, while not for everyone, is my preference. It’s afforded me many opportunities I never would have had living in the states. Apart from the obvious travel opportunities, I have been able to meet some truly remarkable people, learn a great deal about myself, become a better educator, teach in the PYP, immerse myself in new cultures, develop some long-lasting friendships, and work through some very challenging times. In the past ten years, I’ve lived in Shanghai, China; Tirana, Albania; Bangkok, Thailand; and Jakarta, Indonesia. While I’m sad that this chapter is coming to an end, I’m so excited about my new adventure!
I’m thrilled to announce that this summer, I’ll be moving to Jeju Island, South Korea! To be honest, Korea was never really on my radar because, despite loving it when I visited Seoul in 2011, it was too dang cold for me! What I’ve learned about Jeju is that while it does get cold (and even snows a few times a year), it’s generally 10-15 degrees Celsius warmer than Seoul. Plus, Jeju is known as “the Hawaii of Korea,” and you can’t go wrong with that!
Firstly, I am really looking forward to joining my new school, Branksome Hall Asia (BHA), which is a prestigious all-girls boarding school. It’s all girls and boarding in the Secondary School, but there are a mix of boys and girls in the Junior School, which is a day school. What first drew me to BHA was that it’s a full continuum IB World School, offering the PYP, MYP, and DP. They are known for being innovative and they push the boundaries of what most schools think is possible. BHA was recently awarded the International School Award for “Initiative to support students as future-thinking innovators.” During the interview process, I was so impressed with the Head of School and the other administrators I spoke with about the work their students are doing. I’ll be joining the Junior School team as the Deputy Head of Junior School and PYP Coordinator, tasked with leading the integration of transdisciplinary and innovative practices in the younger grades. I can’t wait to be a part of it!
Branksome Hall Asia’s mission is “Each day, we challenge and inspire girls to love learning and to shape a better world.” This is something I can get behind! 🙂
Now that you know more about the school, which is the reason I chose to move there, let me highlight what I’m looking forward to exploring in my new home on Jeju Island!
Jeju Island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and as such, it has so much natural beauty with plenty of opportunities to be outdoors. A quick Google image search of Jeju revealed these amazingly beautiful images, and I have to say, after seeing these, I cannot wait to explore all that the island has to offer. I did mention it’s the Hawaii of Korea, didn’t I?
I’ve been researching all that I can about my new home. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:
Jeju has over 360 volcanoes, most of them dormant.
The island is small, with a surface area of 1,846 sqkm and a perimeter of just 274 km, so it’ll be, by far, the smallest place I’ve ever lived abroad. Jeju is even smaller than Rhode Island, USA!
Not much English is spoken in Jeju, so I’ll be learning Korean. I’m really excited to learn another language, although I’m a bit intimidated about this one! So far all I know how to say is hello and thank you. I’m going to use my quarantine time to start learning Korean using an app.
The population of Jeju is roughly 600,000, which is a far cry from Jakarta’s population of 10 million+. Guess this means a lot less traffic to deal with!
I’ll need to drive a car there, which I’m actually anticipating, since I haven’t owned a car while living abroad. Of course, I’ll be getting a Hyundai!
Being an island, it has tons of fresh seafood. There are also lots of other food options on the island that I can’t wait to try.
I’ll be less than a 15-minute drive to the beach, where I can watch the dolphins jumping in the surf.
After living in an urban area for the last 10 years, I’m looking forward to being close to nature, where I can go for walks and hikes in my free time. I’m not a hiker, but this is something I hope to change.
I can get to Seoul in about an hour and for less than $50, which means I can get my big city fix whenever I want! Fun fact: The Seoul to Jeju flight path is the most regularly flown in the world, which means there’s always a flight coming or going.
Shanghai is only an hour and 20 minutes away and about $150. Looks like I’ll be getting a 10-year tourist visa for China!
The currency will be easier to deal with since 1 USD = 1,2335 KRW (Korean Won).
The cost of living will certainly be higher than in Indonesia, but I’ll be able to save more than 50% of my salary, which includes my travel expenses throughout the year. Hello retirement!
Jeju has a humid subtropical climate with 4 distinct seasons, which I am actually looking forward to experiencing again. After 3 years living in a climate that’s either hot and dry or hot and wet, with no need for a sweater ever, I’m excited that I’ll need to wear boots and a coat for part of the year! Jeju’s yearly temperatures range from 3-30C (38-86F), with mild winters and hot, humid, and rainy summers. Annual rainfall is 58-75 inches. After Jakarta, I think can handle some rain!
The lifestyle on the island is much more laid back than in big cities like Shanghai, Jakarta, or Bangkok. This will be a welcome change.
I’ll be able to breathe clean air, as there’s no air pollution on the island. What a bonus!
I know there’s so much more to learn about my new home, and I’m really looking forward to exploring it in a few short months!
Today marked Day 16 of self-quarantine. Sixteen days that I’ve been cooped up in my house. When the decision was made on March 2nd that our entire community would go into self-quarantine and begin virtual school, I was in shock. That shock turned to bitterness and resentment a few days in, grumpy and frustrated to be a prisoner trapped in my own home. By about day 5 or 6, I was downright depressed at the fact that I couldn’t leave my own home. However, once I passed the first week mark, I had accepted it. While I dreamed of freedom, looking forward to waking up on March 17th and getting to go out to dinner with friends, drink a hot chocolate at Starbucks with a good book, or just do a bit of walking around in the mall, the closer it got to my freedom, the less excited I became.
In the days leading up to my day of freedom, talk of social distancing and staying at home to not only protect yourself but vulnerable populations began to emerge. Reflecting on the what-ifs, I came to the decision that I would continue to remain indoors and in isolation. My newfound acceptance made the decision that much easier.
But today I had to leave my house. I didn’t want to, and it certainly wasn’t for something fun like a dinner date or to hang out at the coffee shop. My teeth had been really sore for several days, and I needed to go to the dentist. I feared that my wisdom teeth might be coming in and pushing on my other teeth. If you’ve ever had tooth pain, you know it’s not something that can easily be ignored. So I made the appointment.
When it was time to go, the nerves set in. Why am I so nervous to leave my house? It’s not that big of a deal. But the number of cases here in Indonesia has been increasing at a rapid rate. And the President said yesterday that he’s intentionally withholding information from the public about the actual number of cases and deaths so as not to create panic. My worry about catching the virus was heightened.
I debated over whether I should taxi or Go-Jek it. Which is the safer option? Is it literally touching the person who’s driving me but being in the open air or sitting in a confined space and breathing the same air as the taxi driver? I opted for the Go-Jek, but wore my pollution mask just in case. Armed with hand sanitizer, wet wipes, and tissues, I headed out.
The first thing I noticed was the ease in which we were able to drive. The usual bumper-to-bumper, stop-and-go, weave-in-and-out, drive-up-on-the-curb-just-to-get-ahead traffic was a thing of the past. Clearly the message to stay home had reached a large number of people. What would normally have taken an hour to drive (yet it’s only about 7km away) took about 20 minutes.
As I walked into the office tower, I was acutely aware of my surroundings and my actions. Don’t touch your face. But my nose itches. Don’t do it, Jennifer. You haven’t washed your hands since you left home. I walked slower to avoid walking near someone else, trying to keep at least 1 meter distance between me and other people. Having a bit of extra time to kill, I popped down to the ATM. Using my sleeve as a glove, I typed in my PIN. The change in withdrawal limit from 3,000,000 (about $200) to 1,000,000 (about $65) meant I had to make many additional withdrawals. Sanitizing my hands, I headed upstairs.
After my dentist visit, where I learned that I have two impacted wisdom teeth (oh, joy!), I stopped at the grocery store nearby to pick up a few things. My temperature was taken upon entry. As I wandered around the store, my fellow shoppers and I avoided one another like the plague, the unwritten rule being that only one person was allowed per aisle. After checking out and applying more sanitizer, I headed home.
Once back home, I breathed a sign of relief. While I had my first taste of freedom today, all I wanted was the comfort of my little bubble. I don’t think I’ll be going out any time soon.
What started as an isolated virus a few short months ago has now spread to nearly 90 countries around the world. It’s in the news every day. You can’t escape it, even if you wanted to. Everywhere you look, there’s an article, video, or some sort of reminder that Coronavirus has made itself known. There’s a lot of fear-mongering and panic-inducing information being circulated about the virus and its impact, and it’s hard to know what to believe anymore.
For those of you who don’t know me, I’m an expat who has been living in Jakarta, Indonesia for nearly three years. When news of the Coronavirus broke, I wasn’t worried. When it continued to spread, the number of confirmed cases and death toll rising, I knew it would eventually reach us. For one thing, we are in Asia, but more importantly, Bali is a huge tourist spot, drawing millions of travelers a year. Someone with the virus was bound to come here, infecting others. The weeks and months passed, and while every country around us had it, Indonesia had still not confirmed any cases. The country’s top health official said that it wasn’t here because the country was praying. We all knew it was just a matter of time.
When news broke on Monday that Indonesia had their first 2 confirmed cases, we all knowingly nodded, wondering what took it so long to be confirmed. What started as a mild concern that it was here quickly turned into anxiety, as a colleague of mine was hospitalized and put into isolation for suspected Coronavirus. That night we decided to close the school for a 14-day period as a precautionary measure and have been teaching online ever since.
When will they run the test to see if they have it? When will we get the results? What happens if it’s positive? Who needs to self-quarantine? These and more questions filled all of our heads, but the answers were illusive. What might make sense in other countries in terms of protocol usually doesn’t happen here. There’s a lot of ambiguity and conflicting information out there, and rumors run rampant. I never know what to believe.
Initially we were told that the test results would be known in 48 hours, but when Wednesday passed, we were left wondering and in the dark. On Thursday we learned that we wouldn’t be receiving the results first so that we could draft communication to be sent to our community. In fact, the patient wouldn’t even receive the results of their test until it was announced in a public press conference outside of the hospital where all of the suspected cases are being held in isolation. I’ve never heard of this in my life. The patient can’t even know first?!?!
Thursday came and went without a result. Friday morning we were told the announcement would come at 1:00pm. I’m sure you’ve guessed it by now, but no press conference was held then either. It wasn’t until this evening that a press conference was held where they announced that Indonesia has 2 more confirmed cases, both Indonesian citizens. The other suspected cases were not confirmed but they weren’t negative either. They were kept at ‘suspected’ status, so no real answers.
Meanwhile, our entire school community will remain in self-quarantine for the remainder of the 14-day period, which means 10 more days stuck at home. Not being able to leave your home is okay for the first couple of days, but it quickly begins to wear on you. I think the things I miss the most are social interaction and being active. Despite being in constant contact with people all day while teaching online, it’s isolating. It’s a strange concept. Interacting with others should appease the desire for connection, but communication through a screen isn’t real connection. I’ll be very glad when this is all over.
The xenophobia is real here, as I know it is in other places. Prior to Indonesia confirming any cases of Coronavirus, local newspapers speculated that in order to avoid catching the virus, one needed to refrain from eating Chinese food and watching Chinese TV shows. It also said that you could get it from “breathing the breath of a Chinese Indonesian.” The ignorance and hate toward people of a particular nationality is sickening.
Much like the information coming out of other countries in similar situations, with the Coronavirus fear setting in, Jakarta has experienced some empty shelves and price gouging. I haven’t personally experienced it since I’m in quarantine, but friends have reported extremely long lines and shortages of particular items in the stores. The obvious one is masks. There are next to none to be found in the city, not that I’d want one anyway, but people are panicking and stocking up. The strange one I find is a shortage of onions and garlic. When you do find onions, the price is ridiculous. The normal price is around $2.00/kg, but due to the shortage and demand, the price, if you can even find them, is between $8.00-$10.00/kg! For onions!
I’m so disgusted by the price gouging I’ve seen. Today in our group chat, when we asked everyone to take their temperatures to make sure they were healthy, a few teachers mentioned that they didn’t have a thermometer. One teacher shared that she had just bought a digital one online and had it delivered the other day, and the price was 100,000 Rupiah (about $8.00). She looked up the link to send to the chat only to find that the same thermometer she bought on Tuesday is now 2,000,000 Rupiah (about $160)!! Insanity! People who take advantage of people who are ill make me sick to my stomach.
Are you dealing with Coronavirus in your community? What’s your perspective?
My title is somewhat misleading. While Day 2 of our Virtual School was easier, the fact is that it’s 6 minutes to 11:00pm and I just finished my work for today. My to do list is still quite long, but I finished the work that I absolutely had to do to be ready for tomorrow morning. I’ve still got to film my Morning Message video in the morning before “school” starts at 8:00, but I look a bit worse for wear at the moment, so I thought it better to wait until I at least had a shower and put on some makeup.
My second day wasn’t as frantic. People were starting to get the hang of things, and while I had a steady flow of messages, texts, calls, and emails to attend to, I wasn’t completely bombarded like yesterday. Based on feedback from the students and parents yesterday, I scaled back the workload today. It’s difficult to gauge how long something will take students to do online and at home. In the classroom you just know, but online it’s so different. Something I think will take them a few minutes takes 30 and something the art teacher set to do over two days they did in an hour. We are all still finding our way.
I really enjoyed my 1-on-1 video conferences with my students, where I was able to chat with them individually about what they’ve been working on, what they needed support with, and what their next steps were. I was able to connect with 12 of my students today and I’ll be speaking with the remaining ones tomorrow. They seemed less nervous and awkward on our video chats today.
Something I hadn’t expected when this all began 3 days ago was that I’d end up being IT Support. I’m tech savvy enough, but I wouldn’t call myself a specialist or anything. However, this unique situation of being thrown into virtual schooling with no prior warning given to parents and students and very little preparation of staff presents some challenges. Students trying to figure out the ins and outs of the various platforms we are using while not physically being with me means I then need to troubleshoot issues remotely with a 10 year old. Of course, there were also some issues with loading resources and videos onto Seesaw. With everyone on all at the same time, some videos wouldn’t upload or wouldn’t play after being uploaded. We are learning patience and work arounds for the issues we come across, such as loading videos at night, when it’s calm, and saving them as drafts to be released in the morning.
On a more personal note, I didn’t take the breaks I’d intended to take today, although I wasn’t as worked up since it was quieter today. I managed to snack a bit during the day, but didn’t manage to eat lunch until 4:30. No wonder my stomach is hungry now…the late lunch/early dinner didn’t tide me over that long. Based on a suggestion from a fellow slicer yesterday, I managed to get a car over to school to pick up my standing desk, which was a definite win for today. After being at work for 12 hours, I had only managed to get in a measly 1,258 steps. I took a break and went for a half hour walk to get in a bit of exercise. I think that starting Monday I’m going to figure out how to get in a walk in the morning and the evening. With 11 more days of self-quarantine to go and at least that many days of virtual school, I’ve got to figure out a way to move more (and not go crazy!).
For those of you interested in what it’s like, here’s a sample of the things we’re doing with the students online.
I made my first YouTube video today of me reading a chapter from our read aloud for their library lesson tomorrow, where they will listen to the read aloud, comment their prediction underneath the video in Seesaw, and then do some independent reading.
Here’s a sample of our daily learning overview for tomorrow. My situation is unique in that we are in our PYP Exhibition, so rather than have lots of lessons, they have more time for researching and working through their Exhibition checklist, tasks, and blog.
Lastly, here are a few pictures of things that some of our other teachers have been doing in the virtual classrooms. I spent some time this evening going through and looking at their videos and work they’d loaded so I could give some feedback to them in our group chat.
Looking forward to Day 3 tomorrow…and the weekend where I can rest and get ahead with videos for next week’s learning!
Despite the craziness of yesterday and utter exhaustion I felt, my mind was racing last night and I didn’t fall asleep until after 1:00 am. The call to prayer at 4:00 followed by my alarm at 6:00 were very unwelcome disturbances. After peeling myself out of bed and trying my best to cover up the tired on my face with makeup, I made a cup of tea and got ready for my day. First up was a meeting with the Academic Leadership Team, followed by posting all my videos, lessons, and communications to students and parents.
The excitement of the morning, with eager students ready to check out this new way of learning, energized me, the fatigue no longer wearing me. We all went live at 7:30 and encouraged one another through our various chat groups and channels of communications. By mid-morning, I felt like a yo-yo, bouncing around from platform to platform, approving students’ posts, fielding questions from students, teachers, and parents, responding to emails, reacting to situations we hadn’t thought of yesterday, and creating video tutorials on the fly when students weren’t sure how to access this or that.
Throughout the day I was messaging with students on and off in our Teams chat, checking in with them, answering their questions, and encouraging them. A few of them didn’t understand a math concept or were confused about how to get started, so we video chatted so I could work with them 1-on-1. Their reactions were adorable! They were shy, giggled a lot, and commented on how weird it was to see me on the screen. They’ve just seen me two days ago, but I guess the newness and strangeness of talking to me through a computer screen threw them off. It’ll get easier as we go, as they become more comfortable.
I was a little better at eating today, snacking every few hours, but the incessant screen time and lack of movement wore me down. A little after noon I noticed my mind wasn’t as sharp, I was not as motivated, and I had a hard time getting things done. Pushing through only made it worse. At 2:00pm I had to step away. I messaged the students that I needed to take a break and laid down for a 30-minute power nap. I definitely didn’t want to get back up, but I have to say, the nap really did help. I was able to get back to students and teachers and finish up my lessons and videos for tomorrow.
Throughout the day, I was reflecting on how it was going, what I needed to do differently tomorrow, and what new techniques I wanted to try. This is the most intense PD I’ve ever had. You’re learning all the time, out of necessity. You know how you hear about this new tech thing or that new teaching strategy and you think, yeah, I should learn more about this or try that out? Well, this is forcing me to learn so much and by the end of it, I’m going to be a much better educator. Gotta look on the bright side, right?
For me, the hardest part is trying to balance everything. I’m not taking breaks or caring for my physical or mental health like I should. This year is a unique year (understatement of the century) and I’ve taken on many new roles, which if I’m honest, I wasn’t balancing well even before this virtual school started. Officially I’m the Head of Primary at my school, but due to a staff reduction in October, I took on the role of PYP Coordinator, and then when a staff member left suddenly in November due to health issues, I took on a full time Year 6 (Grade 5) teacher role, too. So while trying to balance virtual school with my own class of 20 students who are in the midst of the PYP Exhibition, I’m also supporting my teachers and support staff through the process. It’ll get easier, I know it. It’s just going to take a bit of time. Fingers crossed for a negative result and quick healing of the teacher in question!
For those of you who read my slice yesterday, you know that my school is now closed for a minimum of 2 weeks due to Coronavirus. It’s now 11:30pm local time on 3 March, so all I’m going to be able to do today is a “Today I…” slice. Here we go.
Today I was in crisis management mode all day.
Today I sat in front of my computer and worked nearly nonstop from 6:30am to 11:30pm, only stopping to pee and take a 20 minute walk outside.
Today I toggled between email, video chats, What’s App messages, phone calls, group chats, and Seesaw messages as I tried to respond to the hundreds of messages I received.
Today I forgot to eat, until my tummy started rumbling. Lunch at 5:30 is normal, right?
Today I blew my screen time out of the water.
Today I learned so much about this new world of online learning we’ve been thrown into, but know there’s still so much more to learn.
Today I prepped for all my lessons tomorrow. At least I can go to bed and not have that on my shoulders!
Today I typed about a gazillion words. On a positive note, my typing skills have greatly improved!
Today I realized what I’m made of when faced with a crisis.
Today I realized that I can really focus on something when I need to. No breaks for social media, TV, or reading for me today.
Today I logged a whole 4,005 steps, and that’s with taking a walk to clear my head when I was going stir crazy. Man, this is going to be a long ride.
Today I realized that this whole self-quarantine thing is no joke! I need to be more balanced and move my body so much more tomorrow.
Today I realized that rumors spread faster than wildfires.
Today I realized that when push comes to shove, my team comes together and just gets it done. We really played off one another’s strengths and pitched in where needed.
Today I realized that working at this pace is not sustainable. With that being said…it’s time for bed!
All that’s been on anyone’s mind these days is Coronavirus, especially for people like me who live in Asia. Until today, Indonesia has claimed that we have had no cases of the virus here, and while the world scoffed at the idea that we could possibly have zero cases, Indonesia was steadfast in its resolve that we didn’t have it.
All of us have known that there had to be cases here since we are so close to other countries with confirmed cases and we’ve had lots of tourists visiting from other Asian countries, but due to the level of healthcare and lack of testing kits, not to mention how it would look to the rest of the world, we’ve not confirmed any cases. Well…all of that has changed. Earlier today, the President announced that there were two confirmed cases. Upon hearing the news, I was not the least bit surprised, nor was I worried.
It wasn’t until this afternoon, when we learned that one of our teachers had been hospitalized and put into isolation for a possible case of Coronavirus, that anxiety set in. The teacher has been sick, but it wasn’t until today that she was admitted into the hospital and learned that she had been in contact with the two confirmed cases. After a long meeting, we’ve made the tough decision to close the school beginning tomorrow while all community members go into self-quarantine for 14 days (unless the test results are negative, at which case we will reevaluate the situation).
We’ll be planning tomorrow and meeting virtually as a staff, with online learning beginning on Wednesday. It’s a less than ideal situation and we are all apprehensive about what all this means, but I hope that the results are negative and that the teacher is okay and heals quickly. In situations like this, you question lots of things, wonder about what will happen, and pray that it doesn’t happen to you or those you care about.
It’s been a mentally and emotionally exhausting day and I’m ready to try and get some sleep.
I love grocery shopping in other countries. You never know what you’re going to find when you look around. Some things are familiar, others are odd, quirky, or unusual.
After the gym tonight, I popped into Hypermart, a local Indonesian grocery store, to pick up a few things. As I wandered the aisles, I started to notice the differences in stores here and back home, so I snapped a few pictures.
You can buy a bunch of random frozen food in bulk, such as hot dogs, french fries, fish fingers, chicken tenders, and strange colored meats. This idea really grosses me out…all the germs (plus the weird mystery meats)!
Looking for some fruit covered in styrofoam and plastic wrap? Check! If only nature had a way to protect the inside of the fruit…;)
How about some oil in a large bag? You’ve got many, many choices of brands!
If you’re craving a Jell-O like snack in a small plastic container, look at all of the colorful choices you have to choose from!
Buying small quantities of rice in Asia is hard to do. Hope you like a lot of rice!
To ward off the would-be thieves, all the jars of Nutella have anti-theft sensors on them. Who would have thought Nutella was such a hot commodity?
If you’re in the mood to try some different kinds of meat, you can grab some chicken heads or feet. Ewwwwww!
Think all cheese needs to be refrigerated? Think again! You can buy some disgusting processed cheese right from the aisle.
What is the weirdest thing you’ve ever seen in the grocery store?
I’ve been living abroad for nearly three years now. Being an expat is a unique experience, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. But the life of an expat isn’t perfect either. Shocking, I know! Here’s a little bit about what it’s really like to be an expat.
You need to find a balance between your life abroad and your life back in your home country. The hardest part for me is finding time for my relationships. Being a people person means that I am blessed to have many friendships and family relationships both here in China and back in the US. Finding the balance between developing new friendships with the people you meet as an expat while still maintaining your friendships back home isn’t an easy feat. Not only is the time change a barrier (being 13 hours ahead is difficult when it comes to finding common phone times), it’s just plain easier to talk to people face-to-face. The friends you make in your new country are physically there, making it easier to converse with and develop a deeper relationship. Let’s face it, typing lengthy emails, updating your Facebook status, responding to wall posts, Skyping, and making phone calls is harder. It’s not that your relationships back home aren’t worth the effort. They are. But there’s only so much you can do. While they, too, try to make the relationship work, it’s different. Where you have loads of people to worry about keeping up with, they only have you. The guilt associated with not contacting a friend or family member back home is enough to make you feel like an awful friend. Sometimes you feel like you can’t do anything right, and you retreat, putting more and more distance between you and your friends without even realizing it.
When you talk to your friends or family back home, they don’t always know what’s really going on in your life. To be fair, you talk to people back home less frequently than you did when you lived there, and sometimes only sporadically. Therefore, you wind up giving them the highlights, those fun, amazing parts of living abroad– your most recent vacation, that funny story about the time that you were misunderstood when speaking Chinese and ended up in a totally random part of town, the new things you’re learning about the culture, or the exciting project you’re working on at school. You neglect to tell them the parts of your life that are less than perfect– those times when you get caught in the rain with no umbrella, no money, and a phone with a dead battery in a country where you don’t speak the language well, the parts of work that aren’t so fun, the fact that you still don’t have your flight booked for the summer, or the awful sinus infection you had last week– because they don’t want to hear that. You don’t want your only interactions with them that week/month/semester to be complaints, and let’s face it, you’re not “supposed” to have problems. I mean, come on, you’re living the dream, right?!? Everyone is envious of your life where you get to travel to exotic and remote places on a regular basis, immerse yourself in an entirely different culture, and constantly experience new and exciting things. Who wants to hear you complaining about it?
Sometimes, it’s hard to tell people back home what’s really going on because they don’t understand. They don’t experience your day-to-day life, so when you tell them a story, you wind up having to tell them the back story, explain who this person is, what this is, what that means, etc. It takes so long to tell them what’s happening, that you end up just giving them the big picture, leaving out the little details. But then, do your friends really know what’s going on in your life if you’re leaving things out?
Then there’s the fact that most of your friends back home don’t “get” you anymore. You’re the one who has moved away, leaving behind the known to chase the unknown. The one who is different. The one who has changed. And try as you might, you can’t explain it. You, yourself, don’t really understand all the changes you’ve undergone as a result of living abroad. How is someone else supposed to understand? Inevitably, some of your relationships change. Sometimes you don’t even know why, but you don’t relate to your friends like you once did. It doesn’t mean that anyone did anything wrong; it’s just that you’re not in the same place that you once were, and that is ok. It’s tough when that happens, and oftentimes you want to hold onto the past, clinging to the memories you once had. When do you let go?
Moving to China was the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I’ve learned more about myself and become more independent, flexible, and open-minded. I’ve been given career opportunities that I could only dream about in the States. Living abroad is the greatest experience I’ve ever had in my life, but not everything is perfect all the time. That’s life.